Hujjat-ul-Islam Imam Abu
May Allah sanctify his rest
When a man feels a superiority over others and with this a sort of
inward elation, this is called pride. It differs from vanity in as
much as vanity means consciousness of one's elation while pride requires
a subject, an object and a feeling of elation. Suppose a man is born
solitary in the world, he may be vain but not proud, because in pride
man considers himself superior to others for certain qualities of
his self. He allots one position to his self and another to others,
and then thinks that his position is higher, and is therefore elated.
This "puffed up" feeling which imparts a sense of "touch me not" is
called pride. The Prophet, peace and blessings be on him, said:
"0 God, save me from the puffing up of pride".
lbn Abbas says that the sentence in the Quran,
"And they have pride in their hearts and will fail to reach
means that the thought of inward greatness will be denied to them.
This thought is the source of inward and outward actions, which
are so to speak the fruits of it.
A proud man will not tolerate any other to be on equal terms with
himself. In private and in public he expects that all should assume
a respectful attitude towards him and, acknowledging his superiority,
treat him as a higher being. They should greet him first, make way
for him wherever he walks; when he speaks everyone should listen
to him and-never try to oppose him. He is a genius and people are
like asses. They should be grateful to him, seeing that he is so
condescending. Such proud men are found especially among the 'Ulama'.
Sages are ruined by their pride. The Prophet, peace and blessing
be on him, said:
"He who has an atom of pride in his heart will fail to enter
This saying requires explanation, and should be carefully listened
to. Virtues are the doors of Paradise, but pride and self- esteem
lock them all. So long as man feels elated he will not like for
others what he likes for himself. His self-esteem will deprive him
of humility, which is the essence of righteousness. He will neither
be able to discard enmity and envy, resentment and wrath, slander
and scorn, nor will he be able to cultivate truth and sincerity,
and calmly listen to any advice. In short, there is no evil which
a proud man will not inevitably do in order to preserve his elation
and self-esteem. Vices are like a chain of rings linked together
which entangle his heart. Therefore, an atom of pride is Satan's
spark, which secretly consumes the nature of the sons of Adam.
Know then that pride is of three kinds:
(1) Against God;
(2) Against Prophets and Saints;
(3) Against fellow men.
1. Against God.
It is due to mere foolishness when a biped creature considers
himself as if Lord of the Universe. Nimrod and Pharaoh were such
types, who disdained to be called God's creatures on earth:
"Verily, verily", says the Quran, "the Messiah does by
no means disdain that he should be a servant of Allah, nor do the
angels who are near to Him, and whoever disdains His service and
is proud He will gather them all together to Himself." An-Nisa,
2. Against Prophets and Saints.
It is due to unwarranted self-esteem when one considers obedience
to any mortal being as lowering his own position. Such a person
either fails to reflect on the nature of prophethood and thereby
feels proud of himself and does not obey a prophet, or refuses to
consider the claims of prophethood as being derogatory to his elated
self and therefore pays no regard to a prophet. The Qur'an quotes
the words of such persons:-
"And they say: what is the matter with this Apostle that he
eats food and goes about in the markets, why has not an angel been
sent down to him so that he should have been a warner with him?
Or (why is not) a treasure sent down to him or he be made to have
a garden from which he should eat." And those who do not fear our
meeting, say: "why have not angels been sent down to us, or (why)
do we not see our Lord? Now certainly they are too proud of themselves
and have revolted in great revolt." (Al-Furqan 25: 7-8, 21).
Our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be on him,was an orphan
and had scanty means of livelihood, so the Quraish chief Walid bin
Mughera and Abu Mas'ood Safi used to speak contemptuously of him.
And when people believed in him and accepted Islam, the proud Quraish
used to say: Muhammad is surrounded by poor men, let him send them
off and then we of the aristocracy of Mecca will listen to him.
But God spoke to Muhammad,
"And with hold thyself with those who call on their Lord morning
and evening, desiring His goodwill, and let not their eyes pass
from them, desiring the beauties of this world's life, and do not
follow him, whose heart We have made unmindful of Our rememberance,
and he follows his low desires, and his case is one in which due
bounds are exceeded," (Al-Kahf, 18:28)
3. Against fellow men.
A proud man considers himself a superior being and would like
to see everybody humbled before him. He is therefore quarrelling
with God, trying to share with Him His attribute of omnipotence.
