Self-Conceit (‘Ujb) – Details on Curing It [Part 4 of 4]

This will be the last and the lengthiest post in this series on ‘Ujb (self-conceit). We will further explore how it effects us in various aspects of our lives and most importantly, discuss the cure for it.

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

As mentioned in the previous post, the cure for conceit revolves around strengthening our taqwa. Alongside that, we must constantly try to realize the opposite of that in which we are conceited in. We will segment this discussion on conceit by looking at how it effects us in various aspects in life and what we have to realize in order to rid ourselves of it.

Conceit in Knowledge

One of the most common areas where conceit gets the better of us is our knowledge. The solution to this is multifaceted, but it all stems back to that same principle of being God-conscious and realizing our true worth.

It should be said that knowledge that brings about conceit it not true knowledge. Rather knowledge and conceit are a contradiction, because true knowledge – which is described as a light in the narrations, that Allah (swt) instills in the heart of whoever He wishes – will bring the realization that we must be humble in front of Allah (swt), and know that all knowledge is from Him. Conceit therefore comes from pure ignorance, rather than any form of true knowledge.

A person who considers himself to have knowledge, should then recognize his worthlessness, realize that they have a lot to learn, and realize that whatever they have is from Allah. It should increase their humility and humbleness. If it does the contrary, they should realize that this is worldly knowledge, and it has become a veil for a person. It not only diminishes one’s good behaviour, but there is also no focus on purification of the soul done through this knowledge.

If through any means, the person does end up getting access to true knowledge, it lands on a black heart and subsequently gives negative results. It is like the rain falling from the sky, but landing on non-arable land, which produces nothing.

A person should further realize that simply having lots of pieces of information in one’s memory is to no avail if it is not implemented or made use of. In fact the Qur’an has likened such individuals to donkeys:

مَثَلُ الَّذِينَ حُمِّلُوا التَّوْرَاةَ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَحْمِلُوهَا كَمَثَلِ الْحِمَارِ يَحْمِلُ أَسْفَارًا

[62:5] The likeness of those who were charged with the Tawrat, then they did not observe it, is as the likeness of the donkey bearing books.

A person with knowledge, who practices ‘Ujb is one of the worst types of people, because they do not practice what they preach. In a famous narration by Imam Sadiq (as) it has been said that seventy sins of an ignorant person will be forgiven, before one sin of an ‘ aalim (lit. someone who knows/possesses knowledge).[1] In a narration from Imam Ali (as) it has been reported that:

The people of hell will suffer from the foul smell of an ‘aalim who does not act according to his knowledge. Of the people of hell, the one who will regret most will be the man who teaches someone and shows him the way of Allah. The student accepts and acts according to such teachings. Consequently Allah takes him to paradise, but the teacher is sent to hell for ignoring his own knowledge, following his desires and entertaining unending worldly hopes.[2]

Therefore, when doing each and every action, contemplate over it and take the time to judge yourself. Keep yourself in check. Understand the impacts of true knowledge and the responsibility that comes with it. By being conceited with your knowledge, realize that it isn’t therefore true knowledge and thus you should have no reason to be conceited. Realize the dangerous which are associated with worldly knowledge. Consistently telling yourself this will make you more cautious, create fear of Allah (swt)  and eventually decrease your conceit and pride.

Conceit in Worship & Obedience (to Allah)

Another common area where conceit hits us hard is in our worships. We go out of our way to carry out an act, which is meant to be out of obedience to Allah (swt), but we consider doing the act either a great favour to Allah (swt), or we merely feel good about it. The purpose of worship is to express our humiliation and humility in front of Allah (swt). When this expression becomes a disposition, it can then be said that we are true slaves of Allah (swt).

Conceit therefore renders our worship pointless. This is because conceit and humility do not, or rather, cannot go hand in hand. Our ‘Ujb in our (apparent) taqwa, patience, charity or prayers is a contradiction of the essence and purpose of the different acts of worship themselves. Furthermore, we should think whether we are the only ones to possess such qualities. There are many others who are much superior to us in their acts of worship – such as the true devotees of Allah (swt). Yet we are conceited because we consider possessing these traits to be great merits and achievements. We do not realize that the only time these acts of worship have any value is when they are not wrapped around with conceit. Therefore a sane person will not be conceited in their worship, because they would know that it will destroy the quality of their worship and other acts of obedience to Allah (swt).

