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Dangers and Vanity of Religious Pride

The pious tongue without the pious heart is sinfulness and a straying from the Truth.

The pious heart without the pious tongue is completion without completeness, and a pious heart and a pious tongue is a completion above all completion.

- Ahmad ibn Ujaba al-Maghribi

There are many worldly ephemeral material things that human ego pride itself with. Money, wealth, possessions, expensive houses are few of these impermanent of impermanent things. But of all the sources that cause the children of Adam to boast with pride, religious pride is the most dangerous as it is the most subtle and disguises itself within deep layers of human psychic makeup.

Just as few crystals of potassium cyanide are enough to kill a human being with perfect health, so is the deadly effect of religious pride on the spiritual heart. Religious pride kills the merit one accumulated by doing wholesome work and debase one's spiritual station to the lowest of low.

Pride takes many forms and shapes. In Imam Al-Mawlud’s discourse, Matharat Al-Qulub, he mentions three different qualities and kinds of arrogance.

The first type is when a person deems himself superior to others. Imam Al-Ghazali Said, "People of religious knowledge are in greater danger of arrogance than anyone else”, because the knowledge they have might cause them to look down on others who may not have the same level of knowledge."

In the life of Christ the religious authorities or Pharisees are archetype of people of religious knowledge who are utterly proud. The elite Meccans in the life of Prophet Muhammad are the mirror part of such people who are possessed with religious pride, refused to see universal truth and boasted over the religion of their forefathers. And in both cases they are the most criticized group respectively by Christ in his time and the Quran.

The second type is arrogance displayed in a person who shows contempt and scorn to other. The third type of arrogance mentioned is that of lineage, race, color and even religious identity when terms used such as chosen people, only people who will be saved etc.

Specially dangerous is the pride that is borne out of performing religious duties, out of walking upon a particular religious path - because such pride shift the intention from pleasing the Beloved the Most High to priding oneself and showing off and claiming superiority. In many instances such disease of religious pride creates a toxic 'holier than thou' attitude which is a veil more serious than any other veil between the person and his Lord.

Potassium Cyanide appears as sugar, dissolves in water and become colorless, invisible. Religious pride borne out of performing religious duties is also like that. Disguising as pious motive it produces the effect of deadly poison by creating a boastful mind and heart. No matter how much scripture one makes readily available upon the tip of his tongue or no matter how many religious rites one observe strictly, the moment a thought enters upon the heart that belittle another fellow human being - indeed that single thought is sufficient to cause ruin to his or her spiritual station and render all religious actions worthless. Ibn al Qayyim said: "What matters is not the deed; what matters is protecting the deed from that which would spoil it and cancel it out."

In the book, Remedies to Spiritual Maladies by Maulana Hakeem Akhtar, its written, "Pride has been defined in Islamic sacred tradition (hadith) as considering others to be low and contemptible, to treat them in a belittling manner and to reject the truth. The proud one is bereft of humility and never attains salvation from anger and humility. It is almost impossible for him to discard ostentatious behaviours towards people and he can never be kind, polite and courteous towards people, he wallows in his self-conceived notoin of self-esteem and haughtiness.

It is reported in the hadith that when a person adopts humility for the pleasure of Allah the Most High, while considering himself to be despicable and inferior, he is actually elevated and honourable in the sight of Allah the Most High. On the other hand, when he considers himself to be superior and laudable, he is contemptible and lowly in Allah's sight, and the creation also hold him so in this regard."

The Prophet said, "Allah revealed to me that we should be humble amongst ourselves and none should show pride upon the others, And it does not behove one to do so." In another narration he said, "Shall I inform you about the people of Paradise? They comprise every obscure unimportant humble person, and if he takes Allah's Oath that he will do that thing, Allah will fulfill his oath (by doing that). Shall I inform you about the people of the Fire? They comprise every cruel, violent, proud and conceited person."

There is a term that is called Iblisan Tawhid (satanic testifiction of faith) which points to the reality derived from human capacity of self-deception. It is such that people could easily think they are pious religious person on the basis of their attachment or claim to transcendental, invisible, distant God and their fulfillment of ritual obligations; but they behave proud and arrogant to God's creation and embody Satan's attribute of arrogance.

The narrative of Satan in the Quran landscape offers an interesting insight on the danger of pride. When God commanded all creation to prostrate Adam (symbolizes the high potential of Hu-Man or human who is the reflection of Divine attributes), all angels bowed down to Adamic form, but Satan refused.

"Lord said: O Satan! what prevented you from bowing down to him whom I created with My hands? Are you proud or are you of the exalted ones?

