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R i y a a - Hidden Shirk

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Linguistically ‘Riyaa’ comes from the root ‘ra’aa’, which means “to see, to behold, to view.” The derived word ‘riyaa’ means “eye-service, hypocrisy, dissimulation.”  From the Sharee’ah point of view, it means  “to perform acts which are pleasing to Allaah with the intention of pleasing other than Allaah.” Thus, righteous deeds done for worldly gain have been transformed into evil deeds unacceptable to Allaah. Riyaa’ is one of the most powerful of such factors and its subtleness, makes it among the most dangerous and difficult to diagnose. Its importance cannot be over-stressed, because the character, which Islam seeks to build, would be incomplete without a clear understanding of this subject. Furthermore, it is extremely important for the God-fearing to know the Factors that contribute Riyaa’ to one’s Islam.  Scholars of Ahl us-Sunnah have turned to the Qur’aan, the Sunnah, and the statements of our Salaf [1] seeking information on this disease: What is it?  What are its Dangers and what is the Cure?

The Intention:

Is essential to explain briefly, the importance of sincerity as the Hadeeth below confirms the necessity of an Intention free from Riyaa’.Umar ibn al-Khattaab narrated the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said:
“Actions are by intention, and every person will receive what he intended.  So whoever intended to migrate for the sake of Allaah and His Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wasallam), then his migration will be for Allaah and His Messenger. And whoever intended to migrate for the sake of some worldly benefit or in order to marry a woman, then his migration will be for that which he migrated.”
{Sahih al-Bukhari, vol.1, p.47, no.51, Sahih Muslim, vol.3, p.1056, no.4692 and Sunan Abu Dawud, vol.2, pp.593-4, no.2195}

The Qur’aan also addresses the importance of having correct and sincere intentions.
Allaah says: “And you do not spend (of your wealth) except seeking the pleasure of Allaah”

{Soorah Baqarah (2): 272}
The early generations of Muslims realised the importance of sincere and correct intentions; an example being in a narration of Abdullah ibn Mas’ood  “Speech by itself is worthless, unless it is followed by action.  Speech and Action by themselves are worthless, unless they have the right intention.  And Speech, action and the right intention are worthless unless they agree with the Sunnah.”  Therefore, we see that there are a number of prerequisites for any deed to be accepted by Allaah.  The first condition is that the deed is done for the sake of Allaah, and only for the sake of Allaah.  The second condition is that the deed is encouraged by the Sunnah of the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) and is not an innovation (bid’ah: invented after the Prophet’s death.)

The Dangers of Riyaa’ are so many in number,we have managed to point out a few:

1) Hidden Shirk:

The Prophet Muhammed (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) out of his love and concern for the Ummah (nation), feared this calamity more than any other. Aboo Sa’eed reported that Allaah’s Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) came to us while we were discussing about Dajjaal and said:
“Should I inform you of that which I fear for you even more than the dangers of  Dajjaal ? It is hidden Shirk: A person stands to pray, and he beautifies his prayer because he sees the people looking at him.”

{Sahih Sunan ibn Maajah, vol.2, p.410, no.3389.}

2) Weakens Eeman and Tawheed

By committing ‘riyaa’, a person destroys the very purpose of his creation, since instead of truly worshipping Allaah, he pretends to worship Allaah while seeking to achieve the pleasure and praise of the creation of Allaah.
“And I created not the Jinn and mankind except they should worship me” [Soorah Az-Zariyat (51): 56]

Allaah describes the true believers as those who perform their acts of worship solely for the sake of Allaah, not desiring reward nor thanks from others for their deeds

“And they (the believers) give food, despite their love for it, to the poor, the orphan, and the captive, (saying), ‘We feed you seeking only the Blessings of Allaah’s, We neither wish for reward, nor thanks from you.” [Soorah Insan (76): 8-9]

In direct contrast to this, Allaah says about the hypocrites:
“So woe unto those who perform their prayers (hypocrites), who delay their prayer from its stated time, those who do good deeds only to be seen (of men), and refuse even the smallest kindness.”

{Soorah Al-Maun: (107): 4-7}

3) Increases Misguidance:

There is no doubt that the person who commits riyaa’ has a disease in his heart, and if this disease is not cured, it will lead to further problems.  In this regard, Allaah says,
"They  (try to) deceive Allaah and those who believe, but they only deceive themselves and do not even realise it! In their hearts is a disease (of doubt and hypocrisy), and Allaah has increased their disease….” {Soorah Baqarah (2): 9-10}

4) Deprives Deeds of Blessings:

The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) has informed in a number of his statements that Allaah will not accept actions done for the sake of others.  Mahmood ibn Labeed related that the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said,
“Allaah the Exalted, will say (to those who practised riyaa’) when He is taking account of people’s deeds (on the Day of Judgement). ‘Go to those whom you used to show off your deeds to, and see if you will find any reward with them!’ {Sahih at Targheeb wat-Tarheeb, no.29}

5) Prohibits Entrance to Heaven:

Performing righteous acts for human praise can also lead to being barred from entering paradise. Aboo Hurayrah quoted the Messenger of Allaah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) as saying,
"Whoever gains any knowledge that should be learnt for the sake of Allaah, (with) the intention of (benefit in) this world will not even smell the fragrance of Paradise on the Day of Judgement.”

{Sunan Abu-Dawud, vol.3, p.1039, no.3656 and Sunan ibn-Majah, vol.1, p.144, no.252.}


{1}  The As-Salaf us-Saalih ( the righteous predecessors ) are defined as the first three generations of  Muslims, and, by the extension, all those who followed in their footsteps.

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