“A spoonful of humility a day, keeps the ego away.” Well, it’s not the original saying, but it sends a clear message. Truly realizing the benefits of being humble can assist us in achieving success not only in this life, but also in the hereafter.
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, to be humble is to not be proud, arrogant, or assertive. In Arabic, tawaada (humility) literally means to lower one’s self or to submit. Taking these definitions together and adding the characteristic of humility as relayed in Qur’anic verses and Prophetic examples, we begin to have a richer understanding of its importance and practical applications.
Three Degrees of Humility
Humility can be understood in relation to three important entities:
1) Humility before Allah – Exalted is He.
2) Humility in relation to the deen (religion).
3) Humility with Allah’s creation.
When analyzed in terms of these relations, we can begin to implement the characteristic of humility in all aspects of our lives: in our worship, in our understanding and attitude towards our deen, and in our interactions with Allah’s creation (such as people, animals and the earth).
Humility with Allah – Exalted is He
When we are humble in front of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), we understand that He is our Creator, the One who supplies all of our sustenance with no might or effort from His creation. It is only when we submit ourselves to the Might and Glory of Allah that we are able to understand how to be humble. This cyclical process helps us to perpetuate the feeling of humility.
Ponder for a moment the blessings in your life: family, guidance from Allah, wealth, talents, health, etc. If one is disillusioned by his own personal efforts made towards attaining any of his blessings, how can he attain humility before Allah? Take for example one who is wealthy. He may attribute his hard work in school, his long hours at the start of his business, and his proficient networking skills to his success. Yet, he forgot that Allah (swt) gave him the opportunity to attend a good school, facilitated for him the ability to study, gave his family patience while he was busy with his business, and finally bestowed him with the gift of persuasive communication.
And what if that same businessman refused to give zakat (alms tax) because he felt that others should work as hard as he did so that they wouldn’t need zakat? Regardless of our level of wealth, we must remember the saying of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ as narrated by Abu Hurairah: “Wealth does not decrease due to charity, and Allah increases His slave in honor when he forgives others. And no one humbles himself before Allah but Allah will raise him in status.”
This act of humility in front of our Creator necessitates our complete submission to Him. To follow His commandments and avoid His prohibitions requires us to understand our lower position of weakness and helplessness in relation to our Lord.
Humility in Relation to the Deen
Fully appreciating and understanding our deen (way of life), obliges us to be humble. When we come across a commandment of Allah, Qur’anic verse, or valid saying of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ that we do not understand, we should be conscientious of our reactions. Let us replace thoughts of, “Well, that doesn’t make sense,” with “I wonder what this means.” We are encouraged to question so as to understand our religion, not to negate every aspect of our deen that does not align with our whims. We should also be wary of those who come up with their own interpretation of the Qur’an with no reference to its context or without any scholarly research to say, “This is what this ayah (verse) means to me.” To do so would be to follow the zaygh (perversion in our heart), as mentioned in the following ayat:
He is the One Who has revealed to you the Book. Some of its verses are decisive – they are the foundation of the Book – while others are allegorical. Those whose hearts are infected with perversion follow the allegorical part to mislead others and to give it their own interpretation, seeking for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. Those who are well grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in it; it is all from our Lord.” None will take heed except the people of understanding.(Qur’an 3:7)
Remember what Moses said to his people: “O my people! Why do you vex me while you know that I am the apostle of Allah sent to you?” Then when they adopted perverseness, Allah let their hearts be perverted. Allah does not guide those who are transgressors.” (Qur’an 61:5)
Humility in understanding the deen compels us to see a gap in our understanding when we approach a matter we are not “comfortable” with, as opposed to a fault in the way of life as Allah (swt) has prescribed for us.
Humility with Allah’s Creation
Applying the principle of humility with Allah’s creation would have profound effects on the way the world operated if we all adopted this characteristic. Imagine if we did not judge others, we felt compassion towards humanity, and we helped all of those around us (our parents, spouses, children, community, etc). We could achieve these admirable feats if we were to contemplate and exhibit humility. Not only would we treat others with respect, but we would also treat animals kindly and give them their due rights whether they are a work animal, a stray, or a pet. Furthermore, if we humbled ourself and understood that this world does not belong to us, then we would be more conscientious about water conservation, recycling, and pollution reduction efforts.
Unfortunately, the tendency to develop the very opposite characteristic, arrogance, occurs for many reasons. Perhaps we are more beautiful, intelligent, or have some position of power or authority, for example. If we were to reflect on the first type of humility with Allah (swt), we would remember that these gifts are only possible by the Mercy of The Creator. Imagine one who has studied Islam and has received many certifications and degrees in the field. When she sees others, does she look down on them since they do not possess the same level of knowledge in that area? Or does she instead, look to her own faults and sees others for the qualities they possess that are greater than hers? Allah tells us to take the second course of action:
And do not turn your face away from men with pride, nor walk in insolence through the earth. Verily, Allah does not like any arrogant boaster. (Qur’an 31:18)
We are also reminded in the Qur’an that what Allah cares for most, above social status, power, beauty, or wealth, is taqwa (God-consciousness):
Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. (Qur’an 49:13)
We should reflect on our inner thoughts and align them with teachings of humility in Islam so that we may be successful in the eyes of Allah (swt). May Allah make us humble and may He be pleased with us. Ameen.