Answered by Sayyidi Habib Umar bin Hafiz (may Allah protect him and benefit us by him).
How can we purify our lower selves from blameworthy traits such as arrogance, ostentation and envy?
We can do this with a combination of knowledge and action. Through knowledge we know the reality of these traits and how a person comes to possess them and the fact that they go against our best interests in this life and the next. Then we act against the dictates of these traits.
The cure for arrogance (kibr), for example, which is seeing yourself as being great, is to return to the knowledge of yourself. Every human’s origin is from a contemptible drop of fluid and its ending is a putrid corpse. Between those two times it carries filth in its stomach. We should also reflect upon our weakness in the face of illness and in the face of difficulties. By continually reflecting upon these realities we realise that it is unbefitting to be arrogant. Thus we uproot arrogance from the heart. Then we act in contradiction to the dictates of arrogance. Arrogance dictates, for example, that we sit at the front of a gathering or that we are haughty in our way of speaking. Instead we should sit in the middle of the gathering and try to be humble in the way we speak.
The cure for ostentation (riya’), which is seeking to attain status in people’s hearts, is to know that such a trait will nullify the reward of your actions. If the people for whose sake you perform acts of worship knew that they were being sought, and not Allah, they would look down upon the person performing those acts. The reality is that those people who are being sought are unable to benefit or harm that person who is seeking them. Also anyone seeking other than Allah in his acts of worship will lose his rank with Allah and bad deeds will be recorded against him instead of good deeds. When it comes to action, we should conceal any action that may be concealed. We must openly perform those that actions that cannot be concealed such as the congregational prayer, the Hajj, teaching and calling to Allah but while doing so disliking any thoughts of ostentation that come to our minds. We should repeat the Prophetic supplication:
الَّلهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ أَنْ أُشْرِكَ بِكَ شَيْئاً وأَنا أَعْلَمُ وأَسْتَغْفِرُكَ لما لا أَعْلَمُ
Allahumma inni a`udhu bika an ushrika bika shayan wa ana a`lamu wa astaghfiruka lima la a`lamu
“O Allah I seek refuge in You from knowingly associating partners with You in any way, and I seek Your forgiveness for that which I do not know.”
(3 times in the morning and 3 times in the evening).
The cure for envy (hasad), which is resenting the fact that Allah has bestowed a blessing on someone, is to know that showing envy is expressing opposition to Allah. Allah has decreed a certain thing and the envious person wishes that it were not so. If someone has envy they should know that they will lose their rank with Allah and will not be able to prevent the person he envies from receiving Allah’s blessing. Allah may in fact increase that blessing, causing the envious person even more grief in this life before the suffering he will experience in the next. When reflecting upon this, any intelligent person would abandon envy. Action is easy: if you find yourself envying someone, then praise that person and pray for them abundantly. Ask Allah in a state of prostration that He strengthens that person and increases him in that which Allah has blessed him with, especially in the thing which you envy him over.
The root cause and foundation of all these blameworthy traits is love of this world (hubb al-dunya). The means of removing all these traits and the foundation of all praiseworthy traits is love of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).