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The Concept Of ‘Al-Riyaa’ (Show Off) In Islam

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No doubt the real goal of human existence is to worship only Allah (S.W.T.). It is indeed herculean task to adequately succeed in carrying out this divine task prescribed for humanity because of the demanding challenges involved. One of the challenges is the ability to carry out this task with utmost sincerity such that all acts of worshiping Allah (S.W.T.) will be absolutely for His sake. A situation where any act of worship is done for the sake of something else beside Allah (S.W.T.) is known as al-Riyaa and as such totally proscribed because of the fact that it nullifies all acts of worship. It is fact-based to realize that the maximal importance of worship as far as Islam is concerned is to make it absolutely safe from being shattered by any nullifier.

Man luxuriously abandons himself in his natural tendency of showing off in all his actions, which is a path of destruction. Here comes the religion, Islam taking him away from the path of destruction to the path of salvation. In order to practically get this done and not fall prey to Shaytan (The Devil), his traps and his associates, one needs to sanitize one’s acts of worship (‘Ibadah) from being affected by this great nullifier of ‘Ibadah which is al-Riyaa. Al-Riyaa, in its essence, completely renders any act of worship invalid however magnificent or delightful it is. Furthermore it attracts condemnation and Perdition of Allah (S.W.T.) if not checkmated, may Allah (S.W.T.) save us from this spiritually perennial loss. In an attempt to comprehensively understand the concept of al-Riyaa, we are very decided to concisely sift its four components, viz. Al-Riyaa and its signs, the danger of al-Riyaa to every individual and society, types of al-Riyaa and how best can one be saved from al-Riyaa?

(I): What Is Al-Riyaa And What Are Its Signs?
Al-Riyaa is an act of discharging or offering acts of worship (‘Ibadah) with a deliberate intention of making people see the act so that they can praise or commend the doer and also people can be made to admire him because of his performance. It is evident, whenever al-Riyaa is considered, that people are the main factor and drive behind the action, not Allah (S.W.T.). Going by this definition, al-Riyaa literally means insincerity, duplicity, hypocrisy, showing off and eyeservice. By considering these words, the meaning of al-Riyaa is distinctly discerned. Just like the word ‘Rabb’, we shall need like seven words to be able to adequately translate it and have the meaning demystified: All-Possessor, Master, Deity, All-Reformer, All-Manager, All-Restorer and All-Existent.

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In Islam it is axiomatically indisputable that this attitude is a great nullifier of ‘Ibadah and good deeds. A hypocrite, who exhibits al-Riyaa, regards people attentively, he does not regard Allah (S.W.T.). He has in mind fear of the people, not that of Allah (S.W.T.). He decorates his deeds for people to see and marvel and forgets the Lord of all that exits – the Being Who knows the fraud of the eyes (Q. 40:19). The fraud of the eyes, for example, is when one keeps a normal expression on his face to show acceptance but dissembles refusal; Allah (S.W.T.) is fully aware of what one conceals and what one reveals – He is the All-Knower of the unseen and seen.
Coming to the sings of al-Riyaa, there are basically four of them. If one or part of them is noticed in any individual, such a person will automatically be among the losers in respect of their deeds on the Day of Resurrection if they refuse to redress the balance by restoring to the grace of Allah (S.W.T.) with sincere repentance, followed by good deeds while on earth.

The signs are as follows:
1-To be indolent or negligent in all acts of worship when one is alone.
2-To be energetically active and zealous to attain piety and also eager to do good deeds when one is amongst the people.
3-To increase one’s good deeds and strive to do more mainly because of accolade and admiration one receives from the people for one’s performance.
4-To reduce one’s good deeds or stop them completely because of the people’s abuse, condemnation, harshness, aversion or their lack of recognition and admiration.
(II): The Danger Of Al-Riyaa To Every Individual And The Society

The following are the two basic dangers, among others, that may unavoidably strike every individual and also the society as a result of application of al-Riyaa in one’s acts of worship or good deeds:

1.Al-Riyaa is more Dangerous than Dajjal This is one of the teachings of the Prophet (S.A.W.). In Sunan Ibn Maajah book:37 Hadith 4345:
… Abu sa’eed may Allah be pleased with him said: ‘The Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) came out to us when we were discussing Dajjal (False Christ) and said’: “shall I not tell you of that which I fear more for you than Dajjal?” We said: yes. He said: “Hidden polytheism, when a man stands to pray and makes it look good because he sees a man looking at him.”

