MODESTY

Servitude begins with knowing one’s place. When a person properly recognizes one’s place, no strength is left in him to claim arrogance, egoism and even his own existence.

Just like the branches of the trees with ripened fruits, knowledgeable, wise and spiritually mature Muslims are modest and generous. They transform their entire existence into a treasure, from which everyone can benefit.

What makes a person human, introduces him to his fundamental essence, takes him to his primary goal, and consequently turns him into a perfect human being are good manners, which are molded by faith.

The real value, merit, honor, maturity, and loftiness of a person are to the extent of his level of morality. To be a servant loved and contended by Allah the Almighty requires spiritual maturity, and the path to this maturity passes through “spiritual training.”

FRIENDS OF ALLAH

Just like how attainment of skills and talents requires the guidance of a mentor, the friends of Allah are the ones who show the best and the most suitable path for the personality and character of the person. Because they are wise, righteous, and perfect believers

– Who have combined exoteric and esoteric aspects of religion in their personality,

– Who have reached behavioral perfection by achieving spiritual states and stations on the path of piety and asceticism,

– Who have achieved the pleasure of faith and depth of emotions by broadening their horizons and understanding of this world and the Hereafter,

– Whose sole efforts are to save mankind from the pits of the self and darkness of bad morals and elevate them to good morals, spiritual maturity, and enlightenment.

Because their spiritual world is always with Allah the Almighty, they continuously remind people of Allah. Those who follow their footsteps reach the wisdom and knowledge of seeing life and events through the window of the Hereafter.

Behaviors and actions of the friends of Allah are usually consistent with the contentment of Allah; because, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) informs us that Allah Almighty says:

“My servant continues to come near to me by piety beyond what is required, so that I love him; and I show my love by becoming the eye with which my servant sees, the ear by which he hears, the hand with which he grasps…”(Bukhārī, Riqāq, 38; Majma’ al-Zawāid, II, 248)

Morality of the friends of Allah carries manifestations from the spiritual world of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), which was the practical commentary of the Holy Qur’ān. Friends of Allah, who strive to apply the life style of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) in their lives, are like mirrors reflecting all the beauties of the prophetic morality. This is why those who follow and observe carefully actions and behaviors of the friends of Allah see the elegant manifestations of prophetic ethics.

In return for their sincerity and heartiness, Our Lord has bestowed to saintly servants the power to administer the hearts. Because they first apply the Islamic principles in their own lives, thus they represent and preach the grace of Islam to the whole world around them. This is why they have been bestowed with an exceptional blessing of influencing people.

The words, which are not applied in life, and insincere behaviors are like empty treats. They are easily forgotten under the severe winds of life and leave no trace; whereas the reason why the friends of Allah leave indelible traces in the hearts is their sincerity and love in their actions.

In this respect, Sufism, as it is expressed by Yunus Emre, does not mean to give up worldly things and to solely be content with chanting the names of Allah in a Sufi convent. On the contrary, Sufism in its essence means to be able to move forward on the path of spirituality and Divine unification through endless manifestations of life and universe. This depends on realizing one’s nothingness compared to the manifestations of Divine Power and Might and on living in every single breath with understanding of being in need of the Lord’s help.

The friends of Allah are a means of blessing and mercy for their neighborhood. They are arms of mercy and compassion embracing to all the segments of the community. They are also like magnets attracting the believers, for Allah the Almighty loved these righteous servants and have people love them.

It is stated in a verse that:

“Surely (as for) those who believe and do good deeds for them will Allah bring about love.”(19; 96)[1]

This is why the friends of Allah are not forgotten after their death and continue to live in the hearts of those who love them. This love for the friends of Allah is a great blessing granted upon some fortunate hearts; because it is prophetic promise that everybody will be with their loved ones in the Hereafter. Trying to love and be close to these exceptional servants of Allah make a servant come closer to his Lord.

