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The Revival of the Religious Sciences
Hujjat al-Islam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali(r.a.)
Abridged by Shaykh Ahmad al-Shami
Quarter III: Attributes leading to Perdition
Book VIII: The Condemnation of Status and Ostentation

Section I: The Condemnation of Status and Fame

In the name of Allah, most compassionate and merciful!

The condemnation of status and the merit of anonymity

You should know - may Allah bestow uprightness upon you - that the basis of status is reputation and fame, both of which are blameworthy. By contrast, anonymity is praiseworthy, except for him whom Allah, exalted is He, has given fame in the spread of His din without him making an effort to procure it.

Allah, exalted is He, says: {As for the abode of the hereafter, We grant it [only] to those who do not seek to exalt themselves on earth, nor yet to spread corruption...}.[1] Note that here Allah has juxtaposed the will for exaltation and the will for corruption, and shown that the abode of the Afterlife is only given to the one who is free from both wills. Allah, exalted is He, says: {As for those who care for [no more than] the life of this world and its adornment -We shall repay them in full for all that they did in this life, and they shall not be deprived of their just due therein: [yet] it is they who, in the life to come, shall have nothing but the fire. For in vain shall be all that they wrought in this world, and worthless all that they ever did!}.[2] In a general sense, these two verses also allude to love of status, for status is the greatest pleasure of the world and its best embellishment.

Allah's Messenger - peace be upon him - said: "Many a dishevelled man covered with dust and wearing worn-out clothes passes unnoticed, [but] were he to adjure Allah, He would bring to pass his request."[3] And he - peace be upon him - also said: "Shall I not inform you about the folk of Paradise: [they consist of] all weak persons deemed weak [by others], [but who] were they to adjure Allah, He would bring to pass their requests. As for the folk of Hell [they consist of] all proud, disdainful persons who are parsimonious with their abundant wealth."[4]

Ibn Mas‘ud said: "You should be fountainheads of knowledge, lamps of guidance, recluses in your homes, engaged in worship at night with renewed hearts, and wearers of worn-out clothes, known by the folk of heaven and hidden from the inhabitants of the earth." And al-Fudayl said: "If you can afford not to be known then do so. What harm shall ever come to you from being unknown? Why should you care if you are not praised? And why should you care if you are criticised by people while being praised by Allah, exalted is He?" And Ibrahim ibn Adham said: "He who loves status is not being truthful with Allah."

It is reported that when Ayyub al-Sakhtiyani was once travelling, a huge group of people came to see him off. [When he saw them] he said: "Had I not known that Allah knows that I inwardly dislike this [reputation], I would have feared the loathing of Allah, exalted and glorified is He."

A man said to Bishr al-Hafi: "Advise me!" The latter replied: "Retain your anonymity and seek lawful sustenance."

These traditions and reports inform you that fame is to be condemned and that anonymity is praiseworthy. What is meant by fame is the repute which consists of status and position [that a person has] in people’s hearts. Furthermore, the love of status is at the root of all corruption. Seeking fame is blameworthy; but it is not blameworthy to acquire it by leave of Allah, glorified is He, so long as the bondsman makes no effort towards it.

The meaning and essence of status

Status and wealth are two pillars of this world. Wealth is the possession of beneficial substances, and status is the possession of [people’s] hearts from which obedience and glorification may be expected.

Just as the rich man possesses monies by means of which he can obtain his aims, purposes and all other requirements of the self, so does the person who possesses status own people's hearts. That is to say he can use them to achieve his aims and desires. And just as fortunes are procured by means of different crafts and occupations, so too can people’s hearts be gained by means of different kinds of treatment. Hearts, however, do not become devoted except through information and conviction. If the heart believes in any trait of perfection in anything, it yields towards it and devotes itself to it according to the heart’s degree of conviction and the degree of perfection it sees in that trait. A person may consider perfect what is not actually so, yet the heart, nevertheless, necessarily yields to the holder of that trait in conformity with its conviction.

As the owner of wealth also seeks the acquisition of slaves, so does the seeker of status seek the bondage and slavery of freemen and the possession of their selves by means of owning their hearts. In fact the kind of slavery that the seeker of status aims for is the more powerful of the two.

Hence, the meaning of status is establishing position in people's hearts. Status gives rise to [several] outcomes such as praise, extolling, service, assistance, preference, glorification and respect. Its cause is the belief that a person has perfect traits with regard to either knowledge, worship, good manners, lineage, authority or physical beauty.

The reason for the instinctive love of status

You should know that that which is a requisite for the love of wealth is also a requisite for the love of status. And as the possession of gold and silver provides man with the ability to obtain all his needs, so too does the possession of the hearts of freemen provide the same ability. The fact that they have a common cause implies that there is a common love. Nevertheless, there are three factors which give precedence to the possession of status over the possession of wealth.

First, it is easier to obtain wealth by means of status than it is to obtain status by means of wealth. For if the man of knowledge or the ascetic, who has status in people's hearts, were to seek wealth he would easily obtain it. Conversely, if the mean person were to seek such status he would not obtain it even if he were rich.

Second, wealth is prone to misfortune and ruin, through [for example] theft. It may also be the object of transgressors’ and rulers’ resentful envy. As for the hearts of people, if they are owned, they can never be exposed to such misfortunes.

Third, the ownership of hearts carries on and increases without the need to toil or strive, whereas the increase of wealth has to be achieved through both.

There is an amazing characteristic about [people’s] natural dispositions towards the love of wealth and status which are used to achieve their purposes, and this characteristic is the love of amassing wealth, accumulating treasures and increasing the quantity of reserves they hold for all needs. Such is the extent of this love that were a bondsman to have two valleys of gold he would nevertheless wish for a third. Similarly, man likes to see his status increased and his reputation spread to the remotest lands, even to those which he categorically knows he will never set foot on and whose inhabitants he will never meet.

People’s hearts are hardly free from this love for two reasons.

First, it ends the pain of fear. Man is fearful for his future and has grave anticipations even if his needs are satisfied in the immediate term. He is conscious that the wealth which currently satisfies his requirements may vanish and that he will consequently have to rely on other people. Thus preoccupied, fear erupts in his heart. Nothing can put a stop to this fear except the tranquillity that follows the accumulation of another fortune which he may resort to when misfortune befalls his initial wealth. Because he takes pity on himself and because he loves life, man always expects longevity and is alert to the possibility of unexpected needs. Because he foresees and fears possible misfortunes befalling his wealth, he seeks that which might drive it away, and [in his opinion] this is abundant wealth. This fear, however, is not confined just to a specific measure of wealth. It is also the reason which arouses in man the love for position and wealth in the hearts of those living far away from his homeland. For he always expects a reason which would cause his departure from his own country or which could cause the departure of those distant people from their country to his.

Second, by natural disposition each person wants perfection. Having fallen short of such perfection, the soul does not give up its desire for it. The soul loves and desires perfection and delights in it for its own sake and not for any other purpose. It is in this sense that man instinctively loves controlling things through possessing the ability to dispose of them. Among these things are money and belongings but also the hearts and souls of other human beings which are the most precious of that which exists on earth.

Praiseworthy and blameworthy love of status

You have learnt that the meaning of status is the possession of hearts and that this is among the [desirable] substances of the world. That ends with death, and the world is but a sowing-field for the Afterlife. However, because it is incumbent upon a person to have a minimum of wealth for the necessities of food and drink, it is incumbent upon him to have a minimum of status for the necessity of living with other people. This is because he may need [for example] a servant, a friend or a teacher. That a person wishes to have a position in the heart of his servant as he calls the latter to be at his service is not blameworthy. Nor is it in itself blameworthy to like having a certain standing in the heart of one's friend in that this cements the friendship and help him to his advantage.

Status, like wealth, is a means to [worldly] substances and in this sense there is no difference between the two. To like them in order to serve the needs of the body is not blameworthy, but to like them for their essences - in what exceeds the basic necessities of the body - is blameworthy.

In sum, status is sought in three different ways, two of them being permissible while one is prohibited. The prohibited way is seeking to establish a position in people's hearts by making them believe that one possesses a trait which [in reality] one does not possess, such as knowledge, piety or [noble] lineage, and as a consequence of which people take one to be knowledgeable or pious when one is not. This way is unlawful because it is a lie and a deceit.

