Remedy for Pride in Theory and Practice
By: Shaheed Ayatullah Abdul Husain Dastghaib Shirazi
The practical remedy for the disease of pride is that man should contemplate upon his original creation. He must keep it in mind that he is born from a despicable drop of semen, which is considered dirty by everyone. It is clearly mentioned in the Holy Qur’an:
“So let man consider of what he is created: He is created of water pouring forth:” (Surah Tariq 86: 5-6)
He should not forget that he was born weak and helpless and whatever strength he has developed is given by the Almighty. Besides his strength and power is limited. Allah (S.w.T.) has made him susceptible to hunger, thirst and sleep. He is needful of clothing, dwelling, and several other requirements without which he would perish. He is prone to diseases, calamities and disasters, over which he has no control.
Man carries inside his body dirty substances like urine and stool; and if the Almighty had not hidden them, their terrible stench would have made life difficult for him.
It is written in the book “Adad ussin” that when Ayaz became a close confidante of the king, his detractors began to try to pull him down from this position. And one day two of the ministers came to the sultan and said, “Ayaz has stolen a lot of ornaments and treasure and he has kept all of them in a room which he has locked. Every morning he visits that room and does not allow anyone else. Thereupon hearing this, the sultan fell into doubt and said when Ayaz comes to me tomorrow you people go there, open the door and bring here whatever he has stored in that room. The next morning these people took tools and broke the lock of the door and stepped into the room of Ayaz. They, however, did not find anything except a cotton sheet and a pair of leather slippers. They thought that the treasure must be buried underground otherwise what was the need for him to visit this room everyday if it contained only a torn sheet and old slippers. They dug the floor of the room but did not find anything. They informed the ruler and he asked Ayaz that except for a sheet and a pair of slippers there was nothing else in the room. So, why did he keep the room locked and pay a private visit everyday? Ayaz said, “Before I became your slave I had worn that particular garb. But after joining your service I got everything. Since man is prone to disobedience and pride, I frequently visit the room and see my old dress so that I may not fall into vanity. I should always remember that whatever I have is due to the favour of the king and it is all given to me as a loan. After that I begin my job of the day.
Indeed, there are countless weaknesses of man that do not allow him to reach his desires. Just as man desires to have knowledge about a lot of things, but it is not possible for him. He wants to remember something but he forgets it. He prefers to forget a particular sin but he could not do so. He tries to concentrate on something and to get rid of worries and doubts, but he does not succeed. And he is attracted towards those things in which there is destruction for him, and dislikes those things which are beneficial to him.
Apart from this he is in constant dread of losing something which is dear and precious to him, like wealth or children or his physical powers.
The Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) says: “And they control not for themselves any harm or profit, and they control not death nor life, nor raising (the dead) to life.” (Surah al-Furqān 25: 3)
In brief, man is a mortal who has no control over his capabilities or susceptibilities. It is a fact that he is always in fear of death and there is none that can save him from death.
After death, What?
The challenges a man faces during his life do not come to an end with death. After death, he will have to face divine justice. He would be interrogated regarding all his major and minor acts. The details of this questioning are mentioned in the Holy Qur’an and traditions.
It is very likely that the people who occupy a high position from the worldly aspect will be degraded and lowly there, and the powerful people of this world will be utterly insignificant in the hereafter. Numerous beautiful faces will appear horrid in appearance. They will be so terrible that, dogs and pigs will be better than them. No individual knows about the Hereafter and the kind of end there is in store for him; whether he shall be from the evil ones or the righteous, whether he would be honourable or degraded, whether his face will be black or shinning bright. Whatever has been described about the circumstances of the people at that time are applicable equally to all, whatever their areas of activity or circumstances on earth. If a person ponders over these facts he will be convinced that it does not befit a human being to commit sins and be proud and arrogant. How can a man claim greatness and importance when he is surrounded by all kinds of uncertainties and susceptibilities? Can there be a bigger farce than the claim of ones own greatness?
We should keep in view those who are greater than us
Some elders have given detailed cures for pride. They say that Pride is a condition which is created when one keeps in sight those who are lower and ignores those who are higher than us. A person who has a slave is in a higher position than the slave. He is in command of the situation and the slave cannot disobey him. The slave has to carry out the commands given to him. If such a person only thinks of his own superiority over the slave, he will become proud. But if the person realizes that with respect to Allah (S.w.T.), his own position is like that of his slave; Allah (S.w.T.) is the creator and he is the created. Allah (S.w.T.) has full control over him; in fact absolute control, which he can never have over his slave. He has to be subservient to Allah (S.w.T.) and carry out His commands. With this idea firmly in mind a person is bound to become modest and humble towards the creatures of Allah (S.w.T.), very much like a person who in a fit of anger, not only speaks harshly to the person who has caused him consternation, but also with those who are not responsible for it.
