Kibr is the name of a psychic state in which a person feels a sense of superiority and behaves high-handedly with others. Its signs are discernible in his actions and its symptoms are clearly noticed by others by which they know that he is proud.Kibr is something different from ‘ujb, and, this vice is the offspring and fruit of the tree of ‘ujb. ‘Ujb consists of self-love and conceit, and the meaning of kibr is to consider oneself superior to others. When someone perceives a merit in himself and is overcome by a sense of pleasure, exultation, and vanity, that state is called ‘ujb.
And when he considers others to be lacking in the imagined merit within himself, he perceives himself to be superior. This perception of superiority and supremacy over others causes in him a state of vanity, which is pride. Kibr, in this sense, is an inner state, and when its effects are reflected in his behavior and his speech, it is called takabbur. In short, the self-indulgent person becomes self-seeking, and his self seeking tendency grows into self-love, and when this self-love is filled to the brim it manifests itself as haughtiness and high-handed treatment of others.
Here, it is necessary to mention that the psychic traits, whether vices and infirmities or virtues and accomplishments, are extremely complicated and complex matters. It becomes extremely difficult to discern one from the other. On account of this, there is often a great difference of opinion even among great scholars in precisely defining them and it may be impossible to give a faultless definition of inner states. Therefore, it is better for us to leave this matter to the inner conscience of individuals and not to entangle ourselves in the maze of finding precise definitions, and turn attention to the main purpose.
Kinds and Degrees of Kibr
It should be noted that there are different degrees of kibr, it is important to mention those stages in the context of kibr. But at first let us note that the stages of kibr, similar to those of ‘ujb, are six in number:
1. Kibr on account of possessing true faith and belief.
2. As opposed to it is the pride in invalid faith and false belief .
3. Pride on account of good qualities and praiseworthy attributes.
4. Pride in moral vices and undesirable qualities.
5. Pride in one’s righteous deeds and devotional exercises.
6. Pride in sinful and wicked deeds.
It is possible that each one of these stages may be caused by the equivalent degree of ‘ujb present in one’s soul, or it may have some other reason, which we shall discuss afterwards. For the time being, of our main concern here are the external factors as sources of pride- like the pride in one’s family, descent, wealth, status, position, and the like. Following that, God willing, we shall discuss the evils of this vice and their remedies, according to my ability. And I implore God’s help and assistance in making it effective upon others as well as my own self.
There are certain other aspects and levels of kibr when considered in another perspective. They are: (1) kibr towards God; (2) kibr towards His prophets, messengers, and awliya’ (3)kibr in regard to the Divine Commandments, which also amounts to kibr towards God; (4) kibr towards the creatures of God, which, too, according to the urafa, amounts to kibrtowards God.
As to the kibr towards God, it is the most abominable, the most destructive, and the highest degree of pride, and is present in infidels, those who contest God’s authority, and those who make claims to divinity. Sometimes its traces are seen among some men of faith as well (whose description is not appropriate here). This kind of kibr signifies the extreme of ignorance and the absence of knowledge about one’s limits and the majesty of the Necessary Being.
As to the kibr towards the prophets and awliya’ of God, it was an attitude, which was more prevalent during their own days, and the Quran reports about it in this verse:
أَنُؤْمِنُ لِبَشَرَيْنِ مِثْلِنَا؟
Shall we put faith in two mortals like ourselves? (23:47)
And someone from his people is reported to have said (about the Prophet [ S ]):
لَوْلَا نُزِّلَ هَذَا الْقُرْآنُ عَلَى رَجُلٍ مِنْ الْقَرْيَتَيْنِ عَظِيمٍ
If only this Quran had been revealed to some great man of the two towns. [i.e. Makkah and al-Ta’if] (43:31)
During the early days of Islam, the instances of such pride towards the awliya’ of God were very frequent, examples of which are still manifested in the behavior of some professors of Islam.
As to the kibr towards the commands of God, it is seen among some sinners, such as those who abstain from performing Hajj as they do not consider the dress of ihram appropriate for themselves; abstain from salat because they consider the state of prostration as not in accordance with their position and status. Such kind of pride is sometimes seen among persons of faith, devotees, and scholars who abstain from adhan on account of it.
Similarly there are those who would not accept a word of truth if it comes from anybody belonging to the same status as themselves, or lower. Sometimes it happens that one hears something from his colleagues or friends, and vehemently rejects it and derides the speaker, but he readily agrees with it when it is uttered by someone superior to him in religious or worldly status. It is even possible that he would accept it with the same seriousness with which he had rejected it earlier.
This person is not a seeker of truth, but his pride has drawn a curtain over the truth, to which his obsequiousness has blinded and deafened him. It is the same kind of pride, which prevents a scholar from teaching a certain subject or a certain text because he considers it below his dignity, or dissuades him from giving lessons to persons devoid of any outwardly significant position. Or one may stand away from a small mosque attended by a small number of persons for the same reasons despite knowing that the pleasure of God lies in his doing so. Sometimes the traces of pride are so subtle that the person who is afflicted by this evil, unless he is careful and serious about correcting himself, cannot know that his actions testify to the presence of kibr in his character.
