Self Deception and Egotism
One of the most dangerous attributes that are mostly seen among the scholars and saints is egotism. It is the same self-centredness for explaining the meaning whereof great teachers of ethics and morals have written much.
Egotism is that man thinks himself to be great due to his material attainments, be those actual virtues in him or only in his imagination.
Some have said: Egotism is that, man due to whatever attribute or blessing he has thinks that he is great and becomes unmindful of the one who granted all that to him. They have not considered it self-deceit and egotism if one considers oneself to be better than others. It is Ujb even if there is none besides one. Contrary to this, in case of pride, it is necessary that there is somebody else so that the proud may be able to imagine himself to be better than the other.
The late Allamah Majlisi (r.a.) has said: Ujb means to imagine oneself's deed as great and to be pleased with it is in such a way that he does not consider him at fault but thinks that he has obliged Allah!
It can be said that there are stages or grades of self-deceit and egotism. It is not necessary that the egotist must have crossed all the stages. So it is mentioned in an authentic narration by Ali bin Suved from Moosa bin Ja'far (a.s.): I inquired about the deed called ujb. The Imam (a.s.) said: Some of the stages of it are that a bad deed appears good to one, he considers it nice and becomes happy with it and thinks that he has done a good thing.???
It is also one of the stages when man believes in God and imagines that he has favoured Allah! Whereas the truth is that Allah has favoured him.
Because it was he who guided him to Faith
In short, it can be said that it is Ujb when man becomes happy with himself and this is the very first stage of egotism. Sometimes pride and self-centeredness also branch out from this stage and man begins to imagine himself to be better than others. Sometimes it so happens that he imagines that as a result of some of his good deeds he has acquired some rights over Allah. Scholars have explained this subject from various aspects.
There are many narrations in this matter. Here, we mention three of them:
1 - Imam Sadiq (a.s.) said: Whoever is taken over by egotism is finished.
2 - It is narrated either from Imam Sadiq (a.s.) or Imam Baqir (a.s.): Two men enter a mosque. One is a worshipper and another sinner. Then they get out of the Masjid in such a condition that the sinner becomes a Mo-min and the Aabid turns into a sinner. The reason is that the oft-worshipper enters the mosque happily taking pride in his worship and thinks only about it whereas the sinner feels very ashamed of his misdeeds and seeks Allah's pardon.
3 - The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) said: Lord Almighty addressed Prophet Dawood (a.s.): O Dawood! Give good tidings to the sinners and warn the truthful and righteous. Dawood said: How can I give good tidings to the offenders and warn the pious? Came the commandment: O Dawood! Give good news to the sinners that I accept repentance and forgive sins and caution the truthful that they should not be self-centred due to their good deeds because there is no slave who is called for giving the account of his deeds ???and he is not destroyed.
Now that we have known that egotism is prohibited from the viewpoint of traditions, let us discuss some other aspects of it:
1- Worldly and Otherworldly harms of ujb.
2- What is the sign of ujb?
3- How it can be cured?
From the viewpoint of worldly life the harms and corrupting effects of egotism are many. We point out four of them that have been mentioned in narrations:
A - Ujb means self-centeredness or egotism. Once man develops this evil he is no more prepared to obtain any benefit from the centres of knowledge or from knowledgeable persons, as he imagines himself on their level and sometimes even above them. Due to this he drags behind in scholarly achievements or in the progress of knowledge. He remains in a state of multiple ignorance forever. So most of us, possibly know a group of them, and in the words of our dear leader of the Islamic revolution, Imam Khomeini (r.a.) which he had uttered in one of his final addresses to the students:
Honourable sire! Learn lessons, before your age advance and you turbans expand, because, then it is likely, you may not be ready to attend study circles and benefit from them, even though, sometimes, man knows that lesson is beneficial for him.
The master of the monotheists (a.s.) says:
Egotism prevents progress of knowledge.
He also says: Self-centeredness corrupts ones intelligence.
B - It is but natural that egotism makes a person unpleasant among the people who become displeased with him and do not care for him. So the Imam (a.s.) pointing to this, says: One who is pleased with himself makes many people angry with him.
Yes, it must be said that egotism, in every meaning, is a harmful ignorance. Imam Sadiq (a.s.) says: No ignorance and foolishness is more harmful than egotism.
C - Egotism takes man away from reality. Consequently he is not able to benefit from good deeds. For example, once Isa (a.s.) = Isa (a.s.) was travelling with one of his companions. When they reached seashore, Isa (a.s.), with full faith in the Lord of the worlds, uttered the Name of Allah and began to walk on water. The youth accompanying him also took the Name of God with full Faith and walked on water likewise. But, during the walk in the sea, egotism took over the latter youth. So he said to himself proudly: Now how is Isa (a.s.) superior to me? At the very moment he entertained this thought he went down in the water. Hazrat Isa (a.s.) saved him and said: This happened due to egotism in you. If you repent you will return to your earlier condition. The youth repented and gained his earlier status.
D - An egotist mostly has failed and will fail because the Holy Quran, says in regard to the unbelievers: Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth declares the Glory of Allah, and He is the Mighty, the wise. He is who caused those who disbelieved of the followers of the Book to go forth from their homes at the first banishment; you did not think that they would go forth, while they were certain that their fortresses would defend them against Allah; but Allah came to them whence they did not expect, and cast terror into their hearts; they demolished their houses with their own hands and the hands of the believers; therefore take a lesson, O you who have eyes!
The Otherworldly Harm of Egotism
Egotism makes deeds meaningless. The Holy Quran says: Say: Shall we inform you of the greatest losers in their deeds? These are they whose labour is lost in their life and they think that they are well-versed in skill of the work of hands.
And again says: What! Is he whose evil deed is made fair seeming to him so much so that he considers it good is like the one who sees the Truth?
Yes, those who think in this way destroy their good deeds, in a way, by casting favour. So says the Holy Quran: O you who believe do not make your charity worthless by reproach and injury, like him who spends his property to be seen of men.
We conclude this discussion with a narration from Imam Sadiq (a.s.): Egotism is a plant the seed whereof is kufr unbelief and its ground is nifaq (disharmony) and its water is oppression and its branches are foolishness and its leaf is waywardness and its fruit is condemnation and dumping in Hell. So whoever adopts egotism has cultivated and sown the see of blasphemy and its cultivation will be discord and know that they are bound to get this fruit.
Sign of Ujb
Obviously the sign of egotism is that one considers oneself better than others and in the Words of the Holy Quran: Nay! Man is evidence against himself, though he puts forth his excuses.
And likewise Imam Sadiq (a.s.) said: The one who does not recognise the personality of others is the one who is an egotist.