‘Ego is the Enemy’: A Lesson on Arrogance & Humility


Qasim Choudhary, USA

e·go |  /ˈēɡō/

  1. An unhealthy belief in our own importance
  2. Arrogance
  3. Self-centered ambition [1]

In his international bestseller Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday explores the detrimental effects of a person’s ego on his or her path towards self-development and success.   

Holiday draws on a wide array of stories and examples of prominent figures throughout history, highlighting the profound role of ego and humility in their respective lives. One such example that caught my attention was that of John D. Rockefeller, who would go on to become one of the richest men in the world. As a young man, Rockefeller practiced a nightly conversation with himself to rein in his ego. He would say to himself, ‘Because you have got a start you think you are quite a merchant; look out or you will lose your head – go steady.’ [2]

As I read through this insightful book, I couldn’t help but wonder: if ego inhibits success in our materialistic pursuits, might it also deter one from reaching his or her spiritual ambitions? What does Islamic philosophy say about taming one’s ego, and what role does humility play in spiritual advancement?


Ryan Holiday reveals that many successful people throughout history were notoriously egotistical. However, he qualifies, overall, egoists failed more than they succeeded. [3] Similarly, the Holy Qur’an gives an example of a man whose ultimate downfall was his ego. [4] Bal’am bin Ba’ura, a once virtuous man who lived in the time of Prophet Moses (as), was a recipient of true dreams and revelation. Unfortunately, this fed his ego, and he began to conduct himself as someone worthy and high. However, in the divine court, he was not yet considered an elect and chosen servant of God. [5] Blinded by his apparent spiritual progress, Bal’am failed to recognize and fathom the loftiest degree of Prophet Moses’(as) closeness to God. [6]

Expounding on egoism, Holiday states, ‘[Egoism is] when the notion of ourselves and the world grows so inflated that it begins to distort the reality that surrounds us.’ [7] This is exactly what we observe in the case of Bal’am. He lost touch with reality and wrongly assumed he was special and more deserving than Prophet Moses (as). As the Promised Messiah (as) and founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community aptly puts it, ‘gravely deceived is the one who deludes himself into believing that he is someone special merely by experiencing in himself a sample of dreams and revelations.’ [8]

Likewise, Holiday writes, ‘Pride blunts the very instrument we need to own in order to succeed: our mind… Pride takes a minor accomplishment and makes it feel like a major one.’ [9] Ultimately, it was pride that distracted and hindered Bal’am from achieving spiritual exaltation and accepting Prophet Moses (as) as a true messenger sent by God Almighty.

شوخی و کبر دیو لعیں کا شعار ہے   آدم کی نسل وہ ہے جو وہ خاکسار ہے

Impertinence and pride are the traits of the Accursed Satan;
The seed of Adam is he who is humble. [10]

The Promised Messiah’s (as) Definition of Arrogance

Portrait of the Promised Messiah (as) & Imam Mahdi (Guided One), Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as)

The Promised Messiah & Imam Mahdi, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) of Qadian (1835-1908)

What is arrogance? The Promised Messiah (as) helps us answer this pertinent question.  In response, he declares, ‘You may not perhaps fully realize what is arrogance. Then listen to me as I speak under the direction of God. Everyone who looks down upon a brother because he esteems himself more learned, or wiser, or more proficient than him is arrogant, inasmuch as he does not esteem God as the Fountainhead of all intelligence and knowledge and deems himself as something. [11]

Again, he emphasises, ‘One should not be arrogant in any way, neither in terms of knowledge, nor in terms of wealth, nor in terms of appearance, nor in terms of cast, family and lineage, arrogance is mostly born out of these things and unless man purges himself from these vanities, he cannot be a chosen one in the sight of Allah.’ [12]

Simply put, even if we have an inkling that we are superior to someone in a certain aspect of life, that is a red flag and a reminder for us to check our ego.

Spiritual Consequences of Arrogance

You might be wondering, how bad is it, really, to be arrogant? In the spiritual domain, it is considered absolutely lethal to one’s inner spiritual life. In his own words, the Promised Messiah (as) writes, ‘Arrogance is a most dangerous affliction. It brings about spiritual death for the person in whom it is instilled. I know for certain that this affliction is worse than murder. An arrogant person becomes Satan’s brother because it was arrogance which disgraced Satan. Therefore it is conditional for a believer that he should not have any arrogance. On the contrary, he should have humility, meekness, and modesty. [13]

Humility According to the Promised Messiah (as)

We all desire success but are not sure if humility can get us there. As the Reverend Dr Sam Wells put it, we are petrified that if we are humble we will end up subjugated, trodden on, embarrassed, and irrelevant. [14] But, what of the spiritual realm? Is humility truly a sign of weakness that curbs us from our spiritual aspirations?

