It’s one of the most dangerous diseases of the heart. Arrogance.
It’s dangerous not only because it can cause havoc in your life and destroy your hereafter, but also because it makes you blind.
All the time its poison is seeping into your heart, you’re almost completely unaware, or in denial, of the damage it’s causing you.
He who has, in his heart, an ant’s weight of arrogance will not enter Paradise. (Muslim)
I once read a quote that looked quite arrogant itself:
“Whoever is trying to bring you down is already below you.”
That’s a sure way of building arrogance. Nonetheless, you can use the quote for your own benefit if you consider it the other way round.
If we’re looking down on a certain person a certain way, we can be sure that we actually look up to that person in some other way. The smartly dressed students look down on how the nerd in the class dresses because they are actually jealous of his academic achievements (and can’t think of a less immature way of getting back at him).
The fashionable girls look down on the “grandmamma” hijabi girl because they secretly look up to her as a symbol of piety and goodness.
These two aspects of arrogance, refusing the truth and looking down on other people, are the criteria with which Prophet Muhammad defined arrogance:
Kibr (arrogance) is refusing the truth and belittling the people. (Tirmidhi 1999)
Near the beginning of Surat Al-Baqarah, we find a detailed description of the hypocrites, of whom arrogance is a signature characteristic.
Allah says, for instance:
They [think to] deceive Allah and those who believe, but they deceive not except themselves and perceive [it] not. (2:9)
And when it is said to them, ‘Do not cause corruption on the earth,’ they say, ‘We are but reformers.’ Unquestionably, it is they who are the corrupters, but they perceive [it] not. (2:11-12)
Can you imagine the consequences of causing corruption on earth and not even realizing it? A sign of this happening is when we refuse to listen to other people’s advice, when it makes us angry when people criticize our actions. Who do they think they are?
Allah further says:
And when it is said to them, ‘Believe as the people have believed,’ they say, ‘Should we believe as the foolish have believed?’ Unquestionably, it is they who are the foolish, but they know [it] not. (2:13)
Looking down on how other Muslims worship Allah… the price?
[But] Allah mocks them and prolongs them in their transgression [while] they wander blindly. Those are the ones who have purchased error [in exchange] for guidance, so their transaction has brought no profit, nor were they guided. (2:15-16)
Then Allah further portrays the case of the hypocrites by using two metaphors:
Their example is that of one who kindled a fire, but when it illuminated what was around him, Allah took away their light and left them in darkness [so] they could not see. Deaf, dumb and blind – so they will not return [to the right path]. (2:17-18)
When we are in darkness, we seek light. But what if we don’t recognize darkness itself? What if we don’t even realize that it is dark? Even worse, what if you shut down your eyes and refuse to believe that it’s dark out there?
When they refuse to see, Allah takes away their light.
Or [it is] like a rainstorm from the sky within which is darkness, thunder and lightning. They put their fingers in their ears against the thunderclaps in dread of death. But Allah is encompassing of the disbelievers. (2:19)
What use is putting your fingers in your ear when lightning is striking all around you? These people don’t want to listen to their souls shouting out for relief. They’d rather avoid feeling guilty altogether by abandoning salah completely, than struggle with it.
How do we save ourselves from slipping into this spiral of arrogance?
The shield that can save us is gratefulness. The key is to focus on what you have, not what you think you should have; knowing that Allah is the Most Wise, and what He has chosen to give us, or to withhold from us, is better than what we could have chosen for ourselves.
Secondly, we must build self-confidence. If we can accept ourselves the way we are, we will no longer feel the need to drag someone else’s confidence down to make us feel good about ourselves.
People often think that self-confidence and arrogance are, if not the same, then mutually supportive. That’s far from true. Self-confidence is insight, light, wisdom. Arrogance is delusion, darkness, ignorance.
When we have self-confidence, we find it easy to consciously look up to the other person and admire the good Allah favored them with, while at the same time being grateful for our own favors.
A self-confident person doesn’t need to brag about his abilities, nor feel the need to show haughtiness. Instead, he knows who and what he is, feels confident about his skills and utilizes them to make the world a better place.
Unlike an arrogant person, a self-confident one is comfortable saying phrases like “I don’t know,” “I was wrong” and “you are right”.
Each individual is a unique combination of weaknesses and strengths, and to be truly humble, we need to be aware of both.