As for the two potentially permissible ways, the first entails seeking position [in people's hearts] for a trait that one [truly] possesses, as was the case with [the Prophet] Yusuf -peace be upon him - who said as reported of him by Allah, exalted is He: {[Joseph] replied: "Place in my charge the store-houses of the land; behold, I am a good and knowing keeper”}.[5] [Note that] he asked for this position owing to his being good and knowledgeable and that he needed this position, but he was truthful [in attributing goodness and knowledge to himself]. The second involves concealing a defect or offence lest discovering it cause the cessation of one's position. This is also permissible because concealing one's ugly traits is permissible; to reveal what is concealed [of one’s failings] and to display one’s repulsive traits is not allowed. There is no deceit in such behaviour, for it is nothing more than concealing information which yields no benefit [to others]. It is like the person who although he hides the fact that he drinks wine nevertheless does not pretend to be a pious person. But if this person were to claim that he were pious then he would be committing a deception. The fact that he does not admit to drinking wine does not imply belief in his piety, for this [concealment] only prevents knowledge of his drinking.

Among those acts that are prohibited is perfecting one's prayer in front of a person so that the latter thinks well of one, for this is nothing but ostentation. It is also an act of deception because it gives the other person the impression that one is among those who are sincere and humble with Allah while one is in fact indulging in a performance. How can such a one be sincere?

Seeking status through this means is unlawful, and so is seeking status through any offensive act. Seeking status through an offensive act is analogous to acquiring unlawful wealth. Just as a person is not allowed to take possession of someone else's property by cheating in indemnification or in any other deal, so it is unlawful to take possession of a person's heart by means of forgery or cheating; this because the possession of hearts is a more serious matter than the possession of properties.

The reason for loving praise and loathing condemnation

We mention this only so that one knows how to treat the love of status and the fear of condemnation. This is because a cause which is unknown cannot possibly be treated, for real treatment is nothing other than ending the causes of the disease.

Know that there are several reasons for the love of status and the heart's joy in it.

The first and most powerful reason is the soul's sense of perfection; and we have shown that perfection is cherished. Consequently, praise makes the praised person's soul feel perfect. Here, a person's joy is greater when the praise issues from a person who is knowledgeable and acquainted with these [praised] traits, a person who would not arbitrarily speak without proper verification. An example would be a pupil's happiness with his teacher's praise. [Praise which emanates from such people] is the acme of joy. For the same reason a person also loathes condemnation, and this loathing becomes all the greater when the condemnation emanates from a trusted, knowledgeable person.

Secondly, praise indicates that the heart of the praiser is possessed by the praised one, and that the former is a follower of the latter. The possession of hearts is something cherished and the feeling of its attainability brings joy. Moreover, this joy is greater when the praise emanates from a person of considerable power, and it weakens when the one who is praising has no weight. For the same reason, a person hates condemnation and his heart becomes offended.

Thirdly, the laudation of the one who is lauding and the praise of the one who is praising are means for captivating the heart of an audience, especially if they are among those whose words are taken into consideration and whose praise is highly valued.

All these factors might be present in the praise of a single praising person, so that the joy ensuing from such praise becomes greater. However, the first joy - the sense of perfection - is abandoned when the praised one knows that the praising person is not correct, as is the case when one is praised for being a man of knowledge when one knows that one is not. And the second joy - taking possession of the heart of the one who is praising - is also relinquished when one knows that the one who is praising does not believe in what he says, and when one knows that one does not truly possess the gifts that are being praised. In this case, all joys are annulled.

Healing the love of status

The one whose heart is overwhelmed by the love of status devotes himself completely to playing up to those he is infatuated with so as to gain their esteem. To this end, he indulges in performances for their sake, and always pays heed, in his speech and actions, to what magnifies his standing in their eyes. This is the seed of hypocrisy and the root of corruption which inevitably lead to making light of acts of worship, using them for display, and indulging in what is prohibited for the sake of hunting hearts.

Now, anyone who seeks a position in people's hearts is forced to be deceitful with them and to display praiseworthy traits that he does not have; and this is the very essence of hypocrisy. Love of status, therefore, is among those perils which ought to be healed and driven from the heart. This because the heart has a natural propensity for status, just as it is naturally disposed towards the love of wealth. Its treatment is a synthesis of knowledge and action.

With regard to knowledge, a person should know the reason why he loves status. This can only be because he seeks full power over other people and especially their hearts. Even when this is sought for good and sincere purposes, status will end at death, for it is not among the everlasting good deeds. Hence, man should never leave the din, which is the eternal life, for its sake.

Love of status can also be healed by knowing its this-worldly defects, in essence by contemplating the dangers to which people of status are exposed. For everyone endowed with status is envied, and is always a target of hurt, constantly in fear for his status and wary that his position in people's hearts might change. Moreover, such hearts are more prone to change than [the contents of] a cooking pot when it is boiling, and are always wavering between responsiveness and avoidance. Hence, anything resting on people’s hearts is like something built on the waves of the sea: it has no stability. The preoccupation with paying deference to [other people's] hearts, protecting one's status, ending others’ sly resentful envy and obstructing the hurt of one’s enemies, are all immediate anxieties which disturb the pleasure of status. This is then the healing [of status] as far as knowledge is concerned.

As for [its healing by means of] action, it consists of finding intimacy in anonymity and being content with the Creator's responsiveness by eliminating one's greed for what people have. Indeed, the content person can dispense with other people, and once he does so his heart is not preoccupied with them, nor does establishing his position in their hearts carry any weight. A person cannot give up seeking status unless he is content and gives up his greed for what people have. He can, however, seek help in the hadiths relating to the condemnation of status and the praise of anonymity [in order to achieve this contentment].

Healing the love of praise

You should know that most people have perished simply because of their fear of others’ condemnation and their love of others’ praise. Consequently, all their actions became responses to what pleases other people so that they could win their praise and avoid their criticism. Such a state of affairs is lethal and must be treated. In order to treat it you should ask yourself whether or not you truly possess the trait that you are praised for. If you do possess it then this trait is either one that is praised rightly, such as knowledge or piety, or one that is not praised rightly, such as fortune, status and all other such worldly substances. If the trait belongs to the category of worldly substances, then being delighted with it is like being delighted with the plants of the earth which before long will turn into chaff, only to be blown away by the wind. This can only be attributed to weak mental faculties, for the one endowed with reason would say, as the poet al-Mutanabbi said long ago:

To me, the sharpest distress lies in a delight
Of whose cessation one is certain.

On the other hand, if the trait is such that a person may rightly be delighted with it, for example knowledge or piety, then he should learn not to be so delighted with it because the way in which his life will be concluded is not known. He may feel delight in possessing such traits because they bring him nearer to Allah, but the danger of concluding his life in disobedience to Allah still remains. The fear of a bad conclusion to one’s life furnishes ample preoccupation from being delighted with all there is in the world. As for being delighted by praise for a trait that one does not possess, this is the height of all folly.

Healing the hate of condemnation

It was indicated earlier that the root cause why people hate being condemned stands at the opposite of that for love of praise. Its treatment, therefore, can be understood therein. We should, however, also say with regard to this question that the one who condemns you belongs to one of the following three states:

[1] Either he is truthful about what he says and his intention is offering you good advice, and he desires to benefit you;

[2] Or he is truthful about what he says, but his intention is to hurt you and to display enmity;

[3] Or he is lying.

Within the first state, if a person is truthful and wants to offer you good advice you should not be angry with him, condemn him, or feel rancour towards him. Rather, you should seize his favour because the one who brings your defects to your attention has indicated to you a source of danger so that you might avoid it. Hence, you should be happy with such a person and proceed, if you can, to remove this blameworthy attribute from yourself. As for any distress, hatred or condemnation felt as a result of this person’s expression, it is nothing but the height of your ignorance.