If we love the friends of Allah, and want to be resurrected with them in the Hereafter, we must make efforts to assume their good manners; because the sign of love for a lover is to try to be like the beloved.

In this regard in order to assume the good manners of the friends of Allah, it is required to comprehend the manifestation of these qualities on them. Here is one of the distinguishing qualities of the friends of Allah:

AN EMINENT STATE OF SERVITUDE: MODESTY

Servitude to Allah the Almighty is first of all an act of consciousness. It is the essence of our servitude to realize our nothingness before Divine Power and Might, and to comprehend that we go from nothingness to existence through His Will and to know that we maintain our existence as a result of His blessing and to be aware of the fact that we need Him in every single breath and every single moment of life. In other words, servitude means to be able to see our weak state before the Divine Kingdom and to know our place. When a person properly recognizes his place, there would be no strength left in him to claim arrogance, egoism and even his very own existence. He then confesses his gratitude, contentment, thankfulness in reverence as in the saying of Aziz Mahmud Hüdâyî“You are the one who takes; You are the One Who gives,; You are the Maker! What else do we have other than what You have given?” Those who have no share from modesty are the ones who do not recognize the Greatness of the Lord.

The real modesty makes the servant confess his nothingness and nonexistence before the Divine Majesty and bow his head, like in the following supplication of Mawlānā Jalal al-Dīn Rumī:

“I have become a servant, I have become a servant, I have become a servant. I, humble servant, have ashamed of not fulfilling my servitude properly and bowed my head down (in shame). Every slave becomes happy when he is emancipated. Dear Lord! I have become happy for being Your slave.”

As a matter of fact, Prophet’s grandson Hasan’s (r.a) supplication after circumambulating the Kaaba and performing two rak’ahs of prayer at the quarter of Ibrāhīm is one of the best examples of manners of servitude:

“Dear Lord! Your little and weak servant came to Your door. O Allah! Your weak servant came to your door. Dear Lord! Your beggar came to your door, Your poor came to Your door…”

After this touching supplication, Hasan (r.a) met on his way with some poor people, who were sharing a dry piece of bread. He greeted them, and they invited him to their modest table. Prophet’s grandson Hasan (r.a) sat with them and said:

“If I knew that this bread did not come from charity, I would eat with you.” Then he said:

“Let’s go to my home.” After serving them a nice meal, he clothed the poor people with nice clothes and gave them considerable amount of money and then sent them back in a very happy state.” (Abshihī, Al-Mustatraf, Beirut, 1986, I, 31)

This is the state of real modesty and an eminent manner of servitude, which makes a believer live in deep sensitivity towards his Lord and Creation. Those who adorn their souls with this exclusive manners act prudently in their acts and behaviors. This manner manifests itself in their sitting, standing, walking, choosing their clothes, speaking, walking, and, in short, in all of their actions.

Allah the Almighty states:

“And the servants of the Beneficent Allah are they who walk on the earth in humbleness, and when the ignorant address them, they say: Peace.” (25; 63)

“And do not go about in the land exultingly, for you cannot cut through the earth nor reach the mountains in height.”(17; 37)

“And do not turn your face away from people in contempt, nor go about in the land exulting over much; surely Allah does not love any self-conceited boaster;”(31; 18)

In these verses, walking arrogantly and swaggering is clearly prohibited. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) always walked fast and his eyes fixed on the ground like going down a hill. This was a manifestation of his humility. In fact, this good behavior has become one of the principles of the Sufis, in which they referred to as “nazar ber qadem – one’s eyes fixed on his feet.”

There are many merits in looking at one’s feet while walking, such as modesty, good manners, knowing one’s place, protecting eyes from seeing unlawful sights, obedience to the commands of Allah and His Messenger (pbuh), etc.

