One can be very sincere before an action, very sincere during an action, and then become arrogant/people-seeking after the action is done, thereby removing the blessings and reward from what already transpired. This arrogance and seeking to be seen by the people is what is known as riya’. Riya’ comes from the Arabic root, ra-hamza-ya, from the verb which means to see, behold, perceive, notice, regard, consider, deem appropriate, and be amazed at. The third form of this verb refers to wanting all of the aforementioned for oneself, i.e. acting ostentatiously, making a show before the people, and behaving hypocritically. The noun riya’ refers to this eye-service and admiration seeking. Allah (swt) warned us of this trait in His Book, “So woe to the worshipers, who are neglectful of their prayers, those who only want to be seen (yura’un).” (107:4-6)
The Prophet (saw) described riya’ to be as subtle as a black ant crawling on a blackstone on a dark night, and he taught us the du`a’, “Oh Allah! We seek your protection from associating partners with you knowingly, and we ask Your forgiveness for doing so unknowingly.” While volumes have been written about riya’, one teacher gave me a very useful advice, “Keep up a good action that no one but Allah (swt) knows about, not even your closest family members, such as praying qiyam (late night prayers) or giving a regular charity.”
May Allah protect us before, during, and AFTER the good works He allows us to do. May He help us recognize the Shaytan’s whispers and help us fight them through His remembrance, and turning back to Him in deep repentance. How amazing and beautiful that trying and hoping sincerely for Allah’s pleasure is the only intention that brings a sense of real inner peace and happiness in both worlds.
Allah (swt) describes the welcome in the next life is only for one with qalbin saleem: a sound/peaceful heart (Qur’an 26:89). Allah is so Merciful that He made the acquisition of our own happiness an inextricable part of fulfilling the purpose of our creation, worshiping Him through sincere and righteous works. Much of the superficial pop-culture doesn’t allow us to introspect. Society is distracted with shapes and forms, while Allah (swt) is looking directly at our hearts! This poem is dedicated to those students of knowledge and Muslim activists who are afflicted with the struggle for sincerity amidst the challenging environment of praise, attention, and recognition. May He allow us all to continue to do good publicly and privately but not be driven by any motive other than seeking His pleasure, His Face. May Allah always be our goal. Ameen.
Creeping ant, so dark and black,
Upon my surface, it makes its tracks,
The night is dark, as am I,
Can I feel his footsteps, if I try?
My hardened surface, so cold and dry,
Does not sense his army, now passing by,
Their darkness covers, so much of me,
My vision is blocked, I cannot see
I’m overwhelmed, who can I call?
My problem is masked, from those enthralled,
Who would even notice, a stone like me?
The eyes are captured, by the majestic trees,
“O God! Save me!” My prayers soar,
Rain erupts, and begins to pour,
The ants wash off, and I am soaked,
An ant’s footstep now…and I feel poked,
Softened, warm, now sensitive,
“Forgive my neglect!” I’m penitive
The commander ant, tries to cling on,
The Powerful protects, he’s easily gone!
Now constant in prayers, I’m soft, on floors,
So ants be afraid, When it rains, It pours!