By Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib
The following is an extract from Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 191, known as “al-Khutbah al-Qasi`ah”, the Sermon of Disparagement.
You should take a lesson from what God did with the Devil; namely He nullified his great acts and extensive efforts on account of the vanity of one moment, although the Devil had worshipped God for six thousand years – whether by the reckoning of this world or of the next world is not known. Who now can remain safe from God after the Devil by committing a similar disobedience? None at all. God, the Glorified, cannot let a human being enter Paradise if he does the same thing for which God turned out from it an angel. His command for the inhabitants in the sky and of the earth is the same. There is no friendship between God and any individual out of His creation so as to give him license for an undesirable thing which He has held unlawful for all the worlds.
Therefore, you should fear lest the Devil infects you with his disease, or leads you astray through his call, or marches on you with his horsemen and footmen, because, by my life, he has put the arrow in the bow for you, has stretched the bow strongly, and has aimed at you from a nearby position, and:
He (the Devil) said: “My Lord! because Thou hast left me to stray, certainly will I adorn unto them the path of error, and certainly will I cause them all to go astray.” (Qur’an, 15:39)
Although he (the Devil) had said so only by guessing about the unknown future and by wrong conjecturing, yet the sons of vanity, the brothers of haughtiness and the horsemen of pride and intolerance proved him to be true, so much so that when disobedient persons from among you bowed before him, and his greed about you gained strength; and what was a hidden secret turned into a clear fact, he spread his full control over you and marched with his forces towards you.
Then they pushed you into the hollows of disgrace, threw you into the whirlpools of slaughter, and trampled you, wounding you by striking your eyes with spears, cutting your throats, tearing your nostrils, breaking your limbs and taking you in ropes of control towards the fire already prepared. In this way he became more harmful to your religion and a greater kindler of flames (of mischief) about your worldly matters than the enemies against whom you showed open opposition and against whom you marched your forces.
You should therefore spend all your force against him, and all your efforts against him, because, by God, he boasted over your (i.e., Adam’s) origin, questioned your position and spoke lightly of your lineage. He advanced on you with his army, and brought his footmen towards your path. They are chasing you from every place, and they are hitting you at every finger joint. You are not able to defend by any means, nor can you repulse them by any determination. You are in the thick of disgrace, the ring of straitness, the field of death and the way of distress.
You should therefore put out the fires of haughtiness and the flames of intolerance that are hidden in your hearts. This vanity can exist in a Muslim only by the machinations of the Devil, his haughtiness, mischief and whisperings. Make up your mind to have humility over your heads, to trample self-pride under your feet and to cast off vanity from your necks. Adopt humility as the weapon between you and your enemy, the Devil and his forces. He certainly has, from every people, fighters, helpers, footmen and horsemen. Do not be like him who feigned superiority over the son of his own mother without any distinction given to him by God except the feeling of envy which his feeling of greatness created in him and the fire of anger that vanity kindled in his heart. The Devil blew into his nose his own vanity, after which God gave him remorse and made him responsible for the sins of all killers up to the Day of Judgement.
Caution against vanity and boasting about ignorance
Beware! You strove hard in revolting and created mischief on the earth in open opposition to God and in challenging the believers over fighting. (You should fear) God! God! In feeling proud of your vanity and boasting over ignorance, because this is the root of enmity and the design of the Devil wherewith he has been deceiving past people and bygone ages, with the result that they fell into the gloom of his ignorance and the hollows of his misguidance, submitting to his driving and accepting his leadership. In this matter the hearts of all the people were similar, and centuries passed by, one after the other, in just the same way, and there was vanity with which chests were tightened.
Beware! Beware of obeying your leaders and elders who felt proud of their achievements and boasted about their lineage. They hurled the (liability for) things on God and quarrelled with God in what He did with them, contesting His decree and disputing His favours. Certainly, they are the main foundation of obstinacy, the chief pillars of mischief and the swords of pre-Islamic boasting over forefathers. Therefore, fear God, do not become antagonistic to His favours on you, nor jealous of His bounty over you and do not obey the claimants (of Islam) whose dirty water you drink along with your clean one, whose ailments you mix with your healthiness and whose wrongs you allow to enter into your rightful matters.
They are the foundation of vice and the linings of disobedience, the Devil has made them carriers of misguidance and the soldiers with whom he attacks men. They are interpreters through whom he speaks in order to steal away your wits, enter into your eyes and blow into your ears. In this way he makes you the victim of his arrows, the treading ground of his footsteps and source of strength for his hands. Take instruction from how he brought God’s wrath, violence, chastisement and punishment on those who were vain among the past people. Take admonition from their lying on their cheeks and falling on their sides, and seek God’s protection from the dangers of vanity, as you seek His protection from calamities.
Certainly, if God were to allow anyone to indulge in pride He would have allowed it to his selected prophets and vicegerents. But God, the Sublime, disliked vanity for them and liked humbleness for them. Therefore, they laid their cheeks on the ground, smeared their faces with dust, bent themselves down for the believers and remained humble people. God tried them with hunger, afflicted them with difficulty, tested them with fear, and upset them with troubles. Therefore, do not regard wealth and progeny the criterion for God’s pleasure and displeasure, as you are not aware of the chances of mischief and trials during richness and power as God, the Glorified, the Sublime, has said:
What! Think they that what We aid them with of wealth and children, We are hastening unto them the good things? Nay! they (only) perceive not. (Qur’an, 23:55-56)
Certainly, God the Glorified, tries His creatures who are vain about themselves through His beloved persons who are humble in their eyes.