Today, I bring you a story of arrogance and sin:
Your Lord said to the angels, ‘Behold, I am about to create a human being out of clay! And when I have shaped him and breathed into him of My Spirit, then bow down before him in prostration.’ The angels all bowed down together, but not Iblis, who gloried in his arrogance, and thus became a rebel.
God said, ‘Iblis, what prevents you from bowing down to that which I have made with My own hands? Are you too proud or are you one of the high and mighty?’
Iblis said, ‘I am better than him: You made me from fire, and him You made from clay.’
And God said ‘Get out of here! You are rejected: My rejection will follow you till the Day of Judgement!’
But Iblis said, ‘My Lord, grant me respite until the Day when they are raised from the dead.’
So He said, ‘You have respite till the Appointed Day.’
Iblis said, ‘I swear by Your might!I will beguile them all into grievous error, all but Your faithful servants.’
(Quran, chapter 38 verses 71-83)
Looking around the world, I can testify Iblis has lived up to his word. And, oh boy, have we drunk the kool-aid. Far too many of us think we’re better than everyone else.
Our President who believes half the world lives in “shithole countries.” The fanatics of ISIS who think they are fighting the final battle between good and evil (with the good obviously being them). White people who disparage blacks, and people of color who demonize whites. Conservatives and liberals who hold each other in contempt, and progressives who despise both. Cis-heterosexuals who think they’re more normal than anyone in the lgbt community, and gays and lesbians who think they’re more natural than transsexuals. The 1% who clearly think they’re more deserving of wealth and happiness than poor folks and the middle class. Kings and Presidents, Senators and Congressmen, Lawmakers thinking they are more important than the people they are supposed to represent. Men vs Women. East vs West. Christian vs Muslim vs Hindu vs Sikh vs Jew vs Atheist.
Even worse, I see far too many justifying their prejudices rather working to eradicate them. “I’m rich because I worked hard to get where I am,” as though poor people aren’t hard working too. “It was American determination and spirit that built this country,” as though America wasn’t also built on the seizure of native american lands, slavery, and the exclusion of women from those ideals. “Only religious people can be truly moral,” or worse, only those who believe in Jesus or follow Muhammad, even though it’s amply evident that all sorts of people can and have acted morally. Not to mention the multitude of believers who have acted immorally.Arrogance in the form of “I’m better than they are, I deserve more,” is the root of so many evils in the world.
We are all beguiled by how wonderful we are, how smart, how beautiful, how advanced, and how superior. And conversely, we’re appalled at how dumb, misguided, and downright evil those we differ from are.
Just to be clear, I’m not exempting myself in this critique of the modern psyche. I’m often beguiled by myself, my politics, my religion, my country and especially my morality. Even though I believe firmly that all humankind is equally deserving of life, liberty, freedom of conscience, and the opportunity and means to pursue happiness, it is all too easy for me to dismiss some people as less, whether that be ultra-conservative and radical Muslims, or the people who inexplicably voted for Trump against their own self-interest.
Despite all our prejudices against one another, I think most of us would agree we would be better off if we were less divided and jumped to fewer negative conclusions about others. Our country – our world! – would be a happier, more friendly, more enjoyable place if we could only we were more empathetic, kind, and compassionate with one another.
The Qur’an offers us a way forward, telling us, “Good and evil cannot be equal. Repel evil with what is better and your enemy will become as close as an old and valued friend, (Quran 41:35).
This applies equally whether the enemy is someone out there, or the niggling little voice that tempts you to be less than you know you should be. Implementing this wisdom is an ongoing battle. For me personally, I find I need to remind myself regularly that I am not more worthy of success, love, or freedom, than those whose opinions I find so distasteful. I need to pause and truly listen when people point out my shortcomings. And I need to shut down the voice of fear when others promote points of view or solutions to the problems of my neighborhood, state, country and world that seem to devalue me and threaten my place in the world.