Question: People holding certain posts or having attained particular statuses would, in time, develop an assumption of superiority. What are the essential principles to help believers avoid arrogance?
Answer: As the blessings of God Almighty come showering down, what befalls the children of Adam, who were created from a mere drop of liquid, are feelings of gratitude, thanksgiving, humility, and—whatever position they are in—seeing themselves (not above but) below others. What really matters is being able to say, as Muhammed Lütfi Efendi stated,
Everybody is refined but I am rough;
Everybody is wheat but I am chaff.
You can call this consideration modesty, self-effacement, or reducing oneself to zero if you like, but it is a definite fact that true existence flourishes in the bosom of this consideration.
A Meteor Could Fall!
How beautiful one poet’s expression is:
Without dropping down to the earth a seed cannot attain blessings,
Those who are truly modest flourish by Divine Providence.
Meaning, if a seed does not drop and let itself decompose to germinate, it cannot sprout its shoot and produce crops. The process of having fruitful crops depends on being crushed under the soil, becoming soil, and being no one; only then a second existence becomes possible. So whatever status one has in society, true wisdom requires one to see oneself this way. Individuals with such considerations are already prepared for self-effacement and will therefore not lose in the face of even the hardest tests by God’s grace. Such people do not feel dizzy before victories, and do not give up in the face of pressures, attacks, and insults, because a man who sees himself as a seed under the soil does not mind others walking on him. As for those who pay tribute to their ego, they would draw negative meaning from the looks, gestures, and innocent smiles of others and would feel discomfort even with trifle and very irrelevant things when they cannot receive the treatment they expect from others.
However, those who get themselves in a cocoon of humility, assuming a modest position below ground level, will neither be disturbed by any insults nor by being walked on. Not only will they not be disturbed, they will deem that all of those negative situations are their just deserts, taking it as a chance for a new self-criticism. For example, if a walnut falls on their heads, they say, “It serves me right. Considering my present state, it could have been a meteor.” They believe that there is definitely much wisdom behind every event, since God Almighty would never ordain futile, unreasonable things to happen but decrees everything with infinite wisdom.
Particularly in our time when arrogance has grown out of control, modesty, humility, and self-effacement bear even more importance in terms of being able to provide guidance to others. Think about it; roses do not grow on emerald, ruby, coral, gold, or silver. Although these substances are among the most precious materials that are formed with the permission of God in the earth or sea, no roses grow on them. Roses grow in soil. Even the Pride of Humanity was created from soil. His blessed ancestors were also created from soil. In this respect, if we wish to cultivate beautiful roses, we have to be modest like the soil.
Liberating Oneself from Selfishness
Acting in compliance with the manners taught by the tradition of the Prophet is very important in our relations with others, in terms of not being seized by considerations of superiority and establishing the idea of humility as an ingrained depth of our character. For example, the noble Prophet once said, “Wish for others, what you wish for yourself, so that you become a believer (in the true sense).”1
Accordingly, one who is so immensely thoughtful, sensitive, and magnanimous to the degree of wishing for others what they wish for themselves possess the character of a true believer. Let us consider the opposite: If people do not wish for others what they wish for themselves and if what they wish for others is what they do not wish for themselves, then such individuals are distant from the protective atmosphere of true faith and stand on a slippery ground where they can stumble and fall any time.
Moreover, we are supposed to have a good opinion of others’ attitude and behaviors even if these do not seem quite right. We need to think that they may have behaved that way for a reason that is not clear to us. To put it differently, we had better try to give a good meaning to others’ behaviors which might seem wrong outwardly but is possible to explain with a plausible base and reason. As having such an approach towards others is an important shield against having baseless negative perceptions about them, it is a similarly powerful incentive for keeping a good opinion of others. In addition, not taking any personal pride depends on having such considerations.
Making Modesty into an Ingrained Character Trait
Everybody should know that they need a good rehabilitation through education and training in terms of making modesty into an ingrained character trait in them. For this reason, by taking refuge in the Divine name Rabb (“Lord” as the Creator, Trainer, Upbringer, and Director of all creatures), we need to carry on our lives under the protection of our Lord and be resolved to acquire an ideal morality in conformity with the Divine training and instruction; we need to make a self-supervision every day with respect to religious criteria.
Naturally, being steadfast and consistent is of great importance. As the Messenger of God stated, “Most lovable of deeds in the sight of God is the continuous one, even though it is of little amount.”2 As is known, steady water drops have the ability to form a hole even on a marble surface. In this respect, rehabilitating the carnal self, spiritual training, and continuous attendance to religious talks are among the most important points of the issue.
At a certain period in history, the traditional madrasa schools and Sufi lodges embraced all areas of life and jointly fulfilled this mission. People who surrendered themselves fully to their education and guidance ascended to the level of true humanity by undergoing serious spiritual training and letting the faculties of their mind, heart, and spirit thrive. Along with keeping the mind ready to welcome scientific matters in their own circumstances, those blessed places showed their initiates the ways of soaring on the horizons of the heart, spirit, and sir (a spiritual faculty meaning “secret”). Otherwise, if matters are evaluated merely within the field of reason, then it becomes inevitable to be trapped within the narrow boundaries of rationalist and Mu’tazilah thought. As a matter of fact, it is very difficult to say whether those who adopt such schools of thought provided sound guidance to those around them, in spite of these favorable conditions. As for those who achieved to whisper some things into people’s hearts in the true sense, they have been the ones who led their lives on the horizons of the heart and spirit.
1. Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 2; Sunan ibn Majah, Zuhd, 24
2. Sahih al-Bukhari, Riqaq, 18
This text is the translation of “Gül Toprakta Biter“