Being humble not just in walking but in the conduct of all aspects of life; thus becoming a means to attain Allah’s love and pleasure. This, in fact, is stated in the following tradition:

“…Allah elevates the level of those who act humbly just for the sake of Allah; and He lowers the level of those who act arrogantly.”(Haythamī, X, 325)

The great Sufi master Mawlanā Jalal al-Dīn Rumīpoints out the humbleness of the earth, and invites people to be like the earth in modesty in the following lines:

“Allah the Almighty said, “O People! Look carefully how I have sown a seed from My soul in your body created from the earth, and elevated you: you are the dust of the earth, and I have raised you aloft. I have bestowed upon you intelligence and love. Do you once more adopt the practice of earthiness (modesty), so that I may make you a prince over all creation.”[2][3]

Sheikh Sādī Shirāzī points out the role of modesty in spiritual achievement and interprets the wisdom of water as follows:

“Flood tumbles down because of its arrogance. On the other hand, because it’s so small and weak, dew drop is raised aloft into the skies by the sun.”

Modesty is a means to receive Divine rewards. It is stated in the following verse:

“And to every nation We appointed acts of devotion that they may mention the name of Allah on what He has given them of the cattle quadrupeds; so your god is One God, therefore to Him should you submit, and give good news to the humble, (To) those whose hearts tremble when Allah is mentioned, and those who are patient under that which afflicts them, and those who keep up prayer, and spend (benevolently) out of what We have given them.”(22; 34-35)

Therefore, humility and sincerity have vital significance in the performance of our duties towards Allah the Almighty.

SWORDS ARE FOR THE NECK OF THOSE WHO HAVE (HIGH AND PROUD) NECKS…

People who are modest and stay away from egoism are protected from many kinds of spiritual dangers. Rumī ÞÏÓ ÓÑå depicts this fact with the following metaphor:

“The sword is for him who has a (high and proud) neck; no blow falls on the shadow that is thrown (flat upon the ground).”[4]

On the other hand, the real humility that raises its owner spiritually also causes the increase of one’s wisdom and insight. In this respect, it is pointed out in the Mathnawī:

“Because of your humility, you may look like losing your esteem, but Allah will bestow on your eyes ability of true vision. Then you will comprehend the meaning of the saying of the Prophet Mustafa (pbuh) “Dear Lord! Show us the reality of the things as they are in Your sight.”[5]

Modesty bears mercy, serving others, and generosity. A modest person is a man of service – one who is merciful, and compassionate. Contrary to this, those who have no share from modesty are arrogant, stingy, and devoid of Divine blessings.

Imam Sharānī states in his al-Bahr al-Mawrūd that:

“Those who benefited most from a spiritual gathering are the ones who are filled with humility and are the most modest; because, Divine mercy goes down into the hearts of the modest and humble servants. Don’t we see that rain water fills into the holes and plains, and runs into streams?”

THE HUMILITY OF OUR PROPHET (pbuh)

The Messenger of Allah says:

“Allah the Almighty revealed to me that “Be so humble toward each other that none of you should transgress his limits and oppress others. Again none of you should boast about himself/herself and act superior against others.”(Muslim, Jannah, 64)

Our Prophet (pbuh), who was sent to complete good moral conduct, used to accept everybody’s invitation, whether they be free or slave. He (pbuh) also accepted people’s gifts even if it was as little as a cup of milk and reciprocated by showering them with gifts. He (pbuh) was very sensitive about the wishes of the people who were belittled in the society, such as slaves and the poor.