No one is justified in being proud. Allah (S.w.T.) is Supreme. All Might and Power is with Allah (S.w.T.). Allah (S.w.T.) is not subservient or indebted to anyone, except for Allah (S.w.T.) it does not befit anyone to be proud for any reason whatsoever even if they are the carriers of Arsh like Isra’īl and Israel.
It is also said that one who feels he is having the slightest worth before Allah (S.w.T.), is actually considering himself superior. The Almighty Allah says: “And that do not exalt yourselves against Allah.” (Surah Ad-Dukhān 44: 19)
Humility of the Prophet (S)
Some special characteristics of the Holy Prophet (S): He never got angry with anyone for personal reasons. He sat on the ground and ate on the ground. It often happened that a maid would come to fetch him for help needed by anyone anywhere. Whenever he came home he helped his family members. (Bihār al-Anwār Vol. 6 page no. 204)
The basic causes of Pride must be removed
The causes of pride can be the possession of knowledge, wealth, goodness, beauty, physical power, position, status and lineage.
Any discerning person will realize that being proud of beauty or physical strength is foolishness, because these can be easily lost with age, accident or disease. It is wisdom for a person to keep in mind his final fate, which is death and consider of what use his beauty, physical strength and elegance will eventually be to him.
Pride over ones lineage is equally senseless. If it is worldly, it has no significance for the hereafter and if it is truly spiritual, the ancestors could not have attained that superiority but for being humble towards Allah (S.w.T.) and His creatures. The progeny that wishes to associate itself with the superiority of these ancestors can only do so by being humble to Allah (S.w.T.) and His creatures as exemplified by their elders; there is no question of being proud of this lineage whatsoever.
A person of knowledge, whether worldly or religious, who is proud of his knowledge, is a person without merit. He has not realized the most important fact, that his knowledge should have taught the limitation of his knowledge, and how insignificant is what he does know as compared to what is left to be known. Isaac Newton a famous scientist who formulated several laws of physics and discovered the force of gravity said this of himself: “I am like a child collecting pebbles on the sand, while vast ocean of truth lies undiscovered before me.”
A person with knowledge of religion and the hereafter, in fact will be extremely humble, because he will realize his own loneliness, he will know that the accountability of his actions has increased seventy fold as compared to the actions of a person without knowledge. He will have the added burden of the responsibility to spread his knowledge and benefit the ignorant. He will therefore be in awesome fear of Allah (S.w.T.). The Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) says:
“Those of His servants only who are possessed of knowledge fear Allah; surely Allah is Mighty, Forgiving.” (Surah Fāt’ir 35:28)
If instead a person with religious knowledge is proud of it, then he has failed to grasp the essence of the knowledge and the Almighty Allah says of him: “Is as the likeness of the ass bearing books.” (Sura al-Jumu’a 62: 5)
Balam Baūr who was a non-practising scholar is compared to a dog. If a scholar ponders and contemplates, indeed the argument of Allah (S.w.T.) has been exhausted on him and there is mighty responsibility on his shoulders. That is seventy sins of an ignorant person will be forgiven while a single sin of a scholar will be accounted from him. Thus there should be increase in humility and modesty if his knowledge increases. And not that he should be a prey for pride and vanity.
