Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Jamadiul-Awwal / Jamadiul-Akhir 1423 H
August 2002
Volume 15-08 No:188

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Hadith


Avoid Pride


Avoid Pride

The Prophet was asked: We know about associating partners with God, but what is meant by pride? Does pride mean that a person among us may have a fine suit to wear?
He answered, "No." They asked: Does it mean that a person may have a good pair of sandals with two fine straps? He answered, "No." Then he was asked if pride may be demonstrated by
a person having companions who come to sit with him? But the Prophet again answered in the negative. At this point, his companions asked him: Messenger of God, what is pride? He replied:
"It is to ignore the truth and to treat people with contempt."

(Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Ahmad, An-Nassaie and others).


Commentary by Adil Salahi

Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) made use of every occasion which presented itself to him to emphasise good Islamic qualities. If he saw something which Islam does not approve of, he would refer to it in the clearest of terms and make his audience in no doubt about its undesirability. If he saw something acceptable, he would point it out to his companions, praising the person who does it. He may also suggest that following his example would bring reward from God. Sometimes, the action which might have captured the Prophet's attention might not be intended in a way that Islam disapproves. The fact that it could be construed as such was sufficient for the Prophet to draw attention to it and make his companions, and his followers in future generations, in no doubt about how Islam views it. We have a rather long Hadith which gives such an example.

Abdullah ibn Amr reports: We were sitting with God's messenger (peace be on him) when a bedouin approached, wearing a robe with fine embroidery. He walked until he stood before the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: "Your friend here wants to shame every man of honor and elevate every shepherd." The Prophet took him by the collar of his robe and said: "I see that you are wearing the clothes of one who is devoid of sound mind." Then he went on to say: "When the Prophet Noah (peace be upon him) was close to death, he said to his son: I will give you some instructions. I command you to observe two things and forbid you two things. You must declare that 'there is no deity except God.' If all the seven heavens and the seven earths were to be placed on the scales against 'there is no deity except God,' it would outweigh them. And if the seven heavens and the seven earths were made into a solid ring, it would break that ring. (I also command you) to declare that 'God's glory is limitless and He is infinite in His praise.' This is the prayer of everything, and by it everything receives its provisions. I forbid you the association of partners with God and pride."

The Prophet was asked: We know about associating partners with God, but what is meant by pride? Does pride mean that a person among us may have a fine suit to wear? He answered, "No." They asked: Does it mean that a person may have a good pair of sandals with two fine straps? He answered, "No." They asked again: Does it mean, then, that a person may have his own means of transport? Again he said, "No." Then he was asked if pride may be demonstrated by a person having companions who come to sit with him? But the Prophet again answered in the negative. At this point, his companions asked him: Messenger of God, what is pride? He replied: "It is to ignore the truth and to treat people with contempt." (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Ahmad, An-Nassaie and others).

The story begins with the bedouin and the way he entered the mosque where the Prophet was sitting with his companions. His attitude must have shown that the man thought too highly of himself. His rich dress must have added to the impression he left on the companions of the Prophet. His first words were contentious, taking issue with the Prophet whom he accused of wanting to put to shame every man of honour and to elevate those who are not usually held in high esteem. He obviously considered himself of the first group, and he perhaps said this in complaint about what he felt to be a threat represented by Islam to people enjoying positions of honour and influence. Perhaps that was also the purpose of his wearing such fine clothes.

The Prophet wanted him to understand that appearances counted for little. He described the man's clothes as those of a person devoid of intellect. That must have come as a shock to the man who thought that his dress gave him some advantage and he was entitled to have a good reception by the Prophet. The Prophet, however, made it clear to him that how he was clothed meant nothing to him.

The Prophet then told the bedouin and his companions the story about Prophet Noah and his final words to his son. As it is well known, Muslims believe in all the Prophets who have preceded Prophet Muhammad and acknowledge that they had messages from God to mankind. Therefore, whatever agrees with Islam in the message of any earlier prophet is incorporated as part of our religion. Where any religion clashes with Islamic principle, the clash is due either to an abrogation of an earlier rule as in the case of punishments prescribed in the Torah for murder and causing bodily harm. The principle of retaliation and causing the perpetrator similar injury is established in the Torah. The Quran has introduced an extra provision, allowing the injured party the chance to pardon his aggressor. Such a variation is understandable. When two divine religions seem to be in opposition, we declare that the earlier one has been distorted, since God has guaranteed to preserve the message of the Quran intact for all times. Hence, when the Prophet mentions the last words of Prophet Noah, he does this to endorse them and to make it clear to his companions and his followers that they apply to them.

If we examine these words, we find that they are in full agreement with Islam. The two things Noah ordered his son to observe and maintain are his belief in the Oneness of God and glorifying and praising Him. This is the guiding principle in all divine messages. On the other hand, the two things he forbade him were polytheism, or associating partners with God, and pride. This last part of Noah's words probably came as a surprise to the bedouin and indeed the companions of the Prophet. The reporter of the Hadith, Abdullah ibn Amr, a learned companion of the Prophet speaks of long questioning of the Prophet by his companions about the exact meaning of pride. The line of questioning is easy to understand. Since the Prophet commented on the bedouin's dress, his companions started by asking him whether pride was demonstrated by wearing fine clothes. The Prophet explains that appearances are not what matters. A person may wear fine clothes and fine shoes without being guilty of showing pride. The Quranic instructions in this regard are very clear. God states: "Who is there to forbid the beauty which God has brought forth for His creatures, and the good things of life? Say: They are (lawful) in the life of this world to all believers, to be theirs alone on the Day of Judgement." (7: 32)

The Prophet also explains that pride need not be the quality of a man who has friends who come to him on social visits; as long as he treats them well and does not ignore the right of any of them, he has nothing to worry about.

When the Prophet's companions had put to him all these questions and he explained that none of these situations need be one of pride, they asked him directly to define pride to them. As usual, the Prophet's definition is most clear and to the point. "Pride", he explains, "is ignoring the truth and denying people their rights." Ignoring the truth comes in a variety of ways. Some commentators on Hadith give the following example: a man may owe you some money, but he denies it altogether. Another person who knows that he has borrowed the money from you reminds him that he should fear God and pay you your money. Instead of accepting his admonition and acknowledging his debt, he takes a hostile attitude to the man and the truth. As for denying people their rights, this need not be only in respect of material rights. If he shows conceit and looks at other people with contempt, he denies them their rights. It is perhaps the latter attitude which is more important. When a man is contemptuous of his fellow human beings, treating them with arrogance, he is guilty of committing something which prophets have put alongside associating partners with God. That is a grave matter indeed.

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