As for the second context, where a person intends to display enmity, [know that] you have nevertheless benefited from what he has said because he has pointed out to you your defect, should you have been ignorant of it. [Even if you were aware of the defect] he has nevertheless reminded you of it, in case you had become heedless of it; and should this defect have become unobjectionable to you he may have made it look repulsive to you so that your concern to remove it is reawakened. Either way, these are causes for your felicity, for you will derive from them benefit. You should, therefore, occupy yourself with seeking felicity because its means have been provided to you as a result of the criticism you have heard. Had you been about to enter upon a king, unknowingly wearing dirty clothes, and someone shouted at you: “You with the dirty clothes! Go and clean yourself!”, you would have been pleased.

The third context relates to criticism directed against you by someone but from which you are exempt in the sight of Allah, exalted is He. You should not hate such a person nor should you occupy yourself with condemning him. Instead, you should ponder the following three things:

First, even if you are free from the defect which is being attributed to you, you nevertheless are not free from similar defects, indeed your defects that Allah has kept concealed are more abundant. You should, therefore, thank Allah, exalted is He, that He has not revealed your real defects to this person, and led him instead to attribute to you something from which you have been protected.

Second, this accusation may act as an atonement for the rest of your defects; being accused of a defect that you are exempt from cleanses you from other defects that you are defiled with. Moreover, anyone who backbites against you has [by his action] offered you [the outcome of] his good deeds. Why should you feel sad to receive gifts which bring you closer to Allah, exalted is He?

Third, the poor person [who falsely accuses you] has harmed his din to the extent that he made himself fall in the Eyes of Allah and destroyed himself because of his calumny. Hence you should not add your anger to Allah’s wrath; nor let Satan be spiteful with him by causing you to say: “O Allah! Destroy him!” Rather, you should say: “O Allah! Give him uprightness! O Allah! Please forgive him!”

It is reported that Ibrahim ibn Adham once invoked Allah to forgive a man who had fractured his skull. When asked why he did so, he replied: “I know that I am getting a reward thanks to him and that I did not get but good from him. Hence I did not want him to be punished because of me.”

The disparity in people’s responses to praise and criticism

People have four states in relation to the one who praises them and the one who criticises them:

[1] A person may be delighted with the praise, and thank the person who is praising him. He hates condemnation, feels a rancour against the person who condemns him and retaliates against him or at least wishes to do so. This state represents the penultimate degree of offence in this context.

[2] A person may inwardly resent a person who condemns him but refrain from retaliation either in speech or action. Similarly he may inwardly love the one who praises him and feel comfortable with him but equally refrain from displaying any outward delight. This is [a kind of] shortcoming but it is nearer to wholesomeness than is the preceding state.

[3] Next there comes the first degree of wholeness. A person may treat with equal indifference both the one who praises him and the one who condemns him. He is neither grieved by condemnation nor delighted with praise. Many a devotee may think of himself as possessing this state, but he will still be conceited if he does not have the same attitude in all respects with regard to the one who praises him and the one who condemns him. How rare is such a state! And how very hard it is for people’s hearts!

[4] The fourth state, which can be referred to as truthfulness in worship, is that a person should hate praise and detest the person who praises him because he knows that such a person is a [cause of] tribulation that may cause subversion and damage to his din. He should also love the person who condemns him because he knows that it is to his advantage to have his defects identified, as it draws attention to what is beneficial to him.

However, all that people like ourselves can aspire to is the second state.

Section II: Ostentation [riya’]

Condemning ostentation

‘Ostentation’ is seeking status and position by means of acts of worship. Ostentation is unlawful, and the ostentatious person is loathed by Allah. This is evidenced by the verses of the Qur’an, the traditions of the Prophet - peace be upon him - and the traditions of his Companions and their successors.

Within the Qur’an, Allah, exalted is He, says: {Woe, then, unto those praying ones whose hearts from their prayer are remote - those who want only to be seen and praised}[6]. {... But as for those who cunningly devise evil deeds - suffering severe awaits them; and all their devising is bound to come to nought.}[7] [Commenting on this verse] Mujahid said that these were the ostentatious. Allah, exalted is He, also says: {... “We feed you for the sake of God alone: we desire no recompense from you, nor thanks...”}.[8] [In this verse,] Allah praises the sincere by denying [their aspiration for] any wish except the sake of Allah, whereas ostentation is the exact opposite. Allah, exalted is He, also says: {... Hence, whosoever looks forward [with hope and awe] to meeting his Sustainer, let him do righteous deeds, and let him not ascribe unto anyone or anything a share in the worship due to his Sustainer}.[9]

Concerning the traditions of the Prophet - peace be upon him -, it is reported that he - peace be upon him - said: “Whosoever acts with the intention of being heard or seen by people, Allah will cause him to be heard or seen by them but he will not receive His reward.”[10] The Prophet - peace be upon him - also said: “The worst I fear for you is minor associationism (al-shirk al-asghar)”. “What is minor associationism, O Messenger of Allah?” they asked. He replied: “[It is] ostentation; Allah, glorified is He, will say on the Day of Judgement when He repays the servants for their deeds: ‘Go to those with whom you were ostentatious in the world and see whether you find reward with them.’”[11] He - peace be upon him - also said: “Allah, glorified and exalted is He, says: ‘Whosoever performs a deed for My sake but associates in it someone else with Me, that deed will be entirely for the latter; I disavow the doer and I absolutely dispense with associationism.’”[12] The Prophet - peace be upon him - also said: “Allah will extend His mercy [on the Day of Judgement] to seven [kinds of people]”, and he mentioned among them: “... a man who gave alms and concealed his act so that his left hand would not know what his right hand had given.”[13]

As to the traditions of the Companions and their successors, it is reported that `Umar ibn al-Khattab - may Allah be pleased with him – once saw a man bending his head [in prayer], so he said: “O you with the head! Lift your head up, for humility does not lie in heads but in hearts.” Abu Umama al-Bahili - may Allah be pleased with him - saw a man at the mosque crying in his prostration, so he said to him: “What a virtuous person you could have been if only this [crying] had taken place in [the privacy of] your house.” And al-Fudayl ibn `Iyad said: “People used to be ostentatious with deeds they [truly] performed, but now they are ostentatious with deeds they do not perform at all.” And `Ikrima said: “Allah gives more reward for the bondsman’s intention than He does for his action because there can be no ostentation in intention.”

The essence of ostentation and its manifestations

The Arabic word for ostentation (riya’) is derived from ‘seeing’ (ru’ya), and the basis of ostentation is seeking position in people’s hearts by showing them good virtues. Nevertheless, status and position in the heart may be sought by means other than acts of worship just as they are also sought through acts of worship. [The word] ‘ostentation’ (riya’) is restricted through common usage only to seeking position in [people’s] hearts by means of acts of worship and their display. Thus, the definition of ostentation is: ‘seeking bondsmen by means of [displaying] obedience to Allah.’ The person who is ostentatious is the worshipper [who displays his worship]. Manifestations of this ostentation are the virtues which the ostentatious mean to display, and the ostentation itself is their intent to display these virtues.

Although the manifestations of ostentation are abundant, they can all be gathered together in five divisions which sum up all the ways in which a person can show off to others. These five divisions are: the body, attire, speech, action, followers and the external things. Worldly people do indeed display ostentation through these five means, but seeking status through non-worshipping acts is less serious than seeking it by means of acts of worship.

The first division is being ostentatious in din through the body, by showing a thinness and paleness to give the impression that one is striving hard, that one is greatly concerned with the din and is overwhelmed by fear of the Afterlife. By means of such thinness a person gives the impression that he eats little, and by his paleness he gives the impression that he stays awake at night, strives hard [to perform acts of worship] and that he is deeply concerned for the commandments of the din.

The second division is being ostentatious through outward appearance and attire. As for the outward appearance, it is done by dishevelling the hair to give the impression that one is fully absorbed in one’s concern for din and that one lacks the time to comb one’s hair or trim the moustache. It is also done by lowering the head when walking, showing a calmness in movement, leaving the mark which is caused by [repeated] prostration on the brow, wearing rough clothes and rolling them up nearly to the thigh, shortening the sleeves and not cleaning one’s clothes. All these acts are done to give the impression that one follows the sunna and imitates Allah’s righteous bondsmen. The ostentatious through attire belong to different categories, each of which identifies his standing by means of a specific attire and thus finds it difficult to change for what is best or even worse, even if it is permissible, lest people say: ‘he chose asceticism but has given up that path and sought the world’.

