Treating the disease of arrogance
By: Imam Uthman dan Fodio
Pride is one of the blameworthy qualities and it is forbidden to have it. Allah ta`ala said: “I will turn away from My signs those who are arrogant in the earth without right.” As far as its reality is concerned, you should know that pride is divided into inward and outward pride. Inward pride is a quality within the self, and outward pride is action which appears through the limbs.
The name pride (kibr) is more appropriate for the inward quality. As for action, it is the result of that quality, and you must know that the quality of pride demands action. When it appears on the limbs, it is called arrogance (takabbur), and when it does not manifest itself, it is called pride (kibr). Its root is the quality in the self which is satisfaction and confidence at seeing the self above anyone towards whom he is overbearing. Mere self-exaltation does not make someone arrogant. He might well exalt himself while seeing that another person is greater than him or his equal. In this case, he is not overbearing toward him. It is not enough merely to disdain others. In spite of his disdain, a person might see himself as more despicable and therefore, he would not be considered arrogant. If someone sees the other as his equal, he is not considered arrogant. He must see that he has a rank and someone else has a rank, and then see his rank as above the other’s rank. When he exalts his own value in relationship to someone else, he despises the one below him and puts himself above the other’s company and confidence. If it is very extreme, he may spurn the other’s service and not consider him worthy to stand in his presence. If it is less extreme, he may reject his basic equality, and put himself above this other in assemblies, wait for him to begin the greeting, think that it is unlikely that he will be able to fulfill his demands and be amazed at him. If he objects, the proud man scorns to answer him. If he warns him, he refuses to accept it. If he answers him back, he is angry. When the proud man teaches, he is not courteous to his students. He looks down upon them and rebuffs them. He is very condescending toward them and exploits them. He looks at the common people as if he were looking at asses. He thinks that they are ignorant and despicable.
There are many actions which come from the quality of pride. They are too many to be numbered. This is the reality of pride.
The harm it does is immense. The ‘ulama’ can help you but little against it, let alone the common people. How could its harm be other than great when it comes between a man and all the qualities of the mu’minun? Those qualities are the doors to the Garden. Pride locks all those doors because it is impossible for him to want for the mu’minun what he wants for himself while there is anything of self-importance in him. It is impossible for him to have humility – and humility is beginning of the qualities of those who guard themselves out of fear of Allah – while there is any self-importance in him. It is impossible for him to remain truthful while there is self-importance in him. It is impossible for him to abandon anger while there is self-importance in him. It is impossible for him to offer friendly good counsel while there is self importance in him. It is impossible for him to accept good counsel while there is self-importance in him. He is not safe from the contempt and slander of others while there is self-importance. There is no praiseworthy quality but he is incapable of it from the fear that his self-importance will slip away from him.
As far as its cure is concerned, there are two parts: the knowledge-cure and the action-cure. The remedy can only be effected by joining the two of them. The knowledge-cure is to know and recognise yourself and to kno and recognise your Lord. That will be enough to remove your pride. Whoever knows and recognises his own self as it should be known and recognised, knows that it is not worthy of greatness, and that true greatness and pride are only for Allah. As for gnosis of his Lord and His glory, it is too lengthy a subject for us to discuss here […].
Self-recognition is also a lengthy subject. However, we will mention what will help you towards humility and submisiveness. It is enough for you to recognise one ayat of the Book of Allah. The knowledge of the first and the last is in the Qur’an for whoever has his inner eye open. Allah ta`ala said: “Perish man! How thankless he is! Of what did He create him? Of a sperm-drop. He created him, and determined him, and then made him the way easy for him. Then He makes him die, buries him, and then, when He wills, raises him.”
This ayat points to the beginning of man’s creation, his end, and his middle. Let a man look at that if he desires to understand its meaning.
As for the beginning of man, he was “a thing unremembered”. He was concealed in non-existence. Non-existence has no beginning. What is lower and meaner than obliteration and non-existence? He was in non-existence. Then Allah created him from the basest of things, and then from the most unclean thing. He created him from earth and then from a sperm-drop, thena blood-clot, then a lump of flesh. Then He made the flesh bones, and then clothes the bones in flesh. This was the beginning of his existence and then he became a thing remembered. He was a thing unremembered by reason of having he lowest of qualities and attributes since at his beginning, he was not created perfect. he was created inanimate, dead. He neither heard, saw, felt, moved, spoke, touched, perceived, or knew. He began by his death before his life, by weakness before his strength, by ignorance before knowledge, by blindness before sight, by deafness before hearing, by dumbness before speech, by misguidance before guidance, by poverty before wealth, and by incapacity before capacity.
This is the meaning of His word, “From what did He create him? And determined him,” and the meaning of His word, “Has there come upon a man a period of time when he was a thing unremembered? We created him of a sperm-drop, a mingling, trying him. We made him hearing, seeing. We guided him upon the way, whether he is thankful or unthankful.”
