Arrogance and Humility
Seven qualities are considered to be the cause of pride.
Arrogance is a state in which we are convinced that we have the right to be above others. Justified self-admiration without comparing ourselves to others and feeling superior is not the same thing. This is, at worst, vanity. Arrogance is unlawful in Islam. It is considered to be a disgraceful state. The opposite of arrogance is to look at ourselves only with the intention of truly knowing ourselves. This is considered to be a virtue, one expected from a Muslim. Justified or not, whether truly in our hearts we believe that we are superior to others or not, if conceit is exteriorized, manifested, communicated to others by mind or deed, it is a sin. What is worse is when there is no justification for the feeling of superiority.
The only occasion when the feeling of pride is not a sin is when it is manifested against an aggressive arrogant person or against a tyrannical enemy, when we are waging battle in defence of our religion or country.
Jabir relates that the Prophet (Pbuh) said, “The only state of pride Allah permits is the one shown in battle or while doing a generous act.”
Modesty, to appear lesser than we are, is commendable. Yet, the exaggeration of humbleness to the extent of appearing abject, is a sin. Miraz ibn Jabal reports that the Messenger of Allah (Pbuh) said, “Showing excess attachment and appearing abject, reducing oneself to the state of a beggar, does not suit the character of a believer. The only exception is the humbleness of a student towards his teacher, seeking to receive knowledge. Only knowledge is worth begging for, and worth humbling ourselves to receive. Another example of unlawful humility in Islam is to beg if we have shelter and food, even for only one day. To give someone a small gift with the hope of receiving a greater good is like begging.
“To go to feasts without being invited is a kind of begging. Abdullah ibn Omar reports the Messenger of Allah (Pbuh) as having said, “If one does not accept an invitation he is revolting against Allah and His Prophet. If someone goes to a feast or a wedding without being invited, he has entered their house as a thief and left as a plunderer.”
To work hard, even far beneath our qualifications, to support our families, to help with the menial chores of our houses, shopping, cooking, cleaning, are commendable signs of true humility. To be ordinary in appearance, to wear inexpensive and worn clothes, to befriend the poor and disadvantaged, to eat simple food and not to throw away leftovers, to not seek reputation-building, self-glorifying jobs, not to consider it beneath you to be a shepherd, a gardener, a porter, carpenter or mason, these are true signs of humility. These kinds of manifestations of humility are worthy of great divine rewards, for they resemble the behaviour of prophets and saints. But many people do not know it and think of a life like this as reprehensible. They are the arrogant ones who do not know themselves.
Arrogance becomes more dangerous when it is manifested and directed towards someone. Some are arrogant towards people. Some are arrogant towards Allah. Some are arrogant towards the Prophet of Allah. Allah seals the eyes, ears and hearts of the arrogant from knowing the truth.
Ibn Mas’ud relates that the Prophet (Pbuh) said, “Whoever has an atom of pride in his heart will not enter Paradise.” Then one of his companions asked, “What do you say about someone who likes to dress in fine clothes?” and he answered, “Allah is beautiful and likes that which is beautiful. Arrogance is to deny reality and to consider others beneath oneself.”
During his Caliphate, Hazrath Umar (RA) was marching upon Damascus with his army. Abu Ubayda ibn Jerrah was with him. They came upon a little lake. Umar descended from his camel, took off his shoes, tied them together, and hung them on his shoulder. He took the halter of his camel and together they entered the water. Seeing this in front of the army, Abu Abayda said, “Oh the Commander of the believers, how can you be so humble in front of all your men?” Umar answered, “Woe to you, Abu Ubayda! If only anyone else other than you thought this way! Thoughts like this will cause the downfall of the Muslims. Don’t you see, we were indeed a very lowly people. Allah raised us to honour and greatness through Islam. If we forget who we are and wish other than Islam, which elevated us, the One who raised us, surely will debase us.”
Seven qualities are considered to be the cause of pride: education, knowledge, religious piety, fame and nobility of one’s family and descendents, physical attractiveness, wealth, and the number of admirers and followers. In reality, none of these qualities need to be the causes of arrogance. On the contrary, they are positive values which every person strives for. The real cause of arrogance is stupidity, and the inability to comprehend what is offered as knowledge. Yet there is no other medicine, but knowledge to cure stupidity.