Modesty and Arrogance
By: Sayyid Mahdi as-Sadr
Modesty is to regard the others’ standings and avoid behaving arrogantly with them. It is an attractive quality that draws the hearts and provokes admiration. God ordered His Prophet Muhammad (S) to cling to modesty: “And be modest with him who follows you of the believers. (26:215)”
The Prophet (S) said: “The most favorable of you and the nearest to me on the Day of Resurrection will be the most well-mannered and the most modest. The remotest of you to me on the Day of Resurrection will be the bigmouth and the proud1.”
Amirul-Mu'minin (a) said: “It is very nice for the rich to behave modesty with the poor, out of seeking that which is with Allah. A nicer thing is the arrogance of the poor towards the rich, out of their trust in Allah2.”
Imam as-Sadiq (a) said: “In the heavens, there are two angels whose mission is to oversee the servants. They advance him who behaves modestly, and humiliates him who behaves proudly3.”
“Modesty is to accept to sit in a place other than the first row of a session, to greet whom you meet, to avoid disputation even if you are right, and to detest to be praised for the acts of God-fearing4.”
It is worth mentioning that the recommended modesty is characterized by moderation and free from negligence and excess. Excessive modesty causes meanness, and negligence of modesty is a motive of arrogance.
A proverb says: The modesty of a high-positioned one will save him from the malicious enjoyment at his falling.
We now forward some models of the virtues of The Ahlul-Bayt (a) regarding their unique and ideal modesty: The Prophet (S) was the most modest. When he was attendant in a house, he sits in the last place. In his house, he helped his wives. He also used to milk his ewe, patch his garment, repair his slippers, serve himself, carry his goods from the mart, sit with the poor, and eat with the needy.
When someone wanted to whisper in his ear, he used not to nod his head so that the other party would not nod the head. When someone shook hands with him, he used not to pull his hand unless the other party would do. When somebody sat with him, he used not to leave that meeting unless the other party would leave. He used to greet everyone he met and extend his hand before the other would do. He had never extended his legs among his sitters.
He used to honor everyone who would visit him. In most cases, he used to spread out his garment so that his guest would sit on it, and used to give the cushion on which he had sat to his guest. He used to call his companions with their most preferable nicknames. He had never interrupted a speech. He used to divide his looks fairly among his companions. He was always smiling and good- humored5.
Abu Dharr al-Ghifari6 narrated: “The Prophet (S) used to sit among his companions. Any stranger who visited him for the first time would not distinguish him among the others unless he would ask. We therefore asked him to choose a special place so that the strangers would recognize him. We then made a muddy bench on which he used to sit while we were beside him.”
It was also narrated that he was, once, in a journey when he ordered his companions to cook a ewe. A man volunteered to slaughter it, another volunteered to skin it, and a third volunteered to cook it. The Prophet (S) volunteered to gather firewood. When his companions told that they would do that mission instead of him, he answered: “I know you can do it, but I do not like to be distinguished. Allah dislikes to see His servant distinguish himself from his companions.”
It was also narrated that the Prophet (S) went to bathe in a spring. Huthaifa Ibn al-Yeman, who accompanied him, took a piece of cloth to screen him. When he finished, the Prophet (S) took a piece of cloth so as to screen Huthaifa who began to bathe. Huthaifa refused and asked him not to do, but the Prophet insisted. When Huthaifa finished, the Prophet said: “For the two persons who accompany each other, Allah will prefer and love more the one who is more lenient to his companion.”
Describing Amirul-Mu'minin, the ideal example of modesty, Dhirar said: “Among us, he was just like one of us. He used to approximate us when we visited him, answer us when we asked him, respond to our invitations, and answer our questions. Along with this, we could not speak to him because of fear of him. When he smiled, his teeth were the like of well-organized pearls. He used to honor the religious and favor the needy. The strong could not exploit him and the weak were not despaired of his justice.”
Imam as-Sadiq (a) narrated: Amirul-Mu'minin (a) was, once, riding an animal and his companions were walking after him. He turned his face towards them and asked why they were following him. They answered that they had just liked to walk after him. He asked them to leave, and said: “To walk with a rider corrupts the moralities of that rider and causes humility to the walker7.”
As he passed by a group of needy people who were having bits of bread that was put on a shirt, Imam al-Hussein (a) greeted them. When they invited him to their meal, he responded and sat with them. He said: “I would like to eat with you except that your food is alms8.” He invited them to his house, served them food, and gave them dresses and some money9.
