Self-Conceit (‘Ujb) – Narrations [Part 2 of 4]

Continuing our series on ‘Ujb, in this part, we will be going over a number of narrations that deal with the subject matter. In the previous part we have already gone over the definition of  ‘Ujb and what it is.

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Hadith #1: The Prophet (pbuh) has said: Three things are destructive – an obeyed stinginess, a followed desire, and a conceited person.[1]

Hadith #2: Imam Sadiq: In whoever conceit enters, he is destroyed.[2]

Right from the very beginning, we see that the narrations mention one of the main results of conceit, and that is destruction. It is a theme repeated in a number of narrations that those who are conceited will be destroyed, or that their conceit will lead them to destruction. There are two words in Arabic, I’daam (to make an entity cease to exist – comes form the root word ع-د-م) and I’hlaak (to destroy an entity – comes from the root word ه-ل-ك) that are very similar to each other. The narrations do not use the former term, rather the latter, even though generally speaking destruction is a process that leads an entity to not exist in the manner that it did before. I’hlaak is a more general term than I’daam, as it normally refers to the breaking down or demolition of an infrastructure.[3] It can not generally be accompanied by any sense of pleasure or delight. We say generally because there is some discussion on one of it’s meanings which is death and how its connotation changed over time, but it is outside the scope of this topic. On the contrary, I’daam is more specific. All I’daam are inclusive of I’hlaak, but not all I’hlaak are inclusive of I’daam.

The Arabic terms that root out of ha-la-ka can give different meanings and can imply different types of destruction. It can refer to death or a scenario when something that one possesses is taken away from them. Two other meanings that the word can give depending on the context is that of a destruction caused by transformation (Istihaalah) or corruption that results in an entity becoming ruined and the second meaning being the painful chastisement of the Day of Judgement.

With this brief etymological understanding, we can suggest at the very least two possibilities as to why the narrations indicate causation between conceit and destruction. One possibility is that it is referring to the destruction of one’s soul, in the sense that it goes through a transformation. It is a transformation that results in the soul becoming ruined and corrupt. It makes sense then as to why many scholars have stated that conceit is one of the hardest vices to get rid of, as it requires one to break the idol of the self. It is difficult because once a transformation takes place, where one thing transforms from one state to another, it is hard to bring it back to its original shape and form. In this case, the impurities that one pollutes their soul with (due to conceit) are often hard to purify.

The second implication of it could be the punishment that one will receive on the Day of Judgement as a result of their conceit. Of course it is possible that the narrations imply both these meanings simultaneously, but nevertheless, it alludes to what one will have to face as a result of their actions in this world. This is true for all deeds, but with the general negative connotation that is attached to the word destruction (such as censure and degradation), it may also possibly refer to the severity of the punishment that one will face in the hereafter.

Some more narrations that discuss ‘Ujb:

Hadith #3: From Imam Sadiq or Imam Baqir who said: Two men entered a Mosque. One was a worshipper and the other a sinner. When they both left the Mosque, the sinner was a true believer, but the worshipper had become a sinner. It so happened, because the worshipper went to the Mosque boastful of his worshipping, thus, his thoughts were all the time on boastfulness. The sinner was regretful for his sins and was asking forgiveness from Allah.[4]

Hadith #4: The Prophet (pbuh) said that Allah, the Most Majestic, the Most Holy, has said, ‘…Among My believing servants there are those who strive to worship Me. They wake up from sleep leaving their comfortable pillow for Tahajjud. They experiences fatigue and I allow slumber overcome them on one or two nights, a trial from Me to see if he continues, he goes to sleep and wakes up upset and angry over his own self. If I allow him to do the way he wants to worship, he may develop a sense of conceit that can lead him to mischief in his deeds. This may bring about his destruction. It can so happen due to his happiness with whatever his soul desires. He may begin to feel as if he has excelled all worshippers and has surpassed the limits of defective worship. In so doing he moves away from Me even though he thinks that he is getting closer to Me. Therefore, they must not rely on their good deeds that they do to receive rewards from Me. Even if they strive hard, tire themselves and finish their lives worshipping Me they fall short, in worshipping Me truly, in their quest for My generous rewards, My bounties in paradise and high positions near Me. They must only trust in My mercy, be happy with My generosity and always be hopeful about Me. In such cases My mercy will reach them as well as my approval and forgiveness and my pardon will provide them cover; I am Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful, and thus I have taken such names.’[5]

Hadith #5: Imam Sadiq (as) said: Do not be irritating or ill-mannered and humble yourself by bearing the one who opposes you, and the one who is above you, and the one who has a preference over you, and accept the preference of the one who is opposed to you. The one who does not accept the preference of others would be self-conceited in his opinion.[6]

Hadith #6: Imam Sadiq (as) said: “The Messenger of Allah has said, ‘Once Moses was sitting when Satan came to him wearing a colourful hooded cloak. When he approached Moses he took his cloak off, stood nearby, and offered him the greeting of peace. Moses asked, ‘Who are you?’ He replied, ‘I am Satan.’ Moses said, ‘Is it you? May Allah not bring you nearby.’ Satan said, ‘I came to offer you greetings of peace because of your closeness to Allah.’ The  Prophet (pbuh) then said, ‘Moses then asked, ‘What is this hooded cloak for?’ He said, ‘With this I kidnap the hearts of the children of Adam.’ Moses said, ‘Tell me which sin is it that when the children of Adam commit it you feel successful?’ He said, ‘It is when he feels conceited, his good deeds are a great deal and his sins trivial.’ “The Imam said, ‘Allah, the Most Majestic, the Most Holy, said to David, “O David, give good news to the sinners and warn the true believers.” He asked, ‘How should I give good news to the sinners and warn the true believers?’ Allah said, ‘Give good news to the sinners that I accept repentance and forgive their sins. Warn the true believers against feeling conceited due to their deeds. If I will ever make anyone settle his accounts, he is destroyed.’”[7]

