The Humble I

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Pitfalls of the Practising Muslim

sujud3There are, we are cautioned, certain pitfalls along the path which we must steer clear of; and it is not uncommon for those committed to religious observance (“practicing Muslims” is the usual term) to stumble headlong into such dangers, corrupting works of faith and poisoning the soul and health of the heart. Of these pitfalls is ‘ujb: vanity, conceit, vain-glory, egotism.

In the case of religious works, ‘ujb is when we fail to realise that the act of worship we have performed, or the knowledge we have gained, or the charity we have given – for instance – is not of our own doing; but is a gift from God. Only when blinded to such a reality do we then start to see these works as being of our own accomplishment and efforts. We then begin to become vain, egotistical and bask in our own self-glory. Ibn ‘Ata’illah counsels us: ‘Let not acts of obedience make you joyous because they come from you. But be joyous because they come from God to you. Say: “In the grace of God and His mercy, in that let them rejoice. This is better than that which they hoard.” [10:58]’1

Akin to the dangers of ‘ujb is that of kibr – arrogance, haughtiness, pride, hubris. One hadith defines arrogance as being: batr al-haqq wa ghamat al-nas – ‘rejecting the truth and looking down on others.’ [Muslim, no.91] Seeing ourselves as better than others or viewing others with contempt, disdain or as being inferior, is outright arrogance or kibr. There are many manifestations of kibr. Being boastful about one’s looks, wealth, worldy achievement, or social status are among the most common; as is considering oneself to be religiously more devout or more pious than others. Ibn ‘Ata’illah writes: ‘Disobedience which bequeathes humiliation and extreme brokenness, is better than obedience that bequeathes conceit and arrogance.’2

This is not an encouragement to make light of disobedience, or to casually sin and to then appologise to God. That would be sheer impertinance and mocking the majesty of God. It is urging us, however, to do works of faith with humility and abject spiritual need and poverty (faqr), realising that we can never worship God in the way He really deserves.

Again, from a religious angle, kibr is a failure to see the reality behind works of faith. Not only is the ability to do such works Heaven’s grace (giving us no cause, therefore, to bragg or to gloat over accomplishments which are not of our own doing), we don’t even know if our acts are accepted by God or not. For what counts is not the deed, but its acceptance. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘None of you shall be saved due to his deeds.’ It was asked: Not even you, O Prophet of God? He replied: ‘No, not even me, unless God covers me with His mercy and forgiveness.’ [Muslim, no.2816]

Masters of the inward life have said: la budda min al-‘aml wa bihi la nasal – ‘Works are indispensable, but we do not arrive by them.’ Rather, reaching God is only by His love, mercy and unmitigated grace. That is, man progresses towards God, not by his works or efforts – though they are a precondition – but by God’s compassionate “attraction” with which he draws the seeker to Him. Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. Al-Hikam al-‘Ata’iyyah (Egypt: Dar al-Salam, 2006), no.58.

2. Al-Hikam al-‘Ata’iyyah, no.96.

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6 thoughts on “Pitfalls of the Practising Muslim

  1. Abu Hamza on said:

    Great reminder. I will add to the list ‘Riya’ and ‘Hubb-e-Jaah’, particularly in activist/Daiee type of Muslims. May Allah save us all.

    • Jazakallahu khyaran. Masters of the inward life tend to speak about the four cardinal vices of the heart/soul: ostentaion (riya’), arrogance (kibr), conceit (‘ujb) and envy (hasad).

      Love of prestige and fame (hubb al-jah) is, no doubt, a spiritually crippling disease too. May Allah grant us all ‘afiyah, fid-dunya wa’l-akhirah.

  2. May Allah protect us from Arrogance as it was attributed to Iblis in the Quran. Unfortunately one of the great causes of the downfall of our ummah is Arrogance. It has managed to crack like an earthquake the most prestigious name MUSLIM into 73 sects. Each sect thinking, they are the Best; it’s not difficult to ‘divide and rule’ over such a people.
    This article came as a reminder. JazakAllahu Khairun

  3. Aisha ummaadam on said:

    JazakAllah khayr sheikh
    Also jazakAllah khayr for the
    ‘me my soul and I’ seminar. Listened to it on
    Audio. Alhumdolilaah
    JazakAllah khayr once again.

    • May Allah bless you.

      I am glad you were able to listen to the audio recording of the seminar – having paid for a ticket but then not being able to attend on the actual day.

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