In his journey to Khurasan, Imam ar-Rida (a) ordered to make a dining table and gathered all his servants, including the black ones, to eat with him. I suggested to him to use another dining table for the slaves. He answered: “What is this wording? The Lord is one, mother is one, father is one, and each one will be rewarded according to his own deeds10.”
Arrogance is a mental state causing self-admiration and haughtiness against others in words or deeds. It is censured and dispraised in many texts in the Quran and Sunna: “Do not scornfully turn your face away from people. Do not walk around puffed-up with pride; Allah does not love arrogant and boastful people (31:18).”
“Do not walk proudly on the earth; your feet cannot tear apart the earth nor are you as tall as the mountains (17:37).”
“He does not love the proud ones (16:23).”
“Is not hell the dwelling of the arrogant ones? (39:60)”
The Prophet (S) said: “The most favorable of you and the nearest to me on the Day of Resurrection will be the most well-mannered and the most modest. The remotest of you to me on the Day of Resurrection will be the bigmouth and the proud11.”
As he passed by some people, the Prophet (S) asked them about the reason of their gathering. They answered that they were gathering on an insane epileptic person. He (S) commented: “This is not insane. He is afflicted with a disease. May I tell you about the true insane?” “Yes, you may,” they answered. He said: “The true insane is he who walks swaggeringly, looks to his sides, moves his shoulders through his sides, and hopes for Paradise of Allah while he acts disobediently to Him. His evil cannot be trusted and good is not expected from him. That is the true insane and this one is inflicted with a disease12.”
While a wealthy man with a clean garment was sitting with the Prophet (S), a poor man with dirty garment came and sat next to the wealthy who pulled his garment. The Prophet (S) said to the wealthy: “Have you been afraid that his poverty would inflict you?” “No, I have not,” answered the man. “Have you been afraid that he would soil your garment?” asked the Prophet. “No, I have not,” answered the man. “Why did you then do so?” asked the Prophet. “God’s Messenger,” said the man, “I have a companion who shows me my evildoings as righteous and my righteous ones as evildoings. As penance, I offer the half of my fortune to this man.”
The poor man refused this offer and answered the wealthy who asked him about the reason, “Well, I refuse because I am afraid I will be inflicted with the same feeling of arrogance that you had.”
In one of his sermons, Amirul-Mu'minin (a) said: “You should take a lesson from what Allah did with Satan; namely He nullified his great acts and extensive efforts on account of the vanity of one moment, although Satan had worshipped Allah for six thousand years whether by the reckoning of this world or of the next world is not known. Who now can remain safe from Allah after Satan by committing a similar disobedience? None at all. Allah cannot let a human being enter Paradise if he does the same thing for which Allah turned out from it an angel and seek Allah’s protection from the dangers of vanity, as you seek His protection from calamities. Certainly, if Allah were to allow anyone to indulge in pride, He would have allowed it to his selected prophets and vicegerents. But Allah, the Sublime, disliked vanity for them and liked humbleness for them13.”
Imam as-Sadiq (a) said: In the heavens, there are two angels whose mission is to oversee the servants. They advance him who behaves modestly, and humiliate him who behaves proudly14.”
“Any behavior of arrogance or haughtiness is inevitably the result of the feeling of humility in the mentality of the arrogant or the haughty15.”
A quarrel broke out between Salman al-Farsi16 and a man who addressed to him: “Who are you and what are you?” Salman answered: “The first of you and me is a dirty sperm. The last of you and me is a stinking carrion. On the Day of Resurrection, the scales will be maintained. Those whose good deeds will weigh heavier on the scale will be the true noble men, but those whose good deeds will be lighter on the scale, will be the true inglorious17.”
Disadvantages of Arrogance
Arrogance surrounds with a ring of vanity and pride and inflicts with the fondness of selfishness and showiness to the degree that nothing will satisfy the arrogant except false flattery and fake praise. The arrogant, then, can no longer see his defects and shortcomings, care about self- discipline, or remedy his flaws. The result will be that he becomes the target of criticism and the subject of malice and revulsion. Furthermore, the arrogant is the remotest from the right and justice. The arrogant, too, excites people’s malice and loathing in such a way that nobody else can do.
Incentives of Arrogance
Self-esteem is one of the incentives of arrogance, which occurs only when one feels that he bears abundant knowledge, high position, big fortune, or the like stimulants of selfishness.