The third division is ostentation through speech. The ostentation of the folk of din is achieved in the form of preaching, reminding [others], pronouncing [words of] wisdom and memorising the traditions of the Prophet - peace be upon him -, and those of his Companions and their successors, when the intent behind all this is to display erudition and to.givethe impression that one pays great attention to the states of the righteous salaf. Such people pretend to be immersed in the remembrance [of Allah] in the presence of other people, display their anger against objectionable matters that take place and pretend to be sorry for offences committed by people. Ostentation by speech abounds and its different manifestations are beyond demarcation.

The fourth division is ostentation through action. Such is the case with the one who performs the prayer (salat) and who stands a long time [in each unit of prayer], who prolongs his bowing and prostration, lowers his head and makes a show of serenity. This behaviour also involves other acts of worship such as fasting, jihad, hajj, almsgiving, displays of humility when one is walking or meeting [someone else], and speaking in a dignified manner. Some people even force themselves to walk in a dignified manner whilst on their own; this so that they do not have to alter their gait when they are seen by others. In this way their ostentation is total, for they have become ostentatious even in solitude.

The fifth division is being ostentatious through one’s friends, visitors and acquaintances. Such is the case with the one who goes through much difficulty in order to make a man of knowledge visit him so that it can be said: ‘so-and-so has visited so-and-so’; or such as the person who works hard to achieve a visit from a devotee (`abid) so that it can be said that a pious man has been blessed with his visit. Or the one who often mentions the men of knowledge so that it said that he has met many and received benefit from them, all of which serves him as a means to taking pride in himself.

[The legal ruling on ostentation]

Were you to ask: ‘Is ostentation unlawful, reprehensible or permissible? Or is there some need for elaboration?’,I would answer as follows. If a person is ostentatious by means of things other than acts of worship then this attitude should be viewed in the same manner as seeking wealth. As such, it is not prohibited to seek position in bondsmen’s hearts. However, just as it is possible to acquire wealth by deception and through forbidden means, so too is it possible to acquire status by the same; and just as it is praiseworthy for a man to acquire some wealth for which he is in need, so too may it be praiseworthy to acquire some status with which one can avoid some misfortune. It was for this reason that Yusuf - peace be upon him - asked [for status] when he said: {... I shall be a good and knowing keeper}.[14] Owing to this we would say that refining the clothes that a man wears when he meets people is [a kind of] ostentation, but it is not of the unlawful type, for it is ostentation through [a substance of] the world and not through acts of worship. Analogous to this are all the embellishments and outward beautifications that people choose. They are permissible even if such embellishments and refinements are done in order that one look good in other people’s eyes, avoid their blame and condemnation and find gratification in their respect. For a man has the right to avoid the pain engendered by condemnation and to seek the tranquillity of intimacy with his brothers.

Hence, to be ostentatious by means of acts which are not acts of worship may be permissible, as this can be an act of obedience [to Allah]. It may also, however, be a blameworthy act, depending on the aim through which one seeks to obtain it. In this respect, we should say that if a man spends his wealth on a group of wealthy people not as an act of charity or worship but only so that people believe that he is generous, then he is guilty of an ostentatious act, but it is not in itself unlawful, just as all similar instances are not unlawful.

If ostentation is displayed through acts of worship such as almsgiving, prayer, fasting and hajj, then the person who is ostentatious falls into one of two cases:

First, there is he who by his acts seeks nothing but absolute ostentation, and not reward [from Allah]. In this case his [act of] worship is void, for actions depend on intentions and his intention was not worship. Such an act does not simply nullify the worship, leaving one to assume that the ostentatious person remains as free of sin as he was before performing this act. No, the ostentatious person in this respect is sinning and offending, as is indicated by the verses of the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet - peace be upon him - and those of his Companions and their successors. There are two issues regarding this. Firstly, people imagine that the ostentatious person is sincere, that he is obedient to Allah and that he is of the folk of din, whereas in fact he is not. Deceiving in the affairs of the world [it must be remembered] is also unlawful. Secondly, by seeking Allah’s bondsmen through worship of Allah, exalted is He, the ostentatious person is mocking Him. An example of this is the servant who spends an entire day in the presence of a king, as is the servants’ habit, but his presence there is only to watch one of the king’s concubines. This servant is mocking the king, for he did not draw near to serve him, but rather his goal was one of the king’s slaves. Can there be anything more contemptible on the part of the bondsman than harbouring an intent through worship of Allah, exalted is He, to show off to a weak person who holds neither benefit nor harm for him? Is this not proof that the ostentatious person thinks that this person is more capable of fulfilling his goals than Allah; and that he is more deserving to get near to than Allah, for he prefers him to the King of kings and has made him the goal of his worship? This, indeed, is among the major perils, and it is because of this that the Messenger - peace be upon him - called it ‘minor associationism’.

Secondly, there is he who does not intend to draw near to Allah, intending to draw near to other than Him. Upon my life! If such a person were to glorify anyone other than Allah, through prostrating to him, he would be committing plain disbelief (kufr). Moreover, ostentation is a hidden disbelief, because the ostentatious person has glorified other people in his heart, and in some aspect, it is as if these other people are glorified when the ostentatious person prostrates. To the extent that the glorification of Allah through prostration ceases and glorification of other people remains, this amounts to something like associationism.

Such a state of affairs is the pinnacle of ignorance and none shall engage in it except the one whom Satan has deceived; the one whom Satan has deceived into believing that bondsmen have more ability than Allah, exalted is He, to harm him, benefit him, provide him with sustenance and control his life-span.

Degrees of ostentation

Some avenues of ostentation are graver and more serious than others, and the difference in ostentation is due to the difference of its pillars and degrees. There are three pillars of ostentation, namely: the object of the ostentation, the purpose of the ostentation and the intention of the ostentation itself.

The first pillar: the intention of ostentation

The intention behind any ostentation has itself four degrees:

The first, which is the most serious, is where a person does not initially intend to gain any reward [from Allah for his action], such as the one who prays when in the company of others so that if he were alone he would never perform the prayer; or even prays with the people but without performing the ritual ablution. Such a person is fully intent upon ostentation and is loathed by Allah, exalted is He. This is the most extreme degree of ostentation.

The second is where the person intends to gain some reward [from Allah for his action] but his intention is weak in the sense that if he were alone he would not perform this action, nor would his intention to gain [His] reward drive him otherwise to perform such an action. This person is similar to the preceding one, and his intention to gain Allah’s reward will neither abolish the offence nor Allah’s loathing.

The third degree is where a person is intent on gaining Allah’s reward and also ostentation, but both purposes are equal in such a way that were either of these intentions to be absent he would not be prompted to perform the action in the first place. Only when both intentions are brought together is this person’s desire [for performing the action] aroused. Alternatively, it could be the case that this person equally intends to obtain [Allah’s] reward and be ostentatious, but the presence of either intention is sufficient for him to perform the action. The act of corruption that such a person effects is equal to the benefit he brings forth. We hope that such a person will [on the Day of Judgement], be simply acquitted, neither possessing a surplus of rewards nor punished for excess sin, or that his reward will equal his sins. Nevertheless, the apparent meaning of the traditions [on this issue] indicates that a person recurrently in this state will not attain salvation.

The fourth is where people’s knowledge [of the performance of an act of worship] favours and enhances a person’s resolve [to perform it], although were they to be ignorant of it he would still not abstain from the performance of that worship. Furthermore, had he solely intended ostentation, he would not have undertaken that act in the first place. We think, and Allah alone knows best, that this person will not be entirely deprived of reward but will not be given it in full; or he might be punished in accordance with the extent of his ostentatious intent and rewarded in accordance with the extent of his intention to gain Allah’s reward. As for the saying of the Prophet -peace be upon him -: “Allah, exalted is He, says: ‘... I absolutely dispense with associationism;’”[15] this should be understood as referring to the instances where the intent for achieving Allah’s reward and the intent for being ostentatious are equal in strength, or where the intent to show off is stronger.

