Islamic Character

Signs of Arrogance

Lecture by Suhaib Webb | Transcribed by Fuseina Mohamad

Surat Al-Fatiha Series: Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V | Part VIPart VIIPart VIIIPart IXPart X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV

We continue with the next form of arrogance: to think about oneself what is not true. This is called al-ghurur. Shaytan tricks us with mirages. Like the song, “Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are? Mr. Big Stuff.” So now you have Mr. Big Stuff on your mp3, playing in your head. You start to think you’re Mr. Big Stuff and your head is getting bigger and bigger.

In the Qur’an Allah (swt) gave us a story in Surat al-Hujurat. Some Arabs came to the Prophet ﷺ and said, “We believe, we are mu’minoon (believers).” Allah (swt) said, “The Bedouins say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts,” (Qur’an 49:14). Don’t give yourself names which you are not.

Look at the Qur’an. How did Allah (swt) describe the Prophet ﷺ? This is beautiful. Allah (swt) told the Prophet ﷺ “Say, “I am only a man like you […]”(Qur’an 18:110). Can you imagine that you are the Prophet ﷺ, and you know that you are the last Prophet ﷺ. You are sinless and Allah (swt) has forgiven everything that you have ever done before and after. You are the one who was given so many karamat (mercies) and mu’juzat (miracles) from Allah (swt). Imagine that you have to go to the people and say, “I’m a man like you.” You have to go to a bedouin who cannot read or write, who doesn’t know anything, and say, “I’m like you.” Imam Qurtubi explained that Allah (swt) tells the Prophet ﷺ in so many places in the Qur’an to say “I am a man like you” to teach us not to give ourselves big labels. We should not say, “I am a Sheikh! A scholar! The sea of knowledge!” Look at the man who went and urinated in the masjid. The Prophet ﷺ has to come to him and say, “I am a man like you.” Why did Allah (swt) say in Surat al-Jumu’ah, “It is He who has sent among the unlettered a Messenger from themselves […]” (Qur’an 62:2)? Imam Qurtubi explained that in these verses Allah (swt) wants to teach us to be humble. He wants to teach the Prophet ﷺ humility and teach us also indirectly. We shouldn’t give ourselves these big labels and big titles. Just be yourself. Be simple. Be a normal person.

One time a man came into Madinah and he found some people sitting on the ground. He wasn’t Muslim and he asked, “Where is Muhammed?” The Prophet Muhammed ﷺ answered, “I am Muhammed.” The man responded, “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, and Muhammed is his Messenger.” Imagine, the Prophet ﷺ was sitting on the ground, and he could not be differentiated from others. Be careful of position.

Abdullah bin Masood used to say “If you could smell my sins, you would not want to be next to me.”

The next cause of arrogance is to praise people too much. In Sahih Muslim, a man who was not a sahabi (Companion of the Prophet ﷺ) came and walked in front of Uthman ibn Affan (ra). He started praising Uthman (ra). Another sahabi took a handful of dirt and threw it in the man’s face. The man was shocked and asked, “Hey! What are you doing?” The sahabi responded, “Wallahi (I swear by Allah) the Prophet ﷺ told us that if we hear someone praising another person like this we should throw dirt in their face.” It is because you are killing the person. If you were to take a dagger and stab them in the heart you are doing less damage than you would with the dagger of your words. Subhan’Allah, the righteous people do not like to be praised. One time I heard people praising Imam Zaid Shakir in his absence, and I started crying, because I am not like him. I know myself. Sheikh Abdul Hamood used to tell me that if people praise you, you have to be like a turtle. You put your shell around you and internally remind yourself, “I am not like this. I am not like this. I know myself and I know my problems.” When we praise people too much, sometimes we can push them into kibr. This is very dangerous. That’s why, if you read any book about how to seek and study knowledge, there are some rules:

  1. You shouldn’t praise your Sheikh too much, because you can kill him.
  2. You shouldn’t dress like your Sheikh. If you start dressing and looking exactly like someone, and then everyone starts mimicking them, it can create a problem for them.
  3. You should dedicate your absolute obedience to Allah (swt) and His Messenger ﷺ.

