Self-Conceit (‘Ujb) – Effects & Cure [Part 3 of 4]

In the third part of our series on `Ujb, we will be expanding on the subject a bit more. In this post we will discuss some of the effects of conceit and then begin discussing the  cure for it.

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

We mentioned in the previous posts that ‘Ujb can cause someone to become afflicted with other vices as well. Some of its consequences are resorting to Kibr, forgetfulness, taking sins lightly, and not putting in an effort to learn more about sins and their effects while assuming that Allah (swt) will simply forgive us.

Once an individual becomes arrogant, and is conceited with their opinions and intellect, they do not ask, utilize or consult others who are more knowledgeable than them. If they happen to act on a flawed or mistaken opinion, they still feel good about it. This course of action surely leads one to destruction.  This happens because, one of the consistent factors that accompanies this individual is the delusional sight of their deeds. They see their acts as acts of beauty. Allah (swt) has said in the Qur’an that these type of people will be the greatest losers.

قُلْ هَلْ نُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِالْأَخْسَرِينَ أَعْمَالًا الَّذِينَ ضَلَّ سَعْيُهُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ يَحْسَبُونَ أَنَّهُمْ يُحْسِنُونَ صُنْعًا أُولَئِكَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا بِآيَاتِ رَبِّهِمْ وَلِقَائِهِ فَحَبِطَتْ أَعْمَالُهُمْ فَلَا نُقِيمُ لَهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ وَزْنًا

[18:103-105] Say: Shall We inform you who will be the greatest losers in their deeds? Those whose striving goes astray in the life of the world, while they think that they are doing something good. They are those who disbelieve in the signs of their Lord and in the encounter with Him. Therefore their works have failed, and on the Day of Resurrection We shall not assign to them any weight.

These individuals, while in a state of delusion, are proud of their deeds, and think highly of themselves because of those deeds. Instead of admitting their flaws or mistakes, or the fact that they have acted upon something rooted in a flawed methodology or opinion, they believe they are individuals who are open-minded or possess liberal thoughts and that what they did is in fact good or progressive. They don’t feel any regrets over their mistakes, because they don’t consider them to be mistakes to begin with. In reality, it would have been better that they had not been conceited in their opinions so that it would not have led them to their destruction. It would have been better for them to ask those who have insight, and are more knowledgeable than them to guide them. But, alas, conceit makes the person believe that they do not need to put any effort and struggle in understanding the religion, and they are content with what they know.

Imam Sadiq (as) has said in a narration:

 انّ الرّجل ليذنب الذّنب فيندم عليه، و يعمل العمل فيسرّه ذلك، فيتراخى عن حاله تلك، فلأن يكون على حاله تلك خير له ممّا دخل فيه

A man sins and then feels regretful over it. He then does a good deed that gives him happiness and he becomes weakened in his feeling of regret. His being in his regretful condition is better than what has entered in him (a feeling of self-importance).[1]

Feeling regretful over a mistake is indeed more worthy and meritorious than feeling happy about doing something good. This is because being regretful indicates that one understands and realizes their mistakes and shortcomings, instead of seeing those sins or mistakes as something good or correct. In this narration the feeling of happiness over a good deed implies that it is not being accompanied by humility (in front of Allah), rather it is being accompanied by a feeling of loftiness[2] and that is dangerous.

Until now, we have reasonably covered the meaning, description and effects of self-conceit, supplementing it with narrations and verses where relevant. We will now begin to go over the cure to this stubborn disease. The discussion on its cure will be divided into two parts. In the first part we will discuss a more concise and wholistic cure for ‘Ujb, whereas in the second part we will discuss different aspects of our life where ‘Ujb can affect us and how to cure it.

First and foremost, the ultimate cure for ‘Ujb is piety and God-consciousness (taqwa). We need to make a constant effort to recognize our Lord and realize our worthlessness. We should realize that our existence itself is only a possible-existence and that we came from nothing but an impure drop of sperm and our destination is a pit in the earth. Allah (swt) refers to this notion in the verses below:

قُتِلَ الْإِنْسَانُ مَا أَكْفَرَهُ مِنْ أَيِّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقَهُ مِنْ نُطْفَةٍ خَلَقَهُ فَقَدَّرَهُ ثُمَّ السَّبِيلَ يَسَّرَهُ ثُمَّ أَمَاتَهُ فَأَقْبَرَهُ ثُمَّ إِذَا شَاءَ أَنْشَرَهُ

[80:17-22] Man is self-destroyed: how ungrateful! From what thing did He create him? From a sperm-drop: He created him, and then moulded him in due proportions; Then made the way easy for him, Then caused him to die, and buried him in a grave; Then, when He wills, He brings him again to life.

