by Dr. Jamal Badawi
Humbleness can be divided into two basic categories: one is humbleness before God and two, is humbleness with the creatures of God.
Humbleness with God implies faith in God and submission to His will this allows for one to follow what He ordained. Humbleness with society includes the qualities that make one unassuming, modest, lack of pride, lack of boastfulness or excessive self assertiveness.
In accordance with the Quran the only foundation for varying degrees of honor among people is their piety. An example is found in (49:13) O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”
Piety and God consciousness are internal yet modesty and humbleness are observable traits of a believer. The Quran describes the type of people who are loved most by God and who themselves also love God in (5:54) as being humble and lowly with the believers. The Quran addresses the Prophet and says (15:88)”lower thy wing (in gentleness) to the believers.”
The Quran does not only instruct the Prophet but instructs all believers not to over praise ourselves (53:32) “Therefore justify not yourselves: He knows best who it is that guards against evil.” This particular point is at the heart of the malaise that we find in the present civilization.
People don’t want to be themselves anymore but always have masks in order to appear different from their reality. People spend so much time trying to be someone else when they could spend a tenth of that time being themselves.
Host: Are there sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) about humility?
A:According to Muslim the Prophet (PBUH) said “God revealed to me that people should be humble so that no person should boast over another person and that no person would commit an act aggression against another person. A frequently quoted Hadith in the same collection is “No property or money would diminish because of paying charity, no person forgives another person without God increasing his dignity and status and no person practices humility without God raising him in degrees.
There is a Hadith Qudsi where the Prophet narrates God’s words “I accept prayer only from those who humble themselves before My glory, those who spend the day remembering Me, those who do not treat My creatures in an arrogant way and those who never sleep the night while disobeying Me.” The attitude and personal life of the Prophet (PBUH) were exemplary of this humbleness.
The wife of the Prophet was once asked “What is the Prophet like in his own household?” She replied “He helps and serves his family and when the time for prayer comes he goes to the prayer.” When asked a similar question she also said “He is just like the rest of you he sometimes milks his own goat, repairs his shoes or mends his clothing.”
In the collection of Bukhari it was mentioned that at times when a little girl would take his hand he would go with her to whatever street of Medina without objecting. One time when he was traveling with his companions they started making food. Everyone started taking charge of doing different things so Prophet Muhammad said he would take charge of collecting and cutting the wood. They said “We can do that for you?” He replied “Yes, I know you can do it for me but I hate to sit and feel distinguished over you.” This shows us what the attitude of humility and humbleness should be like.
Whenever the Prophet went to a place he did not try to sit in a position where he would be in the forefront but sat wherever there was space. This attitude towards humility was not only practiced during times of weakness or when Muslims were few but even in some of the most glorious moments like when he reentered Mecca after being driven away with his companions. They were victorious but he did not plunder or show pride but rather he lowered his forehead on his camel in prostration of humility and thanked God.
Host: What does Islam say about pride?
A: Many things are mentioned in Islam about pride being a moral vice. Pride is presented as a serious psychological disease that the Quran warns us against. To start with the Quran indicates in (7:11-13) that when God created the first human being He asked the angels to bow down and Satan (who is not an angel) was there and refused to bow down and said “I am better than he: Thou didst create me from fire, and him from clay.” Then the Quran says that this was the reason why Satan was ousted out of Paradise when God said to him “Get thee down from this: it is not for thee to be arrogant here: get out, for thou art of the meanest (of creatures).”
The Quran also presents it as an act that is hated by God. We find frequent expressions in the Quran that God doesn’t like arrogance. An example of this is (16:23) “Verily He loveth not the arrogant.” In addition there are several stories in the Quran which show the outcome of arrogance. It is mentioned in the story of the Pharaoh and his tyranny in (43:51-52) when he said “O my people! Does not the dominion of Egypt belong to me, (witness) these streams flowing underneath my (palace)? What! see ye not then?” Then he started putting down Prophet Moses by saying “Am I not better than this (Moses), who is a contemptible wretch and can scarcely express himself clearly?” This is the attitude that resulted in the drowning of the Pharaoh and his soldiers.
In a similar story in chapter 28 it talks about Kharoon, whom some believe was Korah in The Book of Numbers chapter 16, a contemporary of Prophet Moses who was rich and arrogant. People would tell him to have moderation and to remember God and he would say he was that way because of his knowledge and intelligence. According in to the Quran his punishment was that God ordered the earth to swallow him along with his house and property.
There is a similar story in the Quran in chapter 18 about the people of the Garden. All of these stories take different forms of arrogance and as an outcome their commonality is severe punishment.