When the Prophet (pbuh) and companions were on their way to Badr, there were not enough camels for everybody to ride. Hence, they were taking turns riding the camels. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was taking turns with Hazrat ‘Ali and Abū Lubābah (r.a). When it was the Prophet’s (pbuh) turn to walk, his companions told him:

“O Messenger of Allah! Please get on the camel. We can walk in your turn, too. “

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) responded:

“You are not stronger than me to walk and I am in need of spiritual rewards as much as you are.”(Ibn Sa’d, II, 21)

The conquest of Mecca was a great victory for Muslims bestowed by Allah the Almighty after twenty years of grief, oppression, and suffering; however, the Messenger of Allah entered into Mecca not by making signs of victory, but by thanking Allah; his head was prostrating on his camel. He (pbuh) was also praying that Allah protect him from the possible egoistic feelings that may have arisen out of the victory, when he said:

“O Allah! There is no life worth living except the life of the Hereafter.”(Waqidī, II, 824; Bukharī,Riqāq, 1)

On the day of the conquest of Mecca, one of the Meccans, shaking with fear, asked the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) to teach him the religion of Islam. He (pbuh) appeased his fellow-townsman giving an example from the weakest times of his (pbuh) life:

“Calm down my brother! I am not a king or an emperor. I am just the son of your old neighbor from Quraish, who used to eat dried meat.”[6] Thus, he was presenting the best example of humility to his people.

 Again on the same day, he (pbuh) said to Abū Bakr (r.a), who brought his father and asked the Messenger of Allah to teach Islam to his father:

“O Abū Bakr! Why did you trouble your old father by bringing him here? Could not we go to him?”[7]

He (pbuh) warned those who showed him too much respect, by saying:

“Do not raise me to a place that I do not deserve; because, Allah the Almighty has selected me as a servant before He selected me as a Prophet.”(Haythamī, IX, 21)

THE MODESTY OF THE COMPANIONS

The generation of the Companions, who were trained under the guidance of the Prophet (pbuh), had a great share from his exemplary life.

For example, Abū Bakr(r.a), even though he was called and praised by the Prophet (pbuh) “second of the two friends, whose third one is Allah”[8] and “Abū Bakr is from me and I am from him…”,[9] was so modest that he had said in his election speech for the caliphate that:

“O People! Even though I am not the best of you, I have now been elected as your caliph.” So, even though he was very capable for the duty, he displayed his modesty hoping the blessings of Allah the Almighty.

When Salmān(r.a) was the governor of Madāin, a tradesman came from Damascus. The tradesman, looking for a porter to have his load carried, met Salmān (r.a), who was wearing old clothes. Because the tradesman didn’t know him, he told Salmān (r.a):

“Come and carry this.”

Salmān (r.a) took the load on his back. When the public saw the governor carrying the load, they told the tradesman that he had in fact, asked the governor to help carry his load. The Damascene tradesman apologized immediately and tried to get his load off the governor’s back; but Salmān (r.a) replied:

“I am not going to give this load back until we reach your home.” (Ibn Ṣa’d, IV, 88)

Prophet’s Muadhdhin Bilāl(r.a) was a black person. Once, when Abū Dharr(r.a) was angry at Bilāl, he called him “O son of a black woman.” When the Prophet (pbuh) heard what Abū Dharr had said, he became very upset.

Ma’rūr b. Suwayd narrates the following report about Abū Dharr’s later state:

I met Abu Dhar who was wearing a cloak, and his slave, too, was wearing a similar one. I asked about the reason for it. He replied, “I abused a person by calling his mother with bad names.” The Prophet said to me, ‘O Abu Dhar! Did you abuse him by calling his mother with bad names You still have some characteristics of ignorance. Your slaves are your brothers and Allah has put them under your command. So whoever has a brother under his command should feed him of what he eats and dress him of what he wears. Do not ask them (slaves) to do things beyond their capacity (power) and if you do so, then help them.’” (Bukhārī, Imān, 22; Itq, 15; Muslim, Aymān, 40)

MODERATION IN MODESTY

Showing off, and showing excessive modesty indirectly makes a person arrogant. The real humility is the quality of those who have achieved spiritual perfection; however, pretending to be like those who have already achieved spiritual perfection is equal to arrogance and hypocrisy. How nicely Sheikh Sādī expresses this reality:

“Those who think that they have something in them like a peanut always appear to be just peels like those of an onion.”

