The only source of Dignity is Allah
We will talk about the Honor and Dignity (‘Ezzah) of the Muslim Ummah. ‘Ezzah encompasses meanings of Honor, Dignity, Might, and Glory, and its opposite is Zillah or humility. Today we will say, “Yes” to Honor and “No” to humility. A Muslim only accepts Honor and never settles to humility.
Allah wants us to be an Honorable and Mighty Ummah, so why do we drift ourselves to the weakness of humility? Do you know how we sowed the seeds of humility in our Ummah? When a Muslim father slaps his wife on the face, in front of his children, he’s sowing the seeds of humility. When a teacher beats a student or punishes him or her in a humiliating way and when a father punishes his son in front of his friends, they are both sowing seeds of humiliation. All these things make a Muslim used to humiliation and make us forget that we were to be honorable people.
A persons feeling of self-honor is something that could either be developed or impaired. The Messenger of Allah (SAWS) showed us how to develop this feeling in our children. One day Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) was sitting with the some of his respected Companions and on his right was Ibn-Abbas who was still a young teenager. When the Messenger of Allah used to drink in such a gathering, he would pass the cup to the one sitting on his right to drink also. Then this person on his right would pass it onto the one on his right and so on. In this specific situation it would mean that Ibn-Abbas, a young teenager, would drink before big names like Abu Bakr and Omar Ibnu-Khattab. So when Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) drank and was going to pass the cup he asked Ibn-Abbas, “Would you give me the permission to give your share to my dear brothers before you?” Of course the Prophet (SAWS) could have just given them the cup and it would be understandable because the preference would be to elder Muslims especially if they are as respected as Abu Bakr. But Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) wanted to develop Ibn-Abbas’ feeling of self-esteem and dignity and didn’t want to make him feel that he had no importance or that he was weightless. Ibn-Abbas replied, “By Allah, I could never give my portion from you to anybody else” (drinking right after Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) from the same cup was a privilege to Ibn-Abbas), and Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) let him drink first. See how Islam develops our sense of ‘Ezzah?
In Muslim countries you see that companies respect and honor the foreign non-Muslim expert, but the local expert with the same expertise and skill is not treated the same, this makes us feel humiliated. I will never forget when I was on a plane one day and the take-off was postponed. The plane had both Arabs and non-Arabs. One of the crewmembers passed by every single non-Arab apologizing for the delay and didn’t apologize to a single Arab, this increases ones sense of humility.
Self-Respect and Honor are genuine Arab characters. An Arab would prefer death to humiliation. The sense of self-honor and might is integrated even in the Pre-Islamic Arab. Do you know why the door of the Ka’ba is lifted above the ground? So that no one could enter it except with the Makkahns permission. The Pagan Arabs of Makkah before Islam honored the Ka’ba so much and felt that it violates their ‘Ezzah and Glory to let anyone enter the Ka’ba without their permission. Compare this to present Muslim Arabs; the entire Al-Aqsa Mosque is occupied, and many Muslim lands as well. Muslim blood has become the cheapest. Where is our sense of dignity, self-respect and might? Where is our ‘Ezzah, Is it gone?
The individual Muslim must maintain his own Honor and Dignity so that the whole Ummah could get its Honor and Dignity back. But how does one do that? If you want self-respect, glory and honor, get it from its source… Allah!
Allah says, “Whoever is willing to (gain) might, then to Allah belongs the might altogether.” (TMQ[xiii], 35:10). There is no other source. This is today’s Divine Law, The only source of ‘Ezzah is Allah. You can’t get Glory or Honor from any other human being or country, only from Allah, because Allah is The “Mu’ez” and The Muzel”, which means “The Bestower of Honor” and “The Humiliator”. An honorable person today might be a low person tomorrow, and a rich person today might be poor tomorrow, so don’t go to another human being for Honor, go to Allah. Allah says, “Say, ‘O Allah, (The Arabic word has the supplication suffix umma) Possessor of the Kingship, You bring the kingship to whomever You decide, and You draw (Literally: pluck out) the kingship from whomever You decide, and You render mighty whomever You decide, and You humiliate whomever You decide. In Your Hand is (the) Charity; (i.e., the choicest) surely You are Ever-Determiner over everything.’” (TMQ, 3:26).
Allah refuses that any of His servants be humiliated or express humility except in two cases:
1) Humiliating oneself in front of Allah
2) Humility to ones parents. Allah says, “And lower to them the wing of humbleness out of mercy and say, ‘Lord! Have mercy on them, as they reared me (when I was) small.’” (TMQ, 17:24).
There is a third situation when Allah accepts that a Muslim expresses humility. But the humility in this case is not the humility that implies passiveness and loss of dignity but rather implies mutual mercy and humbleness. Allah says, “…then Allah will eventually come up with a people He loves and who love Him, humble towards the believers, mightily proud towards the disbelievers.” (TMQ, 5:54). Therefore, our relationship with our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters should be a relationship of mutual respect mercy and humbleness.
How do we become humiliated in this world?
