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
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.”
“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)?