The second pillar: the object of ostentation

This refers to acts of obedience, and can be divided into two categories:

(i) Being ostentatious through the principles of acts of worship.

(ii) Being ostentatious with the outward performance of acts of worship.

The first category, which is the more serious of the two, entailing displays of ostentation through principles, has three degrees:

The first degree is ostentation in relation to the principle of faith (iman), which is the most serious form of ostentation. The ones who practise it will be cast into Hell for eternity; amongst them will be the one who utters the shahada in public while inwardly being filled with disbelief, the one who simply shows off his compliance to the outward form of Islam. It is to this type of ostentation that Allah, exalted is He, refers to time and again in His Book, such as by His saying, glorified and exalted is He: {When the hypocrites come unto thee, they say, “We bear witness that thou art indeed God’s Apostle!” But God knows that thou art truly His Apostle; and He bears witness that the hypocrites are indeed false.}[16] {Now there is a kind of man whose views on the life of this world may please thee greatly, and [the more so as] he cites God as witness to what is in his heart and is, moreover, exceedingly skilful in argument. But whenever he prevails, he goes about the earth spreading corruption and destroying [man’s] tilth and progeny...}[17] {... And when they meet you, they assert, “We believe [as you believe]”; but when they find themselves alone, they gnaw their fingers in rage against you ...}[18] {... They rise reluctantly, only to be seen and praised by men, remembering God but seldom, wavering between this and that.}[19]

In the early days of Islam hypocrisy abounded, for there were people who would embrace Islam outwardly only to achieve some of their own goals. Nowadays, this phenomenon is less common. However, the hypocrisy of those who inwardly slip away from the din, and deny [the reality of] Paradise, Hell and the abode of the Afterlife still abounds, as is the case with heretics. The hypocrisy of those who suspend the authority of the shari`a and the legal ordinances, as is the case with the antinomianists, still abounds, as does the hypocrisy of those who believe in kufr or innovation but who pretend the opposite. This is the summit of hypocrisy and ostentation, and the hypocrites and ostentatious of this type will be eternally cast into Hell. Moreover, the condition of such people is worse than that of the disbelievers who openly declare their disbelief; this because they have combined inward disbelief with outward hypocrisy.

The second degree is being ostentatious with the principles of acts of worship while still believing in the principle of the din. This is also a grave matter with regard to Allah, but it is significantly less serious than the first [degree]. An example of this would be the man who asks the person who acquired his property to pay the zakat due from it, for fear that the latter might condemn him, but Allah knows that had the property remained in his possession he would not have given the zakat out. This person is ostentatious. He possesses the principle of believing in Allah and believes that there is none worthy of worship except Him. Had he been asked to worship any other than Allah or to prostrate himself to other than Him he would have refused. But such a person also abstains from performing acts of worship because of his laziness, and is invigorated only when people see his acts. This person’s standing with his fellowman is dearer to him than his position with his Creator. It is the height of ignorance, and the one who behaves thus deserves loathing even though he has not slipped away from the principle of faith as far as belief (i`tiqad) is concerned.

The third degree does not entail displays of ostentation through belief or [religious] obligations but rather in relation to supererogatory acts and the sunnas (which if a person were to leave he would not be sinning). In other words, this person is lazy in the performance of these acts when alone but performs them when in the company of others. Allah knows that were this person to be alone he would never have performed more than what is obligatory upon him.

This also is a serious matter, but less serious than the two degrees which preceded it, and it further seems to be a ramification of the second degree. The punishment for such behaviour is half the punishment of the second degree of ostentation.

The second category is ostentation through the outward performance of acts of worship and not with its principles, and this is also divided into three degrees.

The first entails displaying ostentation through a deed the abstention from which constitutes a deficiency in the [act of] worship. An example would be the person who intends to shorten his prostration or bowing and curtail his recitation [during prayer], and only when people see him does he perfect the bowing, prostration and the sitting position between the two prostrations. This is also [a form] of prohibited ostentation because it gives precedence to one’s fellowmen over the Creator, but it is less serious than ostentation through the principles of entire supererogatory acts.

The second entails displaying ostentation through a deed the abstention from which does not constitute a deficiency, but the undertaking of which is considered to complete and perfect a person’s worship, such as prolonging the bowing and prostration, assuming an upright posture (i`tidal) [with each act in prayer], and reading more from the Qur’an [than is usual].

The third degree entails displaying ostentation through acts which do not belong to the supererogatory category such as attending prayer in congregation well before other people [arrive at the mosque], standing in the first row and praying on the right side of the imam.

These are, then, the degrees of ostentation which relate to the objects through which ostentation is undertaken. Some of them are worse than others; but all are blameworthy.

The third pillar: the purpose of ostentation

In displaying ostentation, the person doing so has inevitably a purpose, such as obtaining wealth, status or some other goal. Such a purpose also has three degrees:

The first, which is the worst and most pernicious, is where a person displays ostentation in order to be in a position to commit an offence. Such is the case of the one who is ostentatious through his acts of worship, who pretends to be pious and righteous by multiplying his supererogatory acts and who abstains from taking properties emanating from doubtful sources, only to be known as a trustworthy person. Once entrusted with the office of judgeship (qada’), [public] endowments (awqaf), trusts and bequests (wasaya), the properties of orphans (mal al-aytam) or mortgage pledges (wada’i`) he will abuse his position and will embezzle money for his own use. Some even wear the attire of Sufis and assume postures of humility when their whole aim is simply to draw near to a woman.

This type of ostentatious person is the most loathed by Allah, exalted is He, because he has used obedience to his Sustainer as a ladder to offend against Him, and has taken this obedience as a tool, store and commodity for his sinfulness.

The second degree is where a person aims at obtaining worldly gain that is in itself lawful, for example property or marriage. An example would be the man who shows how he has suffered affliction, and undertakes the admonition and reminding of people so that he be given money and so that women will desire to marry him. This kind of ostentation is prohibited, for it entails seeking a substance of this worldly life through obedience to Allah; but it is less grave than the previous degree.

The third degree is where a person does not intend to obtain a worldly gain or wealth, but rather displays his worship for fear that he may be thought of as defective and not of the elite and ascetics. Here one would include the person who [usually] walks in a hurried manner but when he is seen by others walks slowly and with gravamen, lest it be said that he does not belong to the community of serious believers. One would likewise include he who joins others in the tarawih or tahajjud prayers for fear that he be accused of laziness and classified as one of the commoners. These too are among the pitfalls of ostentation, for the sincere believer does not care how his fellowmen look at him.

All these degrees of ostentation and ranks of different types of eyeservice are exposed to Allah’s wrath and loathing, exalted is He. Furthermore, ostentation is one of the severest causes of peril; so great is its severity that it contains pitfalls that are more hidden than the creeping of ants.

The ostentation which is more hidden than the creeping of ants

Ostentation may be either ‘apparent’ or ‘hidden’. The apparent type is that which moves and entices a person to perform an action, even if he seeks [Allah’s] reward, and this is the most apparent form of ostentation. Ostentation which is of a slightly hidden nature is that which in itself does not drive a person to perform an act but which nonetheless eases that action for him by which he seeks the face of Allah. Here, one would include the person who is used to constantly praying in the depths of the night (tahajjud), and who finds it difficult to do so, but who when he has a guest becomes invigorated and thereby finds the practice easier. Yet, this person still knows that had it not been for the expectation of reward from Allah he would not have prayed simply out of a desire to impress his guest.

A more hidden type of ostentation is that which neither affects the action nor makes it easy on the doer, yet is still harboured in the heart. For as long as it does not affect the motive for action, this type of ostentation cannot be noticed except by certain signs. The most apparent sign is when a person is pleased that other people take notice of his acts of worship. For there are many bondsmen who are sincere in their actions, who do not wish to be ostentatious, and in fact hate it, but who, when others notice their actions, are pleased and contented. Such pleasure implies a hidden ostentation, for had these people’s hearts not been turned towards others their pleasure would not have materialised when their actions were noticed.