Four things lead us to the lowliness of humiliation and weakness and loss of respect:
1) Obeying Shaytan (Satan). Shaytan wants to humiliate us and he clearly expressed this intention. Allah says, “Said he (Shaytan), ‘Have You seen? This, whom you have honored above me, indeed in case you defer me to the Day of the Resurrection, indeed I will definitely bring his offspring under my subjection, (Literally: under my palate; i.e., between my jaws) except a few.’” (TMQ, 17:62). The word in Arabic that Shaytan used to describe what he will do to us was “la-ahtanekanna” this word describes a position in which one person is pulling an animal by a rope that is tied or fixed to the animal’s mouth. So Shaytan wants to pull us this way, which is extremely humiliating when you think about it. If you obey Shaytan, then you are approaching this image and the signs of humility will start to appear on you.
2) Following your desires. If you always follow your desires you are steadily approaching weakness and lowliness. This is one of the wisdoms of fasting in Ramadan. Ramadan is a time when you tell your inner desires “I’m in control! Not you”. The desire to eat and drink is an example of our inner desires and fasting Ramadan teaches us how to tame them.
3) Becoming numb towards Allah, Islam, and your Ummah. When that happens, you loose your sense of belonging to something great, and you will search for another identity. This search for an alternative identity to Islam leads to a sense of lowliness and humiliation.
4) Loosing confidence in Allah and that everything has been decreed by Him. Constant fear of the future makes a person loose his sense of Honor and Dignity. Imam Ali (RA) once said, “Why should I ever fear death? If today is not the day during which Allah had decreed that I should die, then why should I worry? And if it is the day, then fearing it will certainly not change what Allah had decreed.”
Think about yourself, do you have any of the previous four? If you do, you must change, or else you will lead yourself to humiliation and those around you will humiliate you.
History tells us that there was a time when Muslims reached a very a severe level of humility and lowliness, when the Tatars sacked Baghdad. Its said that a woman would come to a dozen Muslim men and tell them “Look, I don’t have a sword to kill you all, so all of you go face that wall until I bring one.” Yes, they actually obeyed her and waited for her to bring a sword and kill them all.
Compare these men to Omar Ibnul-Khattab (RA). Omar Ibnul-Khattab was a great example for those who want to see the ‘Ezzah of a Muslim. Until the sixth year after Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) started conveying the Message of Islam, the Muslims were always meeting in secrecy out of fear from the non-Believers’ oppression. In such an atmosphere, Omar embraced Islam. The minute after he became a Muslim he asked Prophet Muhammad (SAWS), “O Messenger of Allah, aren’t we right?” the Prophet (SAWS) replied with yes. Omar then asked, “And aren’t they (non-Believers) wrong?” the Prophet replied again with yes. Then Omar asked, “Then why are we hiding??” The Messenger of Allah (SAWS) asked him, “What do you think we should do?” Omar replied, “I say we walk out of this house! March in the streets, and yell ‘Allahu Akbar!’ (God is Greatest), and march around the Ka’ba so that all of them see us!!” And that was exactly what they did, and not a single non-Believer could do a thing about it! Ever since, things started to change for the Muslims, for they now had Omar on their side.
The same thing happened when the migration to Medina started. Most of the Muslims left Makkah silently and secretly, but Omar (RA) just couldn’t do so. He put on his arms and then he went to the Ka’ba and prayed. The chiefs of Makkah looked at him in silence. After the prayer, he told them, “I am leaving for Medina. If anyone wants his child to become an orphan, wife to become a widow, or his mother to weep him in sorrow, then let him follow me across this valley!!” Of course, no body moved.
When the Muslims opened Jerusalem, the Christians refused to give the keys of the city except to Omar in person (the Caliph at that time). So Omar Ibnul-Khattab (RA) set off from Medina to Jerusalem. Omar had only one attendant with him and only one camel to ride and they rode it by turns. It happened to be the servant’s turn to ride on the day when they were to reach Jerusalem. “Commander of the Faithful,” said the attendant, “I give up my turn. It will look awkward, in the eyes of the people, if I ride and you lead the camel.” “Oh no,” replied Omar, “I am not going to be unjust. The honor of Islam is enough for us all.” (Notice how Omar is developing the servant’s sense of self-honor the way Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) did with Ibn-Abbas?)
While walking, Omar had to cross a muddy area and so he took off his footwear and put it under is arm and raised his clothes so that it wouldn’t get muddy. When Abu Obayda (one of the commanders waiting for Omar) saw this, he ran to Omar asking him to ride the camel while entering the city. Abu Obayda also expressed his concern about the outer appearance of Omar, for they were in a land where the quality of clothes reflected the rank of people. Omar replied with a sigh, “Abu Obayda, let someone other than you say that. Have you forgotten that we were a low people and it was Islam that made us honorable? If we seek Honor from anything other than Islam, Allah will return us back again to that state of lowliness.”
