Arrogance Reflects a Condition of Illness in the Human Soul
Arrogance reflects a condition of illness in the human soul, and most of the time reflects a condition of low self-esteem in the person who has it. He wants to compensate for these feelings by glorifying himself in front of others, usually for imaginary reasons. This kind of reaction is like competing with the Almighty Lord, for He alone is the One who is worthy of being called glorious.
We should try and uncover the causes of this hateful quality in our own selves. One of the causes of such arrogance is monetary wealth, which the Holy Qur’an has named as one of the causes of injustice. In fact, having monetary wealth never signifies spiritual perfection. Is there some connection between the owner and the money that is owned that would justify thinking the owner to be great? This seems especially false when we consider that the owner will part with his money sooner or later. Reflect on the following hadith that a door of wisdom might be opened to you: Imam Ali (A) once said, “How wonderful is the humility of the rich before the poor to earn what is with God! But even better than that is the pride of the poor before the rich, relying on the authority of God!”
Another one of the causes of arrogance is high regard for social position and belonging to those who – in the eyes of the majority – are people of high distinction and honor. This is also a delusion. If one single person is not that important, then many individuals like him will not be that important either. Have we forgotten that Almighty God made human distinction limited by one’s piety? Then why do we give weight to things that have no value before God?
Another cause is attachment to a particular geographical place which is what we call nationalism. In reality, all the earth belongs to God, and one day it will all be laid flat! There is no special honor for one land over any other except for some of the places which Almighty God sanctified like the Two Holy Shrines of Mecca and Medina. Belonging to some place should not cause us to be proud or arrogant over others. Such shallow thinking could cause us to be hated by God.
Another cause is love of self. Isn’t it strange that one should love one’s self, even if that self is completely devoid of any of the qualities of perfection? Funny thing, that he would be pleased with the self and so distance it from anything worthy of feeling greatness and pride! Thinking about the reality of one’s annihilation and one’s absolute poverty before the All-Generous Provider in every moment is one of the ways to achieve humility of the self, the feeling that there is no support for the self other than the One God and He alone. Then he will see everything in existence as something small, even this soul which has no value next to this vast existence.
One of the ways to treat this condition which displeases the Almighty is looking upon others as if they are the subjects of the Divine Master. Then the individual will realize that placing himself over others is basically placing himself over this relationship between the Creator and His Creation. In this case he will be exposed to divine retribution for trying to transgress this sacred bond. Anyway, how can we look down on anyone else when we do not know what is inside them or what will be their end? How can we judge them without having any knowledge or certainty about their case?
One of the causes of high esteem amongst the people is truly and sincerely humbling oneself before the Almighty Lord, whether in our social interactions or in personal seclusion, especially when we are in prostration. The one who humbles himself before God gets raised up by Him, as the causes of elevation and highness are controlled by His hand. After all, He promised His Chosen Prophet Muhammad (S) to raise his remembrance. As we can see, He linked the remembrance of the Prophet (S) with His own remembrance in most of the movements of the sacred prayer, like the two shahadas, the adhan and iqamah, the tashahhud, the tasleem, and other special rituals.
As much as the believer strengthens his awareness of Almighty God, he becomes more aware of his own shortcomings before Him. Let us suppose he has improved his practical reality. That is no cause for arrogance at all, as he can never compensate for the days that passed him by in forgetfulness, neglect and rebellion. Bringing this to mind causes one to develop feelings of indignity and humility before the Almighty. There is no other chance for him – when he lives with this feeling – to look down on others. Think about what Imam Zayn al-Abideen (A) said in his supplication: “Don’t raise me up a single degree in the eyes of the people, but that you lower me the same degree in my own eyes. Don’t bring me any outward esteem but that you bring me inward humility in the same measure.”
The Masumeen (A) gave the most beautiful example in fighting glorification for anyone other than Almighty God. It has been stated that some people glorified Amir al-Mu’mineen (A) in an excessive way, and he asked them, “What is this you have done?” They replied, “This is how we glorify our leaders.” He said (A), “By God, your leaders don’t get any benefit from this. You are harming yourselves by it and you are making your lives hereafter miserable. What is a greater loss than difficulty followed by punishment? What greater victory is there than to rest in comfort while being protected from the fire?!”