Reflection No. 169 on Q 28:83 – Seeking superiority
Tilkad-dārul-ākhiratu naj ‘aluhā lilladhīna lā yurīdūna ‘uluwwan fil-ardhi walā fasādan;
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 insightful āyat of the Holy Quran 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, 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 Nafsul Ammārah which constantly leads towards evil, and could be strengthened by the whisperings of shaytān 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. According to the Tafsīr: 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 in Hereafter. 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 Amīrul Mu’minīn 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 of Muslims and the true Khalīfah of the Messenger of Allah (s) did not prevent him from coming to the market, and helping those in need.
Imam Ja‘far al-Sādiq (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.
Recite this verse to remind yourself that it is foolish to seek honor and superiority from human beings. Instead seek honor form Allah. The Quran says: Do they seek honor from them? Surely all honor is for Allah (Q 4:139). A beautiful Hadith from Imam Ali b. Musa al-Ridhā (a) says: The intellect of a Muslim is incomplete till he has (developed) ten qualities in him . . . [the 9th quality is] anonymity is preferable to him than fame and popularity. Then 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 ‘Uqūl, p. 467).
Seek forgiveness for believers, especially for the deceased on Friday
Shaykh al-Mufīd (r) in a long Hadith on the excellence of the month of Ramadan quotes the Holy Prophet (s) saying: In the evening of every day of the month of Ramadan, Allah frees a million souls from hellfire at the time of Iftar. And when the night of Friday and the day of Friday enter, He frees a million souls every hour. Those were the wretched souls who deserved chastisement. And when the month of Ramadan ends, the number of souls freed on that day equals the total souls released from hellfire by Allah during the whole month. (Al-Āmālī, 27th Assembly, H. 3)
Āytaullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed), Tafsīr-e Namūneh;
Abū Muhammad al-Harrānī, Tuhfal ‘Uqūl;
Al-Mufīd, Al-Āmālī, www.al-islam.org/amali