I will turn away from My signs those who are arrogant upon the earth without right; and if they should see every sign, they will not believe in it. And if they see the way of consciousness, they will not adopt it as a way; but if they see the way of error, they will adopt it as a way. That is because they have denied Our signs and they were heedless of them. [Surah Al-A’raf 7: 146]
and “… truly He likes not the proud.” [Quran; 16:23]
One of the many spiritual diseases of the heart, and that is the disease of arrogance. Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali in his seminal work Ihya’ Ulumuddin states that arrogance, he says is a deep-rooted disease of the heart. It is when a person looks at himself with the eye of honor and self-glorification, while looking at others with the eye of lowliness and humiliation.
The arrogant person takes pride in praising himself and mostly talks in the first person “I did this, and I did that, and I am superior to so and so.” Today, selfie culture and most of what is posted on social media reflects a mindset which is self-absorbed, narcissistic, and entitled. In fact, Will Storr, the author of “Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us,” traces selfie culture to the self-esteem movement, stating in the late eighties and early nineties that, in order free ourselves from mounting social problems, “everything from drug abuse to domestic violence to teen-age pregnancy, we just had to believe we were special and amazing”.
In fact, the first to disbelieve when asked to prostrate to Adam showed arranged and expressed his superiority over him saying “I am far better than him, You created me from fire and created him from clay!” (al-A’raf, 7:12)
So what is arrogance?
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) defined arrogance for us when he said,
Verily, Allah is beautiful and he loves beauty. Arrogance means rejecting the truth and looking down on people. [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 91]
Arrogance means having or showing an exaggerated opinion of one’s own importance, merit, ability, and superiority. The arrogant person when in company of others believes himself to be above others. In discussions, they get upset if anyone disagrees with them. When advised, they proudly stick to their position but when warning others, they do so aggressively.
Arrogance is the first step to many evils. No one likes an arrogant or boastful person. It is so easy to get carried away by whatever we may possess of wealth and the good things of life. It is so easy to credit ourselves with our achievements and feel proud of them, and then, as a matter of course, to look down upon others who have not been able to reach what we might have achieved. Besides that, arrogance is unjustified.
All the blessings we have—the known and the unknown; our very existence, our life, our body, our physical appearance, and all our abilities and accomplishments are from Allah (SWT). Allah says in Surat an-Nahl, “Whatever blessing you have is from Allah.” (an-Nahl, 16:53).
What did we have when we came to this world? Nothing! What will we have when we leave this world— nothing, except two pieces of cloth to have our bodies wrapped with by somebody else? We have to keep reminding ourselves that we are the servants and slaves of Allah, and that we are totally dependent on Him for our existence. Allah says in Surat al-Insan,
“Was there not a period of time when man was not a thing worth mentioning?” (al-Insan 76:1).
So what justification is there for man to be arrogant when there was a period of time when he did not even exist and there will be a period of time when he will cease to exist.
Arrogance is a major risk for each of us
The Prophet(SAW) stated that “whoever dies free of these three, arrogance, taking someone else’s right, and debt, he will enter Paradise.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhī 1572]
And, quite worryingly, arrogance can be very nuanced and hidden as the Prophet(SAW) also stated that ”no human being will enter Paradise if there is as much as the weight of seed of arrogance in his heart.” [Musnad Aḥmad 6526]
It can manifest in subtle ways such as:
- Thinking you know better than everyone else – your parents, boss, friends, even Allah(SWT), by rationalising why fasting is not necessary when doing exams or why its permissible to bend or break some rules of Islam for what seems logical to you. This is one of the main causes of disobedience – thinking we know better.
- Beating yourself up over little mistakes. Arrogance can’t learn from failure, because failure is not an option for the pompous.
- Politicking – secretly manipulating others, rather than being open and honest when influencing others. Arrogance has a personal agenda. Influence seeks the highest good of organizations and individuals.
- Not recognising when you have made a mistake or need help. You’re arrogant if giving help puffs you up, but receiving help is out of the question.
- Cheating to win just to save face
- Considering people as objects to be used for personal gain.
- Quickness to criticise but rarely seeking any feedback – criticism can be an indirect form of self-boasting.
- A sense of entitlement because of family, friends or race: responding with ungratefulness as entitlement makes us think we are deserving of something.
- Push back with explanations, justifications, and excuses when receiving tough feedback. If you want to see a person’s character, give them tough feedback.
- Setting an unreachable standard: Never seeing the good in others efforts – its only good enough when done by yours truly.
How do you address arrogance
Rather than being arrogant, we should realize that the virtuous person is one who is considered virtuous by Allah in the hereafter (al-Akhirah), i.e., the final abode, and that is something that is unseen and depends upon one’s state at the time of death. One’s belief therefore that one is better than others is pure ignorance. Rather we should not look at any other person without seeing that he is better than us, that his merit surpasses ours, and consider ourselves as nothing.
