Islamic Character Qur'an

Riya’ Through Action

Lecture by Suhaib Webb | Transcribed by Fuseina Mohamad

Surat Al-Fatiha Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIVPart XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV

The fourth one is ar-riya’ bil ‘amal: riya’ (arrogance) through one’s actions. This means you do certain actions – like salah (prayer)–only in front of other people. In a story about a man who wants to get married, the man says to himself, “You know, I’m going to go to the masjid of some religious people, and I’m going to pray for a long time. I’m sure that those guys have some daughters. When they see me praying they’ll think, ‘Masha’Allah (what God wills), what a dazzling young man!’”

So the man went to the masjid to complete his mission. As he was concentrating hard, there were some old men in the back observing: “Masha’Allah, look at this young man. Masha’Allah he’s so amazing, and so great. Look how long he’s been praying.”

Then the young man turned to them and exclaimed, “And I’m fasting too!”

This is ar-riya’ bil ‘amal. It is just as funny as it is serious. A good deed is done with the intention of being noticed.

Shaytan (the devil) works in the opposite way. Someone might say, “I’m not going to the masjid to pray because I don’t want to show off with my actions.” Shaytan is playing a trick on that person. Another might say, “I don’t want to pray now because I know I’m showing off.” Look at this trap that Shaytan sets for us. As Ibn Hazm mentioned, if you tell yourself you’re not going to the masjid because you don’t want the people to see you, isn’t this showing off? Yes, it is, because you’re thinking about the people.

Another example is when a sister wants to wear hijab,but she thinks, “If I wear hijab, I know I’m not being sincere because all the people will look at me and say, ‘Oh, you look so nice in your hijab.’ So I’m not going to wear it.” Don’t worry; put it on for the sake of obeying Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He).

Maybe a brother wants to go to the masjid and he thinks, “I’ve never been to the masjid before and for the last ten years I’ve been hanging out with Shahrukh Khan.” He comes to the masjid and starts praying. Then he thinks, “You know, I’m not coming back to the masjid because I know I’m just showing off.” No. Keep going. After all, how do you get closer to Allah (swt)? Through worship. If you stop worshipping Allah (swt), you’re not going to get any closer to Him.

On the other hand, we have ikhlas (sincerity). Ikhlas comes from the word khalasa which means to finish something with a clean break. We’ve heard so many lectures on ikhlas, what it is and why we should have it. Some ulema (scholars) said that ikhlas means to be intoxicated with the Creator to the extent that you forget creation. But this is rare.

If you go to the sixteenth chapter of the Qur’an, Allah (swt) says, “And indeed, for you in grazing livestock is a lesson. We give you drink from what is in their bellies—between excretion and blood—pure milk, palatable to drinkers.” (Qur’an 16:66)

Allah (swt) describes the milk as khaalisan (pure) from the word ikhlas. If we want to have ikhlas we must endure hardships. We go through tests, like the grass that the cow eats. The cow eats the grass, and then the saliva starts to break it down with enzymes. Then it goes into the esophagus, then into the stomach where the stomach acid starts working on it. The digestive process takes out the waste and toxins and sends the good part of the grass into the body of the cow where it can be used. From this comes milk.

As a Muslim or Muslimah, we will inevitable face many difficulties. We will face some blood, we will face some tests and challenges. But we have to go through the process to be like pure milk, to be a pure believer. That’s how you get ikhlas. Nobody can say, “I’m mukhlis (a sincere person).”

Subhan’Allah (glory be to God), look at the tests of the Companions. Saad ibn Abi Waqas radi Allahu `anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) said he was in Makkah in the place of Abu Talib when there was an embargo on the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him). He said, “One night I went to urinate. When I was urinating I heard something crackling. I looked down and found it was a dry piece of animal skin. I was so hungry, because I was Muslim and they were starving us, that I took this piece of animal skin, I washed it, cooked it and I ate it.” This is a test.

How does that compare to the tests we are facing in our daily lives? It’s nothing compared to that test. How many tests did Um Salamah (ra) endure? She said, “I never saw any family tested like the family of Abu Salamah.” How many tests did the Companions go through?

Look at Bilal ibn Rabee’ (ra). Subhan’Allah, he said that they used to put him on the sand naked. But what you don’t know is the temperature of the sand, unless you’ve been to the Gulf countries. That sand can easily be 50°C (122°F) or hotter. How many Muslims can stand to be naked? He was naked on that sand, and his back was sizzling. Then they put the stone on top of him and the fat from his back was coming out onto the sand in the desert. Then they would tie a noose around his neck and run dragging him through the streets. In the time of Mu’awiyah someone saw Bilal’s back and they said, “Your back is really deformed! I’m sure those days were the worst days you ever experienced.” He said, “Wallahi (By God), it was in those days I tasted the sweetest iman (faith).” Why? Because through the tests, he was being purified.

What about us when we have to pray five times a day? It’s not that hard of a test compared to Bilal (ra). What about our tests as brothers, the tests of refraining from putting holes in our noses, ears and eyebrows and getting tattoos? A brother might say, “It’s hard akhi (brother)!” It’s really not hard. He’s doing that voluntarily. No one walks up to him and forces him to put a hole in his eye. He chooses to do it. Bilal ibn Rabee’ (ra) was forced. That’s how we attain ikhlas, the ikhlas that will save us from riya’.

When we worship Allah (swt) and feel as if we are showing off, we still have to continue our worship. We have to go through the feces and the blood because out of the feces and the blood comes pure milk.

We ask Allah (swt) to help all of us obey Him. We should make du`a’ (supplication) for each other. We should say, “Oh Allah, everyone who came to this time that we spent together, help them with their problems, make their lives easy for them.” We should have the bond of brotherhood and sisterhood between us. We ask Allah (swt) to help us, insha’Allah (God willing).

About the author

Suhaib Webb

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.


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