As to the kibr towards the creatures of God, kibr towards men of divine knowledge and scholars is the worst form of it, and its evil effects are graver and its harms more serious than of any other type of kibr. Of this category of kibr is the pride, which avoids the company of poor people and seeks out prominence in gatherings and meetings, and displays itself on the road and in one’s carriage. Yet this evil is prevalent and inflicts all the classes of society; from the elite to the class of ulama and scholars of hadith; from the rich to the poor and deprived classes; no one can elude it, except for those whom God Almighty saves.
Sometimes it is so difficult to discern between humbleness and humility aimed at popularizing oneself, and between pride and self-containedness, that one should seek refuge in God Almighty, that He may guide us on the right path. If one is eager to reform oneself and tries to reach one’s goal, the Holy God guides him with His infinite mercy on the right path and eases one’s journey on this path.
The Causes of Kibr
There are various causes of kibr, but all of them derive from the delusion, which occurs when men imagine themselves to possess some kind of excellence. This illusion leads to ‘ujb,which, blending with self-love, conceals others’ merits and virtues from their eyes. When that happens, the afflicted individual believes others to be inferior to himself and begins to cherish a feeling of self-esteem in his heart, as well as manifesting a similar demeanor.
For instance, one may find an individual among the ulama andurafa who considers himself to be a visionary and a man of mystic knowledge and insight, classing himself in the category of saintly persons with a high record of good deeds. Such persons make an absurdly ostentatious show of their superiority over others, dismissing the hukama’ and philosophers as nuts, the fuqaha’ and muhaddithun as superficial bums, and all ordinary people as subhuman creatures and beasts.
They scorn and look down on all the creatures of God; while claiming to follow the dictum of فناء في الله and بقاء في الله they beat the drum of their truth-seeking, whereas the Divine teachings require of them to contemplate the creatures of God with goodwill and optimism when the least knowledge of God demands that he should not scorn these manifestations of His Glory and Beauty.
He himself would affirm this while speaking about Divine teachings, pronouncing something, which contradicts his own inner state. Yet this happens because those teachings have not penetrated his heart. The poor fellow has not attained even the station of a true believer, yet he often speaks of ‘irfan. Although ‘irfan has not touched him, he claims to have realized the ultimate Truth.
Among philosophers, too, there are such persons who consider themselves to be in possession of the proofs and knowledge of certain truth. They class themselves among men of certain knowledge of God who possess confirmed belief in angels and scriptures; yet they look down on others in disdain. They dismiss all other sciences as fiction and all human beings as defective in faith and knowledge, viewing them with haughty contempt in their hearts as well as their arrogant demeanor, whereas the knowledge of the majesty of the Lord and the utter destitution of the ephemeral creature (that he is), necessitates an opposite behavior. The truly wise (hukama’) are those whose knowledge of the secrets of human origin and end makes them modest and humble-God Almighty had bestowed upon Luqman the gift of wisdom; yet the Quran reports of him as saying to his son:
وَلَا تُصَعِّرْ خَدَّكَ لِلنَّاسِ وَلَا تَمْشِ فِي الْأَرْضِ مَرَحًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُخْتَالٍ فَخُورٍ.
Turn not thy cheek in scorn toward people, nor walk with pertness on the earth. Verily, God loveth not any braggart boaster. (31:18)
Sometimes such people are found among those who claim to be mystic masters and guides of consummate inner purity, yet, they treat the common people with pride and look down onfuqaha’, ulama and their followers, and speak disparagingly of philosophers and hukama’. They consider everyone except themselves and their associates as doomed creatures. Since they themselves lack in knowledge and learning, they consider knowledge a thorn in the path of spiritual journey, and those who possess it are considered by them as devils who mislead the wayfarers in their inward journey, although their own claims to high spiritual station would tend to contradict such a viewpoint.
A spiritual guide of people must himself be free from all kinds of mortal and destructive sins and qualities; one who claims the capacity to guide the astray should have transcended the narrowness of mundane existence and its attachments, being absorbed in the beatific vision of His Glory. He should not be haughty and disdainful towards the creatures of God.
Also among the class of fuqaha’, scholars of fiqh and hadithand the students of these sciences sometimes such people are seen who view other people with scorn and treat them high-handedly, considering themselves to be worthy of every praise and appreciation. They think that everybody should obey their commands without any hesitation, and apply the following criterion to themselves:
لَا يُسْأَلُ عَمَّا يَفْعَلُ وَهُمْ يُسْأَلُونَ
He (i.e. God) will not be questioned as to that which He does, but they will be questioned. (21:23)
Except for themselves and a handful of persons like themselves, they do not consider anybody to be fit to enter Paradise. Whenever something is spoken about other field of learning, they dismiss it with scorn. They unhesitatingly reject every other discipline except their own field- of which they possess very little knowledge-considering it not only unworthy of study but destructive. They denounce the scholars of other sciences due to their own ignorance. They present their own views as if their religiosity necessitates such a contempt, whereas knowledge and religion are free from such prejudices.
