Categories: Opinion

Mehreen Farhan

See the title again. ‘Holier Than Thou’ is a very prevalent syndrome these days. When I capitalize something, I want to stress on the fact that it is a quite a thing and deserves attention.

[On a side note, in one of my previous posts, I shared how capitalizing, not capitalizing is a big deal for me. I mean, look, I just have these words to push a whole thought across, with passing on my passion and intent too. So I gotta use all the weapons I possibly can. Anyway, back to the topic.]

The Holier Than Thou syndrome is a mental condition in which people suddenly start believing themselves to be more pious, more righteous and more conscientious than everyone else (read: less pious, less righteous, less conscientious people, a.k.a., us).

While spirituality is a state of mind, and for some it might prove to be a boost in their faith to express it, the problem arises when the person in question starts making obvious comparisons with those around them.

I’ve had my share of “holier than thou” state too. I remember when I first started learning the Quran back in 2017, I started learning all sorts of masaail of our Deen through Surah Baqarah. It was a good few months till one day my husband, exasperated by my sudden urge to refute and correct everything, told me how I should check the way I was always correcting everything that everyone said.

Did it sting? Yes. How much? To be honest, not much because he was right. I had become infected with the holier than thou syndrome; the very reason people get annoyed of that set of people who take it upon themselves to tell others about religion.

Illustration by Lieki van der Vorst

So I thought a lot. Was it in my place to refute and correct? The first answer I got from myself was yes. But then, Quran tells us how we should try and correct people whenever we can. I then understood how daawah was such a tricky business and required not only a lot of knowledge, but compassion and kindness and a way with words that does not offend, but mend. It also required an understanding of how to say stuff, when to say them, and just how much to say them. It also meant, having a style and body language that embodies humbleness, and not pride.

The worst we can do by indulging in Holier Than Thou syndrome is not just enjoying an air of superiority, but being the reason ourselves for driving people against religion.

One conversation with someone very young and very close to me shook me hard. I’m talking about a twenty-something guy, in the prime of his youth, still figuring the world out. He was in a phase of self exploration and finding his way through the noise of so many ideologies and religious debates. He desperately needed clarity. Through this conversation, I came to know how he had tried to follow some well-known rules of our religion. He was sad as he told me how that only lasted for a few days because the person who was guiding him always thought he should have been doing much more.

And so, he ended up with a weaker faith in himself, and a pang of guilt inside him that made him think he and his ibaadah can never be good enough!

Do you see the tragedy here?

Someone with a Holier Than Thou syndrome just robbed this young man of his chance to follow something that was eventually going to make him better! He was robbed of the clarity he would eventually have received if he was motivated, rather than judged!

I personally happen to know many people who, in the guise of religion, mock and laugh at people who, for example, do not pray, or do not wear the hijab, or perhaps, do not know the very basics of religion.

I had a lovely friend in Muscat who was younger than me, and much more spiritually aware than I had ever been in my life up till then. I remember how one day, she taught me a dua like my mom would. Her compassion, kindness and non-judgmental way with me moved me to the extent that I started my journey of formally learning the Quran! Had she judged me that day, or mocked me for not knowing a basic dua, I would not have been where I am today. I would probably be sulking and thinking bad not only about her, but about the religion she wanted me to get steady on.

Then again, I remember this one evening when we invited some guests over. This is from my pre-Quran-classes time. We were aware of the religion obviously but did not know the intricate details of deeni masaail. Eid ul Adha was approaching, so a random table talk was about sacrifices and different things related to it. My husband asked the guest about a certain deeni masla and for the remaining of that evening, our guest discussed 45765 different issues of sacrifice and their problems. He did not discourage us from doing the sacrifice altogether, Alhumdullilah, but it was enough to give us a bad headache.

Social media contains the worst form of Holier Than Thou syndrome.

Too often, as admins of Pakistani Lady Bloggers Facebook group, we find ourselves declining posts that talk about religion. Religious posts that have judgmental undertones have very bad impact on a wide audience. Not only does it take the attention away from the real issue, it creates an environment of debate and slander. To absorb religion, one needs to stop talking and start listening. When debates become common, we do what we are best at now, unfortunately: that is, talk like there’s no tomorrow.

My article is directed towards those who take it upon themselves to preach religion. One might say, why does it not address people who spew venom and hatred towards such a noble cause? My answer is simple: you have taken a very noble, very big cause upon yourself. Make yourself worthy of that. When you talk or write about religion, be ready for a probable resistance. When you do face resistance, take yourself out from the equation and look at the argument objectively, not subjectively. Talk about religion with an open mind, and keep in mind that you might learn something or a new perspective from someone younger than you, or someone who doesn’t even share the same religion as you.

When you go out in the world telling people right from wrong, remember you once needed someone to tell you better as well. So be humble, remember that if you do know something, it’s not your own achievement, but rather a bounty of God. God wants judgment exclusive to Himself. No amount of knowledge or intellect makes you worthy of having a sense of superiority.

The Holier Than Thou syndrome has driven more people away from us and our religion than any planned propaganda. Leave it. It doesn’t look good on us.

Humility is the number one lesson to learn when you start learning your religion.

You can move mountains with it.

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