by Shaykh Muhammad Abdullah al-Gangohi
Whoever asserts tawaadhu’ (humility) for himself, is undoubtedly a man of pride because when a claim of humility is made, it is made after the perception of one’s (supposed) lofty rank. This implies that one believes in one’s personal elevation, hence one is a mutakabbir (proud person).
Believing oneself to be the most contemptible and lowest being is known as tawaadhu’ (humility). The consideration of greatness in oneself is takabbur (pride).
The knowledge of a thing is gained from its opposite. In the absence of the opposite, the knowledge of a thing would not be possible. The knowledge of light is by virtue of darkness. If on earth there was only light and no darkness whatever, the conception of light would not have been possible. The knowledge of courage is on account of cowardice. If there was no cowardice, there would not have been the knowledge of courage. Thus, the claim of humility made by a person is tantamount to takabbur (pride). There is no doubt in him being proudful. If his nafs was fully imbued with true humility, he would not have been aware thereof because of the non-existence of its opposite, viz. kibr (pride).
Since pride exists in the man who lays claim to humility, the Shaykh (rahmatullah alayh) says that the one who puts forth the claim that he is humble, is in actual fact considering himself to be elevated. Thus, he is a man of pride.
The meaning of Tawaadhu’ is that man views himself with all honesty to be so contemptible that the possibility of him having any rank does not even occur to his mind. He sees nothing but contemptibility in himself. When this degree of humility has been cultivated, no claims will be made, neither in regard to Tawaadhu’ nor in regard to any other praiseworthy attribute.
A humble man is not a person who regards himself above the act of humility he is displaying. A humble man is a person who considers himself below the act of humility he is doing.
Generally people believe that a humble person is one who displays acts of humility, e.g. a wealthy man rendering some service with his own hands to a poor person. People gain the impression from this display that the wealthy man is very humble when in fact, he may be entirely devoid of any humility because he thinks of himself as being superior to this act. While he overtly displays humility, he covertly believes that the act of humility in which he is involved is below his dignity. He feels conscious of having adopted humility and he believes that he has practiced virtue.
True Tawaadhu’ (humility) is the consequence of the perception (mushaahadah) of the grandeur of Allah and of the tajalli (celestial illumination) of His Attributes.
While people generally think that ostensible actions or displays of humility are Tawaadhu’, in reality true humility is that condition of lowliness which is accepted by Allah Ta’ala. When the greatness of Allah dawns on the heart of man and he vividly realizes the illumination of His Attributes, then the rebellious nafs melts away. The roots of rebellion and pride are then eradicated. The vain hopes of the nafs are annihilated. Humility then develops. This then is true humility.
A sin which humbles a man and cultivates in him dependency on Allah, is better than such worship which generates pride and arrogance in him.
The purpose of Ibaadat and Dhikr is to become humble and to feel wholly dependent on Allah Ta’ala, eliminating the rebellion and arrogance of the nafs. If on account of a sin committed because of the frailty of human nature, man is torn by remorse, and the humility he feels as a result, causes him to despise himself and to believe that the sin will destroy him, then these effects of the sin are better than the conceit which a man develops as a consequence of his acts of worship and piety. His conceit, self-esteem and pride constrain him to despise other Muslims.
A dim-witted person should not now understand from this explanation that it is better to abandon worship and commit sins. The evil of sin and the virtue and beauty of obedience are self-evident facts. At this juncture the Shaykh (rahmatullah alayh) is simply pointing out that the actual method of reaching the Divine Court is by way of acquiring true humility and dependence on Allah.