If these people feel pleasure when others take notice of their actions and if they do not react disapprovingly against these feelings, they will become a source of nourishment and supply for their hidden disposition towards ostentation. This hidden ostentation will continue to grow within them, driving them, albeit subtly, towards means through which their actions are allusively noticed, even though they do not themselves aim for any open declaration of ostentation. It might also be that these people do not call others to notice their actions whether through allusion or by open declaration, but instead do so via outward manifestations of habit, for example by displaying thinness, paleness, lowering their voice, tear-stained faces and revealing signs of sleepiness to give the impression that they pray at length at night .

Even more hidden than this is the case where a person hides away and does not wish people to notice his action and indeed would be unhappy if they were to notice it. Despite all this, however, he likes others to greet him first, to respect him and be cheerful with him whenever he encounters them, and equally becomes vexed if he is neglected by others. Now, had it not been for this person’s previous practice of pious deeds, he would not have found it unlikely that people would be neglectful of him. Moreover, if the practice of an act of worship in relation to others is not equal to its non-practice then the person performing the act is not content with Allah’s knowledge of it, and thus is not immune from the hidden blemish of ostentation, that which is ‘more hidden than the creeping of ants’.

The sincere are always wary of hidden ostentation, making an effort to dupe people about their good acts and concealing them more than others insist upon hiding their vices, all in the hope that their righteous deeds may be sincere. Allah will reward them on the Day of Judgement for their sincerity that was open in front of people, because they knew that Allah will not accept on that Day any act except that which is sincerely accomplished for His sake. [On that Day] neither property nor progeny will be of any avail; it will be a Day when a father will not give ransom for his son and when even the truthful will be preoccupied with themselves, each one saying: “Me, me!”

Indeed, the pitfalls of hidden ostentation are multifarious and beyond count.

Delighting in the disclosure of a pious deed

If you were to say: “But no one can escape feeling delight when his pious deeds are disclosed, therefore is delighting to be condemned entirely or only partially?”, know that such delighting can be either praiseworthy or blameworthy. As for that which is praiseworthy, it can be divided into four categories.

First, a person’s aim may be to hide his good act and to be sincere to Allah. However, when others learn of his act he will know also that it was Allah Who disclosed it to them and that it was He Who revealed his good. Hence this person takes this disclosure as implying Allah’s good treatment of him and His care about him, for He concealed his sins and disclosed his good deeds. Consequently, this person becomes delighted only at Allah’s good treatment of him, and not as a result of anyone else’s praise of him or because he has acquired a position in their hearts.

Second is the person who deduces from Allah’s good treatment of him and His concealment of his repulsive deeds in this world that Allah will treat him in the same way in the life-to-come. For Allah’s Messenger - peace be upon him - said: “Allah shall not conceal a bondsman’s sin in this world without concealing it in the Afterlife.”[20] Hence this person’s delight is as a result of this.

Third, a person might think that those to whom his good action is disclosed will want to emulate it. Consequently his reward will multiply, for he will be rewarded for what he disclosed at a later stage and also rewarded for concealing what he initially intended. Expecting this is deserving of delight.

Fourth, those to whom the good act is disclosed may praise the doer for that act. He will be delighted at their pious deed, which is accomplished by praising him and showing love to such an obedient person, and also for the inclination of their own hearts towards obedience of Allah. Here the sign of sincerity is that a person is just as delighted at people praising others as he is when they praise him.

As for that delight which is blameworthy, know that it is a person’s delight for the rising of his position in other people’s heart so that they praise, love, and revere him, attend to his needs and treat him with deference. This type of delight is blameworthy.

And Allah, exalted is He, knows best.

Ostentation that thwarts one’s deeds, and ostentation which does not

When a bondsman is resolved to perform an act of worship with sincerity but then senses the insinuation of ostentation, this insinuation can occur either before or after completing the act. If he feels a simple delight at the disclosure of the act after completing it but does not show this delight, then the act is not invalidated, for the act itself was initially carried out with sincerity and was free from ostentation. It is further hoped that what takes place after completing the act does not have an effect, especially if the bondsman does not make an effort to show or speak about his deed. In this instance, the act’s disclosure coincides with Allah’s wanting it to be known. What the bondsman himself has done is simply to experience a delight and comfort in his own heart.

True, if the person were to feel a desire to disclose his act, to show and speak about it after he initially carried it out with sincerity and without any ostentatious intent, then he ought to fear for himself. But if the insinuation of ostentation takes place before completing the prayer, for instance, even though the person is initially sincere, then the delight that might be felt as a result can be either one that does not affect the act, or the kind of ostentation that drives a person to act. If it is the latter, and the person completes his act of worship with the same disposition, his reward will be nullified. However, if the insinuation of ostentation does not prevent him from intending to complete the act for the sake of achieving [Allah’s] reward, then it will not invalidate the action. That is, provided that its effect is not reflected on the action itself, that the undertaking of the action remains motivated by the din, and that the delight that this person feels is just supplemented. The action is not invalidated in this case because this person’s initial intent is not nullified, and it was this intention which motivated him and drove his action in the first place.

The cure of ostentation and treatment of the heart

From what has been indicated above, you will realise that ostentation thwarts action, that it is a cause for Allah’s loathing, exalted is He, and that it is one of the qualities which lead to peril. Therefore it is right that one’s zeal should be turned to removing it, even [if this can only be done] through effort and hardship. This because there is no recovery except through swallowing a bitter medicine, and this is one type of striving to which all people are forced. None can do without this strife, and although it is initially hard, it becomes easier. There are two stages in the treatment of ostentation: eradicating its roots and sources, and driving away that which occurs immediately.

The first stage is the eradication of roots and sources. The basis of this vice is love of position and status. Namely, the joy of being praised, escape from the pain of condemnation, and desiring what other people possess.

That these are the causes of ostentation and the motive which drives the ostentatious is substantiated by the report of Abu Musa where a Bedouin asked the Prophet - peace be upon him: “O Messenger of Allah! A man who fights driven by hamiyya (i.e. he resents being defeated or condemned as being defeated or beaten), a man who fights to acquire position (one who seeks the joy of status and esteem in others’ hearts), and a man who fights so that he be talked about (one who enjoys the verbal praises of others), are they fighting for the sake of Allah?”.He - peace be upon him - replied: “Whosoever fights so that Allah’s Word prevails is fighting for the sake of Allah.”[21]

These three things are what drive the ostentatious to play up to others, and the cure is that which was identified in the first section of this book.[22] Here, we will mention only that which is particular to ostentation. It is obvious that a human being seeks and desires something only if he thinks that in that thing lies his good, and that it is beneficial and delightful. If he realises that this thing is immediately delightful, but subsequently harmful, it is easy for him to give up his desire for it.

So, if a person were to realise the harmful effect of ostentation, and what he will miss in terms of his heart’s uprightness and what he will be deprived of in terms of immediate success and of rank in the eyes of Allah in the hereafter and his exposure to great chastisement, severe loathing and outright disgrace, [he will consequently avoid ostentation]. For so long as a bondsman meditates on this disgrace, compares what he will get from other people with what he is going to miss in the Afterlife and compares this with the thwarted reward of his actions, knowing that a single, sincere act might preponderate in the balance of his good deeds, and that if it is corrupted with ostentation it will be transferred to his offences, then he will realise that had there been in ostentation nothing except the thwarting of a single devotional act, that would be enough to make its harm plain. Furthermore, if his good deeds preponderate he will obtain high rank in the sight of Allah, exalted is He. Moreover, why should a person seek others’ praise and Allah’s condemnation when he knows that the praise of others will add neither to his sustenance nor his life-span? Nor will their praise benefit him at the time of his extreme need and poverty on the Day of Judgement.

As for desiring what other people possess, this can be dealt with by realising that it is Allah, exalted is He, Who commands people’s hearts to give or hold back, that people in this respect are not free, that there is no Lord except Allah, and that a person who covets what other people have will not reap anything except humiliation and disappointment. So how can someone then leave what is with Allah for false fancy and ill-founded expectation?

As for other people’s condemnation, why should anyone be wary of it? Other people’s condemnation of one will not add anything that Allah has not already decreed. Nor will such condemnation hasten the end of one’s life-span or delay one’s sustenance.

