If you have knowledge and you know what you are doing, then this knowledge gives you confidence. There is however a thin line between confidence and arrogance.
Arrogance is when you think you have knowledge, and so do not need to seek more knowledge. You become confident in knowledge that you actually do not have. Such confidence is actually a form of arrogance. The majority of people today fall into this category – they are grossly ignorant, but are unaware of it. They confidently talk about issues on which they have minimal knowledge. We can see plenty of this in Islamic websites, where people pass judgments, criticisms and opinions which are based on partial knowledge or unauthentic sources and are simply wrong.
The arrogant tend to be aggressive in voicing opinions about Islam. Their ignorance makes them intolerant and swift to condemn others. With them, we have to recognize that they may be confident, but their ignorance renders their sparse knowledge to be of little value, no matter how eloquently delivered.
The arrogant refuse to learn or research any further because they believe they are already learned. There are many examples of this, for example people who don’t even know how to recite the Qur’an or have only read a few passages from it, but talk as if they are the grand mufti. They usually do not even understand the basics of manner or adab, for example, they use rude language, don’t allow anyone else to talk, and interrupt or argue when more learned people are talking.
Today, many study about Islam academically from secular sources (even from non Muslim lecturers), and such knowledge is unsuitable or incomplete to make them good Muslims because it is taught from the academic angle only. Therefore it cannot be said that such persons have the real knowledge. This method of education results in Muslims who are weighty in the knowledge of halal and haram, but possessing very few characteristics of a Muslim, such as humility, generosity, mercy and the fear of God. Some of these people do not even practice the basic edicts of Islam, such as salat and fasting. Therefore, it is astounding that they have the confidence to advice on Islam as if they were authorities on the subject.
Today, the arrogant amongst us use knowledge to argue and create division. On the other extreme, there are self appointed spokespersons of the ummah, venturing opinions which are contradictory to established Islamic principles, such as the legitimizing of homosexuality, alcohol and usury. These speakers like to grab attention on debate floors or Western talk shows in order for their own self glorification rather that the promotion of Islam. Yet, with all their impassioned speeches, they do not even understand or practice the most basic principles of taqwa or God consciousness. This is not confidence; it is arrogance.
All understanding and comprehension of knowledge comes only from Allah and the ultimate examples of the learned people are Messengers and Prophets. They were the most knowledgeable amongst us, but were also were the most merciful and humble when spreading that knowledge. They did not lack confidence, but they also never crossed the line to become arrogant with their knowledge.
The confident is self assured and does not need to prove himself. He uses Islamic knowledge not just for his own benefit, but to guide others. He is not anxious to impress others, because a person confident in his Islamic knowledge is always humble. Even the Companions used to shun the spotlight. because they were wise enough to realize the huge responsibility attached to the passing of knowledge.
Knowledge is a gift and trust from Allah. It is to be spent generously to lead others to salvation, but be very careful. If you have not thoroughly studied a subject matter, then refrain from advising others on it, because everything in Islam is multi dimensional and requires several layers of knowledge and comprehension. Do not mistake the courage to speak based on very little knowledge as confidence – it is actually arrogance. It is better to refer to a scholar instead of giving your own personal opinion based on your limited understanding of Islam.
Even if you do have the knowledge, do not become arrogant because of it, because the arrogance will lead to self satisfaction, and self satisfaction and arrogance will always lead one back to ignorance.
May Allah make us understand the distinction between confidence and arrogance, and may He prevent us from transgressing the boundaries, amen.