Different Forms of Riya’


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 XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV

We should note the types of riya’ (arrogance) so that we can protect ourselves from it. It is very important that we know how riya’ can come into our hearts and mess with us, especially those of us who might be leaders in the community or might be giving speeches. People may come up to us and say, “Oh sister, you are so pious. You are like the Zainab Ghazali of Berkeley!” Or they say, “Brother, masha’ Allah (what God wills), I can see the light protruding from your forehead!”

You know what happened to me? I’ll tell you a funny story. I believe humor is an important way to teach. One time about four years ago, the first time I came to MCA, I gave the khutbah (Friday sermon). Afterwards this old man came to me and said, “Brother, wallahi (I swear by Allah)! I have never in my life heard such a magnificent khutbah! Believe me, my heart is bleeding with your words.” I was listening to him and, since I’d never been approached and praised like this before, my nafs (self) was just soaring. It felt good that he was praising me. He was saying, “Masha’ Allah, brother, you are so amazing, wallahi!” And I was becoming drunk with his praises, starting to fall off the minbar (pulpit). Then you know, it got to me and I started to think, “Yeah he’s right. I’ve got it going on. He’s right.”

Then, subhan’Allah (glory be to God), I came back to MCA three years later and gave the khutbah. Afterwards this same guy came to me and started, “Wallahi! I never heard a khutbah like this before!” I was like, “Subhan Allah! Don’t you remember me?” He said, “No.”

Then I realized that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) was trying to teach me to check myself. The same guy saying the same thing and when I asked him if he wasn’t the same guy from three years ago he said, “I don’t know you, I’ve never heard you before.” I learned a tough lesson.

Subhan’Allah, do you know what the `ulema (scholars) say? They say, “No one knows about riya’ except the one who is sincere. No one knows about hypocrisy except the believer. No one knows about ignorance except the scholar. No one knows about sinning except the obedient one.”

Why do they say this? A person who is sincere knows what riya’ is so that they can protect themselves. It’s like poison. Before the age of ten, if you had a mother like mine, you knew every poison. Don’t eat that, don’t drink that, don’t play with that, don’t touch that, if you touch that call this doctor. Why? To save yourself.  What’s the first thing we think when we’re taking classes on campus? “Who is the best professor, so if I take his class, I’ll become famous and well known?” (This is riya’.) Or do we say, “Who’s the hard professor? I won’t take his class.” And your friends will advise you, “Oh this professor is bad, that professor is hard.” Why? To protect yourself. It’s the same with the mukhlis (the one who is sincere). They know what showing off and seek to guard themselves from it.

What are the types of riya’? Imam Al Ghazali said that there are five kinds. We will talk about each one insha’Allah (God willing).

The first is ar-riya’ fid-deen bil badan: to show off in the matter of religion with your body. For example, you come to a group of people and your eyes look like you’ve got sandbags under them.

The brothers ask you, “What’s wrong?”
You say in an exhausted voice, “Oh, I’m really tired.”
They ask, “Why are you tired?”
“Oh I don’t know.”
“Why are you so tired? Have you been praying qiyam al-layl (late night prayers)?”
“Oh, how did you know?”

That’s showing off with your body. It seems funny but it happens a lot. Another example is if you’re really tired when you’re dealing with people, you’re moving really slowly, and you’re saying:

“Oh I’m so thirsty, I’m so thirsty.”
Then someone offers you a drink and you say, “I can’t drink right now.”
“Why not?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Are you fasting?”
“How did you know I’m fasting?”

This is ar-riya’ fid deen bil badan. To carry yourself in a way that people can tell that you’re doing something religious. It might seem funny but it is very dangerous, because inside you’re thinking, “I hope they know. I hope they find out that I’m doing this religious act. Then they’re going to think I’m good.”

Maybe someone asks, “I have roommates, and I fast Mondays and Thursdays. I love my roommates because they’re my sisters or brothers in Islam, and I want them to fast. Is it riya’ if I told them that tomorrow I’m going to fast and I want them to fast with me?” This is not riya’. This is good. This is advising to truth and advising to patience (Qur’an, 103:3). This comes under the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ where he says, “None of you perfected your belief until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.”

But if I was to go in front of everyone and announce, “You know tomorrow I’m going to fast for the sake of Allah (swt)! And I want all of you to fast with me!” This could be dangerous. Another way to make sure it’s not riya’ is to tell them before you do it. For example, I’ve been fasting for six months and then I go to Abid and say, “Abid, I’ve been fasting for six months, thirty-nine days and twenty-seven minutes. I would like for you to fast with me tomorrow.” This is dangerous. But if I don’t give him any hint that I’ve been fasting before and I just say, “Abid, insha’Allah tomorrow let’s fast together.” This is good. Like memorizing the Qur’an. If you’ve been memorizing the Qur’an and you want your brother or sister to memorize the Qur’an, you can encourage them. This is not riya’. Insha’ Allah this is good.