It may also be arisen from enmity, envy, or pride that may urge to challenge the ideal individuals for belittling their qualities of honor and daring them through various sorts of verbal and active practices.
Levels of Arrogance
Levels of arrogance vary according to the intensity of its signs.
The first level is that which is treated with modesty without allowing its signs and disadvantages to appear.
The second level is that when arrogance grows and allows its signs to appear through vain behaviors with people.
The third level is that in which arrogance prevails so aggravatingly causing megalomania and excessive fondness of high rank and showiness. Hence, you see the affected ones go on referring to their merits and disparaging others. This is in fact the worst level of arrogance.
Sorts of Arrogance
• Arrogance against God: This stands for the abstention from believing in Him and the vanity against obeying Him. This is definitely the worst kind of atheism and the most hideous sort of arrogance.
• Arrogance against the prophets: This stands for the vanity against believing and submitting to them. Though the two are very close to each other, this sort is, to some extent, less horrible than the first.
• Arrogance against people: This is achieved by showing contempt against people and regarding one’s being too far above them in words and deeds. Arrogance against the scholars by regarding oneself too high for asking them or seeking their knowledge, is a subclass of arrogance against people.
Treatment of Arrogance
The arrogant should recognize his reality: his origin is a dirty sperm and his end is stinky carrion. Between these two, man is weak and feeble. Hunger and thirst exhaust him, ailment and sickness overcome him, poverty and harm afflict him, and death and wear will inevitably befall him. Man cannot provide benefits and cannot save himself from misfortunes: “There is the life hereafter which we have prepared for those who do not want to impose their superiority over the others in the land nor commit evil therein. The happy end certainly belongs to the pious ones. (28:83)”
Hence, the best people are the most well-mannered, helpful, pious, and righteous.
Man should keep in mind the advantages of modesty as well as the disadvantages of arrogance. He should also remember the words of praise that were said about modesty and these of dispraise that were said about arrogance. It is said: “For people of reason, modesty with ignorance and stinginess is better than arrogance with mannerism and openhanded. Modesty, then, is such a great good feature covering two bad qualities, and arrogance is such a bad quality screening two good traits18.”
1. Quoted from Qurb ul-Isnad. A similar narrative is recorded in Ilal ush-Sharaayi.
2. Quoted from Nahj ul-Balagha.
3. Quoted from al-Kafi.
4. Quoted from al-Kafi.
5. Quoted from Safinat ul-Bihar; vol. 1 p. 415.
6. Abu Dharr al-Ghifari was one of the heroes of Islam and the four closest friends of Amir ul-Mu'minin (a) who supported him in the tragedy of the usurpation of his leadership. He was well known of his courage and revolutionary. Othman ibn Affan, the third caliph, banished him to a village because of his public protestation against the caliph’s policy of preferring his relatives and kinsmen to the others where he died in a tragic situation, and that was an assertion of the Prophet’s prediction to him.
7. Quoted from al-Barqi; al-Mahasin
8. According to the Islamic Sharia, it is unallowable for the Prophet’s family to have or possess anything that is given as alms.
9. Quoted from Ibn Shahrashoub; al-Manaqib.
10. Quoted from al-Kafi.
11. Quoted from Bihar ul-Anwar; vol. 15 part 2 page 209 (quoted from Qurb ul-Isnad.) There is a similar narrative that is recorded in Sheikh as-Saduq’s Ilal ush-Sharaayi.
12. Quoted from Bihar ul-Anwar; vol. 15 part 3 page 125 (quoted from Sheikh as-Saduq’s al-Khissal.)
13. Quoted from Nahj ul-Balagha.
14. Quoted from al-Wafi; 3:87 (quoted from al-Kafi).
15. Quoted from al-Wafi; 3:150 (quoted from al-Kafi).
16. Salman al-Farsi (born in 7th century) is a great figure in Islam. He was a companion of the Prophet Muhammad (S) and a close friend of Imam Ali Amir ul-Mu'minin (a) who supported him during the tragedy of the usurpation of his right of leadership after the Prophet. During his caliphate, Imam Ali (a) gave him a governmental office.
17. Quoted from Bihar ul-Anwar; vol. 15 part 3 page 124 (quoted from Sheikh as-Saduq’s al-Amali.)
18. Quoted from ar-Raghib; Muhadharat ul-Udabaa.