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Islamic Character Islamic Studies Qur'an

Showing Off: the Minor Shirk

Lecture by Suhaib Webb | Transcribed by Fuseina Mohamad

Surat Al-Fatiha Series: Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V | Part VIPart VIIPart VIIIPart IXPart XPart XIPart XII | Part XIII |Part XIVPart XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIIIPart XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV

The last cause of arrogance we discussed is praise. We shouldn’t praise people too much. This doesn’t mean that, for example, if you get a very high score on your GRE or MCAT and you tell your roommate, “Alhamdulillah I got the national high for the GRE!” that he should respond with, “So what?” No, he should be encouraging and say, “Alhamdullilah.” The meaning of alhamdu is that praise goes back to Allah (swt). Praise be to the One Who guided you to this good thing. Sometimes, we don’t like to show emotion; like when someone says, “That’s fine. I’m glad you’ve memorized the Quran.” We should be saying, “Alhamdullilah! Masha’Allah!” Allah (swt) says, “But as for the favor of your Lord, report [it],” (Qur’an, 93:11). The Prophet ﷺ said that Allah (swt) likes to see the effects of His blessings on you. But don’t go crazy. Don’t go to one extreme or the other.

You have to realize that most of the diseases of the heart are solved by “iyaka na`budu (it is You we worship).” (Qur’an, 1:5). When we say “iyaka na`budu” arrogance, for example, is wiped away. Being scared is wiped away. Shirk (associating partners to Allah) is wiped away. Being lazy, misguided, miserly or devious is wiped way. Most of the diseases of the heart are cured by struggling to obey Allah (swt). Sometimes you wonder, “SubhanAllah how long do I have to keep going through this internally?” Iyaka na`budu. I’m waiting and I’m trusting in You. One day You’re going to fix it for me.

The next disease of the heart is very dangerous; in fact the Prophet ﷺ feared this thing the most for us. The Prophet ﷺ was merciful, loving and good to everyone – but this is the thing he feared for you and me the most. It is so dangerous that the one who feels safe from it is usually the one who’s been entrapped in its tentacles with no way out. It’s so deadly that you can do a lot of good deeds but if you’ve cloaked your good deeds with the dress of this thing, you’ve lost all the rewards. Imagine doing good and getting none of the rewards. You’re doing good deeds but you’re getting nothing: in fact you’re getting punished.

This is the disease of ar-riyaa: to be a show-off. People like me with big mouths who you guys invite to speak everywhere are the ones who have the biggest test of riyaa. It’s very difficult.

Nobody can say, “I’m safe from riyaa.” The one who says this is showing off. The Prophet Muhammed ﷺ warned us about riyaa, but what is the meaning of ar-riyaa?

Imam al Ghazali said in his book Al Ihya that ar-riyaa is to seek stations (i.e. being high in people’s minds and hearts) with actions so that they see you; to seek the praise of the people. There are some signs of the one who has riyaa that we will talk about , as well as their cures as found in Surat al-Fatiha (Qur’an, 1).

Riyaa is so dangerous that the Prophet ﷺ gave it a special name. He said, “Indeed the thing I fear for you the most is the minor shirk (associating partners with Allah).” We have minor shirk and major shirk. Major shirk is something like worshipping a statue or another god with Allah (swt) or to take a legislator other than Allah (swt). But the minor shirk is mentioned in this hadith. And the Prophet ﷺ said that it is the thing he fears for us the most. The Companions of the Prophet ﷺ asked him, “What is minor shirk, ya Rasullah?” He said, “Ar-riyaa. Showing off.” In one hadith the Prophet ﷺ gave the example of someone making the athan (call to prayer) and while making the athan he thinks, “Wow I bet the people think my voice is beautiful.” This is ar-riyaa. In another hadith the Prophet ﷺ said it’s so dangerous that it’s like the black ant on the black rock in the night with no moon. It can sneak up on you like this.