The second type of riya’ is ar-riya’ bil hayla. Hayla means al-hal, how you carry yourself. Riya’ in the way you carry yourself. This is different than the body. The body means that you’re trying to make your body reflect a religious act that you’re doing. This one is similar but it also involves how you’re walking, how you talk and so forth. For example, in the time of Umar radi allahu `anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) he was walking down the street and he saw a man walking. The man was walking hunched over, muttering, “Istaghfir Allah, istaghfir Allah (I seek refuge in Allah, I seek refuge in Allah).” Umar (ra) went to that man and said, “Fearing Allah and humbleness before Allah is not in your manner of walking, but it is in your heart. Stop walking like that.” Sometimes it’s really bad. Another example would be having a mark on one’s forehead from praying. Imam Maalik, subhan’Allah, he used to try not to have a black mark on his forehead. But in some places people buy onions and rub it on their heads to make this mark. Then when you see them you think, “Subhan’Allah, this guy is a big shaykh (scholar).” In fact that guy might really be nothing. But they do that to impress people.

This is very dangerous. Like the black ant on the black rock in the black night.

The third is ar-riya’ bil qawl: showing off by your words. This is the easiest one. An example of this would be when we hear people talking, we jump in and say, “Oh, I know the answer!” Or “My shaykh said this!” Or “I know this and that!” Then we throw the words out thinking we will dazzle the people, like fireworks, and they’ll think we’re so smart.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak if you know about the subject. If you have knowledge, you should speak, but make sure you know why you’re speaking. Hasan al Basri said, “For forty years I made no movement except that I knew why. Even drinking water, I knew why. When I walked I knew why. When I spoke I knew why.” Subhan’Allah, look at the control he had of himself. But this riya’ is very dangerous, especially in the MSA (Muslim Students Association) environment. We’re young, our hormones are hot, and we want to show people, “I’m a shaykh, I studied, I learned, I’m this and that.” Be humble with yourself.

I remember I used to observe this about one of my teachers. Subhan’Allah, this shaykh is really amazing. No one would know he’s a shaykh. He didn’t wear special clothing. But when you spoke with him, you would think, “Wow, this guy knows something.” Once I brought my brother-in-law to see him and my brother-in-law was surprised. He asked me, “That’s the shaykh?” I said, “That’s the shaykh, man.” He said, “That’s really the shaykh?” I replied, “Wallahi that’s the shaykh!” He said, “But he’s like us.” I said, “Yes, he is like us.” It’s because he’s wise. He’s trying to save himself and not show people that he knows something. I used to see him in the masjid (mosque) where we used to study and people would come into the masjid and ask, “Where’s the shaykh?” Then he would answer, “I’m right here.” And they would respond, “Subhan Allah, this is the shaykh?” He would reply, “Well I guess so, that’s what they call me.” Then he would teach them. It’s like when the man came to the Prophet ﷺ in Madinah. He asked, “Where’s Muhammed?” The Prophet ﷺresponded, “I’m here.” And the man immediately took shahada. When people used to come and see Umar (ra) they would find him sleeping under a tree. No security guards. The Romans would come and be shocked, asking, “Is this really Umar?” Yes, that was the leader of the Muslims sitting under a tree. Anyone could go and talk to him, because he was humble.

So, in your words do you try to show people that you know? Or when you speak do you speak for the sake of Allah (swt)?

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21 Comments

  1. ammara says:

    aoa
    I WUD BE GRATEFUL IF I CUD GET RPLY . IDK EXACTLY HOW TO CONVEY MY POINT BUT MY PROBLEM IS I KNOW I M NOT A VERY GOOD MUSLIM BUT I WANT TO BE I TRYY TO BEE IDK TOO MUCH ABOUT ISLAM BUT AS FAR AS BASIC TECHINGS R CONCERND I KNOWW THEM MY PROBLEM IS THISSS ,THIS IS NOT ONLY RELATED TO ISLAMIC ISSUESS EVEN MY NORMAL LIFE TOO I FINDD TO FACE IT……I HAVE READ UR ARTICLEE N YESS I GUESS CUD UNDERSTAND A BIT NOT 100% I KNOW THAT THIS IS ABOUT SHOWING OFF THAT U R A GOOD MUSLIM N U HAV GREAT KNOWLEDGE.MY PROBLEM IS THISS I KNW I M NOT A VERY GOOD MUSLIM N I M NOT A PERFECT PERSON BUT AT S MANY PONITSSS I FIND MMYSELF GOOD ENOUGH,I FEEL LIKEE HOWW EXCELLENT PERSON I MM N THEN I DESIRE TO SHOW IT TO OTHERSSSS I HATE ITTT I DN WANT TOOO BUT I DK YY I DESIRE LIKE THISS? I WANT TO CONTROL ALLAH KNOWS I DN WANT TO SHOW OFF EVER BUT WHEN ACCEIDENTLY SM1 FINDS OUT O M NOT THAT BAD I FEEL GOOD N THEN I LIKE TO EXPLAIN YESS HOW GOOD I MM… APART OF THISS AS I TOLD U M I TRY TO BE GOOD MUSLIM I M TRYINGGG SO WHEN I LEARN SMTHING I WANT SHARE THAT WITH MY CLOSD RELATIONS WITH MY FRIENDSS ALLAH KNOWSS THAT I DO IT ONLY FOR GUIDING THEM I DN HAVE ANY INTENTION TO IMPRESS THEM BUT DEEP INSIDE WHEN THEY PPL GET INSPIRD I FEEL GODDD OH I REALL Y DN WANT ITT BECAUSEE I FEEL ASHAME AS WELL THEN I FEEL SO BUT STILL I CNT CONTROL IF SM1 GET INSPIRD N IF SM1 DN AGREE WAT I TRY 2 EXPLAIN THEN YES I MAKE DUA THAT MAY ALLAH SHOW HIM N TO ME TOO RIGHT PATH BUT I WANT TO GET RID OFF WETHER I DO ANYTHINGGGGG ANYTHINGG FOR THE SAKE OF ALLAH EVEN THEN I FELL LIKEEE M I DOING I FOR ONLY ALLAH N EVEN I KNOW M JUST DOING IT FOR ALLAH I FEEL LIKEE M I SUREE?? Y DO IT HAPPENS WITH MEE BFORE READING THIS ARTICLE I CONVIND MYSELF IT MIGHT BE SHAITAN’S WHISPERSS TO DISCOURAGE MEE BCZ IT CAN POSSIBLE THAT I ALWAYSSS DO SMTHING WITH WRONG INTENTIONS ALLAH KNW I DNNN THEN Y IT HAPPENS TO MEE N AFTR READING IT IT GET CLEARDD YESSS TO FEEL LIKE M SHOWING OFF ITS BADDD BUT IFFFF WE KNOWWS NO WE R NOT DOING IT FOR SHOWING OFFF THEN Y DO WE FEEL LIKEEE SOOO??? CAN U PLZZ GUIDE MEEEE IS THAT RIYAH WHAT HAPPEND TO MEE ORR THESE R JUSTT WRONG SPECULATIONSS ???

    • Maeeda says:

      you have a problem in dealing or should i say ‘taming’ your intentions. Allahua’lam.

      seek refuge when you observe that your heart begins to feel proud when you are being praised.

      I just came across this quote yesterday and i would like to share it with you. “A sin is more beloved to Allah when it causes guilt tha a good deed that cases arrogance”. Allahua’lam

      • ammara says:

        thank u maeda for sharin such beautiful quote !

      • Tareq says:

        Assalamu alaykum Maeeda,

        JazakiAllah khair for the beautiful quote. Could you provide a source for it? I’m curious to know if it was a hadith or a quote from a scholar!

        Thanks,

  2. 'Uthmān says:

    As-salaamu ‘alaykum,

    Would it be possible to move the re-tweet button to another location on the page? It frequently seems to get in the way and obscures some of the actual text of the article.

    Barakallahu feek and keep up the good work.

  3. raheem says:

    I know right, that tweet button gets in the way, lol. I was reading a couple of articles and the tweet thing was in the way. It would be nice if they could really move it, lol. Also, can we email articles anymore? I know the old site had that feature, but I don’t seem to find it on this new site.

  4. Amany K. says:

    Salams Br. Suhaib,

    I am loving this series and Jazakal Allah Khair for your work. I was wondering if you could may provide in the next part of this series ways on how to check your riyaa. Some practical things one can do to work on something that can sometimes be so elusive. Again JaK.

    -Amany K.

  5. Brother says:

    Assalamu alaykum

    Your not the only one who has that feeling when someone praises you for what you did or what you said. Everyone has that in their hearts. It is a test from Allah.

    What you need to realize is Riyaa will never go away. It’s a chronic illness that keeps threatening the heart of the believer. Anyone who believes they are free from Riyaa are afflicted with the disease of Riyaa moreso then anyone else. The bottom line, however, is this: keep moving towards Allah. When those thoughts come up when you are giving a khutbah or doing some work, realize that there are people in the past who have done what you are doing right now, so you really aren’t special. In addition, remind yourself that there are people in the past who have done way more than what you have done now. What you are doing is nothing compared to what the Prophet and his sahabas have done. And its true. They have done way more than us.