Among the major signs of the end of the world is the appearance of Maseeh al-Dajjal (False Christ); his brief characteristics are below listed so as to better comprehend how dangerous al-Riyaa is:

He is a one-eyed young man who will claim divinity.He will be given the power to communicate with inanimate objects and animals.
When moving, he is as fast as clouds.He will be given the power to be able to get to all places on earth except Makkah and Madinah that will be protected by the angels with the Permission of Allah (S.W.T.).
He will be given the power to ask the sky to rain with the Permission of Allah (S.W.T.).
He will be given the power to make the earth grow and produce plants/crops instantly.
He will create his paradise and hell for those who believe and disbelieve in him. Although his paradise will turn to Hell while his hell will turn to Paradise with the Permission of Allah (S.W.T.).

The Prophet (S.A.W.) recommended the recitation of Surah al-Kahf for the safety from the torment of Dajjal, yet al-Riyaa is said to be more dangerous. This is because Dajjal’s torment is fleeting while al-Riyaa’s is perpetual Perdition of Allah (S.W.T.).

2- Al-Riyaa is a Nullifier of Good Deed
With remissness and improvidence, al-Riyaa nullifies good deeds, it makes them futile, it utterly wrecks all acts of worship (‘Ibadah) and subsequently one becomes a wholly spiritual loser; a great loss indeed, Allah (S.W.T.) says in Q. 18: 103-104:

Say (O Muhammad S.A.W.): Shall We tell you the greatest losers in respect of their deeds? Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life while they thought that they were acquiring good by their deed!

Imam Sha’rawiy argues that nothing would have been responsible for good deeds to be wasted than al-Riyaa. It is manifestly al-Riyaa for someone to do good deeds for the sake of history, fame, people, power or money and the out-turn of that is futility. In Muslim, Book 18, Hadith 1616, Arabic/English book reference, the Prophet (S.A.W.) was reported to have said that Allah (S.W.T.) says in Hadith Qudsiy:
I am the One Who is most free from want of partners. He who does a thing for the sake of someone else beside Me, I discard him and his Polytheism.

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Similaly in Tirmidhi, Hadith 3154, Ibn Majah, Hadith 4203:
…Allah will gather the first and the last on the Day of Resurrection, the Day concerning which there is no doubt. A voice will call out, “Whoever used to associate anyone with Allah in the deeds which he did, let him seek his reward from someone other than Allah, Allah is the least in need of any partner or associate.

”To further asseverate the nullifying characteristic of al-Riyaa, we need to explore the Hadith of the Prophet (S.A.W.) in Muslim (1905), Tirmidhi (2382), Nasa’i (3137) and Musnad Imam Ahmad (V. 2, H. 223):

…The first set of people to be dragged to the Hell Fire are: reciter of the Glorious Qur’an, Mujahid in Allah’s cause and a giver of alms… (All this is as a result of application of al-Riyaa in one’s deeds).It therefore follows that a hypocrite who is not sincere in the way he worships Allah (S.W.T.), who deceives Allah (S.W.T.) in his thoughts, though he cannot succeed in his deceit, such a person will find it easier and more convenient to be disloyal to his family, his community, his state, his nation and entire creation at large – there is no way he can be an agent of development in his society, may Allah (S.W.T.) save us from this act and strengthen us with firm Iman (faith).

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Al-Riyaa
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