What applies to knowledge is also applicable to goodness
A deed performed with sincerity and humility is the essence of obedience and of great value and significance. If it is performed with pride, it is like a lifeless face, which is not worth anything. A good deed is beneficial only if the Almighty accepts it. No one knows whether his good deed has been accepted by Allah (S.w.T.) or it has been rejected due to lack of sincerity or piety. Therefore, like knowledge, a good deed must also be a cause for humility instead of pride and vanity. Regarding the qualities of the believers, the Almighty Allah says: “And those who give what they give (in alms) while their hearts are full of fear that to their Lord they must return.” (Surah Al-Mum’inūn 23: 60)
Pride on ones wealth is foolishness
It is equally stupid to be proud of wealth and position. Like other worldly acquirements these are also transitory and can be easily lost overnight. Besides Allah (S.w.T.) may give wealth and position to a person in order to test him. It is possible that these worldly bounties given by Allah (S.w.T.) makes the person proud, oblivious of the needs of the poor and harsh and disrespectful towards others. It is also possible that such a person in lure of wealth will not care for his religious obligations. He may earn wealth unlawfully and spend it unlawfully in wasteful and luxurious ways. All such people have failed the test to which they were subjected by Allah (S.w.T.). They have incurred the displeasure of Allah (S.w.T.) and will face severe chastisement. So wealth is actually a calamity for these people and certainly not a thing to be proud of. Worldly possessions are a bounty only for those who realize that these are a trust with them to be utilized in a manner to gain the pleasure of Allah (S.w.T.). The Almighty says:
“Do they think that by what We aid them with of wealth and children, We are hastening to them of good things? Nay, they do not perceive.” (Surah Al-Mum’inūn 23: 55 – 56)
“And know that your property and your children are a temptation.” (Surah al-Anfāl 8: 28)
Post, title and status are all Temporal
There are many incidents of the past people illustrating the unreliability of all these worldly glamour. And an incident is recorded in the book Habibus Sayr. That when Umrū bin Laith with 70,000 trained warriors came to confront Amir Ismail Sasanid with his 10,000 soldiers and when the war cries and the bugle etc. were raised the horse of Umrū bolted and took him into the rows of the enemies. In this way Amir Ismail became victorious without fighting. He confined Umrū in a tent. It is said that Umrū perchance saw one of his past students. Umrū called him and said that he was very hungry. The student at once brought for him a piece of meat. Since there was no vessel he put the meat in the pail of the horse and lit a fire below it. Then he went away on some errand. By chance a dog passed by. When it put its head in the pail the steam of stew made its mouth hot. When he tried to quickly remove its head the handle of the vessel was caught in its neck and it ran away with all the things together. When Umrū began to laugh at this scene a sentry asked him why he was amused? Umrū said that once my commander had complained that your kitchenware could hardly be carried on 300 horses. And today I am seeing that a dog is easily carrying it away.
An identical incident is related about Marwan Himar the last of the Bani Umayyah rulers. In 132 A.H when he came face to face with Saffah at Ābezāb, the battle lines were already drawn. He got down from his horse to ease himself and the horse bolted and went to his army. His men thought that Marwan was killed and his horse had returned. They became fearful and dispersed from there. Marwan was finally killed and it was said: His power went out through his urine.”
Apart from this, it is famous about the Abbasid Caliph who used to beg in the Jame Masjid of Baghdad say: O people! Have mercy on the one who was ruling over you till yesterday and today he is begging from you.
Superiority of Humility
The importance and significance of humility as a human characteristic can be judged by the fact that the Almighty Allah has commanded His Messenger to practice humility: “And make yourself gentle to the believers.” (Surah al-Hijr 15:88)
And He praised His servants who have imbibed this quality in the following words.
“And the servants of the Beneficent God are they who walk on the earth in humbleness…” (Surah al-Furqān 25: 63)
In the Shiite traditions the Imam has to be superior in every quality, including humility. Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says: “If it has befitted Allah to allow some of His creatures to be proud he would have permitted it for His special servants, the saints and the prophets.” But the Being of the Almighty is pure from all bad qualities. He made pride detestable for them and liked humility for them. Thus they kept their chests near the ground, their foreheads smeared with dust they continued to bow down before the believers in humility and remained in a weak condition on the Earth.”
The Holy Prophet (S) says: “The best person near me on the day of Qiyāma and the most proximate to me will be only one who has the best behaviour and is most humble.” (Bihār al-Anwār)
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says: “There are two angels in the heavens who are appointed on the people so that one who is humble may be exalted in status by them and one who is proud and arrogant may be degraded and humiliated by them”. (al-Kāfi Vol. 2, Chapter of Pride)
Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says, “Pride is that from which Allah has protected His believing servants through Prayer, Zakat and fasts on the appointed days. So that their organs and body parts may have peace, the glance is cast down by a feeling of helplessness, humiliates the self, making the hearts humble it removes ego from them. Because the delicate parts of the body are smeared with dust during the as-Sajda. And the seven special parts fall on the earth and express their lowliness. And in fasting the stomach touches the back in obedience to His command.” (Nahjul Balagha, Khutba Qasiya, 92)
Worship destroys Pride
The primary aim of worship is to create humility and destroy pride in us. Acts of worship are therefore to be performed in the prescribed manner to be acceptable to Allah (S.w.T.). Worship which is accompanied by Pride is never accepted by Allah (S.w.T.). Worship denotes obedience and submission to Allah (S.w.T.). It is not meant to show oneself to be great and superior.