Friday Sermon: Humility

By Babatunde Jose

Humility is the art of modesty and exuding a low perception of one’s own importance; a state of humbleness, modesty, meekness, diffidence, unassertiveness and lack of pride or vanity and in religious terms, a state of submissiveness to the will of God. Let it however, be known that it is not a condition of servitude. Today, people are no more humble nor submissive to the will and dictates of Allah.  Humility, in various interpretations, is widely seen as a virtue in many religious and philosophical traditions, often in contrast to narcissism, hubris and other forms of pride. As illustrated in the person of Moses, who led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and to the “Promised Land”, humility is a sign of Godly strength and purpose, not weakness. Of this great leader, the Bible states, “For Moses was a man exceeding meek above all men that dwelt upon earth” (Numbers 12:3). Moses is venerated by Jewish, Christian and Islamic adherents alike.

The term “humility” comes from the Latin word humilitas, which derives from the word humus (earth). Thus, the basic meaning of humility is “grounded” or “from the earth”.  Humility is the quality of being humble, verifying that the individual is firmly grounded in knowledge of self – neither arrogantly elevating nor submissively lowering one’s perception of self.

Amongst the benefits of humility described in the Old Testament, that is shared by many faiths, are honor, wisdom, prosperity, the protection of the Lord and peace. In addition, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” Proverbs 3:34

Humility is said to be a fit recipient of grace; according to the words of St. James, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34, 1Peter 5:5, James 4:6.)

“True humility” is distinctly different from “false humility” which consists of deprecating one’s own sanctity, gifts, talents, and accomplishments for the sake of receiving praise or adulation from others. In this context legitimate humility comprises the following behaviours and attitudes: Submitting to God and legitimate authority; Recognizing virtues and talents that others possess, particularly those that surpass one’s own, and giving due honor and, when required, obedience; Recognizing the limits of one’s talents, ability, or authority; and, not reaching for what is beyond one’s grasp.

Allah revealed in the Holy Qur’an:

For Muslim men and women, –for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise, –for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.  (Quran 33:35)  

Also went on to say:

 Has not the time arrived for the Believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in the remembrance of Allah and of the Truth which has been revealed (to them), and that they should not become like those to whom was given Revelation aforetime, but long ages passed over them and their hearts grew hard? For many among them are rebellious transgressors. (Quran 57:16) 

When we Muslims pray, we prostrate ourselves to the ground, a symbolic acknowledgement of our lowliness only in relation to our Lord, our absolute humility before Allah (swt).

Allah’s Messenger (saws) say: When the time for a prescribed prayer comes, if any Muslim perform ablution well and offers his prayer with humility and bowing, it will be an expiation for his past sins, so long as he has not committed a major sin; and this applies to for all times. (Muslim)

The Quran describes worship as Ibadah, which in effect means to express ones humility. Ibadah is the absolute sense of humbleness that is reflected by the individual who totally submits himself to the will of Allah (swt). Worship requires submission to God and the essential component of submission is humility.  Although humility in relation to Allah (swt) is absolutely necessary, it is not self-sufficient for salvation as there are other precepts to be followed such as prayer, zakat and so on. However, to worship Allah in total humility is very essential.

Apart from humility in prayer to Allah, we are also enjoined to show humility to our fellow man. Thus the Holy Prophet said: “Verily, Allah has revealed to me that you should adopt humility. So that no one may wrong another and no one may be disdainful and haughty towards another.”  (Muslim).

Showing humility does not lower the individual in the eyes of thinking people.  Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (saws) as saying: Charity does not in any way decrease the wealth and the servant who forgives, Allah adds to his respect, and the one who shows humility Allah elevates him in the estimation (of the people). (Muslim)

What is the opposite of humility? Haughtiness, arrogance and aggressive behaviour, both of which are loathed by Allah as He revealed in the Quran:

Call on your Lord with humility and in private: For Allah loveth not those who trespass beyond bounds (Quran 7:55)

In relation to this Allah (SWT) says in Quran 17, Surah Al-Isra, and Verse 37:

Nor walk on the earth with insolence: For thou canst not rend the earth asunder, nor reach the mountains in height.  (Quran 17:37)

One of the many advices of wisdom that Luqman gave in Quran 31 Surah Lukman, verses 18-19 are:

“And swell not thy cheek (for pride) at men, nor walk in insolence through the earth; for Allah loveth not any arrogant boaster. “And be moderate in thy pace, and lower thy voice; for the harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the ass. (Quran 31: 18-19)

The story of Qarun in the Quran exemplifies this topic of humility. Qarun was a man blessed with immense riches far beyond contemplation. He was however a haughty fellow who felt that it was because he was special, that was why Allah blessed him. Against the wise counselling of pious men, Qarun did not mend his ways and in the end Allah caused the earth to swallow him and his home. We read in the Quran:

Qarun was doubtless, of the people of Moses; but he acted insolently towards them: Such were the treasures We had bestowed on him, that their very keys would have been a burden to a body of strong men. Behold, his people said to him: “Exult not, for Allah loveth not those who exult (in riches). “But seek, with the (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on thee, the Home of the Hereafter, nor forget thy portion in this world: But do thou good, as Allah has been good to thee, and seek not (occasions for) mischief in the land: For Allah loves not those who do mischief.” He said: “This has been given to me because of a certain knowledge which I have.” Did he not know that Allah had destroyed, before him, (whole) generations, –which were superior to him in strength and greater in the amount (of riches) they had collected? But the wicked are not called (immediately) to account for their sins. So he went forth among his people in the (pride of his worldly) glitter. Said those whose aim is the Life of this World: “Oh! That we had the like of what Qarun has got! For he is truly a lord of mighty good fortune!” But those who had been granted (true) knowledge said: “Alas for you! The reward of Allah (in the Hereafter) is best for those who believe and work righteousness: But this none shall attain, save those who steadfastly persevere (in good).” Then We caused the earth to swallow him up and his house; and he had not (the least little) party to help him against Allah, nor could he defend himself. And those who had envied his position the day before began to say on the morrow: “Ah! It is indeed Allah Who enlarges the provision or restricts it, to any of His servants He pleases! Had it not been that Allah was gracious to us, He could have caused the earth to swallow us up! Ah! Those who reject Allah will assuredly never prosper.” That Home of the Hereafter We shall give to those who intend not highhandedness or mischief on earth: And the End is (best) for the righteous. (Quran 28: 76-83)

May the wealth Allah has bestowed on us not be the source of our perdition.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend.

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