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“I Am Holier Than You” … Really?

I remember one of those vivid hours in college, during one of the more unpopular classes.

The lecturer decided to spiral out on an off-tangent rant that had nothing to do with what she was teaching.

She asked why she had never seen any one of us (sisters) at the prayer room at any one time when she did her prayers, she said with a frown.

The lecture hall was silent.

“How come I have never seen anyone of you praying?”

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She asked again, shaking her head. A few eyes rolled.

But she continued her spiral – she always prayed her 5 daily prayers. She never missed a prayer. Prayer is so important, that she always makes sure she does her salah. She would never dream of missing even one communication with Allah. She always does her prayers (there was a lot of repetition here). And then she questioned again, with a bit of a snark, looking down on us:

“Why have I never seen any of you praying!?”

While it’s obviously commendable that the lecturer in question loved her salah and frequented the prayer room for the obligatory prayers, it really wasn’t necessary for her to start interrogating her students as to their prayers or self-placing herself on a pedestal for praise. Or at the very least, she could have asked the same question in a way that was not condescending.

But this is what it had sounded like: “I am really more religious than you. You need to improve yourselves. Be more like me. I am really holier than you.”

Seriously? Astaghfirullah, to have to put it in so many words.

Assuming the Best about Believers

Legally, if a Muslim announces that he or she is a Muslim, he or she has to be accepted as a Muslim. However, the faith that is questioned on the Day of Resurrection, is the faith in one’s heart, and the moment a person becomes a Muslim “legally”, it is imperative for every brother and sister to only believe that he or she has the highest of iman (faith) in his or her heart, even if some actions of his or her are clearly questionable. The actions may be subject to judgment (in order to learn or improve), but the faith in one’s heart may not.

One of the wisdom behind only assuming the best about another Muslim’s faith is to ward off arrogance from one’s heart. Arrogance, or kibr, is such a disease of the heart that even an ounce of it can prevent the believer from entering Paradise.

Believing that one is in a better place of iman or knowledge (in any respects), is also a violation of the Fatihah, where in the first verse reads: Alhamdulillahi Rabb-il alameen.”

Acknowledging that Allah is the Rabb (Master), the highest form of being, over all nations (al-alameen), is a declaration of humility. While Muslims declare Allah as “Rabb,” it goes without saying, that human beings of all nations are merely slaves or subjects.

Therefore, it is not befitting for a Muslim – no matter how religious he or she may perceive him or herself to be – to feel of greater status as compared to other slaves – and slaves do not have a hierarchy amongst themselves.

Satan’s Arrogance and the Unforgivable Act of Disobedience

The disease of arrogance actually stems from the beginning of time, and in fact, it was arrogance of religious nature. The Satan (Satan) had been known to be amongst the best worshipers of Allah, before Allah decided to create Adam and Eve as parents to the human race.

Allah commanding the jinn and angels to bow down to Adam sparked the first form of disobedience recorded in the Quran and it had sprung-forth from the seeds of arrogance. In his anger, Satan was recorded to have said:

…I am better than him (Adam), you created me from fire, and you created him from clay. (7:12)

With that single refusal to submit to Allah’s commands, Satan – who wanted to be recognized as the most honored worshipper of Allah – was immediately cast away as the accursed, unable to make any kind of return to Jannah and holding permanent residence in hellfire at the end of the existence of the world.

Being and feeling and proclaiming himself holier than Adam, really didn’t turn out very well for him.

This is very much unlike the parents of humanity, Adam and Hawwa who, in their humility, begged for forgiveness when they had disobeyed Allah and were sent to descend to earth. Out of the two scenarios, Adam and Hawwa were forgiven and the human race continues to be recognized as the most honored creation of Allah, partly for their ability to demonstrate guilt, humility and repentance for their wrongdoings.

Knowledge: A Commodity That Should Lead to Humility

Come modern day, there is not much of a difference when it comes to pining for recognition, whether it is of a religious nature or not. Knowledge is very much a commodity that one seeks on the earth. Across nations, (Muslim or not), humankind has always recognized that knowledge raises a person in status and dignity. Unfortunately, this has spun off into having education industry turn into one that is heavily burgeoned by consumerism.

Good learning programs, schools, and universities turn into competitive entities that sometimes profit out of the desire for students to not only learn, but to be recognized by society. Unfortunately, this is one of the signs of the closing in of Judgment Day – humans are racing each other to knowledge to earn status rather than share the same.

Knowledge is a great commodity that should be shared with others and help benefit society. For one’s self, sharing knowledge has a multiplier effect in merits, even after death. And the betterment of society plays in tandem to this “savings account.”

Sharing knowledge also encourages humility as it reminds that knowledge alone comes from Allah, and without such overwhelming mercy, knowledge would have not only not been learned, but also not been shared.

The compelling story of Moses meeting with Al-Khidr, is a reminder that no matter how knowledgeable a Muslim becomes, even if he is a revered Prophet, that human being have limitations to their understandings. Moses was sure that he was the most knowledgeable person around, after being questioned by his followers, but Allah decided to show him otherwise.

His meeting with Al-Khidr, by the virtue of Allah, demonstrated to Moses, how little he understood of Allah’s plans (specifically, those in this story).

Whether it was the destroying of a boat, the murdering of a young child, the hiding of treasures from orphans – none of these were conceivable logic in the mind of Moses, who himself was a very intelligent person and blessed messenger.

Similarly, there is a lot more knowledge in the skies and earth, including the “seen” and the “unseen” that would not ever fit into any human’s brain, regardless of their “status” or level of intelligence.

I Am Holier than You! Really?

With the advent of social media, especially with religious slur-sharing and holy tweets, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling a little holier than the next Muslim, and arguably, scholars are no more (if not more) susceptible to this mindset, as compared to “lay-Muslims”.

This is the same for those with any form of knowledge – like professionals, lecturers, etc. The irony is that the more religious one becomes, the less likely he or she will pinpoint the faults of others and advice that is given, will be given in a kind and considerate manner, and preferably in private.

Being a Muslim – a good Muslim – not only entails humility, but the constant state of humility, and this happens when a person is striving for good deeds and knowledge, always remembering that good deeds are never enough, and that knowledge on earth is terribly limited – whatever Allah has is far better – inconceivably better – and far, far more – also, inconceivably more.

Knowing and remembering that humans are merely slaves, keeps a good Muslim’s ego intact. After all, in Prophet Muhammad’s farewell sermon, he reminded his followers once again, that there is no human being who is better than another, except in piety and good deeds (and it is for only Allah to judge).

Every Muslim would know that the Prophet’s good deeds can never be matched by his followers, yet at the same time, he was the most humble person who roamed the planet. He would be clearly saddened by the insistence of proving one’s holiness above another Muslim’s, whether a fellow brother or sister, and definitely a fellow slave.

(This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)