Refraining from Humiliation
There are many traditions from the honoured sages of Islam about personal honour and its ethical and social value, and they themselves have practically given this great lesson to the people. Husayn ibn 'Ali, the Leader of free men, may peace be upon him, was once asked as to wherein one's honour lay. He said that it lay in the absence of reliance on others:
The Noble Messenger, may God bless him and his Household, points out the same fact in this statement:
The absence of need does not lie in the abundance of wealth but it lies in inner plenitude. 4
A writer says:
Imagine for a moment the richest of men lying in his sick bed and picture his condition in your mind. Wait until his fever rises to a feverish degree burning his body all over. Then cover his bed sheet with a thousand fistfuls of gold and silver and put him in a bed draped in soft silk. If this treasure and adornment can ameliorate his helpless and desperate condition, then you can claim that riches are effective in bringing one happiness. If wealth cannot effect physical well-being, how is it possible for it to rescue the soul from suffering and grief and bring it joy and happiness? 5
Dr. Marden writes:
If the edifice of our happiness were to be built on material means, it would soon fall and turn into a ruin. That is because the material world is transitory and subject to change, and all its means are fleeting like flashes of lightning, unenduring like vapour and unstable like fire. It is evident how much one can depend on such fleeting and passing means.
One who seeks joy and comfort through material means is like one who goes to sleep on an iceberg in a tempestuous sea, heedless of the world around him. Soon the iceberg melts and the poor man slips into the arms of its angry waves.
Wealth is a means to remove need, not the asset of felicity. That which make us happy is the soul's comfort, and here material means have no role. Do not imagine that I wish to underrate the importance of wealth, for it can be an aid to achieving inner comfort if accompanied by wisdom and moderation.
It is certain that excess in the pursuit of material means leads to a spiritual imbalance. Soon our souls are invaded by envy, hostility, and violence which are an essential part of a materialistic attitude. We need moderation in order to be happy and to be constantly watchful of ourselves so as not to deviate towards either extremes on the path of life.
We have read in religious stories that in the other world the sinners will pass over a path 'which is hotter than fire, sharper than a sword's edge, and thinner than a hair.' Such is the path of life, as it is finer than a hair and a moment of neglect makes us deviate from it. It is sharper than a sword's edge and we are done with if we are not careful. It consumes like fire and a moment of carelessness is enough to make its sparks set the harvest of our being afire.
If you wish to be happy, do not be unruly and avaricious like fire. Happiness does not harmonise with greed and avarice. The greedy nature is like a disturbed sea and wretched is the man who pins his hopes of peace and tranquillity on a storm. 6
One of the most important duties of every Muslim interested in his own welfare and desirous of liberating himself from inner bondages is to abstain from every indignity and humiliation. The leaders of Islam have always exhorted people to refrain from pursuing mean goals which do not accord with the real dignity of a Muslim. The Eleventh Imam, may peace be upon him, said:
How ugly it is for a person of faith to cherish something that would lead him into humiliation! 7
One must not pay excessive attention to things of little value in life, becoming so infatuated with them as if there were nothing to be desired beyond them. Such a condition leads to mental degeneration, also subjecting one's emotional being to the degrading influence of insignificant matters which never arise for a moment above their low and limited terrestrial level, and moreover erode the significance of one's humanity. Imam 'Ali, may peace be upon whom, said:
Hold your own personal worth high by indifference to lowly things and base goals. 8
Some people are so possessed with the passion for mundane pursuits that they severely compromise their personal honour and dignity in order to achieve materialistic ends and submit to every humiliation and disgrace. In their pursuit of mundane profit, they approach everyone with whom they come into contact with a feeling of inner need. They adopt peculiar tactics in life and social intercourse and go to extremes in implementing their plans. They become used to being obsequious and saying things which do not have any meaning beyond expressing personal humiliation and abasement. Such an approach in life reflects the corruption and abasement that have settled on their inner spirit and have run deep roots therein. Imam 'Ali, may peace be upon him, said:
An hour of humiliation is not effaced by ages of honour. 9
Experienced men of the world know very well that it is best to pay scot and lot as they go along, and that a man often pays dear for a small frugality. The borrower runs in his own debt. Has a man gained anything who has received a hundred favours and rendered none? Has he gained by borrowing, through indolence or cunning, his neighbour's wares, or horses, or money? There arises on the deed the instant acknowledgement of benefit on the one part and of debt on the other; this is, of superiority and inferiority. The transaction remains in the memory of himself and of his neighbour; and every new transaction alters according to its nature their relation to each other. He may soon come to see that he had better have broken his own bones than to have ridden in his neighbour's coach, and that "the highest price he can pay for a thing is to ask for it." 10
4. Nahj al-fasahah, p. 504.
5. Jagot, Paul Clement, Theories et procedes de l'hypnotisme cours d'entrainement experimental, Persian trans. "Talqin beh nafs" by Mahmad Nawa'i (Tehran 1362 H. Sh.), p. 19.
6. Marden, Orison Swett, Persian trans. Asrar-e nikbakhti, pp. 98-101.
7. Al-Harrani, Tuhaf al-'uqul, p. 489.
8. Ibid., p. 224.
9. Al-Amidi, Ghurar al-hikam, p. 434.
10. Emerson, "Compensation," cf. Commins & Linscott, The Social Philosophers (New York: Modern Pocket Library 1954), p. 448.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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