Counting on False Modesty?
It is saddening to see the increasing trend in our society to put up ‘plaques’ for our actions while simultaneously declaring our labor to be purely because of love for Allah. The two attitudes cannot co-exist. Some may protest: “No one respects, likes or takes the boasting individual seriously!”, and of course, they would be right. That is why few of us ‘announce’ our good deeds.
Eccentric, brave, wise and very controversial, Wahab ibn Amr (better known as Bahlool) is a man each of us has heard of at some point in our lives. Tales of his triumph over Harun Rashid and co. are told with great relish and enjoyed equally by both young and old. Yet unfortunately, many take the entertainment value of these stories without appreciating the depth of their wisdom. We treat them as the Islamic version of Aesop’s Fables and pass them over when it comes to serious application. After all, how much can you learn from a man whose antics you laugh at, right? Wrong! Bahlool had a good excuse for adding an element of the insane to his life (he would have lost it all together otherwise!), but we have no such excuse. In truth, the essence of Bahlool’s messages can only be extracted after filtering out the comic and searching for the lessons that lie between the humor.
Why am I saying all this? Simply, because I want to use one instance of his wisdom without the danger of having someone think that I am using a bedtime story to address a serious matter.
The story tells of Fazl bin Rabee’, a rich man who built a mosque in Baghdad saying it was for the sake of Allah. On its completion, he wanted a plaque put up with his name as its founder. Bahlool happened to pass by and asked Fazl if he would put up his (Bahlool’s) name instead, to which Fazl protested. Bahlool then replied that if he had truly built the mosque for the sake of Allah, it should not bother him whose name appears on the plaque nor should he incline towards claiming any credit for it!
It is saddening to see the increasing trend in our society to put up ‘plaques’ for our actions while simultaneously declaring our labor to be purely because of love for Allah. The two attitudes cannot co-exist. Some may protest: “No one respects, likes or takes the boasting individual seriously!”, and of course, they would be right. That is why few of us ‘announce’ our good deeds. Because we are much cleverer than that.
The fashion nowadays is to join the ‘modesty’ bandwagon. We don’t tell the world about our accomplishments. We only share our noble intentions and acts with close family and friends in passing or as an example in a conversation and then sit back and let them do our dirty work. After all, I can’t stop my doting mother, my proud father or my loyal friend from saying what they want to, right? Instead, I’ll stand by, look abashed, redden a little and protest lamely, adding that coveted (and oft abused) virtue – humility – to my ever-growing list. Somehow, it’s become okay to toot my own trumpet as long as I get someone else to do the blowing.
Let’s face it. We all crave attention and praise. Whenever I bring this topic up, people tell me that needing appreciation is a human quality and that I shouldn’t be so critical. My reply is that yes, I agree, it is human, but as Muslims aren’t we supposed to being aiming for a status higher than that of angels? While appreciation is necessary, it is not mandatory. In fact, appreciation and praise are two very different things but a discussion of that warrants an entire piece in itself.
Imam Ali Ridha (peace be upon him) lists preference of anonymity over acknowledgment as one of the ten qualities of a perfect Muslim. So, no matter what anyone tells you, you can survive without praise and you can continue to think positively and carry out good deeds even in the face of indifference. The AhlulBayt (peace be upon them) have also told us that when we give charity (or any good deed) with the right hand, the left should not know of it. Would they have used such a strong analogy if they didn’t mean for us to follow it, or if it was an unattainable feat?
It’s time we set higher standards for ourselves. We are not of this world and Heaven is not earned through false modesty.