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Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

The Quran’s Warning Against Self-Righteousness

In the Name of God: the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful Precious Beloved Lord

I was in college, and my friend and I were sitting in the prayer room at Marquette University talking when a sister came into the room to offer her prayers. Once she was done, my friend had made a suggestion to her that she should wear the hijab (she took it off as soon as she was done with the prayer).

Angrily speaking to him – but loud enough so that she could hear – I said that she knows she has to, and that it was bad that she didn’t. The sister, for her part, didn’t say anything and left the room after saying “Khuda Hafiz,” or “May God protect you.” After she left, my friend rebuked me for being so harsh, and I told him that I didn’t care. In my mind, I was being “harsh for God.”

There are few things for which I have more remorse and regret than how I acted that day, and I pray to the Lord that He forgives my stupidity.

How could it be that I neglected to follow the Qur’an warning against the very way I had acted that day? The Qur’an says:

Is it not time that the hearts of all who have attained to faith should feel humble at the remembrance of God and of the truth that has been bestowed [on them] from on high?…” (57:16)

What was wrong with me that I treated a sister in faith with such poor regard? Who was I to judge her choice about the hijab? What in God’s most Holy Name was I thinking?

I wasn’t thinking…in fact, I was being stupid. Even though I had read that verse of the Qur’an so many times, I had no idea what it meant, and I completely neglected its wisdom.

The truth is, with increasing faith, we should be even more humble and compassionate, not less. The Qur’an asks each believer to reflect over himself and herself; to check the condition of their heart and faith. Are they more humble with the remembrance of God? Or are they smug, arrogant, and self-righteous? If we are the latter, then we must check the condition of our faith, for true righteousness has no room for self-righteousness.

If there is any person on earth that should have been self-righteous, it was the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He saw the Archangel Gabriel in his true form; he received direct revelation from God in an instant; he even ascended to Heaven and talked to the Lord directly!

Yet, the Prophet was never – ever – arrogant or self-righteous. He never made his companions and comtemporaries feel inferior, even though – in all reality – they were inferior to him in faith.

If the Prophet was never arrogant or self-righteous, then who the hell are we to be so? Who the hell was I to be so rough and harsh with that sister so many years ago?

It is akin to having a patient come to me with lung disease – from years of smoking – and I look down on her with disdain and disgust. If I, or any other doctor, ever did that, we would not be doctors for very long. On the contrary, I must have compassion and caring for anyone who comes into my office (or now, ICU) seeking medical care. They have put their trust in me to help them feel better, and – by the grace of God – I must do my best to treat them properly and show them compassion and empathy.

The exact same goes for all who come into the houses of God seeking spiritual solace.

They may not be Angels; they may have done many things wrong in their lives. But, they must never be met with arrogance or self-righteousness. They must be greeted with love, mercy, and brotherhood/sisterhood. The House of God is one of peace and love, and there is no place there for smugness and arrogance. Would that the many “believers” who fill its walls take heed of the Quran’s warning.

I so wish that I could meet that sister once again and apologize to her. If that sister happens to be reading this: please, sister, accept my sincerest apology for the way I acted. May the Lord bless you with all that is good in this life and the next, Amen.

And Lord, please, protect this soul from ever becoming arrogant and self-righteous again. Please increase me in humility and compassion. And, most important of all: accept me into Your fold and shower me with Your grace, Your blessing, and Your mercy. For, without those things; without You, O Lord,  I am truly nothing.

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  • Hesham A. Hassaballa

    Salam brother. Thank you for your kind words. I only used the example of mosques as just that: an example. I believe self-righteousness is wrong anywhere and everywhere.

    Hope this helps, and I’m sorry about the confusion.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Khalil

    Salaam, Brother Hesham,
    I read with interest your “article”. It is both humble and educational. Thank you. However, I felt a bit confused about self-righteous in general. By the time I finished reading, I was left with the impression that self-righteous is forbidden mainly wherever muslims are gathered for prayers or in religious settings. Does this mean, it is NOT a sin if it were applied anywhere else?
    Thank you for clarifying this for me.

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