Subhan’Allah, before he was ten my teacher memorized the Qur’an, and before he was fourteen he memorized the Qur’an in fourteen qira’at (styles of recitation) and seven daeef. He told me this story that really freaks me out every time I think about it. May Allah (swt) have mercy on my teacher. He told me the following story:

“I memorized the Qur’an in a village in Senegal. My father was taking me to take a picture. I was ten, and I dressed in a nice outfit because I had finished memorizing the Qur’an [he showed me the picture, he was pretty fly]. I started to feel like I was really something. I had to go from Saint-Louis to Dakar, the capital of Senegal. We had to take a bus. One of the ladies on the bus had a portable toilet (this was back in the day) and her child had defecated in the toilet. The smell was really bad. I was with my dad, who was the son of the mufti (teacher) of Senegal before. A big family of sheikhs with 800 – 1000 people in their madrasa [school]. We were both dressed in nice clothes and everyone knew my father. The lady pulled the bus cable to stop the bus. She said, “Excuse me, I need to go and clean out this toilet.” My father turned to the lady and said, “My son will do it.” And he told me to go and clean it. I was in these nice clothes, a hafidh of the Qur’an (a person who has memorized the Qur’an), scrubbing a toilet of feces. When I got back on the bus my father said, “You need to humble yourself.”

That’s why if you study the book of Al-Ajrumiyyah, a famous book, even the way in which the author wrote this book teaches you humility. He begins the book with bab al-kalam (the door of words). Then after bab al-kalam, he starts bab al-‘irab (grammatical analysis). The first chapter in bab al ‘irab is al-raf’u (to be raised). He does this because he wants to tell you that if you study you are going to be raised. Your level is going to be high. And then he finished the book with bab al-makhfudhat. Al-Makhfudhat means Arabic letters that have a kasrah (a mark indicating the vowel /i/). It also means to be low (the mark is written beneath the letters); for example, Allah (swt) says to the Prophet ﷺ “And lower your wing to those who follow you of the believers,”(Qur’an 26:215). Why did the author make his last chapter bab al-makhfudhat? To tell you that after all you learned in Al-Ajrumiyyah, you’d better be humble. Be low.

The last part of humility is the humility of race and ethnicity. For you guys (on campus) you don’t have this problem as much as you find in the masajid (mosques). I know that in many masajid in North America they split on lines of ethnicity. Did I tell you the story of when I first became Muslim and went to the masjid? About MQM and Peoples’ Party? I went to the masjid and a guy grabbed me and said, “Hurry up and go pray!”After we prayed I heard someone else making the iqamah (call to stand for prayer). As a new Muslim, I was surprised. The man told me, “These people are bad people!” When I asked why, he replied, “Because they migrated in 1947. They’re not really Punjabi like us.” Welcome to Islam.

You have to be careful that your ethnicity and race don’t make you arrogant and don’t make you feel that you’re better than people or above others. Always be low.

We don’t have time to go into much detail, but we will talk now about the famous hadith of the Prophet ﷺ when he said, “The Heaven and Hellfire were arguing, and the Hellfire said, ‘What’s wrong with me? Only arrogant people go into me.’ The Heaven was saying, ‘What’s wrong with me? Only the humble people go into me.’”

What is the remedy for this that is found in al-Fatiha? It is Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem – in the name of Allah, the most Gracious, the most Merciful. The Arabic letter ba is called harf al-jarr, a prepositional phrase. In Arabic, a prepositional phrase always has to be linked to a verb, and a verb implies action. Who is the actor? The one who says bismillah. So for example when you leave the house and say bismillah, you mean, “I am walking in the name of Allah.” When you study or pray and say bismillah, you mean, “I am studying or praying in the name of Allah.” When you do anything and say bismillah this means that you yourself do not have supreme power. You need the power of Allah (swt). This makes you humble. You realize that I am not the man with the master plan. I’m a man surrounded by a lot of plans and I need Allah (swt) to help me pass through these plans. That’s why Sheikh Shaarawi said that when you are walking you should say, “In the name of Allah, who made this Earth subservient to me.” Look at Sulayman (as). Even when he sent a letter he began with Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem (Qur’an 27:30) to show that there is no barakah (blessing) in this except with the name of Allah (swt).

The second remedy for arrogance in Surat al-Fatiha is when you say, “iyaka nastaeen – it is You alone I need help from,” (Qur’an 1:5). Because when someone is arrogant, they feel that they don’t need help from anyone. So now you are admitting that you need Allah’s help and assistance. When you really say this sincerely you have to be humble inside yourself.

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.


Leave a Reply to Pedagogy of Mercy X