Indeed riyaa is so difficult and dangerous that it can fall into your good actions. The Prophet Muhammed ﷺ said, “The one who prays and wants people to see them has committed shirk. The one who fasted and they want the people to know about their fasting has committed shirk. The one who gave sadaqah (charity) and wants people to know about their charity has committed shirk.” You know how dangerous shaytan is, especially when it comes to sadaqah? For example, maybe Islamic Relief or some charitable organization comes to your campus and they do a fundraiser. You’re not even married and you say, “Subhan’Allah I really need this money but the Prophet ﷺ said wealth does not decrease from giving charity. So I’m going to give and no one will know about it.” So you give the money and then later you get married. Then ten years later you’re sitting with your spouse at home and you say, “You know what I did ten years ago?” You just lost it. This is Shaytan. Don’t think that Shaytan will just mess with you at that moment. We will talk about the attacks of Shaytan later in this series, insha’Allah. One word that Ibn Qayyim used to describe Shaytan is very scary. He said Shaytan is patient. He waits. Then, at a specific moment, he hits you. For ten years you got the hasanat (blessings) of this charity. But what counts is when you die. So after that ten years if you start boasting to someone, then you’ve lost it. You’ve got to start over. This attack is even more dangerous because if Shaytan hits you today with riyaa you still have ten years to make up for it. But if he waits ten years and then gets you then you lost ten years. Shaytan is an enemy to us.

How dangerous is riyaa, the minor shirk? If you read any of the du`a’ that we recite every day after Fajr (predawn prayer) or `Asr (afternoon prayer) we say, “Oh my Lord, I seek refuge in You from associating partners with You knowingly and from associating partners with You unknowingly.”

How subtle is riyaa? Maybe a sister goes to Egypt or Syria for three months to study. She buys a nice jilbab (dress), not the American not-really-quite-there jilbab. She buys the real jilbab. Then she comes back and goes to campus and now she wears jilbab and she thinks to herself proudly, “Oh yes, now I wear jilbab.” Why is she wearing this jilbab? Did she wear this jilbab to please Allah (swt) or did she wear this jilbab so that people would say, “Oh you wear jilbab, you’re a big sheikha!” This is very dangerous.

Maybe a brother got some knowledge and then he comes to the MSA and he starts preaching, “Well Ibn Malik said in the Al-Fiya…” and he reads some poetry that no one in the world can understand except him. Then you say to him, “SubhanAllah, brother. We’re talking about parking at jum`ah (Friday prayer), and you’re reading the poetry of sarf (Arabic morphology)?” Why did the brother read this poetry? Why did he learn? Why is he increasing himself? This is ar-riyaa.

Many of us might be listening today and think, “Oh well I’m not even a good Muslim. I don’t need to worry about riyaa. I’m doing bad, ain’t no riyaa in doing bad.” Check yourself before you wreck yourself. That’s not the case because you can even have riyaa in doing bad.

You might be doing bad and think, “Yeah them brothers see how I’ve got it going on. They’re going to think I’m all that.” This is riyaa. In fact 99% of hip-hop music is riyaa. “Look at me, I’m the baddest dude on the block, I got more girls than stars in the sky, I can drink more than the Pacific Ocean. It’s because of me that the world’s in motion.” This is riyaa! This is showing-off and exaggeration.

Those of us who feel safe from riyaa, listen to the following statements of one of the great scholars. He said, “The closest to people to falling into showing off are those who feel the most secure from it.” Those people who think, “I don’t have to worry about what he’s talking about. I’m not an active Muslim.” There is only one type of Muslim and that’s an active Muslim. You move, you breathe, right? Your blood is moving in your body. You’re active and you’re a Muslim. Therefore you are an active Muslim.

We should note the types of riyaa so that we can protect ourselves from it.

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship.

Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010 and his website, www.SuhaibWebb.com, was voted the best “Blog of the Year” by the 2009 Brass Crescent awards.