In response to this question, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), the Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, states the following: ‘The individual or communal advancement of the Promised Messiah’s (as) community lies in humility, for the Promised Messiah (as) had received divine revelation proclaiming, “He has liked your humble ways.”’ [15]

Entrance and prosperity in the spiritual kingdom demand the prerequisite of humility. One must take the first and last step of their spiritual journey with utmost humility and meekness. As the Promised Messiah (as) writes,

‘The first stage of man’s spiritual developments is that of humility.’ [16]

Echoing this sentiment, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) states, ‘The basis of all the commandments necessary to attain the pleasure of God is humility and humbleness.’ [17]

It is the way of God to exalt those in spiritual station who adopt humility. In fact, the Holy Qur’an characterises true servants of God as those who ‘walk on the earth modestly, and, rather than letting their emotions get the better of them, ‘when the ignorant address them, they say, “Peace!”’ [18]

But what is humility? What does it look like?

The Promised Messiah (as) beautifully responds to these queries through the following couplets,

جوخاک میں ملے اسے ملتا ہے آشنا اے آزمانے والے! یہ نسخہ بھی آزما

‘He who mingles with the dust finds that Intimate Friend
O ye who experiment! Test this prescription as well.’ [19]

بدتر بنو ہر ایک سے اپنے خیال میں شاید اسی سے دخل ہو دارالوصال میں

‘Think of yourself as inferior to everyone else;
Perchance, thereby, you may enter the Place of Union.’

Thus, according to Islamic philosophy humility shouldn’t be viewed as a character flaw. Rather, it is a hallmark of those who earnestly seek truth. As the Promised Messiah (as) expounds, ‘an individual who weeps before God with humility and emotion puts themselves in the benevolent lap of divine providence.’ [21]

You might be wondering: what can I practically do to diminish my ego and increase in humility? The Holy Prophet (sa) directed us to recite بسم اللہ (In the name of Allah) prior to performing any task. [22] If one were to reflect on the deeper meanings of بسم اللہ they would come to realise that any ability or talent we possess is granted to us by God Almighty. He is the true fountainhead and source of everything good. Just as He has the power to give He also has the ability to take away. Once we realise and internalise that all abilities stem from God Almighty, are we able to recognise and shatter false pride that may be consuming us. [23]   

Undoubtedly, ego is the enemy of a believer and humility their fortress.  

About the Author: Qasim Choudhary is a graduate of the Ahmadiyya Institute of Languages and Theology in Canada, and serves as an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the United States of America.


[1] Holiday, Ryan, Ego is the Enemy, New York: Penguin Random House LLC., 2016 (ebook) pg.15

[2] Holiday, Ryan, Ego is the Enemy, New York: Penguin Random House LLC., 2016 (ebook) pg.64

[3] Holiday, Ryan, Ego is the Enemy, New York: Penguin Random House LLC., 2016 (ebook) pg.18

[4] The Holy Qur’an, 7:177

[5] Tafsir Hazrat Masih-e-Maud, Vol.4, pg.256

[6] The True Nature of the Mahdi, pg. 31 (2017)

[7] Holiday, Ryan, Ego is the Enemy, New York: Penguin Random House LLC., 2016 (ebook) pg.16

[8] Haqiqatul-Wahi, pg.17 (Eng. Translation)

[9] Holiday, Ryan, Ego is the Enemy, New York: Penguin Random House LLC., 2016 (ebook) pg.64

[10] Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya Part V, p.26, Islam International Publications Ltd., 2018 (Eng. Translation)

[11] Essence of Islam, Volume. II, pg.355

[12] Tafsir Hazrat Masih-e-Maud, Vol.7, pg.43

[13] Malfuzat, Vol.8, pg.101, (Edition 1984)

[14] Holiday, Ryan, Ego is the Enemy, New York: Penguin Random House LLC., 2016 (ebook) pg.71

[15] Friday Sermon, 2nd January 2004

[16] Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya Part V, pg.266, Islam International Publications Ltd., 2018 (Eng. Translation)

[17] Friday Sermon, 7th June 2013

[18] The Holy Qur’an, 25:64

[19] Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya Part V, pg.25, Islam International Publications Ltd., 2018 (Eng. Translation)

[20] Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya Part V, pg.26, Islam International Publications Ltd., 2018 (Eng. Translation)

[21] Malfuzat Vol III, pg.33 (Eng. Translation)

[22] Bukhari, Kitab Tauheed

[23] Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol.34, pg. 79