The Power of Humility from a philosophical and Islamic Perspective

by Mohamedarif Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

Mohamedarif-Suleman Mohamedarif Mohamed Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) is a digital marketing specialist and an Educator-cum-Trainer. He has involved himself in community organisations and matters from a young age, and through his writings, continues to speak of social and cultural reform to this day. He is also the founding moderator of this forum.



Though it’s frequently mistaken for meekness or self-deprecation, humility is much more than that. It is an essential quality for actual learning and advancement in the field of intellectual endeavours. This article examines the idea of humility from the perspectives of Shia Islamic sources as well as Western philosophers, such as Philippa Foot and Mary Warnock.

“I’m not clever, I don’t find arguments easy to follow.” Philippa Foot
Philippa Foot was one of the best British philosophers of the 20th century. Yet she told me,
“I couldn’t give a five-minute lecture on dozens of philosophers. I couldn’t tell you about Spinoza. I’m very uneducated really.”
Mary Warnock was another philosopher with a keen sense of humility, saying:
“I haven’t done very much work and I haven’t done it very well.”

Great thinkers like Philippa Foot and Mary Warnock, despite their immense achievements, displayed a remarkable sense of humility. Foot acknowledged her limitations in areas like detailed knowledge of specific philosophers, while Warnock downplayed the volume and quality of her work. These seemingly self-deprecating remarks, however, reveal a deeper truth: their self-awareness was a key factor in their success.

Through frank evaluation of their advantages and disadvantages, Foot and Warnock were able to capitalise on their special skills. With her sharp moral sense and intelligence, Foot was particularly good at practical ethics. Warnock, a talented facilitator and explainer, worked on public policy commissions and made a lasting impression. Rather than trying to compete in areas where they were less naturally skilled, their humility helped them to recognise and capitalise on their abilities, which eventually allowed them to make a greater contribution.

Shia Islamic sources place great emphasis on humility as a necessary quality for acquiring knowledge and achieving spiritual growth. Imam Ali (AS), a revered figure in Shia Islam, is quoted as saying,

“The foundation of knowledge is humility.”

This emphasises the importance of approaching learning with an open mind and a willingness to acknowledge the vastness of knowledge compared to one’s understanding.

The Glorious Qur’an, forbids intellectual hubris. The verse 71 of Surah Al-Zumar says,

“And do not turn your face away from the people, in arrogance.”

This passage might be read as a reminder to exercise intellectual humility and to avoid discounting the opinions of others due to our conceit.

The goal is to draw attention to the risks associated with social media, where the urge to voice one’s thoughts might lead to statements that are beyond one’s area of expertise. This is consistent with the Islamic idea of “iltizam,” which is taking responsibility for one’s own words and deeds. Intellectual humility becomes even more crucial in the age of information overload, asking us to consider the boundaries of our knowledge before expressing ideas.

Humility, far from being a weakness, is a strength that empowers clear thinking and intellectual growth. By recognizing our limitations and embracing a lifelong learning approach, we can cultivate a more open-minded and productive intellectual environment, both within ourselves and in society at large.

As Imam Ali (AS) is also quoted, “True knowledge lies in acknowledging one’s ignorance.”

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