Satan said: I am better than he; Thou hast created me of fire, and him Thou didst create of dust." - The Quran 38:75, 76

This very thought and action of claiming superiority and looking down upon another, caused Satan to fall from one of the most devoted being in the whole of angelic realm to the most disgraced of all. At the heart of this episode is also the teaching of the danger of division. Instead of seeing both Adam and himself as creation of God, Satan looked at the divisive attributes, the two origin of fire and dust.

Practically speaking one of the sure sign of religious pride is when one can only see other fellow human beings in terms of division. And surprisingly people use religious motive to justify their divisive outlook. All the while they forget that it is God who chose his parents and most people takes upon the religion of his parents.

A contemporary Shadhili sufi guide, Sidi Muhammad al-Jamal says, "Every religion says, it is complete. But know that if any religion makes a difference between anyone, then it is not complete. This is not religion of the Prophets, this is the religion of dark forces.

In the religion of the Prophets, you find the love, and peace and mercy."

When affected by the disease of religious pride, a person start to rationalize his being better than other (holier than thou) by labeling others more and more 'different' (than what he thinks or believes or obtained from his or her parents or culture) and claims other to be 'less right' and hence doomed. The more religious pride one has, the more division one delve into, thus labeling others into more and more sects, shia-sunni, this madzhab (school of thought), that madzhab, Protestant, Baptist, Catholic this - Catholic that and in doing so one forget that all are equal creation and such divisions are very insignificant human construct and has very little to do with their inner faith and relationship with their Lord.

By allowing religious pride one imagine the Gate of Mercy of God which is Infinitely Wide to be a narrow Gate. It is said whoever digs hole for others, himself falls into it, similarly whoever imagines God's Gate of Boundless Mercy narrow, is caught by its narrowness. May God protect us from such short sightedness.

No claim on holiness or purity | 'holier than thou' attitude is forbidden

.. therefore do not consider yourselves pure. Allah knows well those who guard themselves.
- The Quran 53:32

Imam Ghazzali states: "Allah, Lord of the Universes has concealed the potentiality of Walayat (Sainthood) within the hearts of His servants; therefore never consider any person inferior, no matter how sinful he may be, for it is quite possible that such a person may someday repent sincerely and attain high spiritual station, as history has proven time and again."

Matthew 23:1-12 offers Christ's fierce criticism against the vanity of religious pride. It reads, Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

"Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their religious garb wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'

"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher (now), the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12)

The remedy of religious pride is practice of humility both inwardly and outwardly. To contemplate upon one's insignificance in this vast cosmic order and also to contemplate upon one's death. The belief in the after life and belief in the truth that after death every action and intentions behind every action will be taken account, is a remedy to purify the heart from vain pride.

In Art of Personality Sufi Master Inayat Khan writes, "Vanity expressed crudely is called pride. The art of personality is to cut off the rough edges of this spirit of vanity, which hurts and disturbs those one meets in life. The person who says 'I,' the more he does so, the more he disturbs the minds of his listeners." Thus cutting off the many heads of ego is a remedy of pride. The "I" must go (the mystery of the symbol of cross which eternally negates the i, an wondrous symbol of fana) to let the pride go whether religious or any other kind.

Following is a very significant section from Quran that provides a simple guideline about not to behave proudly, not to look down upon others and to be conscious of the fact that the source of mankind is singular, therefore to embrace unity.

O ye who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women laugh at others: It may be that the (latter are better than the (former): Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed: And those who do not desist are (indeed) doing wrong.

O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it...But fear Allah: For Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and races, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (one who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).
- The Quran 49: 11-13

Whoever gives reverence receives reverence.
The intellectual quest, though fine as pearl or coral,
is not the spiritual search.

There is no worse sickness for the soul,
O you who are proud, than this pretense of perfection.
Can the water of a polluted stream clear out the dung?
Can human knowledge sweep away
the ignorance of the deceitful self?

Many are the unbelievers who long for submission,
but their stumbling block
is reputation and pride and continual cravings.

Be cleansed of the (false) self's features, and see your pure Self:
Know the mirror of the heart is infinite.

Either the understanding falls silent, or it leads you astray,
because the Secret Heart is God,
no, indeed the Secret Heart is He.

- Rumi


I seek refuge in God from the self
I seek refuge in God from the self
I seek refuge in God from the self
- from its every whisper of vain pride.

O Lord separate vain pride from my self as You have separated east from west. Indeed You are The Protecting Friend, The Inspirer of Faith. Amen.

. Image Credit via Flickr



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Technology of the Heart: Dangers and Vanity of Religious Pride
Dangers and Vanity of Religious Pride
Technology of the Heart
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