by Ibrahim B. Syed,
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA
In Arabic Tawadu means modesty and humility.
Humility is the quality or state of being humble. The virtue of tawadu is the
opposite of arrogance, pride and haughtiness. Humbleness means not assuming, not
pretentious, insignificant, and lowly. We must put all our pride away. We must
always thank Allah when we pray. All of us are equal to one another, and no
one's better than anyone. What distinguishes us from others is the faith we have
which Allah sees, deep inside our hearts. One should try hard to simply be
humble and never act too proud. It's always best to be modest and keep our feet
on the ground. Because pride will eat us up inside if we're arrogant and loud.
One can sincerely confess, "Everybody else is good but I am bad; everybody else
is wheat but I am chaff", and then those of the highest stature in the heavens
are kissing him on the head. Prophet (pbuh) said: "Whoever is humble, God exalts
him, and whoever is haughty, God humiliates him." This means that being really
great is inversely proportional to behaving as being small. This could be
discerned from the lives of Prophets, Sahaba (companions of the Prophet (pbuh),
Saints, great scholars, great men and women, Noble laureates.
Humility in the Companions
A Companion sees Caliph ‘Umar (RA- may God be pleased with him), carry water in
a pitcher on his shoulder and asks him: ‘What are you about, O Caliph of God’s
Messenger?’ Hadrat ‘Umar (RA), who is one of the foremost in nearness to God,
answers: ‘some envoys have come from other countries. I have felt some conceit
(excessively high opinion of oneself, one's appearance or ability: vanity) in my
heart and wanted to suppress (subdue) it.’ ‘Umar (RA) used to carry flour on his
back. Once he accused himself while giving sermon from the pulpit and he did not
respond to those who criticized him. Like ‘Umar, Abu Hurayra (RA) carried wood
for some time while he was the deputy governor of Madina. When he was the chief
judge in Madina, Zayd ibn Thabit kissed the hand of Ibn ‘Abbas, and Ibn ‘Abbas,
known as the Interpreter of the Qur’an and the Scholar of the Umma, helped Zayd
get on his horse. Imam Hasan (RA), the Grandson of the Prophet, upon him be
peace and blessings, sat together with some children who were eating bread
crumbs and ate with them. Once Abu Dharr (RA) offended Bilal Habashi (RA) and in
order that Bilal might forgive him, put his head on the ground and said: ‘If the
blessed feet of Bilal do not tread on this sinful head, it will not rise from
the ground.’ All these events and many similar others are instances of humility.
Both God Almighty and His Messenger emphasized humility so much that one who
knows of it feels no doubt that servanthood consists in humility. The Qur’anic
expression, "the servants of the All-Merciful are they who walk on the earth in
modesty, and if the impudent (rude people) offend them, they continue their way
saying ‘Peace!’ (25:63). The Qur'an praises humility, and the Divine statements;
Allah loves a people who are "humble toward believers" (5:54) and merciful among
themselves. Allah (SWT) says, "You find them bowing down and falling prostrate
(48:29)". These are expressions of praise for their ingrained humility reflected
in their conduct.
Concerning humility, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) declares: " God has ordered me that
you must be humble and that no one must boast to another. Shall I inform you of
one whom Hellfire will not touch? Hellfire will not touch one who is near to God
and amiable (agreeable) with people, and mild and easy to get on with. God
exalts one who is humble. That one sees himself as small but he is truly great
in the sight of people. O God! Make me see myself as small. "
Nabi Kareem (pbuh) lived as the most humble of people.
He stopped at the places where children were,
greeted them and played with them.
If someone held him by the hand and wanted to
lead him somewhere, he never objected.
He helped his wives with housework.
When people were working, he worked together
He mended his shoes and clothes, milked sheep
and fed animals.
He sat at the table with his servant.
He always welcomed the poor warmly.
He looked after widows and orphans.
He visited the ill, followed funerals and
answered the call of the slaves in the community.
