Between Arrogance and Timidity

Between Arrogance and Timidity

Mohammed Asim Alavi

Those who spend (in Allah’s Cause) in prosperity and in adversity, who restrain anger, and who pardon men; verily, Allah loves Al-Muhsinun (the good-doers)[1].

Restraining anger and pardoning wrongdoers have been lauded as Ihsan (Excellence) by the Qur’an.  Expressing anger hysterically is not a sign of bravery; acting arrogantly out of uncontrollable emotions too is not bravery. Bravery, rather, is an excellent virtue right in the middle between arrogance and timidity.  A brave person’s heart possesses compassion towards people, whereas an arrogant person would find himself deprived of it. This is the beauty of bravery in the Islamic sense, a heart filled with compassion! But on the contrary, an arrogant person thinks himself to be superior and powerful than others; he displays the character of self-pride and rudeness; he shows disrespect to others’ opinions and emotions, how true they might be; he believes his positions, strength and wealth are gained through his own efforts, so he is not obliged to anyone.  Due to this he would find himself deprived of rational thinking.  On the contrary, ‘nervousness’ is written on the forehead of a timid person.  ‘Cannot do’ and ‘please, you do’ are the signs his actions express.  He possesses skills in abundance, but his ‘shyness’ would hold him in its powerful grip from being forward in action; he always prefer to take a back seat.

 As we go through this chapter, we will find that Imam Bediuzzaman was brave and he used it in the right sense in the cause of his divine mission.  In the following anecdote, he advised his disciples on how to be objective and use anger and valour in a controlled manner.

 ‘…..It was in one of the 1st World War battle fronts.  In the face of relentless enemy onslaught, Ottoman army contingents were forced to make a tactical withdrawal, however, Imam Bediuzzaman insisted that he would remain in the Bitlis front with a group of highly motivated volunteers, in order to evacuate the weak who were unable to move out.  No dust settled when they were suddenly confronted by a contingent of dreadful enemy force.  In the melee scores of volunteers had martyred, including his sister’s son, Ubaid.  Afterward, he was left with only four of the volunteers.  As they had already penetrated into the enemy territory in a daring fashion, found themselves in a precarious situation. He addressed them in an entertaining way:  ‘we shall not use our weapons unless the enemy confront us in large numbers; neither shall we sell our souls cheaply nor fire at one or two from among the enemy[2].

For a leader, the objective use of bravery and anger is essential.  However, that use differs from one context to another.  It also differs according to the psychology of the addressee.  Anger is a laudable human quality, but its hysterical use increases misery.  The Qur’an in the above verses lauds those who use anger in a well balanced and restrained manner. One cannot stop anger arising in his heart, but he certainly can manage it according to the situation.

In the following situation we find how Imam Bediuzzaman uses ‘the outrage of the Ummah’ in a well balanced and constructive way.  It was a time when the powerful Khilafah Uthmaniyah (Ottoman Empire), had disintegrated into pieces and the Ummah was left to wander without a political leadership.  Istanbul, the Darul Khilafah (The Seat of Caliphate) was occupied by the British and the morale of the people was found in its lowest ebb.  Even the Ulema (religious scholars) too were mentally shaken and showing signs of appeasement towards the British.  Imam Bediuzzaman was not able to tolerate the insolence of the British, and in the meantime he did not possess any power to retaliate.  In the following encounter he found a rare opportunity to spit at the British:

 ‘One time, when the British had destroyed the guns on the Bosporus and had invaded Istanbul, the chief cleric of the Anglican Church, which is that country’s highest religious authority, asked the Sheikhul Islam’s Office six questions about religion.  I was a member of Darul Hikmah Al Islamiyah at the time and they said to me: ‘You answer them!’ They wanted a six hundred-word reply to the six questions.  I said: I shall answer not with six hundred words, nor with six words, and not even with one word, but with a handful of spit!  Because, you can see, the moment they stepped ashore here, their chief arrogantly started asking us questions.  What has to be done in the face of this is to spit in his face.  So spit in the face of that merciless tyrant![3].

This action of his should in no way be construed as preventing peoples’ access to the Truth, nor as not restraining his anger.  Doubtless, it’s not allowed for a Muslim to prevent Islamic knowledge reaching to people.  However, in this context, the intent of the British was malicious and in such situations, a Muslim preacher can use the most appropriate psychology to rebuff.  The Qur’an advises the Prophet (PBUH) on how to behave in such situations:

When the hypocrites come to you, they say: “We bear witness that you are certainly Allah’s Messenger.” Allah certainly knows that you are His Messenger. But Allah also bears witness that the hypocrites are utter liars![4]

Imam Bediuzzaman explained his management of bravery as follows:

Surely Said shall not hit with a handle-broken staff; in his tongue there is a diamond sword made of the miraculous Qur’an; he shall certainly use that sword[5]

His bravery drove him to speak in lucid and straight forward language.  He said in the Denizli court in one of his defences: ‘Surely millions of heads have been sacrificed for the sacred truth and let our heads too be sacrificed; even if you ignite the entire world with fire on our heads, that have been sacrificed to the truth of the Qur’an, they shall not bow down nor submit to the atheists[6].

This stance of his resembles the Prophet’s (PBUH) encounter with his uncle, Abu Talib, who under immense pressure from the Quraish leaders tried to find a way out to the problem of the Prophet’s mission and tried to persuade his nephew to forgo his preaching.   The Prophet (PBUH) replied him this way:   ‘O my uncle, by God, if they were to place the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, and ask me to abandon this course, I would not turn from it until God makes it victorious or I perish therein[7].

(Excerpt from the author’s book, ‘The Positive Warrior’Thrilling Leadership Lessons from the Life of Imam Bediuzzaman Said Nursi)


[1] Surah Al Imran:134

[2] Ihsan Qasim Assalihi – ibid, p128

[3] Sukran Vahide – ibid, p172

[4] Surah Al Munafiqun:1

[5] Ihsan Qasim Assalihi – ibid, p221

[6] Ibid – p331

[7] Seerah Ibnu Hisham, Vol-1

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