We must realize that the acceptance of our worship is in the hands of Allah (swt). We are so ignorant that we don’t even know whether our act of worship was even accepted or not, yet we feel content with it. Many times we aren’t even certain whether we fulfilled the worship with all its required conditions or not. Was our ablution before prayers even correct or not? Was there even an ounce of concentration in our prayers or not? This is one of the reasons why we should read and ponder over some of the supplications that the Imams have left for us. They help us in realizing these matters. In the famous du’a of Abu Hamza, the Imam says:

تَتَحَبَّبُ اِلَيْنا بِالنِّعَمِ وَنُعارِضُكَ بِالذُّنُوبِ، خَيْرُكَ اِلَيْنا نازِلٌ، وَشُّرنا اِلَيْكَ صاعِدٌ

You befriend us with Your gifts but we reward You by sins, Your bounty to us is ever descending, but our mischief to You is (ever) ascending.

These words help us realize our true sinful and ungrateful nature. If we take a moment to evaluate ourselves and our deeds for just one day, we will see how negligent and unjust we have been towards our acts of worship. How then can one be conceited with them? We must strive hard to always remember that any opportunity to carry out an act of obedience or an act of worship is a Grace from Allah (swt) and it is He who has blessed us with this bounty.

وَلَوْلَا فَضْلُ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ وَرَحْمَتُهُ مَا زَكَىٰ مِنْكُمْ مِنْ أَحَدٍ أَبَدًا

[24:21] and were it not for Allah’s grace upon you and His mercy, not one of you would have ever been pure

Conceit Over One’s Ancestors & Progeny

Another area where ‘Ujb takes place is when people feel conceited because of their family. Either they feel special because they are from the lineage of someone, or because of what their progeny has done. This is another type of conceit which is utter foolishness.

Doing ‘Ujb on an excellence or a high status of a family member is foolishness, because it is not you who possesses this excellence or high status. Perhaps take a moment to realize that those family members of yours worked hard for their achievements, whereas you may be simply reaping the fruits of their hard work. If they were religious and pious individuals, then they would not have been conceited with their merits either. So why as a family member of someone pious or religious, would one feel conceited. Rather they should be following them in their good moral conduct. As a matter of fact, if an ancestor – over whom we may be feeling conceited – was alive, they would reprimand us and ask us what we are feeling so special about.  A couplet[3] has been attributed to Imam Ali (as) where he says:

إِنَّ الْفَتَى مَنْ يَقُولُ هَا أَنَا ذَا

لَيْسَ الْفَتَى مَنْ يَقُولُ كَانَ أَبِي

A young man is he who says I am like this

A young man is not he who says my father was (like that)

And a popular idiom in Farsi with a very similar message to the above says:

گیرم پدر تو بود فاضل

از فضل پدر تو را چه حاصل

(I understand that) it was your father who was meritorious

But what (can be) achieved from the merits of your father

Both of these lines are saying that why should one speak or feel conceited about the merits of their father. The merits of one’s father are of no use today, and they were solely his. Why would one mention the merits of a family member in a conceited manner, when those merits ate not theirs.

Furthermore, realize that the family members you feel conceited over are also humans just like yourself. If it is your father, then realize that he is closer to that impure drop which he was created from. If it is your grandfather, then realize that he is closer to the dust and bones that he will soon turn into.

We should realize that Allah (swt) has only given superiority and nobility to one person over another based on their taqwa. Therefore, our race, tribes and families are not meant to be a factor that separates us from each other, nor be the cause for one to feel special or superior. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ وَأُنْثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ

[49:13] O you men! surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other; surely the most honorable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful (of his duty);

The story of Bilal (ra) is one of the greatest examples we have in Islamic history. Just his story alone, if taken seriously and its lessons applied, should be able to destroy all aspects of conceit, tribalism, and racism within us.

Conceit in Beauty & Good Looks

Feeling conceited with one’s looks and beauty is also another big issue in today’s times. We feel the need to take “selfies”, show the world and feel good about ourselves. The cure for this is to realize the temporariness of our looks. Our beauty and good looks will eventually fade away, either through aging, a relevant disease, or a disastrous accident. We should ponder over the day when we die, and the moment when people will be surrounding us looking at our lifeless body and think about what state we will be in then.

Think about the parts of the body that bring distaste to us. Such as the mucus in our nose, the ear wax, saliva, the smells of our armpits. Every single day we wash our private parts and clean the filthy impurities with our hands. Filth that we do not wish to even glance upon, yet we have no choice but to use our own hands to clean it.

So what can be left of conceit when one realizes the vulnerability of one’s looks. A mere accident, that can happen at any time, can disfigure or handicap us.

Conceit in Wealth

Being conceited with one’s wealth is one of the most weirdest of all conceits, yet many are infected with this disease. Conceit is usually done over something that is essential to oneself, such as knowledge, good looks, or position. However, wealth is something that is external and not a part of us.

An individual would have to be extremely vain to be conceited with their wealth. One should realize that not only is wealth temporary, but it also comes and goes all the time. Furthermore, possessing a lot of wealth is a test from Allah (swt). The more one possesses it, the more difficult the accountability for it will be.

