Question: Arrogance is a serious character problem we experience throughout our lives. We falsely claim ownership over every good deed we are involved, forgetting that they are blessings from God. How can believers cope with such an arrogance?
On seeing certain positive results, one might sometimes think they are doing good works, and this consideration might appear very innocuous to that person. However, sin can find a way for itself even in the most innocent feeling and thoughts. When thoughts like “we did this, we did that; we planned this, we planned that...” plague our neurons, we adulterate the good work we did. Being able to keep upright in this respect is very difficult. Even if you make great accomplishments, if you conquer worlds, if you dig out treasures hidden deep under the earth but afterwards sing your own praises in your mind similar to “we also have a part in bringing these works to existence,” you have already lost.
God’s creating does not accept any partners
A person’s will is essential at the outset of anything we do. So, it is important to give their willpower its due in addition to fulfilling all requirements of causality, being committed at the issue with great determination, and doing all we can very seriously. However, the resulting work comes out as a blessing of the Divine Power; we do things because it is our duty to do them – we do not own the work and we cannot lay personal claim onto it. God is the one who creates all beings and everything that happens in the universe, and partnership is impossible at that. Giving consideration to a thought of participation here is a type of associating partners with God.
When people begin to presume themselves as the source of God’s blessings onto them, they lose those blessings. Even if the good work continues to expand a bit more with the centrifugal force of sincerity at the beginning, it is bound to stop after a while on account of a loss of sincerity of intention. After setting about some blessed task with sincerity at the beginning, those who begin to consider themselves as partners in the issue will lose even if they are saints of the greatest kind. They will be doomed to fail sooner or later.
That was why Bediuzzaman Said Nursi counseled his disciples to keep reading the Treatise on Sincerity every second week at least without giving a longer interval. This is very important in terms of a person being able to utterly neutralize their ego, nearing to the port of “we”—which is actually a lesser form of associating partners with God—and afterwards even with a consideration of further sincerity, throwing away “we” as well and being attached to “He” in the end.
The path we walk is that of Divine unity. It is the path of reviving the considerations about God’s existence and being one. The essential dynamics of this issue were damaged for years and were forgotten by many. It should be known that it is not possible to walk on the path of Divine unity with a consideration of associating partners with God. On such a path, if you start ascribing certain issues to things other than God, such as causality or your ego, God will take them away from you after some time. At the moment that you think you built a world, it collapses onto you and you remain under the debris. For this reason, as Divine blessings and favors increase, our heed for, and bond with Him, must also get stronger; everything other than Him must be erased from consideration.
Nursi explains the place of causes in contrast to God’s Unity as follows:
“God’s Dignity and Grandeur require apparent causes to prevent complaints and to hide, from those who reason superficially, the hand of Power’s involvement in certain seemingly insignificant or vile things and affairs. At the same time, God’s Unity and Glory require that these apparent causes have no part in either the creation or disposition of things” (First Treatise, Al-Mathnawi al-Nuri).
As it is seen, causes only serve as a screen in between us and our Creator. Although humans are endowed with the blessing of reason and honored with the best pattern of creation, their actions are nothing beyond apparent causes. Therefore putting “I” in the place of “He” is a gross act of disrespect towards God.
A person should not allow even the slightest wrong consideration in this regard to pollute the mind because this consideration might gradually grow and make the person into a monument of egoism. Once the issue comes that far, even the person concerned cannot so easily destroy that self-constructed idol.
It is stated in that it is God Who created you and all that you do (Saffat 37:96). One may not feel this all the time. Sometimes one might lay claim to the fruits of the efforts he or she made. However, as soon as realizing this the person must ask for forgiveness from God immediately and stay away from these wrongful considerations. One should not even let the imagination be polluted with these kinds of thoughts. So far, there is no successful person among those who repeatedly says “I.” Even if such people take a task to a certain extent, they give in to a whirlpool at an unexpected point and overturn. God does not like a person who keeps saying “I.” It is for this reason that if we wish to succeed with our services for His sake, we must carry out all of our deeds with sincerity.
The carnal soul, the desire within each person that pushes us to do what is reprehensible and forbidden for the sake of worldly gain or pleasure, wishes to see itself as independent from God and wants to boast about the achievements it made. However, as Prophet Joseph (peace be upon him) states in the Qur’an, the human carnal soul forcefully commands evil (Yusuf 12:53), and therefore it cannot be trusted. When we do certain things in the name of the carnal soul and ascribe them to it, we end up devaluing the deeds carried out and eliminate their positive effects. Deeds done for the sake of the carnal soul are doomed to be fruitless in the Afterlife as well. Even if you conquer worlds, if you acted for the sake of your carnal soul, you cannot receive any reward from God Almighty.
Moreover, there is no doubt that such egoistic attitudes will evoke a reaction in sincere servants of God. You may receive their dislike, and that these actions may push your fellow companions onto the path of envy and jealousy. It needs to be remembered that such a person with self-approval for his own person and deeds will disapprove of others in the same degree.
The worship of “playing down”
Good works, however small they may look from the outside, become great when they are done with sincerity of intention. Nothing done for the sake of God is insignificant. The noble Prophet counsels that no good act should be underestimated, even if it is as simple as a smile (Muslim, Birr 144).
While we should not underestimate anything done for the sake of God, on the other hand we should see even the greatest deeds we carried out for ourselves as being little. A believer must have such a perspective of all things he or she attempts to do. No personal deed should be seen as great. They should see both the acts of worship they observed for God and their efforts for the sake of glorifying His name as little. They should not feel content with the time they spared for God and the endeavors they made for guiding others and communicating the message. Actually, such a consideration also counts as worship in a different sense. Let us name this as “worship of playing down.” If there is some greatness concerned, it lies in carrying out our deeds for the good of humanity and doing them for the sake of gaining good pleasure of God because we believe that God may grant great positive results even for efforts of little scale.
For example, consider some good deeds you did with sincere intention, like opening homes for a few students, God can render them a means of great expansion in the future. The seeds you sow can grow into saplings, then become trees, and then begin to flourish everywhere, and then help turn the world into a garden of roses. Even the one who initially sowed the seeds remains in amazement and utmost astonishment before that outcome. This is a given result that the actions that were carried out were done for the sake of gaining God’s approval and the people who did these great deeds did not try to express any kind of greatness or grandeur via their activities.
In conclusion, we can say that, concerning people who are not primarily focused on the benefits of the good deeds that they carried out, who do not put themselves first, who do not pursue worldly concerns, and who genuinely serve God with selfless devotion, God will make them succeed. As it is stated in the first verse of the Qur’an’s chapter “Fath,” God will clear their way, open new roads, and will turn narrow footpaths into highways for them.
As for people who act like spiders and care about weaving a world for themselves instead, and harbor considerations such as “I work, I keep running, I migrate, I forbear great hardships... Where are the returns of all these efforts and sacrifices?” they will fall into the web they personally wove, which is the web of arrogance. Once they fall into that web, they will not be able to get out of it and will become prey to others. May God bless all of us with peace and living a life with a blissful end.