By A Muslim Brother
Many of us, Islamic blog writers, students of knowledge, activists, khatibs, or any of the groups of people in between who’s Islamic activities are public affairs, find ourselves in a difficult situation. We know the importance of humility and know that it is constantly under attack.
From khutbah compliments, to blog comments, to proving a young brother or sister’s incorrect point of view to be incorrect and helping them understand a point of fiqh or arabic or ‘Aqidah - true humility is the part of our castles which shaitan unleashes his battering ram on day, after day, after day. We take the steps towards being humble, and then…recognize to ourselves that we have taken these steps, thus causing us to become proud of ourselves. It is a vicious cycle. More knowledge, more wisdom…more to lose in the battle for humility. And on top of this, how do we keep our “humility” from turning into a destruction of our self-confidence and sense of self worth? Where is the balance? How do we keep from shows of self-demeaning: “brother, if you know me you’d know I was a pile of…” types of extreme responses to compliments.
How do we protect ourselves? How do we truly remove the pride from our hearts? Is hearing the Hadith about pride really sufficient? Is that enough fuel for us to do the job?
1. Remember why humility is important. The Prophet said: “No one who has an atom’s worth of pride in his/her heart will enter Jannah.” Humility makes us beloved to Allah (swt) and makes us kind with people. It allows us to enter Jannah. It allows us to live out our deen well, because not having an inflated opinion of ourselves allows us to accept mistakes, and move forward to correct them.
2. The classic advice of: “There are people who are more qualified than you” is good, but not comprehensive. We will discuss the good first - For anyone who has studied some arabic, quran, tajwid, or fiqh, you can rest assured, unless perhaps you are one of the few mujtahid-level ‘ulama alive today, that there are thousands of people out there, if not millions, who know more than you do. They are far more qualified in the deen, and many of them are younger than you. There are people more dedicated than you, more active than you, and smarter than you.
This should not dissuade us, but should bring us back to Earth. Remember, Musa was not the least bit discouraged by his conversation with Al-Khidr. Rather, he went forward after this lesson, to build his nation into a great Ummah for the sake of Allah (swt) and establish the Shari’ah.
However, this by itself is not comprehensive. Because as many people as there might be who are more qualified than you, there will also be many who are less qualified. They will hear your khutbahs, speeches, articles, advices, and see your Islamic work and benefit. They will look up to you, ask you questions, and you will try to help them. You will teach tajwid, Quran, Sunday school, and many other things.
Thus, point 2 is not sufficient for us, and will still keep us in the vicious battle for our humility.
3. The comprehensive answer, often overlooked in this discussion, is simpler than we think, but easier said then done.The answer, the key to humility - is an acknowledgment, a true, deep acknowledgment, that any accomplishment that you have ever made in your entire life of any kind, is NOTHING more than a grace and mercy of Allah (swt) that you really have not done much to deserve.
Everything you have done, you could only do because He let you.
Everything you have gained, you only gained because He gave you.
When a beggar receives 10 dollars from a rich man, he does not go to the rich man and pretend that he has earned this money. Nor does he go into the streets haughtily and pretend that he himself is rich. His clothes, his hair, his countenance, testifies to his true state.
Similarily, when we, the fuqara (the poor), have received such a charity from Allah, the Rich, of life, knowledge, deen, and rizq - our hearts and our actions testify to our true state as beggars. We thank Allah (swt) that he hid that from the people such that people cannot see that we are just beggars. But on the Day of Judgement, that state will be easily seen if we do not rectify it.
So brothers and sisters, the key to humility is not found only in looking above you to examples of people who are better. Rather, it is looking to your Lord,and recognizing your state when placed before him. It is in recognizing that the differences of human beings before Allah, are like a 4 yr old and a 4 yr and 1 month old arguing about who is older and thus, better. All of this talk of humility comes down to this relationship with Allah (swt) at the end, and realizing what His Rububiyyah (Lordship) over you, really means.
Be humble with Allah (swt) - that this Infinitely Knowledgeable Lord is always watching you, and humility with people will come. But if you try to be humble with people as the end and means, brushing off compliments and making false statements to try and seem humble, we will lose ourselves in our insincerity.
4. Lastly - do not let humility become a lack of self-confidence of source of self-degradation. Allah says:
“Wa la qad karramnaa bani Adam” - Verily, Indeed we have honored the Children of Adam
Bani Adam is a mukarram creation. It is honored. Allah fashioned Adam Himself and blew the Spirit into Adam. So one should not make extreme statements of “humility” by comparing oneself to feces, and filth and the like in our everyday conversations about humility and pride. You are honored by Allah with Islam and as a human being. Do not brush off this honor, nor seek honor in anything else except Islam.
Great scholars who wrote in this way with such statements, sometimes did so because they truly felt this way with a heavy humility due to their maqam with Allah, and other times as a form of mubaalagha (literary exagerration to show the weightiness of a statement or emotion) or tawkid (emphasis). Because we came across a few quotes does not mean it is genuine to start talking like this.
Recognize the balance in the first verse ever revealed:
“Read in the Name of Your Lord who created; created Mankind from a clinging piece of flesh” (96:1) and “He who taught Man by the Pen. Taught Man that which he did not know.”
See how Allah shows us an honor that we were created by Allah, our Lord, Himself! How special we should feel that we were fashioned by Allah personally. How honored that He (swt) taught us and our father Adam what he did not even teach any other creation?
Then how Allah balances this with “a clinging piece of flesh” showing us the lowly origin of our creation.
So let us seek our humility not through external gestures, but through a relationship with Allah. Let us keep balance in our humility, that we remember we are honored, but that before Allah we are dust. And let us pray that Allah makes us better than what the people think we are.
wa alaikum assalam
A Muslim Brother