    Also remember that you are not doing this work for them, you are doing it for Allah, not only to please him but so that you can say to Allah that “Ya Allah I have done whatever I could” so that you won’t be held accountable? Dude, you are doing yourself a favor by giving speeches and doing work, not anyone else. Your are doing this for yourself man. This is your akhirah were talking.

    Don’t trip. Don’t think to hard about it. Just remember you are doing this for Allah. This is a reminder to myself before anyone else.

    • ammara says:

      thank u so very much for the reply its truly benefcial for me n as u said we should keep om remind us that we r doing this just for ALLAH n for saving us that will be the ‘saman’ for our akhira n we r not the only one who is doing this infact their are much more better ppl around us n we never know to whom we r guiding r to whom we r showing how good we r they r acytuall better for ALLAH (SWT) n yess who cud be more better than our PROPHET S.A.A.W.W i try to do thiss alll but as u saidd it will be keep on going with uss then that is the thing which torture meee bcz it happnes with mee n noww i m a bit satisfied this is our test n as ALLAH is going to judge uss so HE KNOWS THE INTENTIONSSS n definitly those r whispers of shaitan which distrbd me that wether i m doing it for ALLAH or showing off it always happens to meee i alwayss feel distrbb although i just want to d this for ALLAH
      thank u so very much for such beautiful clearificationn just pray may ALLAH save us fom this deadly disease bczzz it happennss

      JAZAKALLAH KHAIR !

  6. nh says:

    assalamualaikum wbt…
    pls allow me to share this beautiful reminder with frens and copy it for my own revision n reminder. thank you for a meaningful sharing…
    jazakallah…

  7. Faizal says:

    Very Interesting article mAshallah; frightening in some ways.

    I have a small (maybe silly question) for those who are really struggling maybe SW or others could help. If a person has a flitting thought of Riya but avoids it and pushes it away then is there still a reward for this?

    JZK

    • Haq says:

      Salaams,

      Not a silly question bro, Allah says
      “And as for him who fears his standing n the presence of his Lord and forbids his own soul from its whims (hawa) then surely Paradise is the abode.” Hawa (whims) refers to all forbidden acts, one of which is Riyaa’. Also this struggling with oneself is referred to as “Jihad al-Akbar” (the greatest jihad) in a Hadith.

      Hope this helps.
      Haq.

  8. A.K. says:

    I was thinking what if you have a job interview and you slip something things here and there about what you have done hoping to impress the interviewer so you could get the job, is that still considered riyaa?

  9. YusfromtheNati says:

    AS,

    Where are the last 2 types?! This is good stuff!!!

  10. Mehreen says:

    Brilliant article. JazakAllah Khair. You know it’s really difficult sometimes to really be aware of the fact that we’re engaging in riyah. Because we’ve become so much obsessed with ourselves; what they’d call a narcissist, many of the things we think we are doing for Allah, we are actually doing for showing off to others, ultimately satisfying our nafs. That’s one of the problems that I’ve suffered with and still am trying to cope with.

  11. shiney says:

    insightful article, i must say! May Allah allow us all to be sincere and humble and May He accept all of our good deeds! Ameen!

  12. Ana says:

    Great reminder! I used to only understand riya’ in the 1st context (showing off when performing religious activities). We often forget riya’ can occur even for the slightest things; completing work, buying/owning new things,blogging!…etc.

    Is there an article on measures on how to “check ourselves” to avoid riya’?

  13. María M says:

    As salamu alaykum,

    These questions,”"” So, in your words do you try to show people that you know? Or when you speak do you speak for the sake of Allah (swt)?”"” and this question I´ve read from IslamicSunrays.com ““What does Allah want me to do here?” are grounding me to Earth, masha´Allah.

    Thank you very much for sharing.

    Wasalam,
    María

  14. bushra says:

    Ma sha Allah this is really helpful, jazakallahu khair.

    Can u please check this line again from the hadith about Umar r.a.:
    “Istaghfir Allah, istaghfir Allah (I seek refuge in Allah, I seek refuge in Allah).”?

  15. Question? says:

    Salam,

    You said you were going to talk about the 5 categories that Imam Ghazali mentioned, but you only spoke about 3. Is there another article where this is continued?

  16. SR says:

    Salaam,

    Brilliant article – but it just makes me feel worse. You see, I loved the last story about the sheikh not being easily recognisable as a sheikh. I love that story because I would love to be like him. But why would I like to be like him? So that one day someone notices me and praises me to his family, frienda, co-workers etc. I don’t know whether this is a psychological sickness that I have or whether it’s just human nature. Whatever it is I’m sick of not being sincere. I feel the best way to achieve this in my case is to stay as silent as possible for the rest of my life – because the wider I open my mouth the bigger the danger grows of me committing Riya (is that the right way to express it?). Man, we’re such complex creatures.

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