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IOK Ramadan Reflections Series: #9

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IOK Ramadan Reflections Series: Surat al Anfal

Transcript: In Surah al Anfal, Allah brings our attention to a very interesting point and concept, and perhaps a warning. Allah says about Quraysh “And when Our verses are recited to them, they say, “We have heard. If we willed, we could say [something] like this. This is not but legends of the former peoples.” (8:31) Allah is alluding to something in their mindset and hearts of these Qurashis – their overconfidence. They are overconfident in their abilities and skills to the extent that they are completely ignoring and oblivious to the miraculous nature of the Quran as though they are avoiding doubts in their minds. Their claim that they can produce something equal to the Quran is almost as though they are attempting to suppress the power of the Quran. 

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In the realm of spirituality, this type of overconfidence is known as ‘ujb (self-righteousness). Essentially, self-righteousness is when a person sees him/herself as more than they actually are in terms of their iman and piety. This is a serious spiritual disease which is rooted in various factors, including doubt avoidance. When a person feels inferior or weak, they attempt to avoid these feelings through overconfidence. Ibn Hazm (ra) points to this be stating that “people who pursue prestige and higher status in society often attempt to compensate for their feeling of weakness in their heart by proving oneself by climbing the ranks of society.” People who are overconfident tend to be suffering from doubt avoidance.

Another factor is the over/underestimation of the situation. Such people fail to realize the seriousness or potential consequences of the situation. As a result, the individual arrogantly holds to their opinions and refuses to reconsider or revise it. They refuse to consider the possibility that the other person is correct. They also refuse to consider the possibility of undesired outcomes. 

The problem of overconfidence isn’t limited to the realm of spirituality. The consequences of overconfidence are mentioned in secular research as well as investment strategies. When an investor is overconfident in a company’s ability to perform it can encourage the person to place all their wealth in that company without considering the possibility of the company failing. However, the wise person knows that if there is a 1% chance of being wrong and the consequences of being wrong are dire and potentially life-changing, or eternal as in the case of the Afterlife, then that is enough for a person to step back and thoroughly consider their position. But the overconfident individual is too arrogant to see it this way. 

Notice the following verse “And [remember] when they said, “O Allah, if this should be the truth from You, then rain down upon us stones from the sky or bring us a painful punishment.” (8:32) Quraysh’s overconfidence in their ability to challenge the Quran caused them to unprovokedly invoke Allah to send a punishment upon them if they are wrong. Quraysh’s overconfidence caused them to invoke Allah with a life-ending dua. There was no reason for them to make a dua in the first place. Such is the nature of an overconfident person. Further, there Quraysh could have just as easily said “Oh Allah, if this is the truth then guide us to it.” Yet, they didn’t. Why? Because of their stubbornness which is rooted in their arrogance.

The purpose of this reflection isn’t to psychoanalyze or criticize disbelievers. Rather, the purpose is to develop the tools to better critique ourselves. The worst type of confidence is when we are overconfident in our piety and religiosity. To put it bluntly, Allah, no matter how stronger your iman is and no matter who you are, He can crush the iman of anyone. Did Allah not say “And if We had not strengthened you, you would have almost inclined to them a little.” (17:74) If this is the Prophet (s), then how about us? A person who is overconfident in their iman is someone whose iman is weak. Why? Because they are not analyzing the realities on the ground. They are unaware of their inconsistencies; they are unaware that it is Allah who has given them iman and not the result of their own cleverness or abilities. Do we not believe as Muslims that there is not a single penny that enters our pocket except that Allah sent it to us? If that’s the case with money, a worldly thing that is tertiary to Allah, that Allah could care less about, then is it not the case that any ounce of iman that’s in our hearts, it is Allah that sent it to us? Why be confident and boastful about our iman or think that Allah has sent us to save iman and set everyone straight. Such a person suffers from self-righteousness and the biggest sign of this is judging other people. When a person’s relationship with Islam does not go beyond criticizing other Muslims and warning others about their deviations. How can a person be so confident that he/she is on the pure truth and that the one he/she is warning about is misguided? Does Allah not say “Then is one to whom the evil of his deed has been made attractive, so he considers it good [like one rightly guided]? For indeed, Allah sends astray whom He wills and guides whom He wills.” (35:8) How many people have promoted heterodoxies while believing that they were spreading truth? 

Yes, there is a way to determine what is true and false. But the mindset that “I am the one who is on the truth is dangerous.” Notice the style of Muslim scholars when they critique one another, they do not critique or call out individuals, but rather they critique the person’s positions and opinions. There is nothing controversial about this method of scholarly engagement; but to attack the person is self-righteousness and overconfidence. It is the behavior of someone who hasn’t considered the possibility that the other person can be correct. Therefore scholars, understanding their own faults and mistakes, shy away from critiquing others and focus their time on critiquing the self. They occupy their time wondering if they have deviated; they occupy their time asking Allah to reveal their faults and mistakes. Unfortunately, we see in our communities and social circles how judgmental Muslims have become. 

Allah is cautioning us to not do what Quraysh did. Let go of confidence in your individual iman and apply the next verse “But Allah would not punish them while you, [O Muhammad], are among them, and Allah would not punish them while they seek forgiveness.” (8:33) A believer is someone who constantly makes istighfar, and someone who constantly makes istighfar is someone who knows their mistakes, vulnerabilities, and their need for Allah.

In this blessed month of Ramadan, let us try to lower our confidence in ourselves by strengthening our trust in Allah and internalize Allah’s Lordship and that He is the one who puts iman in our hearts. Let us focus more on istighfar to help expose our own vulnerabilities, double standards, and hypocrisies, so that Allah can help us purify us from them.

Tonight’s Ramadan Reflections Series talk was brought to you by the IOK Seminary Faculty. Catch up on previous videos or catch the next videos on the IOK Ramadan Reflections Series page.

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IOK Seminary Faculty train highly motivated and dedicated Muslim men and women in classical Islam and contemporary scholarship, giving them the tools to grow as individuals, effectively serve those around them, and preserve the Islamic tradition in the West.

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