Walk with humility [17:37]

blog Apr 22, 2023

Here is today's reflection from the Quran:

In Sura Isra (17:37) Allah savs: Do not strut arrogantly about the earth, you cannot break it open, nor match the mountains in height.

We live in a culture which encourages self-aggrandization and promotes "strutting our stuff". This verse from Sura Isra reminds us that such arrogance in thinking and posture, and self-congratulatory behaviour is not compatible with leading a spiritual life.

Scholars explain that insolence, or arrogance, or undue elation at our powers or capacities, is the first step to many evils. Pride as the old saying is, goes before a fall. Pride and arrogance keeps our focus on ourselves and prevents us from seeing the big picture and from connecting to others in service. It also gives us a very skewed perspective of our own importance and leads us to devalue others.

Keeping a realistic perspective on our strengths and limits becomes harder when you lead a public life as so many of us do on social media and when you get praise from others, it can lead to an exaggerated perspective of our own importance.

In the today's podcast episode, I share a teaching story about a scholar who saw a crowd gathering when he was about to speak. As he approached the crowd, he began thinking how amazing it was that so many people had showed up to listen to his eloquence. As he approached the crowd, he realised that they in fact, had gathered to watch a monkey show and not to listen to him. And that was a moment of awakening in humility for him.

In order to keep our balance and perspective, we need to remind ourselves that all our gifts and talents are His Grace and they carry a responsibility of serving a bigger purpose. That when we leave this planet, others will take our place, we will be forgotten and His work will carry on without us.

The verse also reminds us that what goes on in our heads in the shape of thoughts of power or greatness (thinking that we are "too cool" and that our blessings are a result of our efforts rather than as a result of His Grace) leads to a feeling of pride in our hearts which eventually shows up in our actions and as body language and posture suggesting arrogance. We need to cultivate humility in our hearts for humility to show up in our posture and in our actions.

A famous report of the Prophet's appearance and demeanor, composed by Ali in Abi Tālib, describes the Prophet as walking energetically, but never proudly (al-Tabari, Ta'rikh).

In order to regain perspective of our role in the greater scheme of things, the verse alludes to the glory of nature. By connecting to His Glory through reflecting on the awesomeness of the natural world, such as the height of the mountains and the vastness of this glorious earth (and to the Universe beyond), helps in keeping our own significance in check and cultivates awe in our hearts which greatly helps to minimize arrogance.

Of course it is a fine balance to acknowledge and use the gifts that have been granted to us and use them for good while at the same time maintaining a sense of balance and humility when using these gifts leads to praise and accolades from human beings.

A beautiful line from Dua Makaram Akhlaq [Sahifa Saiiadiva of Imam Zainul Abedin (as)] reminds us to pray to Him: "O Lord, raise me not a single degree before the people without lowering me its like in mvself"


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