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Originally published Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 12:48 PM

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Anniversary of Ashura reminds us to avoid pride, arrogance

Showing gratitude and thankfulness can be essential tools in being respectful, humble and joyful.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Today is the anniversary of Ashura, when Muslims around the world fast in recognition of the day God rescued Moses and his followers from the Egyptian Pharaoh.

It's a story that serves to remind us about the human weaknesses of pride and arrogance — traits that led to Pharaoh's downfall.

Ashura simply means "10th," and it is the 10th day of the first month of the Muslim New Year. On this day Prophet Moses would fast, giving thanks to God for saving him and his followers from Pharaoh.

Muslims began fasting on the day of Ashura when Prophet Muhammad found Jews in Arabia fasting and insisted Muslims should do the same from dawn to sunset on that day because of their love for Moses and as a reminder of Pharaoh's arrogance. Arrogance is a sin in Islam.

The story of Moses and the Pharaoh is one of the most vividly described in the Qur'an — about how God sent Moses to speak to Pharaoh in a gentle way about the oneness of the creator, but Pharaoh was too arrogant to accept this truth.

Pharaoh's denial was not because he failed to recognize God's miracles sent through Moses; it simply hurt his sense of pride.

I grew up listening to the story of Moses and Pharaoh and dreamed about one day visiting Egypt, something I have been able to do several times as an adult.

When I explored the pyramids outside and inside, I was not in awe about Pharaoh's dream becoming reality, but rather I sadly reflected on the blood, sweat and suffering that went into building these momentous structures.

Standing on the shore of Egypt's Red Sea, I tried to imagine the fear and anxiety Moses and his followers felt knowing Pharaoh was approaching when God inspired Moses to strike the water with his staff and part the sea:

"Smite the sea with your staff. And it parted and each portion was like a great towering mountain." (Qur'an 26:63)

In Cairo, at the Egyptian Museum near Tahrir Square, I felt I was walking through ancient history. Pharaoh's body was displayed in the royal mummy room, which Muslims believe is a sign from God. God says in the Qur'an, "So today We will save you in body that you may be to those who succeed you a sign. And indeed, many among the people, of Our signs, are heedless." (10:92)

The human weakness called pride still exists. How many folks today draw too much attention to themselves and exaggerate their strengths and successes, avoiding humility?

Pride can manifest itself in arrogance and ego, which can harden our hearts. Today, there appears to be a deficit of humility, a virtue that serves humanity well.

Has ego ever kept you from forgiving someone, or arrogance caused you to just walk away when deep down you really want to stay — situations that can result in stressful resentment and even mental harm?

Simply, our creator wants us to be humble rather than arrogant. We exemplify humility by expressing our sincere appreciation for others, complimenting them on their successes and simply giving credit where credit is due.

Showing gratitude and thankfulness can be essential tools in being respectful, humble and joyful.

Aziz Junejo is host of "Focus on Islam," a weekly cable-television show, and a frequent speaker on Islam. Readers may send feedback to faithcolumns@seattletimes.com

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