WHEN Iblees came across the soulless body of Adam عليه السلام – which Allah had created from sticky clay and left to dry – he inspected it and found it hollow. So, Iblees dismissed Adam as a creation without mettle and lesser in worth.
The story of Iblees’ disobedience that followed is well-known. But what is worth reflecting on is the malaise of this eternally-cursed creation, who was once the most righteous among the Jinn and had earned the prestige of being among Allah’s angels.
When Allah reprimanded him, Iblees defiantly argued, “I am better than him.”
Iblees basked in self-righteousness and concluded from Adam’s apparent “shortcomings” that he was better than Adam.
Sometimes, we too tend to develop a similar malaise and the Quran and Sunnah are full of examples that expose this pitfall: The brothers of Yusuf عليه السلام felt they were better than Yusuf; the Jews of Madinah looked down upon the “misguided” Arabs; and the Prophet ﷺ declared that the “martyr”, who the Sahabah were impressed with, was in the Hellfire.
Yet it was Yusuf عليه السلام who was honored and the Arabs who embraced Islam.
In contrast to the ‘martyr’s’ story, the Prophet ﷺ himself defended the faith of a Sahabi who was repeatedly caught and punished for drinking alcohol, and said that he “loves Allah and His Messenger.” Subhan Allah.
One could be doing the best job in the sight of people and yet be the worst person in the sight of Allah. And one could be lowly in the sight of people and yet have a high status in the sight of Allah.
Many shades of gray
While these may be extreme cases, there are also many shades of gray that we muddle up when it comes to the idea of religiosity.
When we start to practice Islam, we tend to have a very narrow definition of what piety or impiety looks like.
Once, while sitting with a group of his Companions, the Prophet ﷺ said that the man who would enter next was a person of Paradise. He ﷺ said this on three consecutive days and on all three days it was the same man from Al-Ansar. Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Al-As رضي الله عنه, on a quest to find out what made the man special, stayed with him for three nights. He found nothing special – the man wasn’t fasting all day or praying all night, for example. So, Abdullah asked and the man revealed that he did not harbor in his heart ill feeling or envy toward any of his fellow Muslims.
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported Allah’s Messenger ﷺ as saying: “Do you know who is bankrupt?” They (the Companions) said: “A bankrupt man amongst us is one who has neither dirham with him nor wealth.” He ﷺ said: “The bankrupt of my Ummah would be he who would come on the Day of Resurrection with prayers and fasts and Zakat but (he would find himself bankrupt on that day as he would have exhausted his funds of virtues) since he hurled abuses upon others, brought calumny against others and unlawfully consumed the wealth of others and shed the blood of others and beat others, and his virtues would be credited to the account of one (who suffered at his hand). And if his good deeds fall short to clear the account, then his sins would be entered in (his account) and he would be thrown in the Hell-Fire.” (Sahih Al Muslim, Book #032, Hadith #6251)
The Prophet ﷺ is also reported to have said, “The most beloved of people according to Allah is he who brings most benefit, and the most beloved of deeds according to Allah the Mighty, the Magnificent, is that you bring happiness to a fellow Muslim, or relieve him of distress, or pay off his debt or stave away hunger from him. It is more beloved to me that I walk with my brother Muslim in his time of need than I stay secluded in the mosque for a month. Whoever holds back his anger, Allah will cover his faults and whoever suppresses his fury while being able to execute it, Allah will fill his heart with satisfaction on the Day of Standing. Whoever walks with his brother Muslim in need until he establishes that for him, Allah will establish his feet firmly on the day when all feet shall slip. Indeed, bad character ruins deeds just as vinegar ruins honey.” (Tabarani, Hasan)
Religiosity goes beyond apparent acts of worship
My intention is not to trivialize Islamic learning and worship – not one bit. They are very important, especially in matters that are obligatory as there is no excuse for what is fardh. But my intention is to show from our own traditions that religiosity goes beyond popular and celebrated acts of worship. Ditto for sins. It is vital to have a comprehensive view so we can identify the wider and sometimes deeper aspects of the religion.
