The Modesty of Believers
As we are to understand from the verse, "The people who truly do believe in Our Signs are those who fall to the ground prostrating when they are reminded of them, and glorify their Lord with praise, and are not arrogant" (Surat as-Sajda: 15), one of the most important conditions of faith is modesty. Therefore, as this verse explains, believers are always modest, being aware that Allah does not love anyone who is vain or boastful (Surat an-Nisa' : 36):
And the servants of (Allah) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, "Peace!" (Surat al-Furqan, 63)
The morality of Islam entails submission to Allah, and submission entails acknowledgement of one' s weaknesses. Believers, who recognise that everything belongs to Allah, and that they themselves are weak and in need of Him, also act modestly towards Allah' s other faithful servants.
Arrogance and modesty especially manifest themselves during human relations. The conduct of Iblis, as related in the Qur' an, best illustrates this point. Iblis refused to prostrate himself to the Prophet Adam. Being aware of Allah' s infinite might, it was illogical for him to openly claim superiority over Allah. But, it was his pride that was hurt. It was the Prophet Adam to whom he showed arrogance, and thereby exposed his rebellious intent towards Allah.
Consequently, arrogance, which is, in actuality, a sin against Allah, manifests itself during the relations of one person with another.
Surely, modesty also manifests itself under the same conditions. Believers show their submission to Allah by behaving modestly towards His believing servants. Aware of the fact that they are not responsible for the creation of their qualities, they are grateful to Allah, and never forget that Allah may reclaim any of these at any time. Fearing punishment from their Creator, Who is the Possessor of infinite power, they take refuge in no one but Him. This submissiveness of the believers, and their fear of Allah, is related in a verse as follows:
Say: "No one can protect me from Allah and I will never find any refuge apart from Him." (Surat al-Jinn, 22)
For these reasons, the condition of mind, behaviour and physical qualities of believers, are entirely different from that of the arrogant. The virtues of believers may be defined as follows:
They are Aware of Their Weakness Before Allah
The arrogant who wish their beauty, youthfulness, and prestige to remain everlasting, fail to grasp that only the qualities of the Almighty Allah are everlasting. For this reason, they dare to revolt against Allah' s clear signs.
Believers, on the other hand, expend serious effort to have a true regard for Allah' s grandeur. It is because of this effort that, as well as the failings and shortcomings of other beings, they are aware of their own limitations. Contrary to the haughty rebelliousness of the disbelievers, they have a profound fear of Allah, of the Unseen, and never fail to express their feebleness before their Lord: :
Say: "I possess no power to help or harm myself, except as Allah wills. If I had had knowledge of the Unseen, I would have sought to gain much good and no evil would have touched me..." (Surat al-A' raf, 188)
They Ascribe No Partners to Allah
Some people set up equals to Allah, loving them as they should love Allah. But those who believe have greater love for Allah. If only you could see those who do wrong at the time when they see the punishment, and that truly all strength belongs to Allah, and that Allah is severe in punishment. (Surat al-Baqara, 165)
One' s lower-self, his whims, desires, wealth, appearance or property, are such things as idolaters set up as equals to Allah. These people fail to grasp that it is Allah Who is the possessor of everything. The main reason for this lack of insight on their part is their arrogance.
Believers, on the other hand, believe "with certainty" that that there is no god besides Allah. They are aware that only Allah can grant them anything, if they ask it. That is, Allah is their sole guardian and supporter. In return for the countless blessings they receive, they wholeheartedly submit to Allah, and show strict obedience to Him.
This submissive attitude of the believers is entirely contrary to that assumed by those who show "Pharaonic arrogance." Indeed, arrogant people fail to comprehend the extent of their limitations. Believers, however, having a certain faith in the verse, "Mankind! An example has been made, so listen to it carefully. Those whom you call upon besides Allah are not even able to create a single fly, even if they were to join together to do it. And if a fly steals something from them, they cannot get it back. How feeble are both the seeker and the sought!" (Surat al-Hajj: 73), never think that the qualities they possess are earned of their own accord, and keep in mind that it is Allah Who has power over all things.
