Reflection No. 152 on Q 28:83 – Self Exaltation

تِلْكَ الدَّارُ الْآخِرَةُ نَجْعَلُهَا لِلَّذِينَ لَا يُرِيدُونَ عُلُوًّا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فَسَادًا ۚ وَالْعَاقِبَةُ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ

Tilkad-dārul-ākhiratu naj‘aluhā lilladhīna lā yurīdūna ‘uluwwan fīl-ardhi walā fasādā,
wal-‘ākibatu lil-muttaqīn
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.
(Sūratul Qasas, No.28, Āyat 83)

This āyat 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-Sādiq (a) says: If it is possible for you to remain unknown and unidentified, then be such. As long as you hold a praiseworthy position with Allah, then what difference does it make to you if people do not praise you, and what loss is it to you if you are regarded as blameworthy among people?

Human beings often have the desire to feel they are better than others. This desire for superiority stems from the Nafsul Ammarah which constantly leads towards evil, and is strengthened by the whisperings of Shaytān who himself was guilty of false superiority. The desire for superiority could be in any aspect: (power), 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 façade 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:
1. Disappointment at the progress of others and their success in whatever is important to us, be it knowledge, career, wealth etc.
2. Reluctance to praise and appreciate the good qualities and achievements of others.
3. Always hoping for praise from others and wishing to be addressed with a lot of respect.
4. 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 Khalīfah did not prevent him from coming to the market, and helping those in need.

The late Ayatullah Sayyid Khumayni also used to mention this verse to his students at the end of his Akhlāq classes.

Imam Ja‘far as-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.

Remember that the respect we may seek from other human beings is a poor substitute for true honor that lies only with Allah.

Sources: Āytaullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Agha Muhsin Qaratī, Tafsīr-e Nūr; Muhammad ibn al-Hasan Hurr al-‘Āmilī, Combat with the Self