Aside from the punishment that may come in this world from boastfulness and arrogance the Quran also addresses pride as something that is punished in the hereafter. For example, in accordance to Quran in (16:29) it says “So enter the gates of Hell, to dwell therein. Thus evil indeed is the abode of the arrogant.”
In the collection of Ahamd the Prophet (PBUH) said “Whomever has an atoms weight of pride in his heart will fall on his face in Hell Fire.” In anther Hadith narrated by Albihaki the Propeht says that there are three things redeem a person and three which cause the destruction of a person. The three redeemers include being God conscious in secret and public, to tell the truth all the time and to have moderation whether one is rich or poor. The three things that destroy a person include following one’s own whims, stinginess and self admiration (pride) which is considered to be one of the worst traits.
Host: In our present world what are some common manifestations of pride?
A:The most serious form of pride is rejection of truth, after its manifestation. If a person doesn’t accept the truth because he doesn’t understand or know that is the truth it is different than pride which is rejecting the truth after one knows it in their heart. In the Quran in (37:35) “For they, when they were told that there is no god except Allah, would puff themselves up with Pride.”
Pride manifests itself in the treatment of others. If a person deals with people in contempt, hoity and snobbish way this is a reflection of pride. For example in the Quran in (31:18) quoting Lukman who was wise holy person advising his son “And swell not thy cheek (for pride) at men, nor walk in insolence through the earth; for Allah loveth not any arrogant boaster.” In another verse in (17:37) it addresses mankind in general “Nor walk on the earth with insolence: for thou canst not rend the earth asunder, nor reach the mountains in height.” Thus everybody should know their place on earth.
Arrogance may not only show in the way a person walks but in the way they dress. In the series about the Islamic dress code we quoted the Prophet (PBUH) as narrated in both Bukhari and Muslim to have said that “God will not look at one who draws his garment behind him in pride.” These are all different forms of psychological weakness that people turn to instead of trying to be good from within.
Host: Are then any restrictions in Islam regarding dressing nicely?
No not at all. A similar question was asked to the Prophet (PBUH) when he told them that “Nobody will enter paradise if they have pride the same weight of a mustard seed in their heart.” So one of his companions said “Oh messenger of God, every person likes to have nice clothes and shoes, is that the pride you are talking a bout?” The Prophet replied “No! God is Beautiful and love beauty. Real pride is to reject truth and to belittle other people.” The problem has nothing to do with the details of dress as long as they comply with the codes of dress.
Host: What is the meaning of humility and dignity? How does dignity differ from pride?
The Arabic word that we are referring to is izzah which means dignity and honor in English. When we refer to the word izzah in Islam usage it refers to dignity which is not only derived from personal ego but dignity which is derived from faith in God. One’s dignity in this case is derived from one’s belief, knowledge and faith in God. Pride, however, refers to an attitude where one feels that they are better than others who are on a lower level and thus treats them with contempt. Pride in the sense of dignity and honor as derived from faith is not only permissible but is required and encouraged. An example found in the Quran (63:8) “But honour belongs to Allah and His Messenger, and to the Believers; but the Hypocrites know not.” When people are proud because God guided them to obey Him and helped them follow the straight path is not egotistic.
Host: How can a person achieve dignity?
Since we said that dignity is derived from faith in God and obedience to Him it follows then that one can maintain and nourish this dignity by maintaining his obedience to God. In this case the loss of dignity is not loss of money or status but rather the loss of faith. That is why in (35:10) “If any do seek for glory and power,- to Allah belong all glory and power.”
One should also not worry about the material things that others use in order to asses dignity. For most people dignity means wealth and power but this is not the case in Islam. A practical example from the life time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is that one time he was sitting with a few people and he asked them what they thought of a specific person who passed by. They replied that he was one of the most rich and honored people. If he were to ask for the hand of their daughter they would marry her gladly and if he intercedes on behalf of anyone they would accept his intercession. The Prophet kept silent. Then after a while another person passed by and he asked what they thought of that person. They replied he is one of those poor people. If he goes to a family to ask for their daughter they would probably not give her to him in marriage and if he intercedes on behalf of someone nobody would listen to him. So the Prophet then intervened and said that the poor person is better than an earth full of the other person (first one that walked by). This means a person could be very simple and poor but in the eyes of God he could be much greater than a bunch of other people who are more arrogant.
True dignity means that one should submit to the will of God while also resisting human tyranny. In the Quran in chapter 4 it talks about people who will be asked on the Day of Judgment why they did not resist tyranny and they would respond that hey were weak. Then they would be asked why they did not leave to a place where they can practice their freedom. Finally, one should keep in mind that God alone controls our destiny and the universe. We should try our best to do a good job so that we are not in a position of humiliation.