And that the abode of the Hereafter, We shall assign it to those who have no desire to exalt themselves on the earth, nor to make mischief. And the good outcome is for the pious ones.
– Surat al-Qasas, 28:83
This thought-provoking ayah of the Holy Qur’an holds the secret to a great truth. Happiness and glory in the Hereafter is reserved for those who have no desire to exalt themselves on this earth. A true believer does not wish to be considered better than others, or to be praised and recognized in the world. A Hadith of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (a) says:
If it is possible for you, be unknown. So what if people do not praise you! What does it matter if you are lowly in the eyes of people, when you are praiseworthy in the eyes of Allah.
Human beings often have the desire to feel they are better than others. This desire for superiority stems from the Nafs al-Ammarah which constantly leads towards evil, and could be strengthened by the whisperings of Shaytan who himself was guilty of false superiority. The desire for superiority could be in any aspect; fame, wealth, possessions, knowledge, beauty, popularity etc. It could range from wanting to have a better car than others, to desire to outdo others in an argument. In any form, large or small, it is strongly condemned in Islam. Imam Ali (a) says that even if a man is pleased that the strap of his shoe is better than that of his companion, he would fall under the above verse.
The greatest hazard of this desire for superiority is that it is often unnoticed and unrecognized. It lurks beneath the trappings of earning, achieving and progressing. Behind the facade of wanting to do well in the world, man is on a quest to prove himself to be better than all others. This quest may give him fleeting success in the world, but ruins his chances of gaining everlasting happiness. Islam encourages the use of God-given talents and means to achieve and progress, but condemns the ignoble motive of wanting to outdo others.
The following are some symptoms of the dangerous disease of self-exaltation:
- Disappointment at the progress of others and their success in whatever is important to us, be it knowledge, career, wealth etc.
- Reluctance to praise and appreciate the good qualities and achievements of others.
- Always hoping for praise from others and wishing to be addressed with a lot of respect.
- Using opportunities to display and show off one’s merits.
It is narrated that during the political leadership of Imam Ali (a), Imam would often go to the market to assist others. Apart from guiding the lost ones and helping the weak ones, Imam also used the opportunity to advise and warn. He approached the merchants and traders and recited the above verse to them. Thinking over the verse deterred feelings of superiority of the rich over the poor. The Imam himself was also a model for the application of the verse. His position of Imam and Khalifah did not prevent him from coming to the market, and helping those in need.
Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (a) would weep when reciting this verse and say: By Allah, all my hopes of this world have been dashed by this verse. This is to explain that any hopes that one may have in this world, of achieving and amassing, in order to have some form of superiority over others is in conflict with this verse. Paradise in the Hereafter is strictly confined to those who have no desire of exaltation on earth.
Points to Ponder
1) When we analyze the desire for self-exaltation, we realize that human beings are hungry for respect and admiration. To gain respect they try to achieve whatever possible. What they overlook is that the respect they are seeking from other human beings is a poor substitute for true honor. The following qualities of respect from human beings are enough to make one wonder why it is sought so eagerly:
a) Fickle and unreliable. The respect derived from human beings is not dependable. It may be in favor of someone for some time but can easily be taken away. Imam Ali (a) says: People when they respect someone give him qualities that he does not even possess, but when they lower him they take away from him even the qualities he actually possesses.
b) Tinged with negative qualities. Too often the respect and admiration people have for others is grudging, and tinged with envy, jealousy, and even hatred. Man always wants to outdo others, so when he sees someone else becoming better than he is, he may acknowledge that, but it is often begrudged. The Holy Qur’an tells us of the response of people to Qarun who flaunted his wealth and people said: O would that we had the like of what Qarun is given, surely he is possessed of mighty good fortune. (28:79)
c) Based on ignorance and appearance. When human beings judge others, and award merit and superiority, the standards of judgement are often based on ignorance or what is apparent to them. They are not aware of the hidden defects of the person that may be in conflict with the appearance he portrays. They are also unaware of other people around the world who may be more deserving of merit. Allah informs the Prophet (s) about the hypocrites: and when you look at them, their bodies please you; and when they speak, you (feel like) listening to their words. They are as blocks of wood propped up (63:4).
2) The Holy Qur’an clearly decries the seeking of honor from human beings. Instead it asks us to seek honor from Allah. The Quran says: Do they seek honor from them? Surely all honor is for Allah (4:139). When someone is honorable with Allah, the award is superior in every respect as the standards of Allah are the highest. That is why Allah describes success in the Hereafter as the great achievement. (9:89)
A Hadith to remember
A beautiful Hadith from Imam Ali b. Musa al-Ridha (a)says: The intellect of a Muslim is incomplete till he has (developed) ten qualities in him . . . (the 9th quality is) anonymity is more honorable to him than fame and popularity. The he said, and the tenth quality, how (amazing) is the tenth quality! He does not see anyone except that he says: he (i.e. the other person) is better and more pious than me.
(Tuhfal ‘Uqul, p. 467).
Ayatullah Nasir Makarim Shirazi (ed.), Tafsire Namune
Agha Muhsin Qara’ati Kashani, Tafsire Noor
Muhammad al-Ray Shahree, Mizanul Hikmah
March Break Retreat : March 2012
The Academy for Learning Islam held a March Break Retreat for girls ages 13 to 15 years from March 14th to March 16th, 2012. The retreat was held at Hidden Acres, a Mennonite campsite in New Hamburg, Ontario. It included Islamic and spiritual sessions, sports and activities, as well as cooking and cleaning in teams. A total of 24 girls participated, along with 5 volunteers. It was a great way to have fun, relax, and strengthen the soul and spirit. Below are some comments from the participants:
It was Amazing! The topic for the retreat was, ‘How to become a successful believer’. The lectures, discussions, spirituality, activities, friends, bonding, food, etc were all fantastic! Everybody including the quiet, the loud, the hyper and the calm really enjoyed the retreat and wished it were longer! Usually when people our age hear the words lectures and discussions, we think them as being boring. But, at the March break retreat, the lectures and discussions were fun, informative and interactive. . . The topic picked, ‘A successful believer’, was something that effected and will help us all in our day to day lives.
- Sakina Rashid and Zahra Jessa, Toronto
The one week at the retreat was great, it was full of useful information, and I really needed few day away from the city, to meet new people and get closer to Allah by praying on time and all together, the feeling after each namaz was unexplainable, it was amazing, I don’t usually wake up early for namaz fajar but after waking up these few days I couldn’t sleep in after I just had to wake up early and pray to Allah! And the good thing about the retreat was that it wasn’t all about religious matters, we also had fun games to get close to each other.
- Fatemeh Abdolghaffar, Toronto
ALI is holding two new courses at JCC, Toronto.
ALI 209: Deriving Lessons from Qur’anic Stories. Tuesday evenings, April 3rd to May 8th
ALI 210: Understanding the Divine Message. Saturday mornings, April 7th to May 26th.
Instructor: Sh. Hasanayn Kassamali. Classes open for both gents and ladies.
For more details visit our website at www.academyofislam.com
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