Suhaib Webb has lectured extensively around the world including in the Middle East, East Asia, Europe, North Africa and North America. Upon returning from his studies in Egypt, Webb lived in the Bay Area, California, where he worked with the Muslim American Society from Fall 2010 to Winter 2011. He currently serves as the Imam of the Islamic Society of Boston’s Cultural Center (ISBCC).

57 Comments

  • What a reminder. I got scared just by reading it. All I’m thinking of now is my riyaa moments and how I lost my good deeds just by doing it… May Allah forgive and protect us all.

  • Can this situation be described as Riyaa? How does a person get rid of it?

    A person starts with making a pure intention of reciting/learning the Quran to earn Allah’s hasanaat. While he is reciting the Quran he is alone and no one can hear him. As he recites the Quran he contemplates on its meaning with Khushu’o Yet later his mind begins to drift and the person begins to imagine/fantasize scenarios where this reciter is leading a jamaah in a mosque and the people praying behind him are thinking to themselves as to how beautiful this person’s recitation is).

    Is this from the Shaytaan? Or the person getting paranoid about riya’a and his recitation? Does the person lose the reward of his recitation when he is imagining such scenarios?

    • If when u are really leading a Jama’ah and you do not recite to impress the listeners, then I think it may not be Riyaa. Let us ask refuge with Allah if we tend imagine such scenario where we are impressing others.

  • I felt the same way it. It is so suttle . Like a silent killer. No one can see this fault escept u and Allah. Alhamdullilah. We ask all. To protect us from this bad attribute and replace It with that of sincerity.

  • AsA

    Shaykh, is gaining a group of Muslims respect so that they can come to a halaqa or to a lecture considered Riyaa? Being role model by being the best in sports? because many times we see Muslims, especially youth, if you are not only a good muslim but awesome at ball or awesome at some sport, they are more likely to not only listen to you but take what you say seriously. When you gain the people’s respect, its a lot easier to drive the message of islam home.

    Is this considered riyaa?

  • It is ultra hard to get rid of riya most of the time. cant we utter Astaqfirullah and seek forgiveness immediately to save our hard earn good deeds? jazakallah

  • As salamu alaykum,

    I´m shaking after reading this, I didn´t know the name of this minor shirk, but I´ve been watching “his heads” many times here and there, now you have taught us very clear about it. You has given clues to watch it coming and the best of all for me, it has all the time of the world to show off, then now way to relax about it.

    Thank you very much for bringing this information to consciousness.

  • Dua to be protected from Minor and Major shirk:

    Alla Humma Inni ‘A`udhu Bika An Ushrika Bika Wa Ana A’-alam, Wa Astughfiroka Lima La Aalam

    O Allah, I seek refuge in You, from associating partners
    with You, knowingly. And I seek Your forgiveness for
    that which I do unknowingly.

  • As known from the elders and scholors, One important way to safeguard from it is
    1. TO MAKE A FIRM INTENTION (BEFORE THE BEGINNING OF THE AMAL i.e, work)that I am doing this solely to please Allah (SWT) and nothing other than it.
    2. TO CHECK THE INTENTION WHILE DOING THE AMAL i.e, work it means whether my intention (which I did in the beginning) is retained with my heart or Shaitan has grabbed it out?
    3. TO CHECK THE SINCERITY OF INTENTION AT THE END OF THE WORK AND LOCATE THE INSINCERITY IF INTENTION (where Shaitan had grabbed it) and whole heartedly REPENT, MAKE TAUBA, DO ISTIGFAR AND SEEK PLEDGE TO ALLAH (SWT) TO BLESS WITH EKHLAS AND SAFE GUARD FROM RIYA.

    Because just like Pass or Fail, either the amal be accepted by Allah (SWT) OR rejected and nothing in between.

