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Pride and Prejudice

Shaikh Saleem Bhimji

Pride and prejudice on the part of Satan is what caused his downfall – and has the potential to affect each and every one of us.

Shaikh  Saleem Bhimji

“Certainly We created you, then We formed you, then We said to the angels, ‘Prostrate before Adam.’ So they [all] prostrated, except Iblis (Satan): he was not among those who prostrated. Said He, ‘What prevented you from prostrating, when I commanded you?’ ‘I am better than him,’ he said. ‘You created me from fire and You created him from clay.'” (Al-Qur’an 7:11-12)

“Pride, the result of not remembering our status in relationship to our Creator, can take various forms. In each of these it is an attempt to be God.” (Terry D. Cooper (2003). Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance: The Problem of Identity in Theology and Psychology)

The very first narrative which the Qur’an embarks upon elucidating to those seeking spiritual guidance and insight is that concerning Prophet Adam and Eve (peace be upon them) and their encounter with Iblis (Satan) within the garden.

Narrated in both the Old Testament in graphic detail and the Final Testament (The Noble Qur’an), a cursory glance at both accounts of this same event leaves one with an entirely different understanding of what occurred so long ago.

The Old Testament “version” of the story teaches us lessons in the ‘original sin’ and the ‘temptation’ brought about by one woman (Eve) but in general women of all times, and all of the toils and struggles which we as humans have to go through due to our father and mother eating from the “forbidden fruit”! Obviously, this view is incongruent to the Islamic ethos of the event of the creation.

However, if we study this same narrative as given to us by God in the Noble Qur’an, we actually take away moral lessons and spiritual guidance which, if we carefully review, can work wonders in adjusting our own character and how we deal with others.

In summary, the Noble Qur’an presents the narrative in the following fashion: In His infinite and perfect wisdom, God decided to create the human being and to place him upon the Earth as His vicegerent. The angels, who were informed of this order of God, asked the Almighty for further understanding as to why the creation of this generation was necessary as (previously) the Earth was filled with blood-shed, corruption, and evil, and that they continuously extolled Him and praised Him, so why create the human race? However, God replied that He knows that what they (the angels) do not know. This event symbolizes many things; however as the late exegete of the Qur’an Allamah Tabatabai states in his work Tafsir al-Mizan, from amongst humanity, some would rise up to the level of righteousness and spiritual nobility – leaving the dregs and filth of prejudice, arrogance and conceit aside.

The historical narrative continues to a point where after the creation of the physical body of Adam and the soul was breathed into him, God gave the order to all who were present at this celestial event to submit (to the orders of God) and to prostate in the direction of (or to) Adam.

The angels complied with the orders of the All-Merciful; however, there was a lone individual within the group who, although not an angel, but due to his intense worship and personally-acquired level of closeness to God, was regarded as one worthy of living amongst the angels who heard the order of his Maker but made the decision to disregard the commandment. To make matters worse, he entered into a debate and argument with the Most High in regards to this “small act” and this was the individual we know today as Satan.

The crux of the problem, as Satan saw it, was that he was created from ‘fire’ whereas Adam was created from ‘clay’ – and this pride and prejudice on the part of Satan is what caused his downfall – and has the potential to affect each and every one of us. Satan felt that his physical makeup of ‘smoke-less fire’ was of a loftier composition, and that being made of fire, he had the potential and was naturally inclined to ‘ascend’ (just as fire does), whereas the makeup of Adam was of ‘earth’, a heavier compound, and that his natural inclination was to the base, lower desires, and to clinging to the ‘earth’.

To an extent, Satan was right, as when we look at humanity throughout the ages, we see that ‘pride and prejudice’ have become two of the gravest evils which, when followed, result in misery for everyone.

If we look at the last 100 years of human history, we can see that these two vile traits have brought forth the greatest crimes against humanity. People have used and continue to use many strange justifications to have such attitudes against their fellow human beings – some people are judged on the basis of their skin color, and without a doubt, there is nothing worse than this as it is impossible to change your complexion – if you are born black, you are not able to disguise yourself to avoid racist tendencies against you, and just like Satan, you are reducing yourself to being judgmental based on the physical composition. Others are judged according to their physical characteristics – height, weight, etc. – all things which are incidental traits but have nothing to do with you “as a person”. Yet others are judged due to where they come from and what language they speak – and at this level, it is not only “the outsider” who judges, but it is even those form within a specific cultural background! How many cases have we seen in the world where people who look the same, speak the same language and are born in the same country discriminate amongst themselves – such as in various tribal communities in Africa, Pakistan, India, the Middle East, etc. This same sickness is even seen in major North American cities in which rival gangs kill each other based on their “colors” or their “turf”.

Other cases of pride and prejudice which are more prevalent today in the so-called “developed countries” take effect due to social status which comes from economic prosperity, in which the one who drives the BMW or Mercedes would not associate with the one who drives a Hyundai or Toyota, and those who live in private, secluded, “gated communities” and live in homes which are sometimes larger than the religious centers they frequent have nothing to do with those living in apartments, low-rentals, and the like.

In fact, in this same vein, there is a beautiful example as seen in a historical event which took place at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) which he saw first-hand. The story goes that the Messenger was in the Masjid, and in addition to the multitude of other believers, a relatively wealthy man was also in attendance. After a short time, a ‘poor man’ came into the mosque and found an available place to sit which just happened to be next to the affluent man. Almost immediately, the rich man realized who was sitting beside him and moved his clothing away as it was touching the poor man! The Prophet saw this utterly disgusting act and rebuked the wealthy individual, as this was not the decorum of a Muslim and proceeded to ask him whether he thought that his wealth may ‘rub off’ onto the poor man or that perhaps the destitute man’s poverty may ‘affect’ him. A discussion ensued between the Prophet, the rich man, and the poor man in which the wealthy individual apologized profusely and promised to give the poor man a portion of his wealth as a means of making amends – however, the indigent gave a very powerful and thought-provoking reply and said that he would rather remain in his state of abjectness rather than take the money, lest he also fall into the same pit of prejudice as the rich man was consumed in!

Thus, in summary, as human beings and believers, we need to ensure that we do not repeat the sin which resulted in the fall of Satan – we need to treat all of the children of Adam as human beings and not be judgmental of things such as skin color, tribal affiliations, language, place of birth, economic worth, social status, or even religion, as these are all merely ways for us to “know the another” rather than being means of shunning one another. After all, did the Commander of the Faithful Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him) not say that, “People are of two types – they are either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity.”

The main push behind pride and prejudice is nothing other than the human being thinking himself to be “god” and that he feels he is better than others; however, if we keep the relationship between ourselves and our Creator in mind, and that He is the only one “entitled” to ‘pride’, then we bring ourselves back “down to earth” and appreciate that we are all from the same source, and that even though we have differences mostly based on incidental issues, the only source of being “better” than one another (which too cannot be fully judged) is our awareness, consciousness, and acceptance of God and all that He gives to us.

“O mankind! Indeed We created you from a male and a female, and made you nations and tribes that you may identify with one another. Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of God is the most God aware among you. Indeed God is all-knowing, all-aware.” (49:13)

“Among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. There are indeed signs in that for those who know.” (30:22)

“Have you not regarded that God sends down water from the sky, with which We produce fruits of diverse hues; and in the mountains are stripes white and red, of diverse hues, and [others] pitch black? And of humans and beasts and cattle there are likewise diverse hues. Only those of God’s servants having knowledge fear Him. Indeed God is all-mighty, all-forgiving.” (35:27-28)

“Of His signs is that He created you from dust, then, behold, you are humans scattering [all over]!” (30:20)

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