There was a man called Uwais al-Qarni about whom the Prophet ﷺ said to Umar رضي الله عنه that when Uwais comes to you “request that he makes du’a of forgiveness for you.” Yes, du’a for Umar – the best man to have ever lived after the prophets and Abu Bakr.
What made Uwais so special? He was a simple, righteous man unknown among his people. He lived during the time of the Prophet ﷺ but could not travel to meet him because he had an elderly mother to take care of. Imagine living while the Prophet ﷺ is alive and not being able to meet him?! It’s unthinkable. Allah raised his status for his sincerity and sacrifice and he became a chosen slave, Subhan Allah.
Fatimah رضي الله عنها, the daughter of the Prophet ﷺ, did not lead a public life. She was a pious woman and a simple housewife. Yet it is Fatimah رضي الله عنها who is the leader of all women of Paradise.
A man who left his wife alone for Hajj and came for voluntary Jihad – in another instance, left his old parents crying and came to give ba’yah for hijrah – was sent back by the Prophet ﷺ.
Let alone degrading others, too many times we get frustrated with ourselves for not being able to do some voluntary deeds because of being stuck, Qaddar Allah, with a “lowly” deed that we don’t think much of. Yet it may be that “lowly” deed that may raise our status in the sight of Allah.
Our misplaced sense of priorities may not only affect our approach toward religion, but also lead us to dismiss righteous people who may be in completely different circumstances than ours and therefore have different priorities in life. Allah says in Surah Muzzammil:
“…He knows that you are unable to pray the whole night, so He has turned to you (in mercy). So, recite you of the Quran as much as may be easy for you. He knows that there will be some among you sick, others travelling through the land, seeking of Allah’s Bounty; yet others fighting in Allah’s Cause. So recite as much of the Quran as may be easy (for you)…”
What if I’m not as religious as you?
The question in my title, What if I’m not as religious as you?, wasn’t therefore simplistic. I really meant: what if I don’t match up to your perception of religiosity (not to mention the trap that the question assumes you are religiously better). Unfortunately we fall for it in real life.
Secondly, how would you deal with me if I fell short of your perceptions and expectations. Would you help me or humiliate me? The reality is that we, even if In-sha Allah practicing Muslims, have different strengths and weaknesses. If some excel in one area, others will in another. Sheikh At-Turaifi mentions this point while talking about one of his teachers in India.
Many of us unfortunately taunt others for their shortcomings till the chickens come home to roost. That isn’t the way to deal with others.
I recently asked someone as to why she constantly gets irritated with her husband. She brought out a list of personal shortcomings he had. Subhan Allah, I wondered, how does that justify your treatment of him? And what makes you think that you do not have an equal number of shortcomings that he puts up with?
Ibn al-Qayyim said, “There is not a slave [of Allah] who taunts his brother [in faith] over a sin except that he himself will be tested with it. If news of so-and-so’s sin reaches you, say to yourself, ‘May Allah forgive us and him.'” 
Every human being will have shortcomings. Believers, with their different strengths, must help each other overcome weaknesses.
A third reason for the title is the sense of shame I feel when I come across an In-sha Allah religious and striving Muslim, because I am reminded of the areas I must improve in. We are encouraged to look up to people better than us.
Just as it isn’t right for others to dismiss me, it isn’t right for me to ignore my own shortcomings. I cannot live in a fool’s paradise and end up affecting my akhirah. You, I and all of us must always strive to get better In-sha Allah. This world is but temporary.
Practicing Islam and religious activism can attract extreme reactions – either opposition that makes your life difficult or exaggerated praise that lands you in the seventh heaven. In the latter case, it would help to stay grounded, even if the world thinks we are awesome.
Unlike Iblees who did not see any fault in himself, the righteous people of the past – may Allah make us like them – were constantly worried about their shortcomings. Muhammad ibn Wasi’, the ascetic tabi’ee, scholar, judge and soldier رحمه الله, said, “If sins had an odour then nobody would be able to sit with me.”
Umar رضي الله عنه, and many other Companions, feared hypocrisy. Subhan Allah! These were some of the best people to have lived.
And the best of all creation, the Prophet ﷺ, would seek forgiveness and repent over 70 times a day!
May Allah make us truly sincere and righteous in our relationship with Him, ourselves and others.