Three Distinctions Often Confused
There are certain things that the soul often confuses and mixes up, and only those with deep insight and wisdom are able to properly distinguish between them. Ibn al-Qayyim points out some of these fine details and distinctions that should be made.
i) Self-Respect vs. Vanity
“Self-respect is to make your soul rise above the petty and insignificant things that cause people to bend their necks pursuing. So, he prevents himself from this.
This is different from arrogance, which is a characteristic that is born from two things: being impressed with oneself and belittling others. So, arrogance is born from these two things, and the first (i.e. self-respect) is born from two things: honoring oneself and making it noble…
The basis for all of this is to prepare and condition the soul, and to place preference for its Owner over it. So, if one fails in his preparation and conditioning, he has failed in everything.”
ii) Protection of Self vs. Arrogance
“The one who protects himself is like the man who puts on some new clothes, pure and white, and expensive. So, he enters upon the kings and those below them in these clothes. He strives to protect these clothes from any stains or dirt that could affect its whiteness and purity. So, you see him looking noble and constantly escaping from the places where he fears could make his clothes dirty. He does not allow any stain or speck of dirt to come onto his clothes.
This is the likeness of the one who strengthens and builds his heart and religion: you see him avoiding any stains of sin, as they stain the heart and dirty it more than any blot of dirt can dirty a pure, white garment. However, the eyes are covered from seeing these stains. So, you see him running from any potential stain, being cautious around the people, seldom mixing with them out of fear that the same thing would occur to his heart that occurred to his white clothing when he was around the butchers and cooks.
This is different from the one who elevates himself, as even if he is similar to the above in his avoidance of these things, he intends with this to step over the people’s necks and to put them under his feet. So, this is a color, and that is another color.”
iii) Humility vs. Humiliation
“Humility is born from a) knowledge of Allah, His Names, His Attributes, and His Loftiness, as well as loving and elevating Him, and b) knowing himself and his faults well.
So, from these two comes the characteristic of humility, and it is the subduing of the heart to Allah and lowering the wing of submission and mercy to His servants. So, he does not see any virtue that he has over others, and he sees no rights of his over others. Rather, he sees the virtue of others over him, and he sees their rights before his own. This is a characteristic that Allah gives to those He Loves and wishes to make noble and close to Him.
As for humiliation, it is lowliness and exertion of the soul in acquiring what it desires, like the humility of the low ones in fulfilling their desires, the humility of the victim to his oppressor, and the humility of anyone who seeks something from someone else to that person. This is all lowliness and inferiority, and has nothing to do with true humility. Allah Loves humility, and He hates lowliness and humiliation. It is reported in the ‘Sahih’ that the Messenger of Allah said: “It was revealed to me that you should be humble such that none should boast over others, and none should transgress against others.”“
[‘ar-Ruh’; p. 313-317]