They Obey Allah' s Messengers
We made them leaders, guiding by Our command, and revealed to them how to do good actions and establish regular prayer (salat) and pay regular charity (zakat), and they worshipped Us. (Surat al-Anbiya' , 73)
Just as Allah created people who summon the disbelievers to the Fire, He also created leaders to guide believers to the truth. To the nations, to whom Allah sent His messengers, He commanded strict obedience to these leaders, who invite them to the right path. Yet, as is in the case of previous nations narrated in the Qur' an, many of them, and especially the "chiefs" among them, opposed the messengers due to their arrogance.
Believers, on the other hand, think in the light of the verse, "We sent no Messenger except to be obeyed by Allah' s permission..." (Surat an-Nisa' : 64) and regard obedience to messengers as a command of Allah. This is why obedience to messengers is an important manifestation of one' s modesty and submission to Allah. As stated in the 9th verse of the Surat al-Fath, believers honour and respect the messengers, throughout their lives.
They Do Not Persist in Wrong
Aware of their weaknesses before Allah, and the intended imperfections they are given in this world, believers do not fear committing mistakes. Having faults and imperfections does not affect them, since they do not claim superiority over others. That is because, they do not make it their goal to "maintain their prestige"; their only aim is to be a servant to Allah and to please Him. After committing an error, they immediately repent, turn towards Allah, and show wholehearted submission to Allah. In the Qur' an, Allah advises believers to make the following prayer:
... Our Lord, do not take us to task if we forget or make a mistake! Our Lord, do not place on us a load like the one You placed on those before us! Our Lord, do not place on us a load we have not the strength to bear! And pardon us; and forgive us; and have mercy on us. You are our Master, so help us against the disbelieving people. (Surat al-Baqara, 286)
We said earlier that arrogant people are greatly concerned about committing mistakes or of having shortcomings. Not only does criticism irritates them, but they are usually not inclined to accepting it. Believers, however, are willing to accept criticism or that they have made a mistake, and turn to Allah for forgiveness. In such cases, they never become proud, but are willing to immediately admit their failure:
Those who, when they act indecently or wrong themselves, remember Allah and ask forgiveness for their bad actions (and who can forgive bad actions except Allah?) and do not knowingly persist in what they were doing. (Surah Al ' Imran, 135)
Contrary to the conceited, believers heed warnings, especially when they come through Allah' s signs. This disposition of theirs is described in Surat as-Sajda, as a mark of their faith in Allah' s signs:
The people who truly have faith in Our Signs are those who fall to the ground prostrating when they are reminded of them, and glorify their Lord with praise, and are not arrogant. (Surat as-Sajda, 15)
They Do Not Exult in their Blessings
What leads arrogant people astray is the blessings Allah has granted them. It is due to these that they exult, and become unduly proud. Believers, however, maintain a high morals, whatever the conditions may be. In impoverishment or affluence, they do not stray from modesty and good manners. Allah introduces the believers in the Qur' an as follows:
Those who, if We establish them firmly on the earth, will establish regular prayer (salat) and pay regular charity (zakat), and command what is right and forbid what is wrong. The end result of all affairs is with Allah. (Surat al-Hajj, 41)
The Prophet Yusuf' s conduct sets the best example of a believers' balanced disposition despite the conditions. Allah gave Yusuf (as) status, prosperity and knowledge, but, aware that these were all given to him by Allah' s Will, he turned solely to his Lord. His prayer clearly reveals his modesty and submissiveness:
My Lord, You have granted power to me on earth and taught me the true meaning of events. Originator of the heavens and earth, You are my Friend in this world and the Next. So take me as a Muslim at my death and join me to the people who are righteous. (Surah Yusuf, 101)
They Desire Not the World But the Hereafter
As if life were never-ending, the arrogant are obsessively attached to this world. They are not disposed to think about Allah and the Day of Judgment. Their prosperity, good-looks, or other qualities they might enjoy, cause them to grow arrogant. Believers, however, aware of the temporary nature of the things of this world, desire the hereafter alone. In the Qur' an, sincere believers are described as follows:
We purified their sincerity through sincere remembrance of the Abode. (Surah Sâd, 46)
