Quranic Reflection No 663. Āyat 16:29 – The Abode of the Arrogant


فَلَبِئْسَ مَثْوَى الْمُتَكَبِّرِينَ

 Evil is the [final] abode of the arrogant 

(Sūrat al-Nahl, No. 16, Āyat 29)

One of the vices discussed in the books of ethics and noble character (akhlāq) is that of pride (takabbur). Pride is like self-conceit (‘ujb), but they differ in that pride is when a person sees themselves as being above others while self-conceit is simply to be pleased with oneself without necessarily taking anyone else in mind. Both these vices stem from a lack of attention to Allah the Exalted. If a proud or conceited individual had a correct understanding of reality, they would have recognized that all perfection stems from Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā and they are simply a vessel that is temporarily manifesting in a tiny amount of Allah’s perfection. Moreover, their pride or conceit is itself an obstacle preventing them from attaining higher levels of spiritual perfection and proximity to Allah ‘azza wajall!

Unfortunately, pride is a common vice amongst people. It surfaces because of different worldly perfections when coupled with heedlessness of Allah. Due to possessing knowledge, beauty, wealth, noble lineage and other such qualities, people are misled to think they are better than others who lack this. At times even spiritual perfections can unfortunately become the cause of pride. For example, God blesses His servant with the opportunity to wake up for the night prayer, but the servant then becomes proud as a result. In a story narrated in chapter two of his book Gulistān, the Persian poet Sa‘adī mentions that he was once engaged in worship for the entire night, while around him others were sleeping. Speaking to his father, he scorned them saying none of them even woke up to pray two units of prayer! His father wisely responded to him saying, “My son, it would be better for you to be asleep than to be criticizing others.” Then Sa‘adī mentions the following couplet:

An arrogant person sees only himself, for he has a veil of his own wishful thinking before him.
If you are given an eye to see God, you will not see any more miserable than yourself.

However, a key point that confuses people is that to be happy about the perfection is different from being proud. Being happy and thankful to Allah is not wrong. If one is happy that they have worldly or spiritual blessings this is normal and is not problematic so long as they recognize such blessings are from Allah, not from themselves. We must try our best to attain perfections of this world and the hereafter, while always thanking Allah for our state and considering all blessings as being from Him.

وَإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ ۖ وَلَئِن كَفَرْتُمْ إِنَّ عَذَابِي لَشَدِيدٌ

And when your Lord proclaimed, “If you are grateful, I will surely enhance you [in blessing], but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is indeed severe.” (Q 14: 7)

From the above points, we can see that one way to cure pride would be by pondering upon our relationship with Allah and correcting our belief in Allah and His attributes. In addition to that, another step would be to force ourselves to act humbly until the trait of humility becomes deeply entrenched in our being. In a narration from Imām Ja‘far al-Sādiq (peace be upon him) it is said that:

From [the signs of] humility is that you are happy to sit in a place that is lower than other [people’s] places, and that you greet whoever you meet, and that you do not quarrel even though you may be right, and that you do not like to be praised for your piety and God-wariness (Majlisī, Bihar al-Anwar, 72:465, h 4)

We pray to Allah that He adorns us with lofty noble characteristics such as humility. We pray to Allah by the sake of Prophet Muhammad sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam and his pure progeny in these days wherein arrogant and proud countries are oppressing weaker individuals around the world, that a true and lasting justice is established.

Sources: Shaykh ‘Abbas al-Qummī, A Summary of Mi’rāj as-Sa’ādah