The beloved servants of God, from Rasoolullah
(SAS), to Caliph ‘Umar (RA) and the Umayyad Caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-’Aziz and
from him to numerous saints, purified and perfected scholars, and those honored
with nearness to God, have held that the sign of greatness in the great men and
women is humility and modesty, while the signs of smallness in the small is
arrogance and vanity, and they aimed thereby to guide people to the way of
becoming perfect men. For those who have realized their nothingness before God
Almighty are always balanced in both their religious lives and their relations
with people. They have no problems with either the revealed truths of religion
or in matters related to human reason. If Qur’anic revelations appear to them as
contradictory to human reason or established rational or scientific facts;
instead of objecting to them, they try to learn the truth of the matter. Those
who have achieved humility are completely convinced of the superiority of the
revealed truths. They are certain that it is impossible to be prosperous in the
Aakhirah (other world) by following the ways that oppose the Qur’an and the
Sunnah. They find the greatest source of power is to become an Abdullah (in
servanthood to God). In reality, one who worships God never lowers himself to
adore anybody else. Sa'id Nursi Bediuzzaman 1 said: " Do not boast of yourself
in a way to see yourself as greater than others. Those who are truly humble do
not attribute to themselves the fruits of their work and efforts, nor do they
regard as a cause of superiority over others. They give credit to Allah (SWT)
for their successes."
In short, just as humility is the portal (entrance) to good conduct or being
characterized with the qualities of God (such as generosity, merciful, helpful,
forgiving, etc.), it is also the first and foremost means of being near to both
the created and the Creator. The time when a believer is nearest to God is when
he is prostrate (Sajada) before Him.
Humility of Abu Bakr
Hadrat Abu Bakr (RA) was very humble. When he would see a bird, he would sigh
that he were like such a bird. He would often say that he would prefer to be a
hair on the body of a Muslim. When he went to perform the 'Hajj', and some
people walked in his train (caravan), he asked them not to follow him, but to go
their own way. Before becoming the Caliph he used to milk the goats in the
neighborhood. After becoming the Caliph when Abu Bakr passed the street, one of
the women remarked
"he has become the Caliph and he would no longer milk the goats." Abu Bakr heard
these remarks and said that the caliphate made no difference to him, and that he
would continue to milk their goats. If any one praised him, he would say, "O
Allah, You know me more than myself, and I know myself more than these people
who praise me. Make me better than what they think of me, and forgive those sins
of mine of which they have no knowledge, and do not hold me responsible for what
Ali’s humility 2
Hadrat Imam Ali (RA) was humble, detested showiness (pretension) and conceit
(haughtiness, pride, superiority, vanity, and self-importance). Even as Caliph
he used to sweep the floor of his own house, chop wood for fuel, carry water on
his shoulders, mend his own shoes, wash his own clothes and milk his goat. Ali's
(RA) wife Fatimah (R.Aa) did similar domestic jobs with her own hands, grinding
wheat in the hand-mill, baking bread, lighting the oven, washing the dishes and
tending to her children.
One day with when he was returning home with a bag of dates from the bazaar, he
received many offers from people anxious to carry the bag for him. Hadrat Imam
Ali (RA) refused them all, saying, "Whosoever is responsible for looking after
his children, has the bigger responsibility of carrying the burden himself." Ali
(RA), was often seen walking barefooted and on one occasion when he happened to
be riding a horse he was distressed to find people following him on foot. When
he asked them what they wanted, he was told that they felt elated by walking in
his retinue (entourage, followers). To this Ali (RA) replied, "Go back to your
business. By walking behind a rider, you will breed feelings of inferiority in
yourselves and infect me with arrogance (conceit)."
On another occasion when Ali (RA) was discussing the essential qualities of a
ruler in a sermon, a member of the congregation rose and praised Ali (RA) for
his eloquence. Ali (RA) said that his subjects ought not to praise him, for he
wanted no flattery, being all too conscious of his own unworthiness. Concluding
his sermon he said, "To a person who has been influenced by the superb Majesty
of God, everything else appears petty (little, trivial, insignificant) and
frivolous (playful). He looks upon all other things as shallow and trivial. The
worst ruler is one who is given to pride and arrogance and hears flattering
words from others. All praise is due to God. You should not praise me because I
herewith declare before God and all of you that are here, that I have many
responsibilities, which still lie undischarged. In the face of this how can any
one applaud me and consider me praiseworthy? You should not accord me that
treatment which is only befitting to tyrants. Neither become afraid of me nor
ever hesitate to tell the truth. Do not show any consideration to me if you feel
that I am wanting in justice, and never conceal the truth from me. I cannot
trust any flatterer (one who praises too much, toady) because he might mislead
his tempting talk and me might beguile (entice) me into vainglory (vacuum,
vagabond). I pray to God to save me from an erroneous path. We men are all alike
and there is no other Master than God."
