A Dissertation about Conceit (Ujb)
By: Sayyid Ahmad al-Fahri
Before we start to explain the meaning of conceit, the damage it causes, its characteristics and how this contemptible case is treated, we ought to pave the way for all of that with some citations from the Qur'ān and the traditions of Ahl al-Bayt, peace be with them all.
Suffices to identify the significance of conceit and the calamity this contemptible case brings about, in the view of the Qur'ān, to read verses 103 – 105 of the blessed Chapter "The Cave", Al-Kahf, where Allāh, Praised is He, says,
"Say: 'Shall we tell you of those who lose the most with regard to their deeds, those whose efforts have been wasted in this life, while they thought that they were acquiring good by their deeds? They are those who deny their Lord's Signs and the fact that they shall meet Him (in the hereafter): Their deeds will be in vain, nor shall We grant them any weight on the Day of Judgment" (Qur'ān, 18:103–105).
We derive from these sacred verses many interesting points on which we are not going to elaborate, but we would only like to point out that conceit, according to these verses, becomes a cause for many good endeavors in this life to go to waste; it leads to disbelieving the Signs of Allāh and in meeting Him, a cause for voiding the good deeds; so, conceit spares no good deed whereby salvation is anticipated. For these reasons, the good deeds of the conceited ones will have no weight on the Judgment Day. This suffices as the destruction caused by this case that brings loss.
As regarding conceit according to traditions, the revered Al-Kāfi traces to Ali ibn Suwaid asking the father of Imām al-Hassan (Ú) about conceit which ruins good deeds. The Imām (Ú) said, "Conceit is of many levels. One of them is that the bad deed of a servant of Allāh is decorated for him, so he sees it as good and he likes it, thinking he is doing something good. Another level is when a servant believes in his Lord, so he thinks he has done Allāh Almighty a favor while Allāh is the one who bestowed His favor on him."
The Imām (Ú) is also cited as having said, "One who is absorbed by conceit perishes." Also he is cited as having said, "Someone sins then regrets. He does a good deed whereby he is pleased, so he relaxes his condition. It would have been better for him to maintain his first status rather than enter into that." The Imām (Ú) is also quoted as having said, "A scholar came to a worshipper and asked him about his prayers. The worshipper said, 'Should someone like me be asked about his prayers while I have been worshipping Allāh since such-and-such?!'
He asked him about his tears. The man said to him, 'I cry till my tears pout out.' The scholar then said to him, 'Your laughter while being afraid is better than your weeping while you are thus bragging about it. Nothing of the good deed of a braggart is ever raised.'"
The Messenger of Allāh (Õ) has said, "Three things are lethal: an obeyed miserliness, an illicit desire that is followed, and one who is proud of himself." He (Õ) has also said, "Had you not sinned, I would have feared for you what is greater than sinning: conceit, conceit."
Ibn Mas`ūd has said, "Perishing is brought about in two situations: despondency and conceit. It is when one loses hope for the mercy of Allāh, desponds from salvation, loses hope from self reform."
Ibn Mas`ūd has combined both of these because one's happiness is pawned by his endeavor and serious effort in seeking it. The Almighty has said,
"… man can have nothing but what he strives for" (Qur'ān, 53:39).
Unless one energetically seeks his objective and original goal, he will never attain the sought happiness. Each of these two characteristics, despondency and conceit, plays a role in slowing down an effort towards one's goal, prohibiting one from seeking it as he ought to. As regarding despondency, the morale of the despondent person is not prepared to pursue his objective. One who desponds from reforming himself, so he is not energetic in order to save it, he may do something that is faster in causing his perdition.
One who desponds from reforming himself does not mind committing any wrongdoing; therefore, despondency from the broad mercy of Allāh is considered as one of the greatest sins. As for conceit, since the conceited person thinks he achieved his happiness and won his objective and goal, he, too, stops his good endeavor and pursuit.
In other words, man does not seek something which is already available rather than something which is impossible. Happiness in the eyes of the conceited person is already present, and in the eyes of the despondent person it is impossible. In this regard, we contend ourselves with this much.
Meaning of Conceit
Conceit means one sees and admires himself and his actions. It is a psychological condition which we sometimes find in ourselves. The meanings given to it, that have been mentioned in language books, mostly explain its requirements or consequences such as elation, arrogance, and denying what others hold against you as objectionable, according to Al-Munjid.
These meanings, as you can see, are among the requirements of the state which we mentioned in one's nafs. As regarding the idiomatic meaning for conceit, according to the definition of the scholars of mannerism, it is, according to some scholars of the hereafter, magnifying the blessing, taking it for granted while forgetting to attribute it to the One Who bestowed it.
Allama al-Majlisi, may Allāh sanctify his soul, has said that conceit is magnifying the good deed, seeing it as plentiful. As regarding feeling pleased with it while feeling humble to the most Exalted One and thanking Him for enabling its doing, it is good, commendable.
I say that what this great traditionist has said, that is, conceited is "one who sees himself as not having fallen short of undertaking the deed", a reference to a particular conduct to which narrations have referred. Among such traditions is one recorded in the sacred book Al-Kāfi from the father of al-Hassan, namely Imām Mousa son of Ja'fer, peace be with both of them, who said once to one of his sons, "O son! You have to maintain your endeavor.