As well, believers understand why they exist in this world. They are aware that they are being tested and that they should engage in good deeds to earn Allah' s consent. In Qur' anic terms, they are those "who sell the life of the world for the hereafter." (Surat an-Nisa' : 74) Through the prosperity they are benefited by, they seek to become devoted servants of their Lord. In the Surat at-Tawba, believers are described as those who have sold their selves and their wealth in return for Paradise:
Allah has bought from the believers their selves and their wealth in return for Paradise. They fight in the Way of Allah and they kill and are killed. It is a promise binding on Him in the Torah, the Gospel and the Qur' an and who is truer to his contract than Allah? Rejoice then in the bargain you have made. That is the great victory. (Surat at-Tawba: 111)
They Do Not Deride Other People
Deriding others is one of those reprehensible character traits common to the arrogant. However, believers never stoop to such mean behaviour. Superiority is not measured by worldly values, such as looks or wealth, but according to one' s devotion to Allah. And, only Allah knows those who are more devout and those who turn to Him. Moreover, in the Qur' an, Allah has revealed that He despises derision, and forbids believers to ridicule others:
You who believe! People should not ridicule others who may be better than themselves; nor should any women ridicule other women who may be better than themselves... (Surat al-Hujurat, 11)
They Do Not Follow in Satan' s Footsteps
In the Qur' an, Allah warns believers against their most important enemy as follows:
Mankind! Eat what is good and lawful on the earth. And do not follow in the footsteps of Satan. He truly is an outright enemy to you. (Surat al-Baqara,168)
You who believe! Do not follow in the footsteps of Satan. Anyone who follows in Satan' s footsteps should know that he commands indecency and wrongdoing... (Surat an-Nur, 21)
Those who submit themselves to the temptation of Satan are those who take pleasure in disobeying Allah' s commands, because of their defiance and a false feeling of superiority. Satan' s main endeavour is to present everything Allah praises as difficult and unmanageable, and thereby, to deceive people into disobedience and the manners and attitudes that are displeasing to Allah. This is Satan' s primary method, though he succeeds in tempting only those who are arrogant and desire to be unique or superior.
Believers who are obedient and forbearing, on the other hand, always observe Allah' s commands. Founded on their commitment to Him, believers are the only group of people on whom Satan' s deceptive ploys can exert no influence. They are not lured into the false promises of Satan, but hold on to the Qur' an. When they hear an evil suggestion from Satan, they immediately seek refuge in their Lord, recognise the truth, and realise that the scheming of Satan is in vain. That is because, their only purpose in life is to earn Allah' s good pleasure and the hereafter. They are committed to the right path, since they are aware that deviation from it for the sake of worldly pleasures would only be wronging themselves.
They Do Not Yield to Arrogant People
As we considered in previous sections, the majority of the people in Egypt were not courageous enough to follow the Prophet Musa, deterred by their fear of the Pharaoh. Only a small group followed Musa (as), and these surely placed their lives at risk, since Pharaoh decreed that all male sons born to his Israelite subjects should be killed. Furthermore, so tyrannical was Pharaoh that, when his magicians obeyed Musa (as) and had faith in Allah, he threatened them with cutting off their alternate limbs and then crucifixion. True believers, however, despite all deterrents, did not reject, not even for a moment, following Musa (as):
No one had faith in Musa except for a few of his people out of fear that Pharaoh, and their chiefs, would persecute them. Pharaoh was high and mighty in the land. He was one of the profligate. (Surah Yunus, 83)
As discussed, the disbelief of others has no influence whatsoever on believers. On the contrary, it increases their devotion. That is because, in the Qur' an Allah informs us in advance that only a few will believe. As well, the Qur' an makes clear that believers will be tested through the disbelievers. This being the case, no matter how severe the physical and spiritual oppression meted out by the chiefs of the disbelievers may be, believers never stray from the right path. As stated in the following verse, they also do not yield to their evil intent:
And with how many a prophet have there been a number of devoted men who fought (beside him). They did not give up in the face of what assailed them in the Way of Allah, nor did they weaken, nor did they yield. Allah loves the steadfast. (Surah Al ' Imran, 146)
Believers are Given the Good News of Paradise