God is spoken of in the Hadith as saying:
"Omnipotence is my mantle, he who quarrels with me for it,
him will I crush."
Surely men are all His servants and no servant has a right to
treat his fellow servants as their master. But a proud man in the
intoxication of his elation takes himself as God on earth. He is
too haughty to listen to truth from the lips of any of his fellow
men. Ibn Mas'ood,may Allah be pleased with him, said:
"it is enough for sin if a person, who is advised to fear God answers
his adviser: 'Look to thine own self'."
The consciousness of superiority which begets pride is due to
certain attributes or accomplishments which can be summed up as:
(a) Spiritual, divided into:
(b) Worldly, of five kinds:
(vii) kith and kin.
There are thus seven causes in all, and these need some description.
(i) Knowledge is power. Consciousness of power
easily elates a man, who considers himself superior to others and
treats them in a supercilious manner. If he accepts the greetings
or the invitation of his fellow men or received them in audience
he thinks they should be thankful to him for his condescension.
People should obey and serve him, for by virtue of his knowledge
he thinks he has a right over them. Such a proud "Alim" is sorry
for the sins of others but is unmindful of his own condition.
While he freely distributes Heaven and Hell among his fellowmen,
he claims salvation and Heaven for himself. The question is whether
he is really justified in holding the title of a'lim, For an a'lim
is one who, knowing himself knows God, who fears the Lord most,
who holds himself more responsible for his actions for he knows
good and evil and feels the awful presence of a mighty and just
Being who looks to righteousness alone.
Let us consider why men of knowledge become proud. There are two
main causes which should be noted.
First, there is a false conception about the nature of real knowledge.
Devoted to certain sciences and arts such as mathematics, physics,
literature, and dialectics, they think that proficiency in them
makes a man perfect. But real knowledge means the lifting of the
veil from before the eyes of the heart so as to see the mysterious
relation between man and his Maker and to be filled with a sense
of awe and reverence in the presence of an omniscient holy Being
who pervades the universe. This attitude of mind, this enlightenment,
is real knowledge. It produces humility and repels pride.
Secondly, there is an indifference to moral training during student
life. Wicked habits thus produce bitter fruits of pride. Wahb has
well illustrated this point, when he says:
"Knowledge is like rain failing from above, so pure and sweet but
the plants, when they absorb it, embitter or sweeten it, according
to their tastes. Man in acquiring knowledge acquires power, which
gives strength to the hidden qualities of his heart. If he was prone
towards pride and paid no attention to the subjugation of it, he
would prove more proud when he acquires knowledge".
"There will be men," said the Prophet,peace be upon him,
"who will have the Qur'an on their lips but it will not go down
their throats. They will claim knowledge of it, calling them- selves
learned Qari. They will be from among you, my companions, but woe
to them, for they will see the consequence of it in Hell."'
Warned by their Prophet, his companions lived a life of humility
and their example taught its lesson to their successors. A person
came to Caliph Omar after morning prayers and said: "I should like
to give public sermons." "My friend," said the Caliph, "I am afraid
you would soon be puffed up with pride." Hudhaifa, the companion
of the Prophet, was a leader of prayer. One day he said to his congregation:
"Brethren, have another leader, or go and pray alone, for I begin
to feel puffed up with your leadership.".
Thus, the companions of the Prophet lived meekly, the humble servants
of God on earth, keenly watching the changing phases of their hearts
and promptly seeking the remedy. But we who call ourselves their
followers not only do not try to purify our hearts but not even
think it worthwhile to consider the means for their purification.
How can we expect salvation? But we ought not to lose heart. The
Apostle of Mercy for the worlds (Rahmat-ul-lilalamin) has said:
"Soon a time will come when if any person will do even one-tenth
of what you are doing now, he will have his salvation."
(ii) Devotion and religious service elicit admiration
and praise for the devotee, who finding himself respected by the
people is elated. This elation quietly develops into pride and then
the devotee considers himself a superior being and favoured of God.
He despises his fellow men and calls them sinners, who will be doomed
for ever. But he does not know that he himself will be doomed for
despising his fellow men and thinking too much of himself. The Prophet,
peace and blessing be on him,said:
"When you hear any person, saying: "Woe to the people they
are doomed,' know that he himself will be doomed first."