The Shari’ah forbids men from speaking about anything without having its proper knowledge, and considers it obligatory to respect every Muslim. This wretched fellow without possessing enough knowledge of religion or sciences is sinful of doing something, which is against the scripture of God and the teachings of His Prophet (peace be upon him).
Yet he moulds his ideas into the form of religion; though the conduct and behavior of all the great scholars of every generation was unlike this. Each one of the branches of religious sciences demands the scholars who are associated with it to be humble, and requires them to obliterate all signs of pride from their hearts. None of the sciences gives rise to pride and none of them is against humility. Later I will explain the causes behind this sharp contrast between their knowledge and behavior.
Also among the experts of other sciences, like medicine, mathematics, physics, engineering, industrial crafts, etc., the instances of pride and arrogance are seen. They underestimate all other sciences however important they may be, and scorn the scientists belonging to them. Each one of them believes that whatever he knows is the real knowledge. They scorn people in their hearts, as well as manifest it in their demeanor; whereas their knowledge does not require this.
Some others who do not belong to any of the branches of science, like the people devoted to prayers and other devotional rites, also tend to behave high-handedly with others. They disdain people and treat them with contempt, and do not consider even great scholars as worthy of redemption. Whenever there is a discussion about knowledge, they point out that knowledge without action is useless. They give great importance to the little knowledge that they themselves possess and view all others with ‘ujb and haughty contempt, forgetting that if their worship were true and sincere it would have reformed them.
The prayer forbids one from performing indecent deeds and sins and is considered as the culmination of a Muslim’s attainment (mi’raj al-mu’min). But such a person, even after performing the salat for fifty years and meticulously performing all obligatory (wajibat) and recommended (mustahabbat) religious duties, is immersed in the vice of pride which is a kind of apostasy-from head to toe, and is afflicted with ‘ujb-which is uglier than any other indecency-and comes to resemble Satan and acquires his attributes.
The salat that does not forbid one from indecencies and indignities, the prayer which does not protect the heart, rather whose excessive performance vitiates the heart, is not worthy of being named as salat. The salat about which you were so particular, but on account of which you come to resemble Satan acquiring pride, his characteristic trait, is not salat; for the salat does not result in pride either.
All these are dangers of knowledge and deeds, but pride can also arise from other causes, all of which relate to a sense of one’s worth and excellence which others are imagined to lack. For instance, someone who comes of a noble descent looks down on those who are not like him. Other reasons relate to personal beauty and charm, one’s tribe, the number of one’s supporters, followers, or pupils, which cause arrogance and pride with respect to others who do not possess these advantages. In all cases, therefore, pride is caused by an illusion of some kind of perfection in oneself, elation on its account and ‘ujb, while others are seen to lack such an imagined merit or advantage.
Even the bad characters and persons of vicious morals, also, sometimes look down on others with haughty contempt, because they consider whatever they possess as a kind of merit and asset. Though the person afflicted with the vice of pride tries to conceal it due to some reason or other and tries to show no sign of it, but since this evil tree of pride has run its roots in his heart, its effects nevertheless manifest themselves. As soon as any change occurs in the natural condition of the possessor of this vice, as when he loses control over himself due to anger, he starts boasting of his superiority and enumerating his merits, whether they belong to the category of knowledge or deeds or whatever.
At other times, a proud person exhibits his pride, not paying any attention to its outward revelation. The intensity of his pride makes him lose control over himself. Then, his pride finds expression in his movements and pauses. In social gatherings he shows his self-importance by taking a lead over other people while entering and leaving. He neither allows the poor to join his company, nor does he himself attend their gatherings. He creates an artificial halo of sacredness around himself and every action of his, the gait, the manner of looking at other people, the manner of speaking to them, everything is indicative of his pride and haughtiness.
One of the researchers, from whom I have taken the fundamentals of this topic and have translated them, says that the lowest degree of pride in a scholar is that he should turn his back on other people as if he wants to avoid them. The lowest degree of pride in a devotee (‘abid) is manifested in his stern attitude towards people and his frown, as if he wants to avoid them, or as if he is angry with them. The poor fellow does not know that piety and continence (wara’) does not lie in the frowns on one’s brow or forehead, not in a disdainful look and a wry face, not in avoiding the people, not in bending the head or turning the neck, but it lies inside one’s heart. The Prophet (peace be upon him) once, pointing at his chest, said, ‘Piety lies here.”
On some occasions, the devotee boasts about himself in his speech; while expressing the purity of his soul, he makes a display of his devotional exercises, brags about himself by mentioning his pious deeds, and denounces others for their shortcomings, thus highlighting the superiority of his piety. Sometimes he does not say anything explicitly but makes some gesture, which implicitly exhibits his piety. A scholar afflicted with kibr may brag about his own intellectual achievements, saying, “What do you know! “ Then he would mention the books read and written by him, the universities visited by him, the professors and authorities whom he has met, and his own scholarly endeavors. Therefore, at all times, it is necessary to seek refuge in God from the mischiefs of the self and its wiles.