If a person inwardly admits the defect and damage of these causes, his desire will slacken, and he will be wholeheartedly devoted to Allah, for a person endowed with reason will not desire something whose harm is great and whose benefit is small.

Moreover, at the beginning of this chapter we expounded upon the cures related to knowledge which uproot the very foundations of ostentation. As for a practical cure, this consists of accustoming oneself to concealing acts of worship and not disclosing them to others, just as one would not disclose one’s bad habits. This is because there is no cure for ostentation like concealment.

The second stage involves driving away the insinuation of ostentation that comes to mind while performing devotional acts. This also needs to be learnt, because even a person who strives against himself, who eradicates the foundations of ostentation from his heart by means of contentment, elimination of greed, not seeking others’ esteem, and showing contempt for others’ praise and condemnation, will not be spared by Satan when he is practising devotional acts. On the contrary, Satan will expose him to the insinuations of ostentation, and his incitement to evil will not stop. Furthermore, the soul’s caprice and its inclination [to seek others’ praise] cannot be completely effaced. Hence it is necessary that a person’s zeal be turned towards driving away whatever such insinuations come into his consciousness.

Such insinuations of ostentation are threefold. They may either come to mind in one go, or present themselves in succession.

The first insinuation concerns knowing that others have taken notice of one’s action and hoping that they might take notice of it. This is then followed by the soul’s strong desire for other people’s praise and for obtaining a position amongst them. This is followed by a strong desire for the soul to accept it, to be confident with it and to be resolved to achieve it. The first is a state of awareness (ma`rifa), the second is a state of pleasure and desire, and the third is an intention and resolve.

The greatest form of strength lies in suppressing the first insinuation and driving it away before it is followed by the second. If this occurs, the person concerned should drive such notions away by considering that regardless of whether other people know about his act or not, Allah nevertheless knows his state. So what benefit is there in other people’s knowledge of his act?

If a person longs for the joy of being praised, he should remember the defect of ostentation which permeated his heart before, and remember his exposure to Allah’s loathing on Judgement Day. Knowledge of the defects of ostentation will arouse a dislike capable of opposing that desire. Desire calls him to accept ostentation, while dislike calls him to reject it, and the soul will inevitably obey that which is stronger and overwhelming. Hence, in order to drive away ostentation one needs [to be able to recognise] three things: namely, an awareness, a dislike and a rejection. Rejection is the result of dislike, and dislike is the result of awareness.

You may ask this question: ‘[What about] someone who dislikes ostentation and rejects it, but who is nevertheless still not free from an inclination towards it, a love of it and an inner fight against it? This even though he dislikes such love and inclination. Is this person still to be counted among the ostentatious?’

[In response] you should know that Allah has charged His servant only with what he can endure, and it is not in the servant’s power to stop Satan’s evil insinuations, nor to suppress any natural disposition to the point that he does not incline towards desire. All that a person is required to do is to meet his desire with a dislike, and if he does so, then he has accomplished the goal behind fulfilling what he is [legally] bound with.

This is evidenced by the Companions’ complaints to the Prophet - peace be upon him. One of them once said: “It would be better for us to be thrown down from the sky than to repeat some of the things that occur to our hearts.” The Prophet - peace be upon him - asked: “Does this occur to you?” “Yes!” he replied. “That is the solid iman”, he replied.[23] [Note that] they experienced only evil insinuations and felt a dislike for them. Now, it cannot be said that the Prophet - peace be upon him - referred to these insinuations as ‘the concrete iman’. Therefore, the only interpretation of the meaning of this expression is that it refers to having devilish insinuations which one follows with a dislike.

Despite being vile, ostentation is less grave than devilish insinuations with regard to Allah, exalted is He. Now, if the harm of something vile is driven away by simple dislike, what is less serious is more likely to be easily driven away by the same.

[Wariness of Satan]

If you were to say: ‘One cannot be safe from Satan’s evil insinuations; therefore, should one be on guard before he is present so that one might be wary of him? Or, should one rely on Allah so that He be the One Who drives him away? Or, should one busy oneself with worship and forget about him?’

With regard to these questions three different opinions are held. A group [of scholars] from Basra were of the opinion that the [spiritually] strong do without such a wariness of Satan, because they have devoted themselves to Allah and have preoccupied themselves with His love, and as a result Satan leaves them alone, having despaired of them. Another group [of scholars] from the Levant held the view that vigilance, in wariness of Satan, is necessary only for those whose certainty [in Allah] is weak and whose reliance [tawakkul] is lacking. This is because the one who has certainty that there is no partner with Allah in His providence will not be wary of any other than Allah, exalted and glorified is He. Yet another group of scholars advanced the view that wariness of Satan is indispensable, and that the Basran opinion is almost tantamount to a satanic deception. This because the Prophets themselves - peace be upon them - were not immune from Satan’s enticements and evil insinuations, so how could others be immune from these things?

Furthermore, not all evil insinuations concern pleasures and love of the world; they can also be about God’s attributes and names, and about innovations, misguidance and other things. No-one is immune from the danger of such things, which is why Allah, exalted is He, says: {Yet whenever We sent forth any apostle or prophet before thee, and he was hoping [that his warning would be heeded], Satan would cast an aspersion on his innermost aims: but God renders null and void whatever aspersion Satan may cast; and God makes His messages clear in and by themselves - for He is all-knowing, wise}.[24] And the Prophet - peace be upon him - said: “My heart does sometimes feel slackness and heedlessness ...”,[25] and this despite the fact that his shaytan had become a Muslim and would not command him to do anything except that which was good.

Now, anyone who thinks that his preoccupation with the love of Allah is greater than that of Allah’s Messenger - peace be upon him - and that of all the prophets - peace be upon them - is in the grip of vainglory. Even in their complete immersion in divine love, none of these people felt immune from Satan’s ruse. It is for this reason that Adam and Eve were not spared it [even] in Paradise which is the very abode of peace and joy. Furthermore, Musa, peace be upon him, said, as reported by Allah, exalted is He-: {... “This is of Satan’s doing!”...};[26] and this is why Allah warns all His creatures against him when He, exalted is He, says: {O children of Adam! Do not allow Satan to seduce you in the same way as he caused your ancestors to be driven out of the Garden...}.[27] Moreover, the whole Qur’an, from beginning to end, is a warning against Satan; and this being the case, how can anyone be safe from him?

On the other hand, a wariness of Satan does not contradict one’s preoccupation with the love of Allah, as part of this love is to obey Allah’s command, exalted is He, to be wary of unbelievers and of Satan. Nor does this wariness of Satan contradict complete reliance [on Allah, exalted is He].

Wearing armour, using weapons, gathering an army and digging a trench did not impair the reliance [tawakkul] of Allah’s Messenger - peace be upon him - so how can taking guard from that which Allah has warned against impair reliance on Him? This is the opinion of al-Harith al-Muhasibi - may Allah have mercy on his soul - and it is the right opinion which is attested to by the light of knowledge, whereas other opinions seem to be the words of servants whose knowledge was not vast.

Revealing one’s devotional acts as a legal concession (rukhsa)

In keeping one’s acts secret there is the benefit of sincerity and safety from ostentation, while in revealing them there is the benefit of inspiring imitation and awakening other people’s desire to do good; and yet this may entail the defect of ostentation. It is for this reason that Allah, exalted is He, praises [the use of] both secrecy and openness when he says: {If you do deeds of charity openly, it is well; but if you bestow it upon the needy in secret, it will be even better for you...}.[28]

The showing of [one’s acts] is of two divisions: one concerns the action itself, and the other the disclosure of the action to others.

The first division

This concerns showing the action itself, such as openly giving alms, in order to awaken other people’s desire to do so, as was reported about the Ansari who had come with a bag of money, so that upon seeing him other people followed suit, with the result that the Prophet - peace be upon him - said: “Whosoever introduces a good sunna which is carried on by others, will have a reward for initiating the deed and also the equivalent reward of all those who follow his example.”[29] This applies to all actions.