While disbelievers exult in the blessings granted them by Allah, believers know that insolence and pride are not approved by Allah. Through their modesty and submissiveness, they desire to earn the good pleasure of Allah. To this end, they maintain good manners at every moment possible. In addition, they do not discriminate between people, but show good manners to everyone. An adverse situation or a circumstance they may find distasteful never changes this approach, because, for a believer, the good pleasure of Allah is to be sought over and above everything. Aware that Allah sees everything all the time, they are extremely attentive. As reward, they are given the good news of the promise of Paradise:
And Paradise will be brought up close to the heedful, not far away: "This is what you were promised. It is for every careful penitent: those who fear the All-Merciful in the Unseen and come with a contrite heart. Enter it in peace. This is the Day of Timeless Eternity." (Surah Qaf, 31-34)
The Secret of Modesty
These many character traits found in a believer, as mentioned in the Qur' an, make clear that modesty is a resultant quality of faith in Allah. In fact, while the Qur' an describes the modesty of the believers, it is merely mentioned as being part of their normal disposition. In other words, for believers it is not necessary to expend effort to act modestly; they are naturally modest, because their outlook is based on the truth of the Qur' an. The following verse explains this: The servants of the All-Merciful are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant speak to them, say, "Peace." (Surat al-Furqan: 63) Those who pass the night prostrating and standing before their Lord;
Those who pass the night prostrating and standing before their Lord; (Surat al-Furqan, 64)
In other words, the modesty of believers is an outcome of their submissiveness to Allah. The fact that they have grasped the secret of this world, that is, understood the existence and might of Allah, accounts for their modesty.
As a result, the true modesty we are discussing in this book can only be attained through faith.
It is impossible to attain true modesty through another means than faith. Because, in a society composed of disbelievers, those who are seen as "modest" are, usually, those perceived as lacking "confidence." Because most attach too much importance to worldly things, those who are successful in attaining them become boastful, while those who cannot are deemed to be weak and insecure. Therefore, the wealthy tend to be arrogant, whereas the poor are considered insecure. However, we need to underline that this lack of "self-confidence" is a disposition nothing near what is true modesty, a form of behaviour which is noble and dignified.
The story of Qarun, as narrated in the Qur' an, sets a good example of what we discussed above. In addition to Qarun, who was excessively proud about his wealth and possessions, the Qur' an also informs us about those who longed for that which he possessed. In addition to these, another group were the true believers who grasped the secret of faith:
He went out among his people in his finery. Those who desired the life of the world said, "Oh! If only we had the same as Qarun has been given! What immense good fortune he possesses." But those who had been given knowledge said, "Woe to you! Allah' s reward is better for those who believe and act rightly. But only the steadfast will obtain it." We caused the earth to swallow up both him and his house. There was no group to come to his aid, besides Allah, and he was not someone who is helped. Those who had longed to take his place the day before woke up saying, "Allah expands the provision of any of His servants He wills or restricts it. If Allah had not shown great kindness to us, we would have been swallowed up as well. Ah! Truly the disbelievers are not successful." That abode of the hereafter-We grant it to those who do not seek to exalt themselves in the earth or to cause corruption in it. The successful outcome is for those who do their duty. (Surat al-Qasas, 79-83)
It may well be that those who desired Qarun' s belongings were not as proud as he; or, they might have lacked "self-assurance." Yet, if they had been in his shoes, they would, most probably, also have been as arrogant as Qarun. That is because, just as Qarun had, they failed to grasp that the real owner of everything is Allah. They only grasped this fact when they witnessed the end of Qarun.
The truly modest ones were the believers who "had been given knowledge," that is, those who had grasped the secret of life. Aware that what Qarun possessed was temporal, and thereby, unimportant, they did not yearn for his possessions. In any case, owning a wealth the likes of Qarun' s would not have hampered their dignity or humility.
These "people of knowledge," as mentioned in the story of Qarun, are role-models for all Muslims to emulate. They show that real modesty can only be attained by being a servant to Allah, and that Allah bestows His blessings only on His noble servants. That is because, they are those "who do not seek to exalt themselves on the earth or cause corruption in it." They do not become arrogant, but feel grateful for the blessings granted them.