In other words, it is a type of hypocrisy when those who do not have certain qualities pretend to have them and talk about how modest they are, having been adorned with such qualities.

Wise and knowledgeable people are like trees with ripened fruits. They offer their produce to all of humanity. Therefore, instead of trying to be popular and ostentatious, people should try to turn their spiritual world into a treasure from which everybody can benefit.

Others might pretend to be modest in their selfish aspiration to be known as “the modest one.” This state of hypocrisy is in fact a type of hidden pride called “the pride of humility,” which is arrogance in the form of modesty. For instance, utterances like “I, humble and poor servant, could give only such and such amount of money” or “I have performed such and such kinds of worships” are just pride and arrogance hidden behind the cover of humbleness.

Hasan al-Baṣrī ÞÏÓ ÓÑå says that:

“Those who reproach themselves among the people are in fact praising themselves. And these are the signs of hypocrisy.”

Therefore to exaggerate modesty is also dangerous; because pride and arrogance kill the soul, while reviving the self. Rumī ÞÏÓ ÓÑå warns about this danger as follows:

“Be modest like a slave and do not try to raise yourself like a coffin over the shoulders of others. Self was turned into a Pharaoh by abundance of praises: be lowly of spirit through humbleness, do not domineer. So far as you can, become a slave, do not be a monarch. Suffer blows: become like the ball, do not be the bat.”[10]

The real humility is to keep the self in a state of servitude to Allah and of mercy to Creation. In other words, it means to admit one’s weaknesses and helplessness, to obey sincerely Allah the Almighty’s commands, to accept other people’s correct words, and to refrain from selfish stubbornness about the realities.

Fudail b. I’yaḍ (may Allah have mercy on his soul) says that:

“Humility means to accept the truth even if you heard it from an ignorant or a child.”

THE ROLE OF MODESTY IN SPIRITUAL TRAINING

It is stated in a proverb that “modesty is like a hunter hunting pride.” In fact, there is no better method than modesty in attaining the spiritual states and station; whereas, pride and arrogance is one of the worst qualities, which enrages Allah the Almighty.

In this regard Hazrat Abū Bakr (r.a) states that:

“When a servant gets arrogant because of a blessing, Allah the Almighty hates him until he loses that blessing.”

In spiritual training, it is primarily begun with purifying the self. Pride and selfishness are the most difficult bad conducts to be recovered from.

Abū Hashim al-Sufī, one of the early Sufis, says that:

“It is more difficult to scrape pride from the heart than digging mountains with a needle.”

However, there is no way to attain spiritual stations and become a perfect human unless this is succeeded. As it is expressed by Rumī:

“When, through (spiritual) poverty, faná (self-nothingness) graces someone, he becomes shadowless like Muhammed (pbuh). In other words he would free himself from his imaginary and shadow existence.”[11]

What a misfortunate situation for a human being, whose essence is non-existence, to claim existence and conceit! All worldly desires and selfish pleasures are the traps of a test, which prepare the reasons for the servant to fall into this pitiful state. Those who fall into these traps are like the fish, which destroy itself for the momentary pleasure of bait on a hook. How nicely Rumī ÞÏÓ ÓÑå explains this in the following lines:

“Because (self-) existence produces grievous intoxication: it removes intelligence from the head and reverence from the heart. From this ambush this same intoxication of (self-) existence waylaid a hundred thousand generations of old. By this (self-)existence an ‘Azázíl was made to be Iblís, saying, “Why should Adam become lord over me? I too am noble and nobly-born: I am capable of receiving and ready for (receiving) a hundred excellences. In excellence I am inferior to none, which I should stand before my enemy to do him service.” Thus he was cursed.”[12]

This is why it is a vital duty for a believer to purify his heart from the decease of pride.

Hasan al-Baṣrī ÞÏÓ ÓÑå states that:

“Modesty means to accept everybody you have met is superior than you are.”

