On Arrogance, Humbleness, and Inferiority Complex
It has been called ummul-amradh, or the root of all sicknesses of the heart.
Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, warned that a person having even an iota
of it in his heart will never enter paradise. This deadliest of all sins is kibr,
No one likes arrogance --- in others. We never like a person who is haughty, too proud,
or condescending. We detest a person who belittles us and has a huge ego. Similarly we
love people who are humble, polite, and easy to talk to. We love people who give us
respect and honor. Thus if we follow the principle of treating others the way we like to
be treated, most of these problems might be cured. In reality, the treatment of ummul-amradh
requires a deeper look.
For that we need to appreciate the difference between adab or manners, on the
one hand and akhlaq or morals on the other. While adab deal with ones
external disposition, akhlaq as defined by Islam deal with our inner thoughts,
feeling, and attitudes. In a healthy personality, the manners and morals are in harmony.
But it is also possible to have the former without having the latter. The first concerns
itself with how a person deals with others. The second is concerned with what a person
thinks of himself. Two persons showing humbleness in their dealings with others, may have
exactly opposite ideas in their minds. One may do it out of his or her
"generosity"; the other may do it because he genuinely thinks that he is not
better than the other person. The first person only has a shell of humbleness, which will
crumble when tested. It is the second person who is really free of arrogance.
Real greatness belongs only to Allah, our Lord, Creator, and Master. Human beings are
just a creation of Allah --- and a very small creation in comparison to the unimaginably
vast universe. Anyone who understands this will realize that our proper status is only
that of servants of Allah. In fact for a Muslim the real human model is none other than
Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, who is the greatest of all human beings.
His greatness lies in being the humblest of all servants of Allah! It is impossible for
any person who has this consciousness to entertain any notions of his own greatness.
This leads us to the definition of kibr, given in a famous hadith: "Kibr
is to knowingly reject Truth and to belittle other people." This hadith exposes two
strains of this deadly disease, both dealing with our exaggerated ideas of
self-importance. The first suggests that I am more important than the Truth. The second
suggests that I am more important than other people.
We know about the Quraish and Jews of Arabia who had come in contact with Prophet
Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and who knew in the heart of their hearts that he
indeed was the Messenger of Allah. Their arrogance, though, kept them from accepting it.
History has recorded statements from some of them who said we know he is the Promised
Prophet but we will keep on opposing him to maintain our leadership.
While that was the most blatant form of arrogance, we can witness the same attitude on
a smaller scale in our discussions and arguments. A person realizes that he was wrong, but
then his pride keeps him from admitting it. No matter how polite or "humble"
that person may appear to be ordinarily, this test shows the presence of arrogance in his
heart. It is arrogance that keeps a person from saying "I am sorry."
The second strain involves our feeling of superiority with respect to other people.
Islams teaching is that one should never consider oneself greater than other people,
because that Judgment will come from Allah, and Allah alone, on the Day of Judgment. None
of us knows what our end will be, whether we will end up being a winner or loser over
there. The person who appears to be nobody here may end up with eternal bliss because of
his goodness that only Allah knew. The person who is a big shot here may end up among the
sinners who will be punished there, because of his evil that only Allah knew. How foolish,
it is then to congratulate ourselves over our fleeting "superiority".
What if a person does have edge over another person in measurable worldly terms? How
then can he not consider himself superior than the other person in that respect? The point
is sometimes made in half jest: it is difficult to be humble when you are so great. Islam
does not ask us to reject reality and imagine we dont have what we really do. Rather
it asks us to take a deeper look at the reality and not be misled by a superficial
perception of it. And the simple reality that escapes many is that our health, wealth,
talents, and power are not of our own creation. God gave those to us as a test and He can
take them back whenever He wills. Those who are conscious of this reality, their blessings
will produce gratitude in them; those who are blind to it will develop pride and
Some forms of kibr are subtle. If a person is embarrassed to bow to Allah in the
presence of non-believers, that is a case of "kibr in the face of Allah," says
Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi.
While throughout history humanity had agreed on the evil of arrogance and the virtue of
humbleness (despite its failures in practice), this century has seen new dogmas that aim
at changing the definitions of good and evil. Humbleness is no longer desirable. Rather,
one has to avoid "Inferiority Complex." Alfred Adler (1870-1937) gave us that
term. According to him, life is a continuous struggle to move from a position of
inferiority to a position of significance. Those who fail to make the progress, develop
inferiority complex, which can be treated by increasing self-esteem. Unfortunately today
such pseudo-science is accepted as gospel truth.
The truth is that problems arise when we turn away from reality. A humble person is a
happy, content, grateful person who thanks God for his blessings and has no notions of his
own superiority. False notions of superiority or of ones entitlements in life, on
the other hand, lead to frustrations and complexes.