Some of the inclinations of the soul are rivalry, ambition, and preferring oneself to others. All of these traits of one's lower-self are based upon a much greater evil: Arrogance.
Arrogance is found in one who disdains to worship Allah, by forgetting his weaknesses, despising others, and feeling proud. However, man is a weak creature. He depends upon Allah's power to exist and sustain his existence. Allah is the sole Power Who has created man from nothing, imparted him with spirit, sheltered and fed him, caused him to breathe, and bestowed countless other blessings upon him. Allah is the Lord of the Universe. In spite of the clarity of this truth, one who thinks of himself as a being independent of Him, and believes his qualities and abilities to result from himself, is evidently suffering from a grave self-delusion.
In fact, one has no right to be proud. The truth that Allah could take back all blessings bestowed upon him when He pleases is sufficient evidence. From time to time, we all observe the harm caused by one who behaves proudly on account of his or her physical beauty, knowledge, ability, wealth or social status. We can also observe what becomes of them when they suddenly lose these for any reason. If such qualities had resulted in the person from his or her own doing, then there would be no reason for him or her to lose them. Likewise, Allah creates many afflictions and difficulties in this worldly life to help people understand this truth. He tests mankind through many frailties, such as ageing and illness.
One who comprehends that Allah bestows all he possesses, and that he has no power without His help and assistance, may then discern in return the wisdom of Allah in His creation, and acquire humility by reconizing his own weakness. According to Bediuzzaman, the most important step taken towards acquiring sincerity is to abandon arrogance:
"To preserve truth from the assaults of falsehood, to abandon the self and its egoism, and give up the mistaken concepts of self-pride, and cease from all insignificant feelings aroused by rivalry. [If these precepts are adhered to], sincerity will be preserved and its function perfectly performed."1
It is necessary to adhere to this morality in order to acquire sincerity. Arrogance causes one to behave in a way as to favor himself rather than Allah. Arrogance means loving one's self more than any other, listening to himself rather than the others, and protecting that which he owns at all cost. Hence, one who is swept away by pride closes his conscience from any warnings. Therefore, as he does not listen to the voice of his conscience, he could in no way behave sincerely.
In the Qur'an, Allah defines the influence of arrogance as follows:
When he is told to heed Allah, he is seized by pride which drives him to wrongdoing. Hell will be enough for him! What an evil resting-place! (Surat al-Baqara: 206)
What is truly befitting a believer is to put aside his arrogance and lower-self, and behave according to that which is pleasing to Allah. The following verse reads:
And among the people there are some who give up everything, desiring the good pleasure of Allah. Allah is Ever-Gentle with His servants. (Surat al-Baqara: 207)
In Surat al-Qasas Allah informs us of the end met by the tribes who behaved haughtily towards the Messengers sent by Him:
He said, "I have only been given it because of knowledge I have." Did he not know that before him Allah had destroyed generations with far greater strength than his and far more possessions? The evildoers will not be questioned about their sins. (Surat al-Qasas: 78)
Realizing What is Lost through Arrogance
It is possible to observe the damage done by arrogance on one's sincerity in every phase of one's life. One claiming to be superior to others is closed against all kinds of criticism, warning or advice coming from them. Even if the other were to remind him of a point he had not considered, he would be influenced adversely by his sense of superiority. Instead of surrendering to truth, he will defend his views, even if they are wrong. Therefore, he becomes insincere, and is ruled by his lower self. However, what exemplifies sincerity is to comply with what the other had said, and surrender without the need to feel superior.
