The Danger of Pride for Islamic Work

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He had just completed his prayers, recited his remembrances, and was getting up to leave, but the man who had been praying next to him grabbed hold of his hand and bade him stay. He did so in a warm and friendly manner. He was being diplomatic in his ways, which is appropriate to someone who wishes to advise someone else or call them to what is right. 

He said: “May Allah bless you. I am happy to see you in the mosque. A believer loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” 

The man who had been standing to leave replied: “May Allah bless you too. Yet, since when is the mosque the preserve of any one person? Is my presence in the mosque so startling or unexpected as to warrant your proclamation of happiness about it?” 

He said: “This is just my nature. I feel joy at other peoples’ good fortune. This is why I wish to point out to you some things about your prayer, especially since I see how concerned you are to follow the Sunnah.” 

The man said, wearily: “Tell me what you have to say.” 

The other man did not pick up on his weary tone, and began enumerating the things he had to say about that man’s prayer in meticulous detail. All in all, he made ten separate observations about the man’s prayer and then finished with a smile, paraphrasing a verse of the Qur’an: “These are ten in total.” 

The man listened to all of it and then asked his advisor in a firm tone: “And what about you?” 

He said: “Thanks to Allah, I am someone who naturally accepts advice. I know I am a human being who makes mistakes. I am no angel, nor am I even a learned person in Islam. I am just an ordinary guy. I hope that nothing comes between me and accepting the truth. Once, one of my own students gave me advice and I thanked him and accepted it.” 

The man then realised that his advisor was full of pride. He had begun every sentence with “I”. He had even affirmed his humanity, as if it had ever been in doubt. He then went on to point out he was not an angel, as if further clarification was needed. Then he denied being knowledgeable as a sign of humility, but made sure to mention in the next breath that he had students. The man had praised himself to the highest extent using words of humility. 

This is the worst kind of pride, because it becomes very difficult for people like this to realise the extent of their pride. You can try to call their attention to their behaviour. You can try to point out their double standards in how they see themselves and how they see others, or in how they deal with things they like and are familiar with as opposed to things they dislike and find strange. It is not easy. 

The man who had been listening regarded his advisor for a bit, thinking about how to get through to him. Then he said: “I think the greatest mistake you made was that when you were standing before Allah in prayer, your heart was somewhere else. Your heart was not in a state of devotion, but was preoccupied with how the man standing next to you was praying. You monitored his every move, and mulled over what Islamic scholars had to say about it, and then waited for the prayer to be over so you could tell him about all the mistakes he made.” 

However, the other man did not accept this advice in turn. Instead, he argued that having a devoted heart in prayer was a matter of scholarly disagreement, and though Abū Hāmid al-Ghazālī regarded it as a requirement, and Ibn Taymiyah was inclined to that view, most scholars did not consider it as such. 

The man who had come to the mosque to pray did not feel like debating. He just thought about the best way to excuse himself from his erstwhile advisor, so he could honour his own commitments. He had no time for back and forth arguments and disputations.

Sheikh Salman al-Oadah