The Quest for Humility

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Many years ago, I felt inspired after reading verses in the Quran that encouraged humility, and prayed to Allah SWT to make me humble.  In my mind, I thought that perhaps I would wake up one day in the near future as a humble person.  But I had no idea that what I had really signed up for, was basically a hardcore thrashing of my ego.

A couple months after this dua, I gratefully started my one year course at teacher’s college.  I was thrilled to have been accepted from so many applicants, and began the session with optimism, expecting hard work and dedication to pay off as it had throughout my academic career.

But things did not go as I had expected.  That year was the most difficult from all my years of studies.  For starters, I found it difficult to stay focused during the theory lessons, often being spaced out and feeling irritated at the tasks assigned for group completion.  Soon after starting my practical, I got called in for a meeting with the teacher assessing my teaching performance, who told me about my host classroom teacher’s complaints about my lack of initiative and enthusiasm in the classroom.

Then came the first of the biggest blows to my ego.  Before starting three weeks of consecutive teaching in the classroom, all teaching candidates were required to submit a detailed proposal plan, outlining our objectives, lesson plans, and any worksheets we would be using.  I was horrified to receive a notice that my proposal was not up to the standards and that I would have to rewrite the entire proposal with completely new lesson plans that fit more appropriately for the students I was assigned.  I worked on it endlessly through the night, not sleeping for even a minute.  I would sometimes just freeze and have no idea what I should write next.  Slapping my head really hard several times from frustration also didn’t help at all.  It was so bad that I typed until morning and having to catch my bus, I rushed through the rest, not having time to properly complete it.  It got worse as even the revised proposal had some flaws that needed to be fixed before I could begin my long practical.

Then the practical itself was extremely difficult, as my host teacher had a lot of issues with my teaching style, especially my classroom management.  The other student teacher at my school thrived in her practical, getting rave reviews from her host teacher and the teacher formally assessing her.  I remember how one afternoon, I burst crying in front of the other student teacher when she asked me how my assessment went.  She stood there awkwardly as I bawled my eyes out, telling her how this was too difficult for me to bear.  She managed to get out a few words of encouragement before leaving for home, while I stood there rubbing the tears from my face.

That wasn’t the only time I lost my dignity by crying in front of others.  When one of my professors came in to discuss my progress in the practical, I began crying openly yet again.  I had told myself a million times beforehand that I would not cry, that I knew I wasn’t doing well so there was no surprise in what ever my prof would say to me, but soon after the prof started, I burst crying.  We were sitting in the school staff room and there was another teacher in there pretending not to know what was going on as she got up and walked near us to grab a cup of coffee.  I cried so badly that I had to cover my face from needing a tissue to wipe my runny nose.  It was very embarrassing to see the prof leave the seat to get a tissue from the nearby table to hand to me, as I was a “basket case.”

I felt humiliated and defeated as I watched myself, a grown woman, cry my eyes out in front of other professionals.  The emotional trauma and humiliation took a turn for the worse as my prof told me that if I didn’t improve my performance in the practical classroom I might have to stay extra days or weeks while the rest of the class graduated on time.  How would I face the world as a failure?  And how could someone fail the least difficult of all professional schools?  My tears flowed freely as I straight out told her that there was no way that I would stay extra days.  She left the conversation stating that it was a very possible outcome for me if I didn’t improve.  But I didn’t know what else to do.  I was trying my best and still it was nowhere near enough.  Although others in my course complained about the workload, everyone was getting by really nicely when it came to their practicals.

I didn’t know what to do so I told my family to pray for me to pass teacher’s college on time with everyone and to make it easy for me.  My parents worried for me as they had never seen me so stressed about school, asking me from time to time how my marks were, telling me that this was a weird situation because they had never had to worry about my academic performance before.   After all, I had always been a good student, getting A’s quite often.   This was a very confusing and frustrating time in my life.  I worked really hard but still sometimes ended up underachieving.

For the first time in my life, I felt empathy for those students who struggled in school.  I realized how difficult it can be for some to even just pass assignments and tests, even if they studied so hard.  And so in that year I got my wish of becoming more humble.  With the mercy of Allah SWT I was able to graduate with my class on time, but as a very changed person, a very humble person.   I didn’t see it as “my” triumph, but rather as a miracle and blessing of God.  I saw myself as a person who needed God’s help for everything in life, because everything we are good at or excel in is because of a special favor from God, and not because we are innately intelligent.  My more than sixteen years of educational experience were of no benefit to me that one year.  All that benefitted me were consistent prayers and turning towards God in humility.

So when any of us ask God to give us or make something different than what we are, we have to be ready to face challenges because usually those qualities or things that we want do not come down from the heavens on a gold platter.  Rather, our desires get fulfilled through some challenge filled journey which we sometimes do not recognize as the answer to our prayers.  I for one did not see it as that until after my journey ended.  Then only was I able to connect the dots back to my original wish.

I hope that if you can take some lesson from my journey then you should reflect on your own abilities and talents and accept them as gifts from God Almighty, and know that since He gave them to you, He can take any or all of them away for short or long term, or even permanently.  There is no such quality or ability in us that is “us.”   It is a major error of judgement to internalize one’s successes and talents.  Everything is simply a loan for this lifetime to help us live the best life we possibly can and to serve those around us.

Let us take a lesson from the Holy Quran, where Allah SWT informs our beloved Prophet pbuh about the real source of his soft heartedness:

“It was by the mercy of Allah that thou wast lenient with them (O Muhammad), for if thou hadst been stern and fierce of heart they would have dispersed from round about thee…” (3:159)

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2 responses »

  1. Very nice post…Masha’Allah

    I am happy to see that you have come to this realization very early in your life that our duas are not answered on a golden platter..yet Allah (swt) gives us opportunities to fulfill our duas through different challenges. In addition, you quoted a beautiful verse from the Quran that makes us realize how crucial it is to soft hearted and lenient and forgiving towards… the verse refers to the Sahabas running away from the Prophet (May Peace and Blessings be upon Him) had he been stern with them. SUBHAN’ALLAH…

    In other words, if the Prophet (May Peace and Blessings be upon Him) had presented them with the truth (ie Quran) but had been harsh and stern with them, the Sahabas would have ran away from his message (the Quran).

    So we must all realize that having the truth with us (Islam) is useless if we are not soft hearted, kind, forgiving, and lenient toward others because they will run away from us and our message.

    GREAT POST!

    I want you to reflect on the following hadith and tell me why do you think even our infallible Prophet (May peace be upon him) would not enter paradise solely based on his actions/deeds alone? The prophet (may peace be upon him) did not sin, had his past and future sins forgiven, so why would he make such a statement?

    Narrated Jabir: I heard Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, saying: “None of you will enter Paradise because of his good deeds alone, and none would be rescued from the Fire, not even I, except for the Mercy of Allah.”

    [Sahih Muslim, Book 039, Number 6769]

    Salam O Alaikum

  2. I love the hadith you have quoted. It is indeed only through Allah’s mercy that we even follow His messenger, so of course it is only fitting that we enter paradise only though His mercy.

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