Over here it is necessary to point out one of the ways Satan makes us vulnerable to conceit. It starts very casually, and in fact there is nothing apparent in ourselves that would make us remotely assume that we are conceited. We carry out our acts of worships and other good deeds, but Satan sees these as a means to dislodge our feet. He whispers at us at one point or another saying that we must be careful and dedicated with our duties and obligations, sometimes even pushing us towards doing acts that are merely recommended. It is at this point, that he will whisper to us and make us inclined towards making comparisons with others so that we feel good about ourselves. We will start to feel as if we have every reason, whether rational, religious, or cultural to consider ourselves great Muslims or humans in general.

At this stage, one may resort to Kibr as well if they see others committing mistakes or sins and therefore will start seeing them in a negative light. It is imperative that we continue to assume good of others (Husn al-Dhann) where applicable. In light of narration number 4 above, it is very possible that Allah (swt) has afflicted an individual with this negativity, simply to protect them from conceit, thus in reality doing them a favour. This notion ties in neatly with the next narration which once again demonstrates the ugliness of conceit (given that we understand the ugliness of sins in general):

Hadith #7: Imam Sadiq (as) said: Verily God Almighty knows that sin is better for a believer than ‘Ujb. If it was not thus, He would not have afflicted any believer with sin.[8]

Hadith #9: Imam Sadiq (as) said: Be pious before Allah and do not envy each other. It was in the Shari’a of Jesus to travel in the land. During one of his journeys one of his companions, who was of short height, accompanied him very often. When they reached the sea, Jesus with correct certainty said, ‘(I begin) in the name of Allah,’ and began to walk over the water. The short man, looking at Jesus walking over the water, also with correct certainty said, ‘(I begin) in the name of Allah’, walked over the water and reached Jesus. At such time he felt proud of himself and said, ‘This is Jesus, the Spirit of Allah who walks over the water, and I also walk over the water. Why then should he be more excellent than me?’ The Imam said, ‘He then sunk in the water and cried for help from Jesus, who took him out of water and asked, ‘What did you say, O short man?’ He replied, ‘This is Jesus, the Spirit of Allah who walks over the water and I also walk over the water, and from that thought conceit entered into me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You placed yourself in a place where Allah had not placed it. Allah resented what you said. Repent and return to Allah, the Most Majestic, the Most Holy, because of what you have said.’ The man repented and returned to his position that Allah had given him. Be pious before Allah and no one of you must envy the others.’”[9]

Hadith #8: Imam Sadiq (as) said: …’Ujb is a plant, it’s seed is Kufr, it’s earth is hypocrisy, it’s water is transgression, it’s branches are ignorance, it’s leaves are misguidance, and it’s fruits are a curse and an eternity in hell…[10]

The lines in hadith #8 are taken from a longer tradition. In it the Imam sketches a metaphorical representation to help us better understand the process of how we become victim to these diseases so we may contemplate on them and find a solution for ourselves. Conceit has been symbolized as a plant, that grows out of a seed that is Kufr – often translated as unbelief. Therefore whoever adopts ‘Ujb has essentially sowed a seed of Kufr. It is only when one plants this seed of disbelief, albeit on a very small level, that the stem of self-conceit starts to grow. Furthermore, the earth that needs to be worthy of being able to grow a plant, in this narration has been likened to hypocrisy  and its nourishment is transgression. Transgression continues to help the plant grow and develop, until it starts to produce ignorance and misguidance. Although it can be said that ‘Ujb initially develops due to pure ignorance it self, it is possible that the narration is implying that it begins to further veil one’s sight from the Truth or pulls them into a deeper form of ignorance or that others may be effected by one’s ‘Ujb by propagating misguidance and promoting ignorance. This can be witnessed when a society or a community becomes a victim of conceit. Lastly, it’s fruits are an eternity in hell. The fruits, the results or the consequence of planting this plant, is that very same destruction that some of the other narrations have mentioned. In this narration it has been explicitly stated that the person will become cursed, and will have to dwell in hell for an eternity.

There are other narrations on this topic as well, but these should suffice. In the third part of our series on ‘Ujb, we will be expanding on the subject a bit more, discussing the different aspects of one’s life it can enter, and then begin discussing the cure for it.

Continue to Part 3

[1] Al-Mahasin, Kitab al-Ashkaal wa al-Qara’in, Baab al-Thalatha, Hadith #3

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

[3] See entry #334 in Furuq al-Lughawiyyah on page 84, by Abu Hilal al-Askari

[4] Usul al-Kafi, Volume 2, Baab ul-Ujb (Chapter on Self-Conceit), Hadith #6

[5] Ibid, Baab ul-Ridha bil-Qadha (Chapter on To Agree with the Decision of Allah), Hadith #4

[6] Ibid, Volume 8, Hadith #337

[7] Ibid, Hadith #8

[8] Ibid, Volume 2, Baab ul-Ujb (Chapter on Self-Conceit), Hadith #1

[9] Usul al-Kafi, Volume 2, Baab ul-Hasad (Chapter on Envy), Hadith #3

[10] Misbah al-Shari`ah, Chapter 36, page 81

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