The Sultan of the gnostics, Bahauddīn Naqshiband used to clean the roads, serve the sick and weak, and even take care of the wounded animals in the early days of his adherence to Sufism. Thus he adorned himself with humility and nothingness, and he later stated that he had attained many spiritual stations because of the blessings of these services. His following lines about the spiritual manifestation he had attained are very meaningful:

The people is wheat, I am hay

Everybody is complete, I am faulty

Someone begins his spiritual journey only after reaching such a spiritual state. Rumī addresses to those who have achieved this spiritual state:

“If you set out a journey, they will clear your way. If you become nonexistent, they will take you to existence. What is the mirror of existence? Nonexistence. O friend of the Truth! Bring nonexistence as your gift to the presence of the Truth, if you are not a fool.”[13]

It is impossible to achieve spiritual stations with a burden and heedlessness such as arrogance and pride; because as it is stated by Haji Bayrām al-Walī:

“Pride is like a rock tied on your waist. You can neither fly nor swim with it.”

This is why Sufis take their clothes of existence and pride off and put sincerely on dresses of nonexistence and nothingness in order to purify their souls. Only then they have reached the sultanate of the spiritual worlds.

When Azīz Mahmud Hudāyi ÞÏÓ ÓÑå entered the service of Uftadah ÞÏÓ ÓÑå, the first thing he was asked to leave all worldly and selfish pleasures behind. Therefore he was ordered to sell liver at the markets of Bursa, where he worked as a judge; then he was given the task of cleaning up the toilets of the lodge.

Another example is the great friend of Allah, Halīd al-Baghdādī ÞÏÓ ÓÑå. He sat in front of Dahlawī ÞÏÓ ÓÑå when he was like a sun of the scholarly circles, and performed meticulously the duty of cleaning up the toilets. Thus he worn the crown of nothingness and nonexistence and as result he attained his master’s praises and treats.

In short, in order to achieve spiritual maturity we should never take off our dress of modesty. Servitude without humility is an incomplete and unhealthy kind of servitude; whereas pride and conceit are so dangerous ailments that they may even lead their owners to disbelief in Allah as in the case of the Devil.

Because Sufis have chosen modesty as a principle of life for themselves, they have received many blessings of Allah the Almighty and become the stars of the spiritual world. Not only they have worked for all their lives for the guidance of the people, but also they have shown people the right path after their death.

May our Lord bless us with the modesty of His friends. May He give us shares from their spiritual world, which is raised aloft with the feelings of nothingness and modesty. May He facilitate for us to know and perform our duties and responsibilities with perfect manners.

Amin…

[1].      For English translation of the verses, I have benefited from Shakir, M.H. (trans.), The Qurʾān = [al-Qurʾān al-ḥakīm], Elmhurst, N.Y.: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, 1997, and Pickthall, Marmaduke William, The meaning of the glorious Koran; an explanatory translation, New York: Dorset Press, [1988?] (translator)

[2].      For the English translation of the Mathnawi, I have benefited from The Mathnawí of Jalálu’ddín Rúmí, edited from the oldest manuscripts available, with critical notes, translation & commentary, ed. Reynold A. Nicholson, Konya Metropolitan Municipality, 2004 (translator)

[3].      Mathnawi, vol. III, 455-456

[4].      Mathnawi, vol. IV, 2759

[5].      Mathnawi, vol. IV, 3565-3569

[6].      See Ibn Majah, Aṭ’imah, 30; Ṭabarānī, Al-Mu’jam al-Awṣaṭ, II, 64

[7].      See Aḥmad, VI, 349; Haythamī, IV, 174; Ibn Ṣa’d, V, 451.

[8].      See Bukharī, Tafsīr, 9/9.

[9].      Tirmidhī, Manāqib, 20.

[10].     Mathnawi, I, 1866-1868

[11].     Mathnawi, vol. V, 672

[12].     Mathnawi, vol. V, 1920-1924

[13].     Mathnawi, I, 3201