by Imam Kalamazad Mohammed

Summary: Imam Kalamazad Mohammed explores the Islamic perspective on avoidance of pride and the various pitfalls if one heads down this unfortunate route.

And when We said to the angels, Be submissive to Adam, they submitted, but Iblis (did not). He refused and was proud, and he was one of the disbelievers (The Holy Quran, 2:34).

And the angels submitted, all of them, but not Iblis. He was proud and he was one of the disbelievers. He said: O Iblis, what prevented thee from submitting to him whom I created with both My hands? Art thou proud or art thou of the exalted ones? He said: I am better than he; Thou hast created me of fire, and him Thou didst create of dust. He said: Go forth from hence! Surely thou art driven away: And surely My curse is on thee to the day of Judgement. He said: My Lord, respite me to the day that they are raised. He said: Surely thou art of the respited ones. Till the day of the time made known. He said: Then, by Thy Might! I will surely lead them all astray, except Thy servants from among them, the purified ones. He said: The Truth is, and the truth I speak — that I shall fill hell with thee and with all those among them who follow thee. Say: I ask you no reward for it; nor am I of the impostors (The Holy Quran, 38:73–86).

In the above verses we read why Satan was rejected by Allah (istakbara) and also of his avowed intention to mislead whomsoever he can from the progeny of Adam. [Istakbara comes from kabara which means he or it was or became great (big or large) in body and in years and in estimation or rank or dignity and takabbara and istakbara signify he magnified himself, behaved proudly or insolently. In some places in the Holy Quran, e.g., I shall turn away from My messages those who are unjustly proud in the earth. And if they see every sign, they will not believe in it; and if they see the way of rectitude, they take it not for a way; and if they see the way of error, they take it for a way. This is because they reject Our messages and are heedless of them (7:146), there are several connotations to the above words: “he endeavoured and sought to become great; he boasted of qualities he did not possess and feigned such qualities; he considered himself as the most excellent of the creation, and as having rights which others do not have” (Lane’s Lexicon).] Part of Satan’s technique lies in his appeal to the vanity, self-conceit and pride of man in exciting egotistic desires in him and holding out promises of greatness and majesty in this world’s life — things which, according to the whisperings of Satan, can be achieved by man’s efforts alone and without any reference to the will or power or permission of Allah, Most High, as the following verses testify:

But the devil made an evil suggestion to them that he might make manifest to them that which had been hidden from them of their shame, and he said: Your Lord has forbidden you this tree, lest you become angels or become of the immortals (The Holy Quran, 7:20).

He said: My Lord, as Thou hast judged me erring, I shall certainly make (evil) fair-seeming to them on earth, and I shall cause them all to deviate, except Thy servants from among them, the purified ones (The Holy Quran, 15: 39–40).

And incite whom thou canst of them with thy voice, and collect against them thy horse and thy foot, and share with them in wealth and children, and promise them. And the devil promises them only to deceive (The Holy Quran, 17:64).

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has warned us of the sin of pride, the worst evil that man can commit, for it eventually leads to rebellion against Allah and disbelief in and rejection of Him.

“He who has in his heart as much faith as a grain of mustard-seed will not enter hell, and he who has in his heart as much pride as a grain of mustard-seed will not enter paradise” (Sahih Muslim).

He has also given us a clear definition of what constitutes pride:

The Holy Prophet (pbuh) said: “He in whose heart there is as much as a grain of pride will not enter paradise,” and a man remarked: “A man likes his garment to be beautiful and his sandals to be beautiful.” The Holy Prophet (pbuh) replied: “God, Most High, is beautiful and likes beauty; pride is disdaining what is true and despising people” (Sahih Muslim).

In his translation of Mishkat-ul-Masabih, Maulana Fazlul Karim gives a description of the three kinds of pride:

  • Pride in relation to Allah, whereby man rejects his Creator
  • A feeling of superiority over the messengers and prophets of Allah which leads to their rejection, persecution and even slaughter
  • Pride in relation to all men; that is, feeling better than all others

He also lists seven objects in which pride is taken:

  • Learning
  • Divine service
  • Ancestors and acquisitions
  • Beauty or good looks and other physical accomplishments
  • Wealth
  • Strength and power
  • Followers, helpers, students, disciples, relatives, wives and children

He also gives us some of the causes of pride — self-conceit, malice, enmity and show. Throughout his writings, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Mujaddid of the 14th Century Hijrah, has blessed us with much enlightenment on this subject, and in the following extract he places before us some practical examples and gives us special words of advice.