Sayings of Imam Ali (RA) 3
"Humility is your best friend in Life. If you are humble, your humility shall
help you in your difficult time. Anyone who falls into the grip of an unkind
person, and then talks to him with humility, his humble talk shall give relief
to him. By humility he shall always be respected. Humility is a light in your
life. Your life shall be enlightened with humility. People who come across you
and find you humble, shall be delighted to meet you. All people will mark your
good behaviour and humility, and they will be satisfied with your humble nature.
Humility therefore, is the beauty of life. If you are humble, ALL people shall
respect you and offer you a better seat and position. If you prefer to take a
lower seat, you will be liked by all. Be humble and you will be very much
respected by people who love those who are humble. Remember, everyone desires to
take the side of the scale that stays downwards (the scale that is heavy). Man
is upgraded by his humble nature. You always respect and salute people with your
hand and that hand is called ‘THE RIGHTHAND'. The right hand is liked by people.
You also eat meals with your right hand. You will be greatly benefited if you
will not keep arrogance in your mind. Your life shall be happy, and you can live
a long and happy life. If you have peace and happiness in your heart anyone who
will come across you will be delighted and happy.
O Momins do not be harsh to anyone in your life and always be humble. Be soft as
silk, since silk lasts long. Keep your heart humble and delicate.
O Momins, you have seen how green and tender the grass is. Keep your heart soft,
tender, and delicate like the grass. Do not be hard and tough like a big tree in
the jungle. When there is a storm, a big and hard tree collapses soon but the
tender and delicate grass stays safe and sound. Even the wind and storm cannot
harm the tender and delicate grass.
O Momins, be soft hearted; keep your heart tender and soft like butter. You know
that pure butter is excellent. When food is cooked with pure butter, it tastes
Similarly, a delicate heart and mind gives happiness to all. It gives peace and
contentment to our body, mind and heart. A narrow-minded person is hard and
tough to others. Thus he has lots of enemies.
O Momins, if you will talk politely to others, you will be able to capture the
hearts of people. A king can tie the hands and legs of people who live in his
country, but he
cannot tie the hearts of the people. Anyone who knows how to speak politely and
sweetly will make all people his friends, and is liked by one and all. Thus he
gains immense benefits in life. The Almighty ALLAH blesses anyone who speaks
politely and humbly. Talk politely with all people and you will please all.
Remember there is Almighty ALLAH in the hearts of all. Therefore, if you will
please their hearts, the Almighty Allah will shower His Choicest Blessings upon
you. Be kind and polite to all and you will experience, that all will become
your good friends. In your daily life you always come across your fellow
brothers and sisters, so always be humble, polite and soft to them. A merchant
who knows how to talk sweetly finds that his trade increases, his business
expands and he can do good business. This world is like a bazaar. Speak politely
to capture the hearts of people. In the hearts of all people Our Lord, is seated
and if you have the desire to meet our Lord you have to be humble, soft and
polite with all your fellow brothers and sisters.
O Momins, treat others as the elders. Think yourself as being small. Anyone who
understood this high and great principle of LIFE has known the Truth and has
expressed the beauty of RELIGION.
THE MODESTY OF GOD’S MESSENGER 4
In social life each man has a window called status through which he looks out to
see others and be seen. If the window is built higher than his real stature, he
vanity and stretches himself up to be seen taller than he really is. If the
window is set lower than his real stature, he must bow in humility in order to
look out, to see and be seen. Humility is the measure of a man’s greatness; just
as vanity or conceit is the measure of low character.
God’s Messenger had a stature as high as to touch the ‘roof of heavens’, so he
had no need to be seen. He lowers himself to stay in the world for a while so
that people might find the way to God. Since he is the greatest of mankind, he
is the greatest in modesty - the greater one is, the more modest he/she is.
Rasoolullah (SAS) never regarded himself as greater than anybody else. No one
could distinguish him among his Companions except for his radiant face and
attractive personality. He lived as the poorest of them, dressed like them, sat
among them and ate with them, as he did with slaves and servants. Once, a woman
saw him eating and remarked: ‘He is eating as if he were a slave.’ Rasoolullah
(SAS) responded to her, saying: Could there be a better slave than me? I am a
slave of God. He was once serving his friends, when a Bedouin came in and
shouted: ‘Who is the master of this people?’ The answer of Rasoolullah (SAS) was
such, that, besides introducing himself, it also expressed a substantial
principle of Islamic leadership and public administration: The master of the
people is the one who serves them. In the words of Imam ‘Ali (RA), ‘among
people, he was one of them’. When he reached Quba accompanied by Abu Bakr (RA)
during Hijra, some people of Madina, who had not seen him before, tried to kiss
the hands of Abu Bakr, because outwardly, there was no sign to distinguish the
Prophet from Abu Bakr.