The one who shows his action has two duties. The first is to show it where he thinks that his example is going to be followed, or at least likely to be followed. Many a man is imitated by his family and not by his neighbours, or perhaps by his neighbours and not by those who frequent the marketplace. Showing deeds for others to follow is valid only if done by a person who is in a position to prompt others to imitate his deeds. The second duty is for this person to keep his heart in check, for it may well harbour a love of hidden ostentation. Such a love would induce him to show his action under the pretext of awakening other people’s desire to follow suit, while his real desire is to brighten his own reputation through displaying his deeds and through being imitated by others. This is the state of all those who disclose their deeds, except for the sincere and strong; and they are very few. The weak should not deceive themselves with such notions, which would destroy them unawares.

The second division

This concerns disclosing one’s deed after completing it. The ruling on this is the same as the case of disclosing the action itself. In fact, the danger inherent here is more serious because speech is easy on the tongue, and it may well happen that one exaggerates what happened. The soul finds great joy in disclosing claimed actions, although if ostentation does creep in it would not invalidate the devotional act already performed. In this sense it is less serious than disclosing the action itself.

The ruling on such disclosure is that it is permissible, indeed praiseworthy, provided that the person who does so has a strong heart, that his sincerity is complete, that he pays little attention to other people and that their praise and condemnation are of equal weight to him. That is, so long as the intention is pure and the action free from all defects.

A similar situation to this was reported from a group of strong salaf. `Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “I do not care whether I get up in the morning to face hardship or comfort, because I do not know which is better for me”. Ibn Mas`ud said: “I never reached a state and wished for another.”

All these are examples of the disclosure of exalted states, and such utterances can entail serious ostentation if they come from a person who speaks thus for the sake of display, just as there is in them the ultimate awakening of people’s desire for goodness if they proceed from someone who is imitated in his deeds.

Indeed the ostentatious disclosure of devotional acts brings much benefit for others, particularly if the latter do not know that it is ostentation. But it has evil consequences for the ostentatious themselves. Many a sincere person imitates, because of his sincerity, the one who is ostentatious in the eyes of Allah.

It is reported that a certain man used to hear the voices of people praying as they read the Qur’an from their houses every morning as he passed through the roads of Basra. Someone then wrote a book on the subtle aspects of ostentation, so those people gave up reading the Qur’an out loud and consequently people’s desire for it waned. They used to say: ‘We wish that that book had never been written!’

Hence the disclosures of an ostentatious person may carry much good for others - that is if his ostentation is not known - and “Indeed Allah may support this din with the help of the corrupt man,”[30] and also “... with the help of people without any share [of the good things of the Afterlife]”[31].

Concealing sins, and resentment at their being noticed

A person is rarely free from committing sins with either his heart or limbs, and he always tends to conceal these and to dislike their being noticed by others. He might think that their concealment is a prohibited act of ostentation while it is not. What is prohibited, however, is concealing sins so that other people think he is pious, and this is what constitutes the concealment of the ostentatious.

A person may well conceal his offences and have a valid intention in doing so. Equally valid may be his anxiety when other people take notice of his offences. This is due to different considerations, some of which are as follows:

First, he should be delighted with Allah’s concealment of his sins owing to the hadith: “Whensoever Allah conceals someone’s sin in this world, He shall conceal it for him in the Afterlife,”[32] and this emanates from a strong iman.

Second, he knows that Allah dislikes the disclosure of offences, preferring instead their concealment. Hence, even if he has committed an offence, his heart will not be devoid of liking what Allah likes. This grows out of a strong iman in Allah’s dislike of the disclosure of offences. The sign of sincerity in all this is when the person equally dislikes other people’s sins being disclosed.

Third, shame (haya’) is a noble trait and a praiseworthy attribute. The Prophet -peace be upon him - said: “Shame (haya’) is good on all accounts.”[33] Therefore, the one who engages in vice and does not care if it is revealed to others, has added insolence and lack of shame to the sin itself. Such a person’s state is worse than that of someone who commits sins but is ashamed of committing them and who conceals his offences.

Fourth, he should be wary of his sin’s disclosure, lest others dare do the same so that he has set a bad precedent.

The error of abstaining from devotional acts for fear of ostentation

Some people abstain from good works for fear of seeming ostentatious. This is wrong, and is an attitude which is a submission to Satan. Abstaining from an action for fear that it might be said: ‘he is ostentatious’, is in fact itself a form of ostentation. This because if one did not love other people’s praise and fear their condemnation, one would not have minded their opinion that one was ostentatious or sincere.

Furthermore, what difference is there between abstaining from an action for fear of being accused of ostentation and performing an action for fear of being accused of heedlessness and neglect? In fact, abstaining from the good action is more serious. All this is part of Satan’s ruse against ignorant worshippers (`ubbad).

You should know that it might be that a man spends the night somewhere with other people, and they, or some of them, happen to get up for the night prayer (tahajjud), and upon seeing them his desire to follow their example is aroused, beyond what he normally performs in the way of night prayer. Or, it may be that he joins those people in their prayer when he is not accustomed at all to praying at night. This could well be considered as ostentation, and may require that this person does not join in. But such is not the case. This is so because each believer desires to worship Allah, exalted is He, to pray at night and to fast during the day, but he may well be obstructed from doing so. His work may stop him from engaging in such acts, or it may be that heedlessness has enchanted him. Hence, it may well be that seeing others brings an end to his heedlessness, or that all obstacles and preoccupations cease in some places and his resolve be aroused.

What the disciple (murid) ought to do before,
during and after an action

The first thing that a disciple needs to restrain his heart with at all times is his contentment with Allah’s knowledge about all his good acts. No-one shall be content with Allah’s exclusive knowledge but he who fears Allah and whose hope is towards Him. As for the one who fears other than Him and whose hope is directed towards other than Him, he desires that others take notice of his good state of affairs. If one is at this level, one should force one’s heart to hate it from the point of view both of reason and of iman, owing to the danger of exposing oneself to Allah’s loathing.

One should keep oneself in check while performing great, hard devotional acts which others are unable to perform. This because the soul is then almost boiling for want of divulging such acts. In such matters, one needs to keep one’s feet firmly grounded, and remember that in return for one’s great deeds, there will be the greatness of the kingdom of the Afterlife, the bounty of Paradise and its everlasting bliss; but that there shall be the rigour of Allah’s wrath and loathing for the one who seeks a reward from mere creatures by means of His obedience.

One should hold one’s heart to this truth after completing the action so that one does not disclose it or speak about it to others. And even when one has done all this, one should remain afraid for one’s deeds, and be in fear that they have been tainted with hidden ostentation of which one was entirely unaware.


1 Al-Qasas: 83.

2 Hud: 15-16.

3 Narrated by Muslim with the following wording: "Many a dishevelled man who would be turned back from people's houses, were he to adjure Allah to do something He would bring it to pass for him".

4 Bukhari and Muslim.

5 Yusuf: 55.

6 Al-Ma`un: 4-6.

7 Fatir: 10.

8 Al-Insan: 9.

9 Al-Kahf: 110.

10 Bukhari and Muslim.

11 Narrated by Ahmad and al-Bayhaqi.

12 Narrated by Malik without the expression “I disavow the doer” and also narrated by Muslim and Ibn Maja.

13 Bukhari and Muslim.

14 Yusuf: 55.

15 Narrated by Muslim.

16 Al-Munafiqun: 1.

17 Al-Baqara: 204-205.

18 Al `Imran: 119.

19 Al-Nisa’: 142-143

20 Narrated by Muslim.

21 Bukhari and Muslim.

22 Cf. the section on status above.

23 Narrated by Muslim.

24 Al-Hajj: 52.

25 Narrated by Muslim, and the continuation of the hadith is “... and I do seek forgiveness from God a hundred times a day.” Commenting on this hadith al-Qadi `Iyad says that it refers to an abatement about and distraction from the dhikr that he used to practise continuously. He used to consider distraction from such supererogatory acts a sin from which he had to seek forgiveness.

26 Al-Qasas: 15.

27 Al-A`raf: 27.

28 Al-Baqara: 271.

29 Narrated by Muslim.

30 Bukhari and Muslim.

31 Narrated by Muslim.

32 Narrated by Muslim.

33 Narrated by Muslim. | More Miscellaneous & Interesting Articles
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