A tiny mouse caught the bridle of an enormous camel, and taking up the reins of the camel he proudly walked in front of the camel. Due to his mild nature the camel just continued to walk as if nothing had happened, and the mouse, unaware of his own insignificance, said: “What a great, strong creature I am. I am even brave enough to drive camels!”
On their way they came to a river. Seeing the river, the tiny proud mouse froze in terror. Aware of the mouse’s pride the camel said: “O you who have kept me company in the meadows and through the mountains! Why have you stopped? Why are you so surprised? Go on, jump into the river; with all your courage, are you not my leader and guide? Is it better to stop like this in the middle of the road?”
The mouse, embarrassed, answered, stuttering: “My friend! This river is so big and deep that I am afraid I will drown.” The camel went into the water and said: “O, blind mouse! The water is only knee high; there is nothing to be afraid of!” Having no choice, the mouse confessed: “O, camel! The river may be like an ant to you, but to me it is a great monster. The height of everyone’s knees is different; if we were to put one hundred of my legs, one on top of the other, then they would barely reach your knee.”
After hearing this, the clever camel gave the mouse some advice: “In that case, do not be misled by your pride and arrogance; do not treat others rudely and know your place! Do not be misled by the gentleness I have shown you, because Allah does not like the proud ones! Go and take on mice of your own size!” The mouse now understood his error and was very ashamed. He said: “I am sorry for what I have done! I will never do it again, but please, take me across this deadly river!” The camel said to him: “Come on! Jump onto my hump! Taking you across this river is my job. My duty is to help thousands of helpless ones like you.” The camel took the mouse over the river.
In this story told by Mawlânâ Rûmî, the mouse represents those people who try to take on things that are too great for them to handle; the mouse is proud and thinks that he is better than everyone else, while the camel is the symbol of a patient, wise, clever and mature person. The purpose of this story is to convey wisdom, examples of opinions, thoughts and feelings. The following lines show us the great wisdom here:
“At first the devil was seen as a great being among the angels, and he became accustomed to this, thinking that he was better than every other being. Due to this he became spoiled and was unaware of the magnificence inherent in the commands of Allah Almighty. He saw Prophet Adam (upon him be peace) as being inferior and despicable; so Iblis was afflicted with the worst possible fate.”
“Copper does not realize it is copper until it becomes gold. The heart does not realize its mistakes or understand its inferiority until it attains a certain spiritual consistency. O soul! Save your ego from the dungeons of arrogance and pride and serve the potion of life so that you can become gold! Serve it with heartfelt love…”
“These lovers are those that have souls; just as the day and night avoid one another, so too do they avoid the world, and without never inclining to it!”
All this shows that whenever pretension or selfishness enters the heart, an idolatry of degree and rank sets in motion; in such a heart there can never be compassion because pretension and selfishness are the cancer of spiritual life. The cause of pretension and selfishness is a person’s conceit before the Divine power. Even though we are nothing more than a tiny grain of sand in an enormous desert, we forget our limitations and are deceived by a little praise and some opportunities, and then perceive ourselves as being above others; this is nothing but conceit.
Without a doubt, pride makes a person perceive of themselves as having more power, talent and ability than they really do. But is not the power of all living creatures the very power with which Allah Almighty has blessed them? Shame on those who are unaware of this reality! The pride of Pharaoh and Nimrod led them to claim divinity; as a result they were punished by Divine retribution. This is why Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), particularly after great victories, would always counsel the Companions with submission and humility and prevent them from boasting. At the Battle of Badr, a triumph in the struggle for Islam, first a thousand, then three thousand and finally five thousand angels, according to the level of faith of the believers, were sent to their aid. Allah declared in the Qur’ân:
“…When thou threw (a handful) of (dust), it was not thy act, but Allah’s!…” (Anfâl, 8: 17)
The Prophet and his Companions are eternal examples for all of mankind as a result of such behavior. At the conquest of Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad actually conquered hearts rather than the city. On entering that holy city there were no indications of a victory; in fact, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) bowed on his camel in prostration, overcome by a feeling of gratitude to Allah. All such situations contain principles. For this reason it is said: ‘Whoever knows his nafs (self) knows his Lord’
Mawlânâ Rûmî warns people: “O heedless man! As you are not a messenger you cannot be aware of what is beyond and nobody will follow you: know your place on this path then and follow your own line, do not go any further! Walk behind a great guardian on the path of truth that you are following so that one day you will emerge from the well of egoism and be a sultan of sense, like Prophet Yusuf.”
“Since you have neither the immortality of the Almighty, nor the language of the Almighty, then listen! If you will say something then say it as if it is a question so that the words will benefit and you can learn something! Speak to the Sultan of the sultans like a poor and needy man!”
“The beginning of pride and resentment is an extreme love for all egoistical desires, richness and worldly cravings. These extreme desires are embedded in the soul to become habit! When bad habits are strengthened, you abuse those who try to make you abandon the habits and you feel resentment towards them. Even idol worshippers make worshipping the idols a habit; they become enemies of those who try to prevent them from doing so.”
May Allah protect us from conceit and the confusion of pride and arrogance and place us among those who know themselves, who are aware of themselves, the good ones who spend their lives worshipping the Creator!