There are questions you may ask to yourself in order to identify the cause of your pride like
- How often do I admit I was wrong?
- Why do I want others to see or hear me?
- Why do I have to talk about myself and my opinions so much to other people?
- When did I last share credit with others and build others up?
- When did I last reflect real optimism, rather than seeing the faults in everything?
Surround yourself with true friends who straighten you, rather than corrupt you
It has been attributed to Umar(RA) that “whosoever shows you your faults is your friend. Those that pay you lip service in praise are your executioners.”
One day Umar ibn Abdulaziz was sitting with his companions when his sword fell from his horse. One guy ran to get it and put it back, then asked Umar, “Is this enough, is there anything else I can do for you?” Umar replied, “If I stand, I am Umar ibn Abdulaziz. If I sit, I am [still just] Umar ibn Abdulaziz. Who am I? Why are you doing that?” You know Umar ibn Abdulaziz used to dig a hole in his backyard and sit in it when he couldn’t pray qiyam al-layl (praying during the night). He would sit in this grave and say to himself, “This is where you are going to live. This is your permanent residence.” Then he would get up and pray in the night. He would force himself to be humble with people.
Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman (RA) was entrusted with a list of the hypocrites by Rasoolillah(SAW). Umar (RA) was the one who the Prophet(SAW) said if a Prophet was to come after me, it would be Umar(RA). After Umar (RAa) became the khalifa (Islamic leader) and 700 cities were conquered by him, he would go to Hudhayfah and ask, “Please, am I on the list? Tell me if I’m on the list, I need to know.” This is Umar (ra) who used to have lines on his face from crying in the night. He’s afraid that he’s a hypocrite. This is humility. One time a man found Umar (ra) walking and carrying a water skin on his shoulder. This was the habit of the slaves in the time before the Prophet ﷺ. They would carry water on their shoulders. Now here is the leader of the Muslim nation carrying this like a slave. The man went to Umar (ra) and said, “Oh Umar! How come you are doing this? This is not at your level. It is not for you.” And you know what Umar said? Subhan Allah, it’s amazing. He said, “You know when people come to me and I say something, they obey me and listen to me. When they do that I found that arrogance fell into my heart. So I am carrying this on my back to make myself humble.”
See the good in others
If we see a child, we should say to ourselves, “this child has not transgressed against Allah, and I have, so certainly he is better than me.” If we see an older person, we should say to ourselves, “This person is better than me; he has been worshipping Allah longer than I have.”
If we see a knowledgeable person, we should say to ourselves, “This person has been given what I have not been given, and has reached in rank what I have not reached; and he knows what I am ignorant of—so how could I be like him?” If we see an ignorant person, we should say to ourselves, “This person has transgressed against Allah (SWT) in ignorance, while I have done so knowingly. So, Allah’s evidence against me is greater, and what do I know about what my final state at death will be and what his final state will be?”
Even if we see an unbeliever, we should say to ourselves, “I don’t know, maybe he will become a Muslim, and his life will be sealed with the best of deeds, and for his Islam, he will emerge free of sin. As for me, Allah could cause me to go astray, so that I become of the unbelievers, and my life could be sealed with the worst of deeds. So tomorrow this person might be one close to Allah, and I one distant from Allah.”
Arrogance will not be removed from our heart until we realize that the truly great person is he who is great in the sight of Allah, and that this depends on one’s final state, which is uncertain. Because of this uncertainty, our fear of a bad end should preoccupy us and keep us from being arrogant towards Allah’s servants.
And Allah (SWT) reminds us in Surat al-A’raf, “I will turn away from My Signs all those who are arrogant in the earth without any right.” (al-A’raf, 7:146)
This means that Allah recompenses the arrogant ones by turning them away from understanding His Book, His prophets, and His signs placed all around them as well as in their own selves. Their hearts and eyes are blindfolded by Allah, so that they cannot see guidance even if it stares them in the face.
كَذَٰلِكَ يَطْبَعُ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ قَلْبِ مُتَكَبِّرٍ جَبَّارٍ
“That is how Allah seals up the heart of every arrogant tyrant.” (Ghafir, 40:35)
No matter how big our house is; how recent our car is, how substantial our bank balance is, the graves of each one of us are of the same size. So let us be humble, and stay humble, for glad tidings are only for the humble ones.
Jabir ibn Abdullah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: Verily, the most beloved and nearest to my gathering on the Day of Resurrection are those of you with the best character. Verily, the most reprehensible of you to me and the furthest from my gathering on the Day of Resurrection will be the pompous, the extravagant, and the pretentious.
They said, “O Messenger of Allah, we know the pompous and the extravagant, but who are the pretentious?” The Prophet said “Al Mutakabbiroon” (The arrogant) [Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2018]