What does ananiyyah (egoism/self-conceit) mean? Can ananiyyah be unbelief and shirk (polytheism)? If ananiyyah is bad, why has man been given the sense of self? What should our attitude be toward egoists?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Answer 1:

Ananiyyah (egoism/self-conceit) means a person’s thinking that the boons Allah granted him were obtained by himself through his own efforts and talents. That is, a person who has ananiyyah attributes the talents and boons he has to himself, not to Allah. He transforms the feeling of owning, which is metaphorical and relative, into reality and wants to own everything with egoism. He says my eye, my ear, my voice, my power, my mind, leading to egoism. That is, he starts to regard those boons as his own boons really. This is that state that is dangerous.  

If a person knows and accepts that the boons and talents he has are grants of Allah to him and that the feeling of owning them is relative, it is permissible; it means to be aware of the boons given by Allah.   

When man has ananiyyah, he feels conceited when he does something without thinking about divine power and says, “I did it.”

This age is the age of ananiyyah. “Aberrant people ride on egoism and proceed in the valleys of aberration.” They caress the ananiyyahs of one another and feel more and more conceited.

However, man becomes great when he gets rid of ananiyyah. The Quran states that all bad deeds originate from the soul. (see an-Nisa, 4/79) Human soul acts contrarily to this divine decree. When there is an achievement, he embraces it; when there is a failure, he attributes it to qadar.

Mature people “are great without ananiyyah”. They are great but they do not act conceitedly. They admit that all perfect things and beauties come from Allah and that all bad deeds originate from themselves.

A pay clerk who distributes salaries to officials has no right to feel conceited; likewise, a rich person who helps the poor has no right to feel conceited.

Man can get rid of an egocentric life only through lofty ideals. Ideals like “seeking the consent of Allah Almighty in all deeds, wanting belief to dominate all hearts, working so that one’s country will rise both materially and spiritually” save man from being the slave of egoism and obeying it by being under its command. Those who live by being deprived of such lofty ideals cannot get rid of leading an egocentric life.   

Answer 2:

Ana (I) is a hypothetical and delusive feeling of egoism and ownership. That is, it is a feeling of ownership and accepting that does not really exist but that is regarded to be existent. For instance, man says my family, my house, my body and my organs. The word “my” in those examples is ana.  

However, in terms of reality, the family, the house, the body and the organs of man do not belong to man. Allah is the real owner of them. Allah has given man this feeling of ownership so that he will understand His absolute names and attributes and will make comparisons. That is, the partial knowledge, partial power, partial will and partial feeling of ownership are like windows opened to a name and attribute of Allah. Man understands Allah’s names and attributes with that window. For instance, he says, “I am the owner of this small household. Allah is the owner of the whole universe. I built this house with my partial power and Allah built and created the house of the universe with His endless power. I know such and such things with my partial knowledge and Allah knows everything and is aware of everything with His endless knowledge.

After understanding this, he knows that what is given to him is the manifestations of Allah’s names and attributes, and ascribes them to Allah. Thus, man compares those partial and hypothetical things, and understands Allah's endless names and attributes. If it were not for this feeling of ownership, man would not be able to make comparison and to understand Allah’s endless attributes.

The aspect of the feeling of ana and egoism explained and described here is its positive and good aspect that develops man, opens the doors of knowledge to him and elevates him to endless ranks. When man uses this hypothetical feeling like this, he attains the basics and essence of slavery. Man’s spiritual aspect has been designed in a way that will know Allah’s names and attributes; what man needs to do is to act in accordance with this design.

The feeling of ana and egoism also has a negative and bad aspect. If the feeling of ana and egoism given to man greens and flourishes in the field of unbelief and denial, things happen contrarily. That is, the feeling of ana and egoism, which is a means of knowing Allah, is transformed into a means of denying and challenging Allah. The feeling of ana and egoism, which is a hypothetical and imaginary line, is transformed into a real and universal line through the window of denial and unbelief. Man starts to believe that the partial knowledge, will and power have not been given to him by Allah and that they are his own possessions. As denial and philosophy deepen, those feeling cease to be partial and become universal. Then, man goes too far as to say, “I am also a deity.”

That is ana and egoism is such a feeling that it makes man a valuable and great slave if it is used in a good way and it causes man to claim to be a deity if it is used in a bad way. 

When an unbeliever looks at the universe with the glasses of unbelief, he cannot see Allah’s divinity and lordship and denies; either he says nature did it or he attributes divinity to a cause. Similarly, when the unbeliever looks at the feeling of ana and egoism, which is a micro universe, he cannot see that the feeling of ana and egoism is hypothetical and imaginary and that it has been given to man as a partial trust so that he will know and compare Allah’s absolute attributes; and he attributes reality and universality to those feelings. In a sense, it means to deify man.

