Sadaqah Jariyah: What Humility in Your Work Really Means

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This is the fourth post in the Sadaqah Jariyah series, catch up on the previous installments here.

Have you ever read a long internet comment pontificating about advanced Islamic issues by an unqualified person that ends with something like, "but I'm not a scholar or anything so don't take my word for it"?

The person saying this may genuinely want to portray a sense of humility. Instead, it (rightfully) comes across as false modesty.

Have you ever complimented someone after a khutbah or a speech, only to have them say "No, no, it was actually terrible." Same thing. They are trying to be humble, but all they've accomplished is making the person delivering the compliment feel bad.

The ultimate irony is this - even while being overtly self-deprecating, they're still talking about themselves. That's ego.

The entire point of a sadaqah jariyah is leaving behind something that outlasts you. That means it's not about you. Or as Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda says, "Nobody cares."

There is a monumental challenge with this. The more successful your efforts are (in whatever capacity you contribute), the more ego becomes a factor. It's easy to be humble when you're first getting started. It's much more difficult when you've established a multi-million dollar charity, have taught thousands of students, or attained national recognition in the form of media and speaking invites.

The more successful you become, the more critical it is to get over yourself.

This is a core leadership principle for San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

"For us, it's easy. We're looking for character, but what the hell does that mean? We're looking for people — and I've said it many times — [who] have gotten over themselves, and you can tell that pretty quickly. You can talk to somebody for four or five minutes, and you can tell if it's about them, or if they understand that they're just a piece of the puzzle. So we look for that. A sense of humor is a huge thing with us. You've got to be able to laugh. You've got to be able to take a dig, give a dig — that sort of thing. And [you have to] feel comfortable in your own skin that you don't have all the answers. [We want] people who are participatory. The guys in the film room can tell me what they think of how we played last night if they want to. [Former Assistant GM] Sean Marks would sit in on our coaches' meetings when we're arguing about how to play the pick-and-roll or who we're going to play or who we're going to sit." [Business Insider]

Part of getting over yourself is being open to feedback.

This seems like an obvious point. In practice, some people are prone to hide from feedback when it comes to Islamic work. When criticized even slightly, they will retort with something along the lines of "either get involved or shut up." There might be some truth to this - but our focus here is on humility for the worker.

You have to be open to being edited. The deeper we get in our own work, the harder it is to look at it objectively. We are emotionally invested in our projects, so we take feedback personally.

A person operating from a premise of humility knows how to listen, filter, and respond to feedback. A person working from a premise of ego will dismiss input and cut out people who give it - even if they are from their inner circle.

In reality, we all need feedback. Even Steph Curry has a shooting coach. We have to embrace that process to produce work with ihsan. Without it, you'll never know if you are creating something of meaning.

Some people resist this when it comes to Islamic work. They'll argue that something is fee sabeelillah, and therefore people need to lay off. The opposite is true. You have to be willing to pause and put in extra work to get it right. And you have to be okay with knowing others may have something valuable to add that we didn't think of.

The nature of this type of work means you will be exposed to difficulty in dealing with others and their thoughts about your work. It's a small price to pay to establish something meaningful enough to outlive you.

As the Prophet (s) said, "The believer who mixes with the people and endures their harm has a greater reward than one who does not mix the people nor endures their harm."