It is recorded that a certain sinner among the Jews passed by
a well known Pharisee. Struck with the appearance of the Pharisee's
piety and devotion, the poor sinner sat down by him, believing in
the saving grace of his holy touch. But the proud Pharisee disdainfully
spoke out: "Touch me not, thou filthy sinner, and leave my presence."
Whereupon God sent His word to the prophet of that age: "Go and
tell that sinner thou art forgiven. As for that Pharisee, his devotion
is cast aside and he is doomed."
(iii) People are usually proud of their lineage,
and look down on men of low birth. They refuse to treat them on
equal terms, and boastfully speak of their ancestors in the presence
of men, who are treated by them in a haughty manner. This evil lurks
even in the hearts of good and virtuous men, although their manners
and actions throw a veil over it. But in an unguarded moment of
excitement and fury, this demon is let loose from the innermost
corner of the heart.
The Prophet's companion Abu Dharr,may Allah be pleased with him,
said: "I was quarrelling with someone in the presence of the Prophet
when suddenly in a fit of rage I abused the man saying, "You son
of a negress!" On this the Prophet peace and blessing be on him,
coaxingly said to me:
"Abu Dharr, both the scales are equal. The white has no preference
over the black."
"Hearing this I fell and said to the person: Brother, come and
trample on my face and then forgive me."
It is reported in the Hadith that two men were quarrelling before
the Prophet peace and blessing be on him. One said to the other:
"I am the son of such and such illustrious man, tell me who your
father is." The Prophet, peace and blessing be on him, addressing
the boastful man said:
"There were two men in the time of Musa who boastfully spoke
of their ancestry. One said to the other: Look, how my nine ancestors
all in one line were men of renown. And God said to Musa; 'Tell
this man all thy nine ancestors are in Hell and thou art the tenth'."
(iv) Women generally feel proud of their beauty.
This leads to finding fault with others, and this gradually assumes
the form of contempt and disdain. Our mother A'isha, the wife of
the Prophet,may Allah be pleased with her, said: "One day a woman
came to the Prophet and I said to him: 'look at this dwarf!' The
Prophet turned towards me and said:
'A'isha, repent of what you have said, for it is slander'."
(v),(vi),(vii) People feel a sort of elation at
the sight of their possessions. A merchant is elated with his stores,
a landowner with his fields and groves, and nobleman with his retinue
and riches. In short, every person feels proud of his worldly possessions
and looks down on those who are lacking in them. He believes in
riches and worships mammon. He has no idea of what is meant by:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."*
We may quote a parable from the Qur'an:
"And set forth to them a parable of two men. For one of them We
made two gardens of grape-vines, and We surrounded them both with
palms, and in the mist of them tillage. Both these gardens yielded
their fruits and failed nothing. We caused a river to gush forth in
their midst. The man possessed much fruit and he said to his companion
while he disputed with him: I have greater wealth than you and am
mightier in followers. While he entered his garden he was unjust to
himself. He said: I do not think that this will ever perish. I do
not think the hour will come, yet even if I return to my Lord I shall
most certainly find a place better than this.
His companion said to him, while disputing with him: Do you disbelieve
in Him who created you from dust, then from a small germ life, then
he made you a perfect man? But as for me, Allah is my Lord and I
do not ascribe any partner to my Lord. When you entered your garden,
why did you not say: It is as Allah has willed. There is no power
save Allah. If you consider me to be inferior to you in wealth and
children, perhaps my Lord will give me something better than your
garden, and send on it a reckoning from heaven, so that it shall
become even ground with no living plant. Or the waters may sink
into the ground so that you are unable to find them. His wealth
was indeed destroyed, and he began to wring his hands for what he
had spent on it. While it lay there (for it had fallen down from
the roofs) he said: Ah me! would that I had none to help him besides
Allah, nor could he defend himself. in Allah, alone is protection,
the True One. In the bestowal of reward and in requital He is best.
Set forth to them also the parable of the life in this world.
It is like the water which We send down front the clouds, and the
vegetation of the earth mingles with it. Then these become dry twigs
which the winds scatter. Allah is able to do all things. Wealth
and children are an adornment of the life of this world. The good
works, which abide are better in thy Lord's Sight for reward and
better in respect of hope." (18: 32-46).
How fleeting are our worldly gains, and how foolish are we in
feeling proud of them! Let us then live as meek and humble servants
of God on earth.
From "Ihya Ulum-ud Deen" (The Revival of the Religious Sciences)
*A saying attributed to the Prophet 'Isa, on whom be peace.