Answer 3:

We can divide the disease of ana into four degrees in general:

The first degree of ana is the ananiyyah of a person toward his peers; it is a disease in the heart. It is the seed form of the tree of ana. If it is not crushed with oneness, worshipping, piety and dhikr, it will flourish and develop, finally assuming a form that will swallow man.

The second degree of ana is the ananiyyah of a person toward scholars and saints, which is a spiritual aberration but it is not unbelief. This ana is the process of being a young tree. The processes after that make man approach the line of unbelief. Many egoistic leaders that feel conceited with their souls are the products of this process like the imams of Mutazila.

The third degree of ana is the ananiyyah of a person toward prophets, which is unbelief. It is the form of the ana that was a seed and that started to become a tree. The ananiyyah of Abu Jahl toward the Prophet (pbuh) is an example of it.   

The fourth degree of ana, that is, the worst degree, is the ananiyyah of a person toward Allah. The ananiyyah of Pharaoh is an example of it. In this stage, ana is in the form of a tree and has swallowed man; all of his organs have been transformed into ana. Man regards himself as a deity in this stage. He attributes divinity to everything.

Answer 4:

Man is weak and poor in nature. This endless weakness and poverty can be filled only with a power and richness; those attributes exist only in Allah. Then, man needs to give up the claim of egoism and conceit; he needs to take refuge in Allah with his weakness and poverty; he needs to take refuge in His endless power and richness, which is the essence and reality of worshipping.

Allah sent man to this world so that he will worship Him. He did not send man so that he would be egoistic and conceited and so that he would boast. Only through belief and worshipping can man understand that the reigns and control of everything are in the powerful hand of Allah and surrender to it with weakness. The other beliefs and ideologies cannot attain this consistency. On the contrary, those beliefs and ideologies transform man into an egoistic Pharaoh that is haughty and that has forgotten his weakness and poverty.

The most important equipment of man in approaching Allah and making Him pleased is the endless weakness and poverty in his nature. With this endless weakness, man builds a bridge toward the endless power and with his endless poverty, he establishes a connection with the endless richness. Then, the endless power and richness becomes a full remedy of man’s endless weakness and poverty. The helpless and weak state of a baby makes its parents servants for it; likewise, man attracts Allah’s endless power and richness to himself with his endless weakness and poverty; he becomes like a baby in His eye.

If man uses this channel of weakness and poverty instead of the claim of conceit and egoism, everything will be obedient to him.

Answer 5:

The light reflected in the mirror is not the property of the mirror, but the sun. The self of a person is like a mirror; the feelings like partial knowledge, will, power and ownership that appear in this self are the manifestations reflected from the names of Allah.

The soul is like the mirror but it regards itself as the doer and a powerful being; it challenges Allah without taking its abasement and lowliness into consideration. In that sense, man is ephemeral as if he does not exist.

When man is conscious that he is a slave and a mirror, he exists in the eye of Allah and has attained His consent; if man gives up being a slave and a mirror, and claims existence and freedom in the presence of Allah, he will be in non-existence and ephemerality.  In other words, there is absence in existence, and existence in nonexistence. If man says, "I exist" with his self, he does not exist; if he says, "I do not exist" and knows that the boons and blessings on him are from Allah, not himself, it means he exists. Thus, he takes Allah’s endless names and attributes as support and help.

Answer 6:

Ananiyyah can exist in everybody and in every state. Ananiyyah is possible everywhere and in everything: in youth, art, science, worshipping, physics, property, authority, in wealth, etc. The reason why ananiyyah has been given to man is that it is a criterion and a measuring instrument to know Allah. Since ananiyyah has been given for this reason, it is not possible and appropriate to destroy it completely. However, it is channeled and can be directed according to the reason for its being given. Ananiyyah is stronger and more prominent in youth. It is very important to pay attention to the following issues in order to educate the people with ananiyyah and to be useful to them without breaking their hearts and offending them:

1. To be competent; that is, to know well what to give and how.

2. To try to educate the addressee sincerely.

3. To find the underlying causes of the wrong deeds and to discover the spiritual illness.

4. Not to hurry; to leave some things to time.

5. Not to make the mistake of telling everything that is true everywhere. 

6. To approach the addressee with compliments and to show respect to him.

7. To give advice if it will not be harmful.

8. The most important of all is to serve as a model by practicing what we preach.

Since this age is an age when the soul is in the foreground and ananiyyah is dominant, it is necessary for those who serve the religion of Islam to be more careful. We need to approach our addressees compassionately and seek ways of saving them with wisdom. We can cause to change our addressees in a good way if we fulfill our duty properly as if we are worshipping.

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