  • SalamuAlaikum Shaikh Suhaib…

    A brother I know has a question. He has a very beautiful voice, and he fears from Riya with his voice. Is this something to be feared from? He knows much of the Quran and he leads the Salat a lot in our Masjid. So he was asking should he not read Quran anymore? He is someone that is afraid truly from Riya. I hope you answer. JazakAllahu Khair

  • […] to waste time trying to deceive `Umar (ra). Shaytan’s time is much better spent riding with us. Ibn Qayyim described Shaytan as patient. He can wait for years till his whispers convince someone to boast about an act of goodness they […]

  • Thank you for the reminder.

    I am quite confused and concern, as I understood from the Quran, which states ‘in secret and in public’…

    “Those who (in charity) spend of their goods by night and by day, in secret and in public have their reward with their Rabb (only God and Sustainer). On them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.” (Qur‘an, 2:274)

    Does spending charity openly invites riya’? Wouldn’t it actually encourage others to do good deeds as reiterated in Surah Al Asr…

    Verily! Man is in loss,

    Except those who believe and do righteous good deeds, and recommend one another to the truth (i.e. order one another to perform all kinds of good deeds which Allah has ordained, and abstain from all kinds of sins and evil deeds which Allah has forbidden), and recommend one another to patience (for the sufferings, harms, and injuries which one may encounter in Allah’s cause).

    ..I am quite concerned now reading your article that all the good deeds which I thought would earn rewards by the Creator would be considered nullified…:(..as I do speaks of charity..and openly inviting people to join in)…

    I am confused…

    Thank you.

    Regards

    Azlan

  • riyaa’ is internal – you can’t see it by outward things or its absence. someone openly doing charity but doesn’t care at all about the being seen part of it, meaning whether the openness brings him honour or censure he would still be open about it because at that time the openness was better for the deed than secrecy. internally he has no riyaa’. same act, but internally he feels pride at people seeing him, and if the openness were to bring him censure instead, he would not have done it openly even if it were better – then i think this would be riyaa’. but an observer won’t know.

    the most difficult threat of riyaa’ for me is the things i have done with good intention that people don’t know, but say in a later incident when people treat me unfairly and believe poorly about me, consider me an inferior muslim compared to themselves even though (i believed) they do not do the things i did, i get real close to disclosing to someone, and sometimes actually did, those things that i never intended to tell anyone, because of the injury i feel at the injustice. so it can even sneak up on you, via your instinct of self-defense when you’re being unjustly treated.

  • Asalamalaikum,

    I feel so lost w/ this whole topic of ‘riyaa’, I don’t want to question why it’s such a major sin anyway because that’s just how it is. But it’s bothering my day-to-day activities. Thinking ‘was this really for Allah swt?’

    I used to go mosque quite often just because its Allah swt’s house and praying there would be more rewarding In Sha Allah, now I’ve stopped that because I get thoughts ‘what if this isn’t really for Allah swt?’, I’ve applied for an Alimiyyah course and I’m just thinking ‘what if that was such a bad mistake? If by the end of it I begin enjoining in the evil of showing off, pride and arrogance?’
    Sub Han Allah. I’m sure no one wants to die in any form of shirk. *sigh*

    My peace of mind has totally gone out the window. I’m just worried all the time because I’ve become confused about my intention. Shaitaan must be very happy.

    May Allah swt keep us away from all sins, especially those in the form of shirk.
    Ameen.

    JazakhAllah Khair for the post akhi.

  • “You might be doing bad and think, “Yeah them brothers see how I’ve got it going on. They’re going to think I’m all that.” This is riyaa. In fact 99% of hip-hop music is riyaa. “Look at me, I’m the baddest dude on the block, I got more girls than stars in the sky, I can drink more than the Pacific Ocean. It’s because of me that the world’s in motion.” This is riyaa! This is showing-off and exaggeration.”

    Eh… sorry, I don’t agree with this.
    Music such as hip-hop is just a matter of coincidence that we don’t know the lyrics that much. We are NOT acting upon the lyrics. So that statement is invalid.

  • Asalamalaikum.