We forget that we were created from an impurity, and when we die we are impure, and rather, our body begins to smell. We have no control over these matters and are completely powerless. In fact after death, one of the things that our souls will remember and regret over is conceit. It has been reported in a tradition that the Prophet (pbuh) said:

When an enemy of Allah is taken to his grave, he keeps saying to those who carry his coffin, ‘Why do you not listen to me, O my brethren, I complain before you about what has happened to me, one of your wicked brethren. The enemy of Allah (Satan) deceived me. He placed me in trouble but did not help me to escape. He swore before me that he was my good advisor but betrayed me. I complain before you against the worldly attractions that made me a conceited person, so much so that I felt satisfied with them; they destroyed me. I complain before you against friends of worldly desires who promised me great favors, but then denounced and betrayed me […] I complain before you against my long stay in my grave from which I hear, “I am a dwelling full of worms, a dwelling which is very dark, frightening and very congested.” O brethren, hold me back as long as you can and avoid facing what I have faced. I have been given the news of my suffering, the heat of fire that burns me, the humiliation and lowliness, and the anger of the Most Majestic, the Almighty Lord. How great is the loss of being careless and unconcerned about Allah and His chosen people! How lengthy is the time of crying and moaning! I have no one whose intercession for me is accepted. I have no friend who may feel pity about me. I wish I had a chance to become one of the believing people.’[3]

Some portions from the narration were taken out for brevity, but it is an important narration. It describes the different types of regret an individual will have after they die. The fact that one of the things they refer to is conceit should be a warning sign for all of us while we are alive. When one realizes that the punishment for it will be severe, they should have no excuse but to seek refuge and forgiveness from Allah (swt) constantly. Imam Ali (as) in his famous letter to Malik al-Ashtar orders him to also maintain taqwa,[4]  and then later specifically asks him to beware of ‘Ujb which one becomes prone to because of having a weak taqwa. He (as) says that it (conceit) is one of the ways through which Satan can destroy the good deeds of a person:

Beware of self-conceit, trusting in what pleases you of yourself, and approving to be praised because this is one of the most important opportunities for Satan to obliterate the good deeds of the virtuous.[5]

Someone who realizes their reality, how can they have the audacity to be conceited? Whenever we do any act, we should stop and ponder over whether what we did was really out of sincerity or not. Was the act for the sake of Allah (swt) or did we do it thinking we were doing Him a favour? Consciously thinking about our weaknesses and the need to improve, remembering death often, repenting, making du’a asking Allah (swt) for His Assistance and gaining true knowledge are all ways to save ourselves from conceit and also build our taqwa. Of course attaining true taqwa is a lengthy process and it is not easy. The goal is to reach a level where refraining from conceit becomes a disposition and we rid ourselves from this disease for good by being modest and humble. Scholars have written many works on taqwa and how to strengthen it. Since the details of that process are outside the scope of these posts, we urge the readers to read and study what the scholars have said with regards to it.

With this, we conclude the third post and also the first portion of the discussion on the cure of conceit (i.e taqwa). In the last part of this series, we will cover the different areas of life where conceit effects us and the remedies for it. This includes aspects such as being conceited in knowledge, in worship and obedience to Allah, in one’s lineage, beauty, wealth etc.

Continue to Part 4

[1] Usul al-Kafi, Volume 2, Baab ul-Ujb (Chapter on Self-Conceit), Hadith #4

[2] Sharh Usul al-Kafi, by Muhamamd Saleh Mazandarani, Volume 9, Page 334

[3] Usul al-Kafi, Volume 3, Baab Anna al-Mayyat Yumathhalu Lahu Maluhu wa Walduhu Wa Amaluhu Qabla Mawtihi, Hadith #2

[4] أَمَرَهُ بِتَقْوَى اللهِ

[5] Nahj ul-Balagha, Letter #53, An Order to Malik al-Ashtar

Leave a Comment

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