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 XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII
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, “Subhan’Allah 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, “Subhan’Allah, 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.