In the construction of the Mosque in Madina after the Hijra, he carried two
sun-dried bricks while everybody else carried one. In the digging of the ditch
around Madina to defend the city in the Battle of the Ditch, the Companions
bound a stone around their bellies because of hunger, but God’s Messenger
himself bound two, because he was hungrier than anybody else. Once, a man saw
him and, due to his awe-inspiring appearance, began to tremble out of fear.
Rasoolullah (SAS) calmed him, saying: ‘Brother, don’t be afraid! I am a man,
like you, whose mother used to eat dry bread.’ Again, a woman suffering from
insanity pulled him by the hand and said: ‘Come with me and do my housework.’
God’s Messenger went with the woman and did the housework. As reported by
‘A’isha (RAa), mother of believers, God’s Messenger patched his clothes,
repaired his shoes and helped his wives with the housework.
Although his modesty elevated him to ‘the highest of the high’, he regarded
himself as an ordinary servant of God. Once he said: No one can enter Paradise
by his deeds. When asked whether he could not either, he answered: I cannot
either, but for the Mercy of God. His Companions attempted to do nothing without
consulting him or getting his permission or approval. Once, Hadrat ‘Umar came to
him and asked his permission to go for (Umra) minor pilgrimage. Rasoolullah
(SAS) gave him permission and made this request: Brother, include me in your
Du'as (supplications). ‘Umar rejoiced so much at that one day he was to say
later: ‘If the worlds had been granted to me that day, I would not have felt the
In addition to the other virtues of the Prophet (SAS), his humility was one of
the greatest qualities. As he attained a higher rank each and every day, he
increased in humility and servanthood to God. His servanthood is prior to his
Messengership, as we mention in the declaration of faith: I bear witness that
there is no god but God; I also bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and
Messenger. He preferred being a Prophet-slave to being a Prophet-king (Prophets
David (AS) and Solomon (AS)).
God praises his servanthood and mentions him as a servant in several verses of
When the servant of God stood up in prayer to Him, they (the jinn) were well
nigh upon him in swarms (to watch his prayer). (Al-Jinn, 72:19)
"And if you are in doubt concerning that which We have sent down on Our servant,
then bring a Surah of the like thereof, and call your witnesses beside God if
you are truthful. (Al-Baqara, 2:23)
After the death of Khadija and Abu Talib, Rasoolullah (SAS) became convinced
that he could no longer stay in Makkah with any hope of victory or security.
Before things became too critical, he went to Ta’if in search of a new base for
his faith, but he received there the worst kind of welcome. At a time when he
felt himself without support and protection, God manifested His Mercy perfectly
and honored him with the Ascension (Meraj), raising him to His Presence. While
narrating this incident in the Qur’an, God mentions him, again, as His servant
to show that God’s Messenger deserves Ascension through his servanthood:
"Glory be to him, Who carried His servant by night from the Holy Mosque to the
Furthest Mosque, the precincts of which We have blessed, that We might show him
some of Our signs. He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing. (Al-Isra’, 17:1)
Humility is the most important aspect of the servanthood of God’s Messenger, who
declared: "Whoever is humble, God exalts him, and whoever is haughty, God abases
Hadrat Imam ‘Ali (RA) describes the Prophet (pbuh), " God’s Messenger was the
most generous of people in giving out and the mildest and the foremost of them
in patience and perseverance. He was the most truthful of people in speech, the
most amiable (agreeable) and congenial (friendly, pleasant) in companionship and
the noblest of them in family. Whoever sees him first is stricken by awe of him
but whoever knows him closely is attracted to him deeply, and whoever attempts
to describe him says: ‘I have, either before him or after him, never seen the
like of him, upon him be peace and blessings’.
1. Fethullah Gulen, Tawadu. On line at www.Islamic-Paths.Org
2. Yousef N. Lalljee. Ali the Magnificent. Published by Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an,
Elmhurst, NY 11377-0115, 1981
4. Modesty of God's Messenger. On line at