Humility (Arabic: التواضع, Tawāḍu') as humbleness is among moral virtues which has been emphasized in the Qur'an, hadiths and ethical and mystical texts. This term has an importance in Muslim ethics which promote it beyond a praised merit. Religious texts are full of moral examples of humility and many great religious people have been praised for having this quality.
While being humble before parents, fellow believers, one's teacher and student has been advised, showing humility when facing arrogant ones and disbelievers has been prohibited. Also, humility of the poor before the rich because of their wealth has been considered reprehensible.
Meaning and Usage
The meaning of "Tawāḍuʿ" (Arabic: التواضع) is humility and humbleness. In the Qur'an, the word Tawadu' has not been mentioned, but other words are mentioned which approximately mean the same such as khushū' (humility), khashya (fear), ikhbāt (humbleness), dhalla (abasement), khafḍ janāḥ (lowering the wings).
Some linguists have distinguished some delicate differences between the meanings of these words such as:
- Showing humility while having competence as "abasement" shows the person's incompetence against another, and one's humility against his servants is not out of his incompetence before them.
- Also, it has been said that tawadu' depends on one's dispositions and body and heart actions and khushū' depends on the manner of one's limbs as approved by the famous saying "when the heart becomes humble, the limbs show humility."
- It is also said that tawadu' is demonstrated by the tongue and actions and khushū' is seen in the heart.
The meaning of tawadu' as humility is clear and almost the same in all systems of ethics and does not need a special definition, however there are different definitions for it in some Islamic sources, including that, "tawadu' is to consent to a position lower than what one deserves."
Humility in Muslims Ethics
It has an importance in Muslim ethics which promote it beyond a praised merit. It can be seen in its importance in the Qur'an and the Qur'an's clear opposition to arrogance of the Age of Ignorance, when humility was not considered among noble dispositions of people and even sometimes, they regarded worshipping idols so good that it did not contradict with their arrogance. On the contrary, what is understood from Qur'anic teachings is definite rejection of arrogance toward God and other people. With regards to this issue and also that the glorious Qur'an considers their arrogance and transgression among major attributes of disbelievers, it can be understood that humility is against arrogance, has a strong connection with faith and is one of the major elements of faith. It is clearly seen in the word "Islam", which means "humble submission".
In the Qur'an
In verse 35 of the Qur'an 33, "khushū'" – which has been interpreted in some commentaries as "tawadu'" – is mentioned among the attributes of believers. Also in verse 63 of the Qur'an 25, when the servants of the All-Compassionate are being described, it is mentioned that "they walk humbly on the earth". According to some commentaries, this description can suggest having humility before other people. From the close connection between humility and faith, it can be understood that the truth of humility is humility before the greatness of God.
In the life of the Prophet (s), there are many narrations about his humility including that he (s) was humble since childhood and to show it before God, he (s) used to sit like servants (not leaning against anything) and ate like servants. Also, there are many reports about humility of Imams (a).
It has also been mentioned that other Prophets (s) have also been humble. According to a narration, God told Prophet Moses (a), "I chose you for Prophethood, for there is no one more humble than you among people."
Religious texts are full of moral examples of humility and many great religious figures have been praised for having this quality. Also, there are many hadiths have been narrated about humility from the Prophet (s) and Imams (a). In the sermon of the Pious in Nahj al-balagha, humility has been mentioned among the attributes of the pious and in a hadith, Imam al-Baqir (a) has mentioned humility as an essential sign of a Shi'a.
Humility before God
In hadiths, having humility before God has been emphasized which shows the relation between humility and faith. It is mentioned in Misbah al-shari'a that the truth of humility can only be known by the closed ones and those who have reached the Unity of God. Also, according to hadiths, humility before Greatness of God is required for acceptance of worships such as daily prayers and in another hadith, Imam al-Sadiq (a) has introduced humility itself an act of worship.
As understood from the Qur'an, obligatory acts of worship such as daily prayer and hajj help in removing arrogance and development of humility. Accordingly, in supplications transmitted from Imams (a), humility has been mentioned among the requests of a believer from God.
Humility before Believers
According to a hadith, a believer is responsible to be humble before other believers and avoids ostentation before them. It seems that because a believer evaluates everything according to its distance from God, and assesses the value of worldly blessings with regards to the hereafter and thus tries to have a pious life out of humility and levels his life with the lives of the poorest. The conduct and lifestyle of the Prophet (s) clearly shows this.
Fruits of Humility
According to hadiths, humility is related with intellect and knowledge. Based on the prophetic hadith, asking God for knowledge leads to increase of humility in the person. In a hadith from Imam al-Kazim (a), humility has been mentioned as the conveyance of intellect.
According to hadiths, another fruit of humility is grandeur and honor in this world. The expression "one who is humble for [the sake of] God, God will dignify him" from the Prophet (s), has been repeated in different sources and its messages have been mentioned in other hadiths from Imams (a).
Forbidding Showing Humility before Some People
According to hadiths, while being humble before parents, fellow believers, one's teacher and student has been advised, showing humility when facing arrogant ones and disbelievers has been prohibited. Also, humility of the poor before the rich because of their wealth has been considered Makruh (reprehensible).
Signs of Humility
In some hadiths, some detailed issues such as the signs of humility have been discussed as below:
- Preceding in saying greeting
- Sitting in less important places of the gathering
- Eating with servant.
- And be kind and lower your wings to the believers who follow you. Qur'an 26:215- And lower your wings for the believers (be courteous to the fellow-believers). Qur'an 15:88
- The material for this article is mainly taken from تواضع in Farsi Wikishia.