Avoiding the First Person Pronoun
  • Thu, 11/06/2014
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Some people have gotten into the habit of avoiding the first person singular pronoun, as if it were an act of piety to do so. When they are compelled to say “I”, they hasten to add: “...and I seek Allah’s refuge form that ‘I’.” I once told a young man: “It may be that Satan inspired you to do this because you love to repeat the word ‘I’. It is, in fact, the most frequently uttered of all words.”

It is nothing more than a habit of speech. Some people go to great lengths to speak about themselves in the third person, referring to themselves as “the needy one before Allah says...” or “the one who is speaking to you says...”

The word “I” is not always bad. It appears 66 times in the Qur’an, and usually in a positive context. Allah uses the word “I” to speak about himself:

“There is no God but Me”. [Sūrah TāHā: 14]

“I am the Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” [,em>Sūrah al-Hijr: 49]

“I am your Lord” [Sūrah TāHā: 12]

He also uses this pronoun in the statements he commands Prophet Muhammad, to say about himself:

“Say: ‘I am not a guardian over you’.” [Sūrah al-An`ām: 104]

“Say: ‘People! Now the truth hath reached you from your Lord! Those who receive guidance do so for the good of their own souls, and those who stray do so to their own loss. And I have not been set over you to arrange your affairs’.” [Sūrah Yūnus: 108]

“And say: ‘I am indeed a plain warner’.” [Sūrah al-Hijr: 89]

“Say: ‘I am only a man like you to whom it has been revealed that your god is but one God; so take a straight course to Him and seek His forgiveness’.” [Sūrah Fussilat: 6]

The angels use the pronoun “I” as well. We see where the angel Gabriel says to Mary: “I am but a messenger of my Lord.” [Sūrah Maryam: 19]

The word “I” appears without any pretentiousness in many contexts. It is used to express humility and self-effacement: “I am less than you in wealth and children.” [Sūrah al-Kahf: 39]

It comes to express clemency and responding to evil with what is good, like where Abel says to Cain: “Even if you stretch out your hand against me to kill me, I shall not stretch out my hand against you to kill you.” [Sūrah al-Mā’idah: 28]

It comes in the context of introducing oneself and admitting to Allah’s grace: “I am Joseph and this is my brother. Allah has shown us favour.” [Sūrah Yūsuf: 90]

It comes to express one’s sufficiency to the task at hand, like where Joseph says: “Set me over the storehouses of the land. I am truly a skilled custodian.” [Sūrah Yūsuf: 55]

And when one of Solomon’s special servants said to him: “I will bring it to you before you rise from your place.” [Sūrah al-Naml: 39]

And then another said to him: “I will bring it to you within the twinkling of an eye!” [Sūrah al-Naml: 40]

It comes in the context of proclaiming past benefits and anticipating future blessings. For instance, Prophet Muhammad once asked a number of questions: “Who started the day fasting? Who followed a funeral procession today? Who fed a poor person today? Who visited a sick person today?”

To each of these questions, Abū Bakr responded by saying: “I did.” [Sahīh Muslim]

It comes in the context of confidently taking the initiative to do something. Once the prophet asked: “Who will do justice to this sword?” Abū Dajānah responded: “I will, O Messenger of Allah.” [Mustadrak al-Hākim]

It comes in the context of admitting one’s sins to Allah, like where the Queen of Sheba said: “My Lord! Indeed I have wronged myself, and I submit with Solomon to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.” [Sūrah al-Naml: 44]

And like where the wife of Egypt’s ruler confessed about her dealings with Joseph: “It was I who sought to seduce him, and indeed, he is of the truthful.” [Sūrah Yūsuf: 51]

The word “I” can be employed to express one’s qualifications, to call to righteousness by setting an example, and to open up opportunities for others. It can be used by those who are strong and who do not have to account to anyone else to admit their faults instead of persisting in their wrongdoing, for Allah says: “And they do not knowingly persist in the wrong they were doing.” [Sūrah Āl `Imrān: 135]

When people lack of a proper sense of self and a sense of their importance, they cease to be productive and successful people. They cease, in a sense, to be fully alive.