Tawadu (modesty and humility) is the opposite of arrogance, pride, and
haughtiness. It can also be interpreted as one’s awareness of one’s real
position before God, and as letting that reali-zation guide one’s conduct
toward God and with people. If one sees oneself as an ordinary, individual part
of creation, a thresh-old of a door, a mat spread on a floor or a pavement
stone, a pebble in a stream or chaff in a field, and if one can sincerely
confess, as did Muhammad Lutfi Effendi: Everybody else is good but I am bad;
everybody else is wheat but I am chaff, the inhabitants of the heavens will
kiss him or her on the head.
In a narration attributed to the truthful, confirmed one, upon him be
peace and blessings, it is said: Whoever is humble, God exalts him; whoever is
haughty, God humiliates him.77 Thus, one’s true greatness is inversely
proportional to behaving as if one were great, just as one’s true smallness
is inversely proportional to behaving as if one were small.
Humility has been defined in many ways: seeing oneself as devoid of all
virtues essentially originating in oneself, treating others humbly and
respectfully, seeing oneself as the worst of humanity (unless being honored by
a special Divine treatment), and being alert to any stirring of the ego and
immediately sup-pressing it. Each definition expresses a dimension of humility.
However, the last definition relates to those made sincere by God Himself and
who are near to Him.
A Companion saw Caliph ‘Umar, may God be pleased with him, carrying
water in a pitcher on his shoulder. He asked him: What are you doing, O Caliph
of God’s Messenger? ‘Umar, one of the foremost in nearness to God,
answered: Some envoys have come from other countries. I felt some conceit in
my heart and wanted to suppress it. ‘Umar used to carry flour on his
back. Once he accused himself while giving a sermon from the pulpit, and kept
silent when people questioned and criticized his action.
Abu Hurayra carried wood while he was the deputy governor of Madina. When
he was the chief judge in Madina, Zayd ibn Thabit kissed Ibn ‘Abbas’ hand,
and Ibn ‘Abbas, known as the Interpreter of the Qur’an and the Scholar of
the Umma, helped Zayd get on his horse. Hasan, the grandson of the Prophet,
upon him be peace and blessings, sat with some children who were eating bread
crumbs and ate with them. Once Abu Dharr offended Bilal al-Habashi and, to
obtain his forgiveness, put his head on the ground and declared: If the blessed
feet of Bilal do not tread on this sinful head, it will not rise from the
ground. All of these events and many similar ones are instances of humility.
Both God Almighty and His Messenger emphasized humility so much that one
who knows of it does not doubt that servanthood consists of humility. The
Qur’anic verse: The servants of the All-Merciful are those who walk on the
earth in modesty, and if the impudent offend them, they continue their way
saying: “Peace” (25:63) praises humility, and the Divine statements extremely
humble toward believers (5:54) and merciful among themselves; you find
them bowing down and falling prostrate (48:29) are expressions of praise
for the ingrained humility reflected in their conduct.
Concerning humility, the glory of humanity, upon him be peace and
blessings, declared: God has told me that you must be humble, and that no
one must boast to another; Shall I inform you of one whom Hellfire will
not touch? Hellfire will not touch one who is near to God and amiable with
people, and mild and easy to get along with2; God exalts one who is
humble. That one sees himself as small while he is truly great in the sight of
people; and O God, make me see myself as small.
The glory of humanity, upon him be peace and blessings, lived as the most
humble of people. He stopped at the places where children were gathered and
played with and greeted them. If someone held him by the hand and wanted to
lead him somewhere, he never objected. He helped his wives with the housework.
When people were working, he worked with them. He mended his shoes and clothes,
milked sheep, and fed animals. He sat at the table with his servant. He always
welcomed the poor warmly, looked after widows and orphans, visited the ill,
followed funeral processions, and answered the call of slaves in his community.
The beloved servants of God, from God’s Messenger, upon him be peace
and blessings, to Caliph ‘Umar and the Umayyad Caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd
al-‘Aziz and from him to numerous saints, purified and perfected scholars,
and those honored with nearness to God, have held that the signs of greatness
in the great are humility and modesty, while the signs of smallness in the
small are arrogance and vanity. Based on this understanding, they sought to
show men and women how to become perfect.
True humility means that people must know the full extent of their worth
before God’s infinite Grandeur, and then make this fully realized potential
an ingrained, essential part of their nature. Those who have done this are
humble and balanced in their relations with others. Those who have realized
their nothingness before God Almighty are balanced in both their religious
lives and their relations with people. They obey the commandments of religion,
for they have no objection to the revealed truths of religion, nor do they
criticize its method of addressing or relating to human reason. They are
convinced that what is contained in the Qur’an and the authentic Traditions
of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, is true.
If there is an apparent contradiction between these two sources and human
reason or established rational or scientific facts, such people seek to learn
the truth of the matter. Therefore, it is nonsense for those without humility
and modesty to assert, when confronted with an apparent contradiction between
reason or rational premises and the revealed and narrated principles of
religion, that reason or what is rational must be preferred. Their further
assertion that judgments based on reasoning and analogy must be given priority
over revealed principles is also mistaken. The wonders worked and spiritual
pleasures felt by following ways not followed by the Prophet, upon him be peace
and blessings, is God’s way of leading people to perdition, for “success”
in such endeavors leads to sin.
Those who have achieved humility are completely convinced of the truth of
whatever the Prophet said or did. They never doubt it, and seek to practice it
in their lives. If something else, such as a wise saying or a great
accomplishment, appears to them as more beautiful or acceptable, they accuse
themselves of being unable to discern the incomparable superiority of the
revealed truths and expressions, saying:
are many people who find fault with the words having no defects.
However, the fault lies in their defective understanding.
They are certain that one cannot prosper in the Hereafter by following
ways opposed to the Qur’an and the Sunna. They find the greatest source of
power in servanthood to God. In reality, one who worships God never adores
anyone else, and one who serves others cannot be a true servant of God. How apt
are the following words of Bediuzzaman:
not see anything or anybody else other than God as so much greater than you as
to deserve adoration or servanthood. Do not boast of yourself in a way to see
yourself as greater than others. As creatures are equal in being distant from
being worshipped, so also are they equal in that they are all created.
Those who are truly humble do not attribute the fruits of their work and
efforts to themselves, nor do they regard their successes or efforts in the way
of God as making them superior to others. They do not care how other people
regard them, and do not demand a return for their services in the way of God.
They regard their being loved by others as a test of their sincerity, and do
not exploit God’s favors to them by boasting to others about them.
just as humility is the portal to good conduct or being characterized
with the qualities of God (such as generosity, merciful, helpful,
forgiving, and so on), it is also the first and foremost means
of being near to both the created and the Creator. Roses grow
on the earth, and humanity was created on the earth and not
in the heavens. A believer is nearest to God when prostrating
before Him. While recounting the Prophet’s Ascension (to the
heavens), the Qur’an refers to him as God’s servant, as a
sign of his humility and utmost modesty.