From Issue: 969 [Read full issue]
According to the Quran and the prophetic tradition, the default feeling of a believer should not be self-righteousness. This is what the Prophet taught his Companions. Hanzala, one of the Prophet's Companions, had knowledge about the names of the ten hypocrites of Medina who were unknown to the other Companions. Umar b. al-Khattab used to ask Hanzala if his name was among the ten hypocrites! Why did Umar ask Hanzala this question? Clearly, he did this because he did not feel self-righteous at all. In fact, it shows a high level of self-criticism that is rare to find.
Abu Bakr al-Siddiq used to say: "I would not feel safe from God's deep devising even if one of my feet was in Paradise." Why did Abu Bakr say this? Because he thought that he does not deserve Paradise as a guaranteed reward from God. This is Abu Bakr, about whom Umar said: "If the faith of Abu Bakr is put on one side of the scale and the faith of the nation of believers is put on the other side, the side of Abu Bakr will outweigh the other side."
A feeling of self-righteousness is the origin of all sins. If one feels self-righteous and thinks that he has secured an exclusive or special status, surely he will start to feel that he cannot make mistakes. But if you fear God and think that you are the least of the believers, you will avoid committing evil deeds. The sense of self-righteousness is the origin of every forbidden lust of arrogance, miserliness, greed, extravagance, and so forth. If we avoid this feeling, we will keep away from falling into these lusts. This was the practice of the prophets, messengers, and righteous people.
However, the virtue of self-criticism should not turn into self-destruction. Self-destruction happens when a person blames himself so harshly that he begins to feel desperate. For example, if a person continues to tell himself that he is no good, he has never done a sincere good deed, and so forth, he will eventually feel hopeless and abandon everything. This course of action is unacceptable. Moderation and balance are virtues that lie between two vices; blaming oneself until one feels desperate and not blaming oneself at all until one becomes conceited. With moderation, our inner self will improve and we will advance in the course of our spiritual journey to God.
"A Journey to God: Reflections on the Hikam of Ibn Ataillah" - Jasser Auda