He created him like that at the beginning. Then He was gracious to him and said, “We made the way easy for him.” This indicates what He wills for him during the period from life to death. Similarly, He said, “of a sperm-drop, a mingling, trying him. We made him hearing, seeing. We guided him on the way.” The meaning here is that He gave him life after he was inanimate and dead – first from the earth, and then from a sperm-drop. He gave him hearing after he was deaf and He gave him sight after he lacked sight. He gave him strenght after weakness and knowledge after ignorance. He created his limbs for him with all they contain of marvels and signs after he lacked them. He enriched them after poverty, made him full after hunger, clothed him after nakedness, and guided him after misguidance. Look how He directed him and formed him. Look at how He made the way easy for him. Look at man’s overstepping and at how thankless he is. Look at man’s ignorance and how he shows it.
Allah ta`ala said, “Part of His sign is that He created you from earth.” He created man from humble earth and unclean sperm after pure non-existence so that he would recognise the baseness of his essence and thereby recognise himself. He perfected the sperm-drop for him so that he would recognise his Lord by it and know His immensity and majesty by it, and that He is the only one worthy of true greatness and pride. For that reason, He described him and said, “Have We not given him two eyes and a tongue and two lips, and guided him on the two roads?”
He first acquainted him with his baseness and said, “Was he not a sperm-drop extracted? Then he was a blood-clot. Then He mentioned His favour and said, “He created and fashioned and made a pair from it, male and female,” in order to perpetuate his existence by reproduction as his existence was acquired in the beginning by original formation. When you begin in this manner and your states are like this, how can you have arrogance, pride, glory, and conceit? Properly speaking, man is the lowest of the low and the weakest of the weak. Indeed, even if He had perfecteed him, delegated his command to him and made his existence go on by his own choice, he would still dare to be insolent and would forget his beginning and his end. However, during your existence, He has given illnesses power over you, whether you like it or not, and whether you are content or enraged. You become hungry and thirsty without being able to do anything about it. You do not possess any power to bring either harm or benefit. You ant to know something but you remain ignorant of it. You want to remember something and yet you forget it. You want to not forget something and yet you do forget it. You want to direct your heart to waht concerns it and yet you are caught up in the valleys of whispersings and thoughts. You own neither your heart nor your self. You desire something while your destruction may be in it, and you detest something while your life may be in it. You find some foods delicious when they destroy and kill you, and you find remedies repugnant when they help you and save you. You are not safe for a moment, day or night. Your sight, knowledge, and power may be stripped away, your limbs may become semi-paralysed, your intellect may be stolen away, your ruh may be snatched away, and all that you love in this world may be taken from you. You are hard-pressed, abased. If you are left alone, you go on. If you are snatched away, you are annihilated. A mere slave. A chattel. You have no power over yourself or anyone else. What can be more abased? If you recognise yourself, how can you think yourself worthy of pride? If it were not for your ignorance – and this is your immediate state – you would reflect on it. Your end is death. It is indicated by His word, “Then He makes him die and buries him. Then, when He wills, He raises him.” The meaning here is that your ruh, hearing, sight, knowledge, power, senses, perception, and movement are all stripped away. You revert to the inanimate as you were in the first place. Only the shape of your limbs remains. Your form has neither senses nor movement. Then you are placed in the earth and your limbs decay. You become absent after you existed. You become as if you were not, as you were at first for a long period of time. Then a man wishes that he could remain like that. How excellent it would be if he were left as dust! However, after a long time, He brings him back to life to subject him to a severe trial. He comes out of his grave after his spearated parts are joined together, and he steps out to the terrors of the Rising. He is told, “Come quickly to the Reckoning and prepare for the Outcome!” His heart stops in fear and panic when he is faced with the terror of these words even before his pages are spread out and he sees his shameful actions in them. This is the end of his affair. It is the meaning of His word, “Then when He wishes, He raises him.”
How can anyone whose state this is be arrogant? A moment of freedom from grief is better than arrogance. He has shown the beginning and the middle of his condition. If his end had appeared to him – and we seek refuge from Allah – perhaps he would have chosen to be a dog or a pig in order to become dust with the animals rather than a hearing, speaking man, and meet with punishment (if he deserves the Fire). When he is in the presence of Allah then even the pig is nobler than him since it reverts to dust and it is spared from the Reckoning and the punishment. Someone with this state at the Rising can only hope for pardon, and he cannot be at all certain about it. How then can he be arrogant? How can he see himself as anything to which excellence is attached? This is the knowledge-cure.
As far as the action-cure is concerned, it is to humble yourself to people in a constrained unnatural manner until it becomes natural for you.