“So I advise my Jama’at that they should avoid pride, for in the eyes of God, the Lord of Glory and Honour, pride is a most abominable thing. But perhaps you may not know what constitutes arrogance, so take a lesson from me, for I speak through the spirit of God. Every person who looks down on his brother because he is more learned, or more intelligent or more skilful is guilty of pride, because he does not regard God as the source and fountainhead of all intelligence and knowledge, but assumes an air of superiority regarding himself. Does God not have the power to make him insane and to make his brother whom he considered inferior, greater in intellect, knowledge and accomplishment? Arrogant, too, is the person whose wealth, power and glory make him contemptuous of his brother, for he has forgotten that it was from God that he received his rank and dignity. He is also blind for he does not know that the Omnipotent God can bring upon him an unexpected calamity that can bestow upon his brother, whom he regarded as lower than him, more wealth and riches than he had. Proud, too, is the person who is vain over his physical health and strength or his beauty and elegance or his power and strength, and he mockingly and derisively applies to his brother a name tinged with disdain and exposes his bodily defects to all and sundry. He is ignorant of God, Who, in the twinkling of an eye, can visit him with such bodily infirmities that may make him worse than his brother, and He may bless him who was despised before with strength for a long period of time so that there is not decrease nor unsoundness in it. Similarly, the one who relies on his own powers so that he is remiss in making du’a (supplication) to Allah, is also a proud person for he has not recognised the Source of all power and strength and ascribes greatness to himself. So, dear friends, remember all these things and from no point of view should you become proud in the eyes of God and let yourself remain ignorant of it. A person who superciliously corrects a brother for using a word wrongly also partakes of the sin of arrogance. He who is reluctant to listen politely to the words of his brother and turns away his face in contempt is also guilty of arrogance. If a person has a poor brother residing with him and he looks down on him, that, too, is a manifestation of pride. If someone looks with scorn and contempt at another who is making supplication to God, then he, too, has a share of pride in him. He who refuses to render obedience to the messengers appointed by God is also party to pride, as is the person who does not ponder over their words and does not study their writings assiduously. So strive hard to prevent even an ounce of pride from entering your heart so that you may escape destruction and that you and your family may attain salvation. Bow down to God and, however much it is possible to show love to another in this world, do so, and as much as possible fear your Lord to the limit of your capacity. Purify your heart and your motives and have compassion for the needy and the destitute” (Nuzulul Masih, pp. 402–403).

We must not believe that arrogance is the affliction of only the unbelievers and outright sinners. This is such an insidious evil that not even the saints of Allah are spared the subtle laser-like infiltration of Satan into the innermost recesses of their hearts. The following two incidents in the life of Hazrat Hasan Basri will serve to illustrate this point.

“Hasan was so humble that he considered himself inferior to all. One day on the bank of the River Dajla he found a man seated with a young lady and a bottle of wine in front of him. The thought crossed his mind: ‘How depraved is this man! Would that he were like me.’ Just then a boat appeared in the river at a distance from him, and gradually began to sink in deep water. The man immediately jumped into the water and of the seven men in the boat who were drowning, he saved six, and then looking towards Hasan said: ‘If you are superior to me, then in God’s name save the seventh man. You save only one man, whilst I have saved six.’ Hasan could not do so. The man then addressing Hasan said: ‘Sir, this woman seated by my side is my mother, and that bottle yonder contains water. This scene was enacted to put you to test.’ Hasan fell on his feet and said: ‘Just as you have saved six people, save me also from drowning in the waters of pride and vanity.’ He replied: ‘May God fulfil thy desire!’ Hasan felt as if his desire was fulfilled. Since then he became so humble that seeing a dog one day he remarked: ‘O Lord! For the sake of this virtuous dog, accept me as Thy slave’” (Tadhkiratul Auliya, pp. 12–13).

“Once Hasan went to Habib ‘Ajmi at the time of evening prayers. Hasan heard ‘Ajmi mispronouncing a word during the prayer. He considered it improper to say his prayers with him, and therefore said his prayers separately. During the night he dreamt the Lord saying to him: ‘Hasan, if you had stood behind Habib ‘Ajmi and said your prayers, you would have earned Our pleasure, and that single prayer of yours would have borne thee greater benefit than all the prayers taken together which you have offered in your lifetime. You tried to find fault with his pronunciation, but looked not into the purity and excellence of his heart. Know it that We cherish a contrite heart much more than merely correct pronunciation of words’” (Tazkiratul-Auliya, pp. 17–18).

What can we do to prevent this disease from overpowering us? The Holy Quran is filled with advice for us and so, too, is the Hadith, and a practical elaboration of one of these techniques is given to us by Imam Ghazali as he teaches us the correct attitude to adopt if we are to guard against this deadly malady.

“Every one who considers himself better than one of the creatures of God, Most High, is arrogant. Indeed, you ought to realise that the good man is he who is good in God’s sight in the mansion of eternity; and that is something unknown to man, postponed to the end. Your belief that you are better than others is sheer ignorance — rather you ought not to look at anyone without considering that he is better than you and superior to you. Thus, if you see a child, you say: ‘This person has never sinned against God, but I have sinned, and so he is better than I’; and if you see an older person, you say: ‘This man was a servant of God before me, and is certainly better than I’; if he is a scholar, you say: ‘This man has been given what I have not been given and reached what I did not reach, and knows what I am ignorant of; then how shall I be like him?’ If he is ignorant, you say: ‘This man has sinned against God in ignorance, and I have sinned against Him knowingly, so God’s case against me is stronger, and I do not know what end He will give to me and what end to him.’ If he is an infidel, you say: ‘I do not know; perhaps he will become a Muslim and his life will end in doing good, and because of his acceptance of Islam something of his sins will be taken away, as a hair is taken from dough; but as for me — God is our refuge — perhaps God will lead me astray so that I become an infidel and my life ends in doing evil, and then tomorrow he will be among those brought near to God and I shall be among the punished’” (The Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazali, p. 146).

May Allah help us to heed the invaluable advice and teachings given to us above so that our hearts may be fortified with the love of the Almighty in order that we will be able to face and triumph over whatever may befall us in life, and yet be of use to mankind — something that pride naturally obviates. And may we never become like those unfortunate ones who reject religion and go so far as to oppose it and of whom it is mentioned in the Holy Quran:

Hastening forward, their heads upraised, their gaze not returning to them, and their hearts vacant (The Holy Quran, 14:43).

Instead, let us all strive to be like those described in this verse of the Holy Quran:

But Allah has endeared the faith to you and has made it seemly in your hearts, and He has made hateful to you disbelief and transgression and disobedience. Such are those who are rightly guided — a grace from Allah and a favour. And Allah is Knowing, Wise (The Holy Quran, 49:7).