    Its an indeed a reminder for most of us to do the good deeds just for the sake of Allah! Its natural to get confused when thinking about our intention. A believer will always be scared of His lord because he wants to worship only HIM! So people who are actually scared of doing things. its a good sign that you fear Allah! As far as i think the shaitan is very powerful to get us distracted somehow so its very important to realize and tell yourself that we are doing for Allah’s sake
    For example i go to my uni having a beard hiding my head with a cap. Ofcourse people look at me and they come and praise me but i still try my best not to get distracted. As long as we’re following sunnah and fear Allah i think we are doing good.We dont need praise. Those who praise you tell them that youre on DEEN. And pray for us! Allah knows best.

  • Btw people who stop doing good deeds just cuz theyre confused if its for Allah’s sake,
    Remember that’s EXACTLY what shaitan wants he wants to make sure that you dont work for jannah.

    May Allah SWT helps us to fight against shaitan and his followers.

  • Asalam alaikum!
    Allah indeed speaks to us in many ways,i have actually been struggling with riyaa and then tonight i see this eye opening and scary article. i have been making dua always asking Allah (swt) to give me sincerity in my heart and truthfulness on my tonugue, and i pray for my intentions to be for pleasing Allah, however, every time i get this thoughts at the back of my mind that maybe am actually seeking peoples’ approval.In fact i have been withholding to give dawah to my family and friends because everytime i get this thoughts that maybe i want to show them how wrong they are and how right i am (islam) am really struggling with riyaa yet i feel deep within me i want to please Allah but i cant help having those riyaa thoughts most times i do or intend to do something!

  • The Prophet Muhammed ﷺ said, “The one who prays and wants people to see them has committed shirk. The one who fasted and they want the people to know about their fasting has committed shirk. The one who gave sadaqah (charity) and wants people to know about their charity has committed shirk.”
    can any one help me to get refrence?

  • These days with social media tools like facebook and twitter, I think we are easily falling into those traps, especially in these times, riyaa is dangerous and easily adapted like a virus. JazzakAllah Khair! This helped a lot at the time being,insha’allah I will share this new-found knowledge(not for riyaa, but for increasing awareness).

  • The biggest Rita now days is facebook nowdays.
    I wish someone makes an article about people to stop showing off on facebook with their blessings and skills and this and that…

  • […] Here is the thing: She is still the same person. She is still a human being. Do you really think trolling her or any bloggers who admired her will really change the situation? I know she is not the first hijabi blogger to take her hijab off (Winnie Detwa also received backlash for taking her hijab off too). However, I don’t expect her to be the last. How terrible is it that we are so quick to bash the bloggers we so ardently adored? Personally, I don’t want to be adored. I want to be able to share my own thoughts and feelings in the hopes that it provides some souls a little comfort in their own lives. I think it is wrong how we have quickly made hijabi bloggers the end all be all. Please avoid taking bloggers on as idols. I don’t think a single blogger wants to be idol worshipped like a celebrity is in Western culture. And if there is a shred of pride from cult status, then we are bloggers need to be aware that showing off is so dangerous that it’s like the black ant on the black rock in the night with no mo…. […]

  • […] Here is the thing: She is still the same person. She is still a human being. Do you really think trolling her or any bloggers who admired her will really change the situation? I know she is not the first hijabi blogger to take her hijab off (Winnie Detwa also received backlash for taking her hijab off too). However, I don’t expect her to be the last. How terrible is it that we are so quick to bash the bloggers we so ardently adored? Personally, I don’t want to be adored. I want to be able to share my own thoughts and feelings in the hopes that it provides some souls a little comfort in their own lives. I think it is wrong how we have quickly made hijabi bloggers the end all be all. Please avoid taking bloggers on as idols. I don’t think a single blogger wants to be idol worshipped like a celebrity is in Western culture. And if there is a shred of pride from cult status, then we as bloggers need to be aware that showing off is so dangerous that it’s like the black ant on the black rock in the night with n…. […]

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