There is a story that Ayatullah Shubeyri Zanjani narrates regarding a dream that Ahmad Khomeini (son of Imam Khomeini) saw after the demise of Imam Khomeini.  He (Ahmad Khomeini) says that after the demise of my father, I saw him (Imam Khomeini) in my dream. I asked him: How are the conditions there? He gave his hand a movement from up to down and said: Everything has accountability here, even this movement (of my hand). This story with the specific reference and names of the narrators was previously posted on the blog and was titled: Everything Has Accountability.

The point that is being made here is that we should realize that everything has accountability after we die. We will be accountable for all our actions, things we have said or intentionally heard, and definitely our wealth. Every last penny of it. When this is realized, it would not be a cause of conceit, rather it will become a cause of concern as we determine how to make use of it in a just manner.

Conceit in Physical Strength

One of the major problems, particularly in today’s times, is that many good acts get drenched in a coating of narcissism very quickly. Individuals begin doing acts for the wrong intentions or become self-conceited in them. One of these aspects is one’s physical strength. Being healthy, going to the gym, being fit and strong are good and very recommended acts. However, when one begins to feel conceited with themselves over their physical fitness, it becomes a spiritual problem.

One of the main cures for this type of conceit is to recall the moments when we ever felt sick, or got afflicted with a physical disease, or if we ever experienced breaking a bone. Remember the pain that we went through and realize our weakness and complete fragility. The reality is that even if one nerve of ours is gently tugged at, in the words of Aron Ralston, it feels as if your entire arm is thrust into a tub of boiling water.[4]

If a mere fly or a mosquito goes up our nose, it can potentially kill us (recall the stories attributed to Nimrud and Titus the Roman Emperor). If an ant bites our foot, we are brought down to the ground in seconds. Being conceited with something in which many of the animals are stronger than us is nothing but foolishness.

Conceit in Position, Leadership, Friends & Followers

Being conceited with one’s position is another problem. Having a lot of friends or followers, in real life or on social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter often becomes the source of this feeling.

One needs to understand that all these positions, leadership roles, friends and followers are temporary. Many friends will come and go, and it is possible that many will leave you stranded one day. In fact, these same people will bury you and then completely forget about you. Perhaps you will need them (their du’as) the most after you die, but that is when they will leave you completely to your self.

Friends and having a large following is not necessarily good. History is a good example of this, where the companions of the Imams betrayed them (as) over and over again. In fact, it is the victorious story of the Imam with fewer companions that stands out the most – i.e Karbala.

Realize that any popularity or fame that you have gained is purely from Allah (swt) and it too is a test for you.

Conceit in Intellect & Being Smart

Some people have been blessed with a strong intellect and are smart. However, being conceited in these matters is foolish and by definition make them not so smart at all. A true ‘aaqil (lit. someone who possesses an intellect) would realize their vulnerability. They would realize that this talent can go down the drain with a minor blow to the head, or an accident that can damage their brain.

Look at the example of Shaheed Baqir al-Sadr, who was considered a child prodigy, yet he was sincere and not conceited. Do we consider ourselves intellectually superior to him? We should take a lesson from his life, and also realize how Allah (swt) took him to heights where a conceited person would never have been able to reach. This is because a true ‘aaqil would rather be grateful to Allah (swt) for what He (swt) has given him. He or she would realize that this is a responsibility and test on their shoulders, and not a reason to be conceited about.

Conceit in a Flawed Opinion

This type of self-conceit is the worst of all. It is the cause of people continuously insisting on their false ideologies, innovations and corrupt opinions. The cure for this type of conceit is hard, since it is difficult for the conceited person to see their mistakes.

The general cure is for a person to consider his opinions worthy of criticism and not be arrogant with them.

We advise the readers to refer to our post: Self-Conceit in a Flawed Opinion that Appears to be Correct Due to Ignorance. It is the complete translation of what pertains to this last type of conceit,  from the book Jami al-Sadaat of Ayatullah Naraqi.

[1] Usul al-Kafi, Volume 1, Baab Luzum al-Hujjah ‘ala al-Alim wa Tashdeed al-Amr ‘alayhi, Hadith #1

[2] IbidBaab Isti’maal al-Ilm, Hadith #1

[3] Diwan al-Imam Ali, #35, page 37

[4] Aron Ralston was an outdoorsman who was trapped in a canyon for 6 says when a boulder fell on his arm. He eventually had to amputate his own arm to free himself.

1 thought on “Self-Conceit (‘Ujb) – Details on Curing It [Part 4 of 4]”

  1. Great article. Brings to light many inclinations within us. Self-conceit of Iblees led him to become the cursed and expelled one. No reason why such a trait should exist in humans. Verily, we are enemies of one onto another. JA Brother.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.