Do not ever think of yourself as having transcended the stage of falling short of perfecting your worship of Allāh, the most Exalted, the most Great, and are obeying Him, for Allāh is never adored as He should be." It is also as the Messenger of Allāh (Õ) had said, being the best of all descendants of Adam, the one who is the best of them in his knowledge of Allāh, and the one who adored Him the best, addressing Him thus: "We did not know You as You ought to be known, nor did we adore You as You should rightly be adored." Al-Kāfi, too, cites Jābir [son of Abdullāh al-Ansāri] saying that the father of Imām Ja'fer (Ú) said to him, "O Jābir! May Allāh never get you out of the feeling of being neglectful and of being derelict in worshipping Allāh."
The great traditionist, 'allama al-Majlisi, has quoted the knowledgeable critic, the great scholar, and the most revered mentor Bahā ad-Deen al-`Āmili, may Allāh be pleased with him, saying, "There is no doubt that if one does a righteous deed, such as fasting on certain days, spending the night praying and the like, feels happy about it. If he feels like that on account of these deeds being a boon from Allāh, a blessing from Him, the most Exalted One, upon him, while being afraid of their disappearance, pleading to Allāh to grant him more of them…, such feeling is not conceit. But if he thinks that they represent his own characteristic, that they are done by his person, being attributed to him, thinking much of them and feeling reliant upon them, seeing himself as being outside the limit of dereliction, having the attitude as if he is doing Allāh, Praise to Him, a favor because of them, such is conceit."
Explanation by Imām Al-Khomeini
Imām al-Khomeini, may his shade prolong, has a viewpoint about this definition. He says the following: "The explanation of conceit according to what is mentioned by the greatest mentor Bahā ad-Deen is correct, but the deed has to be examined more generally than just inwardly and outwardly, more generally than a good or an ugly deed, because conceit, just as it is ascertained by the acts of the senses, it also is compared with the side actions, running them.
Just as the person who has a commendable merit feels conceited, admiring his merit, so is the case with the one who has the bad characteristic, too, for he may also feel proud of himself or of his characteristic. It is as has been indicated in the sacred tradition which we mentioned as narrated by Ali son of Suwaid quoting the father of al-Hassan (Ú) in which the Imām (Ú) says, "… And among them is that the bad deed of a servant of Allāh is decorated for him, so he sees it good, and he feels proud of it, thinking that he is doing well. And among them is that a servant believes in his Lord, so he thinks he is thus doing Allāh a favor.
The reason why he mentioned these two is because they are hidden from the sight of most people, and so that people may also get to know that the good feeling and elation, which the Bahā'i mentor excludes from conceit and regards as good, is according to the type of one's attitude."
The gist of the viewpoint of imām al-Khomeini with regard to the statement of the mentor indicates three matters:
First: The mentor, may Allāh have mercy on him, has specifically talked about conceit when someone feels conceited about his physical deeds, such as fasting during the time and praying during the night, and the like, and apparently his objective from doing so is not the same as he had mentioned of the deeds of adoration, benevolence, etc., not looking at the inward deeds.
Conceit, as we have already stated, is found in the innate, the inwardly, deeds such as one feeling proud of his belief, which is an action relevant to the heart, an internal submission, feeling proud of his belief in the Messenger as though he feels he is doing Allāh and His Messenger a favor, as stated in the tradition quoted above. Thus, conceit is found in the inward characteristics and faculties such as conceit about knowledge, courage, generosity, etc.
Second: The mentor, may he be sanctified, specifically discussed conceit about side deeds, with regard to the good deeds, too, saying, "There is no doubt that one who does good deeds feels elated." The case is that conceit is not confined to the good deeds but it may also take place in the bad ones. Quite many unbelievers and hypocrites feel proud of their unbelief and hypocrisy.
Those whose faculties are mean are dragged into feeling proud of their bad characteristics as we, God willing, will mention. We have pointed out to all of this in the tradition cited above, which is the statement of the imām in which he says that a servant's bad deed is decorated for him, so he sees it as being good, and he likes it. Such is the result of Satan, the evil one, confusing him, and such is the bad nafs decorated for man.
Third: According to the imām's viewpoint with regard to the statement of the mentor, that is, the feeling of happiness and elation that happens to man upon doing some righteous deed, if it is according to what the mentor says, that is, with regard to such deeds being a boon from Allāh…, etc., such elation is not conceit. This pursuit, with regard to most people, is according to its kind and is not applicable to all persons.
There are individuals among people who are among the sincere worshippers of Allāh. They have gotten rid of the nafs and of its desires. Their eyes are too blinded to see their nafs in its entirety, so they do not see any deed for themselves except that they feel happy and pleased about it. They see their souls being owned by their real Owner; they have neither power nor might of their own. Their will is fused into the will of Allāh. They are described by this verse: "Allāh sets forth the parable (of two men: one) a slave in the service of another; he has no power of any sort, while (the other) a man on whom We have bestowed goodly favors from Us, and he spends (freely) of it, privately and publicly: Are the two equal? (By no means;) praise be to Allāh. But most of them do not understand" (Qur'ān, 16:75).
They are the testimony to this verse of the Almighty: "They are (but) servants [whose status is] raised to honor [and distinction]" (Qur'ān, 21:26).
These are the sincere ones who, when being heedless about Allāh and cast a look at their good deed, they find happiness and pleasure, whereupon they seek forgiveness of Allāh for such a sentiment despite their lofty status with Allāh, for the good deeds of the kind ones are the bad deeds of those close to Him.