Another example of honor and dignity was given by one of the companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS), his name was Rab’ia Ibn-Amer (RA). The Messenger of Allah (SAWS) sent him with a message to Rostrum the famous Persian General. Rostrum wanted to dazzle Rab’ia and so he covered the desert sand leading to his Royal tent with precious silk Persian carpets and made hundreds of beautiful Persian women stand in two lines on both sides of the road leading to his tent. Rab’ia got off of his horse and started to march confidently towards the tent stabbing holes in the carpets with his spear with every step, he didn’t even look at the women around him. Rostrum was disturbed by this and asked Rab’ia what he wanted. Rab’ia confidently replied, “We have come to take mankind from the darkness to the light and from the worship of the false gods to the worship of Allah, from the narrowness of this world to the wide expanse of this world and the next, and from the injustices of man made religions to the justice of Islam.” The honor and dignity that Islam planted in Rab’ia’s heart gave him the power to stand in front of Rostrum and say what he said.
I don’t want our Muslim sisters to think that all the examples for dignity and honor are related to men only. Asma’ Bint-Abu-Bakr taught all Muslims how one should stand up for his or her beliefs. Abdullah Ibn-Az-Zubayr (her son) was running for the Caliphate after the death of Yazid Ibn-Mu’awiyah. The Hijaz, Egypt, Iraq, Khurasan and much of Syria were favorable to him and acknowledged him as the Caliph. The Ummayyads however continued to contest the Caliphate and to field a massive army under the command of Al-Hajjaj Ibn-Yusuf Ath-Thaqafi. Relentless battles were fought between the two sides during which Abdullah Ibn-Az-Zubayr displayed great acts of courage and heroism. Many of his supporters however could not withstand the continuous strain of battle and gradually began to desert him. Finally he sought refuge in the Sacred Mosque at Makkah. It was then that he went to his mother, now an old blind woman. He expressed to her his fear of the current situation and how everyone was deserting him and whether she thought he should hand himself in to the Ummayyads. Asma’ (RA) replied strongly, “It’s your affair, Abdullah, and you know yourself better. If however you think that you are right and that you are standing up for the Truth then persevere and fight on as your companions who were killed under your flag had shown perseverance. If however you desire the world, what a miserable wretch you are. You would have destroyed yourself and you would have destroyed your men.”
Abdullah told her that he isn’t fearing death, but he fears that they will mutilate his body after they kill him. His mother told him, “There is nothing after death that man should be afraid of. Skinning does not cause any pain to the slaughtered sheep.” See how she encouraged her son to stand with honor and dignity for what he sees is right? When Abdullah heard that his face lightened and he said, “What a blessed mother! Blessed be your noble qualities! I have come to you at this hour to hear what I have heard.” He hugged his mother, but while Asma’ wrapped her arms around her son’s body she felt something hard under his shirt so she asked him what it was and he told her that it was his armor. Asma’ said, “This, my son, is not the dress of one who desires martyrdom. Take it off. That will make your movements lighter and quicker. Wear instead the sirwal (a long under garment) so that if you are killed, your private parts would not be exposed.” He went out and fought and was killed. Al-Hajjaj hung his body on a cross waiting for Asma’ to come and beg him to take her son’s body down but she didn’t. Al-Hajjaj now furious went to her trying to provoke her saying, “See what your son did? See what he made me do to him?” But this honorable woman stood up to Al-Hajjaj and replied, “By Allah, I only see that you have ruined his life, and he has ruined your After-life!” Al-Hajjaj was a name that when heard would make strong men faint from fear. But Asma’ Bint-Abu-Bakr stood strongly in front of him, she stood with ‘Ezzah.
This was how Muslims felt. Honor and dignity were embedded in their hearts. And we all know about the Muslim woman who was slapped in the land of the Romans and who cried her historical cry, “O Mu’tasim!” Every Muslim at that time felt that he or she had an identity and dignity. The Caliph Al-Mu’tasim heard about her cry and said, “Here I am, O sister”, and sent his soldiers to attack the Romans in the famous battle of ‘Amouriyyah. When the honor of one single woman was endangered, the Muslim army moved to rescue her… (Sigh) look at us today, and look how many of our women were killed and raped, and look at how we respond. We need our Honor and Dignity back! We need our Might and Glory back! We need our ‘Ezzah!! And we could only get it from Allah, so let us flee back to Allah!
Its interesting to find in the Quran that ‘Ezzah is frequently coupled with Wisdom or Mercy. That’s because Allah wants to teach us that Honor, Glory and Might should not mean transgressing or being irrational and violent, but instead a feeling of self-honor and dignity enveloped with mercy, wisdom and good behavior.
Finally, I would like to finish this lecture with a Hadith that sends shivers through my body. The Messenger of Allah (SAWS) said, “Whoever allowed a Muslim to be humiliated while he could assist him, Allah will humiliate him in front of the entire creation on the Day of Judgment”. Let us do our best to lift the humiliation from above our brothers and sisters in Palestine and Iraq and our entire Ummah. Let us change our personal condition towards Honor and Dignity, because unless we change our own condition, Allah will not change the condition of our Ummah.
[xiii] TMQ=Translation of the Meaning of the Qur’an. This translation is for the realized meaning, so far, of the stated (Surah:Ayah) of the Qur’an. Reading the translated meaning of the Qur’an can never replace reading it in Arabic, the language in which it was revealed.