For this purpose, one should, first and foremost, abandon the feelings of his ego which cause arrogance, and refrain from stubbornly defending himself. Only then can he hope to act in compliance with the spirit of the Qur'an and behave sincerely. Likewise, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi reminded the true believer that the most efficient antidote against the ambition to be superior and to be in the right, stemming from arrogance, is to "surrender to the mind of true believers without supporting one's self":
"The sole remedy for this disease is to accuse your own soul before others raise these charges, and always to take the side of your fellow, not your own soul. The rule of truth and equity established by the scholars of the art of debate is this: "Whoever desires, in debate on any subject, that his own word should turn out to be true, whoever is happy that he turns out to be right and his adversary to be wrong and mistaken-such a person has acted unjustly." Not only that, such a person loses, for when he emerges the victor in such a debate, he has not learned anything previously unknown to him, and his probable pride will cause him loss. But if his adversary turns out to be right, he will have learned something previously unknown to him and thereby gained something without any loss, as well as being saved from pride. In other words, one fair in his dealings and enamoured of the truth will subject the desire of his own soul to the demands of the truth. If he sees his adversary to be right, he will accept it willingly and support it happily."2
Considering one's successes to be achieved merely by virtue of one's self stems from arrogance and destroys sincerity. However, Allah is the One Who has bestowed upon mankind their mind and ability. As stated in the following verse, man knows nothing except what Allah has taught him:
They said, "Glory be to You! We have no knowledge except what You have taught us. You are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise." (Surat al-Baqara: 32)
Man is a weak creature Allah has created from nothing. All of man's powers are the result of the generous gifts and benevolence of Allah. When taking into account the endless wisdom, limitless power and knowledge of Allah, clearly, one who considers having acquired these qualities by himself is in grave error. Carried away by pride, he forgets these realities, and thinks that his success arises out of his own accomplishment. He may become arrogant and insincere. What is more befitting for a true believer is never to consider any of his successes as his own, even if he were the most able, intelligent and perfect man ever to set foot on earth. Arrogance should never take hold of him. If he behaves in a manner by which he takes account of his own weakness, in spite of all these blessings, then Allah will bestow even greater favors upon him. He will make him obtain His consent, compassion and enter Paradise, on account of his sincerity. Yet, most people forget that this worldly life is nothing but a test. They turn to Allah in times of affliction, and yet, act ungratefully when they are granted blessings. They also commit a great error by believing that these blessings are the outcome of their own abilities, and that the success belongs to them alone. In Surat az-Zumar, Allah commands the following:
When harm touches man he calls on Us. Then when We grant him a blessing from Us he says, "I have only been given this because of my knowledge." In fact it is a trial but most of them do not know it. (Surat az-Zumar: 49)
Another tendency frequently found among people under the influence of arrogance is the "ambition to lead." The lower-soul tempts a man to act ambitiously even while performing good and pious deeds, and attempt to destroy his sincerity by putting forth excuses that would seem reasonable. As Said Nursi affirmed, saying: "Moreover sincerity and adherence to the truth require that one should desire the Muslims to benefit from anyone and at any place they can. To think 'Let them take lessons from me so that I gain the reward' is a trick of the soul and the ego."3, in various circumstances, some people act by deciding that, "I will be the one to complete this job" without taking into account quality of the outcome or the benefits to be gained as a consequence. This attitude, ruled by the desire to lead and arrogance, completely destroys sincerity.
As expressed by Bediuzzaman, who said "Thinking to oneself 'Let me gain this reward, let me guide these people, let them listen to me,' he takes up a position of rivalry towards the true brother who faces him and who stands in real need of his love, assistance, brotherhood and aid. Saying to oneself, 'Why are my pupils going to him? Why don't I have as many pupils as him?' he falls prey to egoism, inclines to the chronic disease of ambition, loses all sincerity, and opens the door to hypocrisy"4, a peevish man considers his Muslim brothers as his rivals. Unwilling that another be endowed with important responsibilities, and complete his tasks successfully, is to be understood as not wishing anyone else to gain the rewards of Paradise, nor to accept a responsibility which will grant him entry into Paradise. Yet, the noblest attitude according to the Qur'an, that which is most sincere, is to let others earn the access to Paradise and to encourage them to embark on tasks pleasing to Allah.
A Muslim should wish to make others gain the rewards of Paradise and take on noble tasks leading to favor in the hereafter, just as he wishes to perform pious deeds for his own benefit. Turning a good deed into one for the sake of a worldly ambition, by saying "I am the most qualified person to do this job," "Let them see how good I can manage this job, and understand how superior are my qualities," "I will undertake this job in order to acquire a status and prestige among the believers," is not in accordance with sincerity. Instead, one should give preference to another believer. He should point out that he also possesses superior qualities to enable him to practice good morality and to act sincerely. In order to conquer one's arrogance and the ambition to authority, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi gave the following recommendation:
"The cure and remedy for this serious disease is to be proud of the company of all those travelling the path of truth, in accordance with the principle of love for Allah's sake; to follow them and defer leadership to them; and to consider whoever is walking on Allah's path to be probably better than oneself, thereby breaking the ego and regaining sincerity. Salvation is also to be had from that disease by knowing that an ounce of deeds performed in sincerity is preferable to a ton performed without sincerity, and by preferring the status of a follower to that of a leader, with all the danger and responsibility that it involves. Thus sincerity is to be had, and one's duties of preparation for the Hereafter may be correctly performed."5
By these words, Said Nursi has once again underlined the importance of sincerity, and reminded the believers that those who aim to live in Paradise should be cleansed of selfish feelings, such as ego, rivalry, and the ambition to lead. He also made note of the importance of giving preference to another believer as an act of sincerity, of allowing him to lead and of being pleased with his accomplishments. He reminded believers that what is truly reflecting of sincerity is to believe that others could be superior to oneself and to surrender to them.
1. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash
1. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash
3. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash
4. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash
5. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash