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Blameworthy Characteristic - Ostentation (Ar-Riya)

In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, Most Merciful.

The purpose or desire behind any action is called its intention, upon which the result of that action depends, as it is said in a Hadith: “Verily actions are (judged) by intentions and each person will be rewarded according to what he intended.” Hazrat Imam Shafaée RH says about this Hadith that it constitutes one third of the whole religious knowledge.

If the goal behind a good deed is show off and get praise from others, it is called ostentation (Ar-Riya). On the other hand, if the purpose behind an action is to please Allah SWT, it is called sincerity. The reality of ostentation, according to Hazrath Imam Ghazali RH is seeking status in people’s heart through worship and good deeds. But this showing off deeds publicly to gain their admiration is a major sin that invalidates the good deeds. It should be noted that if a person gets admiration from others for his virtuous deeds without being desirous for it, then there is no harm.

Ostentatious people have been described in the holy Quran thus: “Woe to those who pray and are unmindful of their prayers, those who show others (107-4,5)” The commentators have called such people as hypocrites. Another verse of Quran says about ostentatious people thus: “When they rise up for prayer, they go reluctantly merely to be seen by people and they remember Allah but little (4:142).”

It should be known that ostentation is such a heinous act that it has been described as minor shirk (Shirk-e-Asghar), which is a major sin. Our Prophet (PBUH) has warned us about it thus: “Verily the most dreadful thing I fear for you is ash-shirk-e-Asghar (minor shirk).” It was asked: “And what is that?” He (PBUH) said: “Ar-Riya (Ostentation).” In a Hadith it is said: “Whoever performs prayer in order to get admiration from others commits shirk, who fasts ostentatiously commits shirk and who gives charity in order to show others commits shirk.” (Mishkat). In a Hadith it is said that on the Day of Judgement the ostentatious people will be asked to go and get the reward from those people for whose praise they used to do good deeds. Hence all acts of worship or good deeds must be done with the intention of pleasing Allah SWT alone in order to seek His nearness (qurb). Even the slightest bit of worship if done for the sake of other than Allah makes the entire deed invalid and rejected. In Hadith-e-Qudsi Allah says: “Whoever performs a deed for Me but associates another with Me concerning it, it is for him entirely and I am free of it. I am the freest of those from the need of partnership.” (Ihya ul Uloom). Our Prophet (PBUH) has said: “Allah does not accept any deed that has a particle’s weight of ostentation in it. Verily the slightest bit of ostentation is an association of partners with Allah.”(Ibn-e-Maja)

Once someone asked our Prophet(PBUH) what would a person get who goes in Jihad with a wish to be martyred for Allah’s sake and at the same time he has a desire that people would praise him for his bravery? The Prophet (PBUH) said thrice that he would get nothing. It is so because his intention is not pure but amalgamated. He wants to please Allah, but at the same time he is desirous of fame and admiration from others as well. So due to this mixed intention he would get no reward as Allah SWT does not like any one to be associated with Him as partner.

The element that makes an action or deed good or bad, valid or invalid, acceptable or unacceptable is the doer’s intention. The most sacred acts are also rejected because of the mixed intentions behind them, while even the small acts gain value on account of purity and sincerity of intentions behind them. Hence sincere intention is the indispensable pre-requisite for the acceptance of any deed. Only those deeds are acceptable which are performed exclusively for Allah’s sake.

In a long Hadith it is said that on The Day of Judgement, the people who will be brought first to be judged would be -- a martyr, a scholar, and a charity giver. Allah Almighty will remind them of His favours and ask them what they did in gratitude. The martyr would say, “I fought for your sake until I was martyred.” As Allah SWT knows well what is hidden in the hearts of His slaves, He SWT will say, “You have lied; You fought in order to be called brave.” Then it will be commanded that he be dragged on his face until he is thrown in Fire. When the scholar will be brought for judgement, he will say: “I acquire knowledge, taught it and recited the Quran for your sake.” Allah SWT will say: “You learned and taught in order to be called a scholar and recited the Quran so that people would say that you were a good reciter and it was said so.” It will be commended for him also to be thrown in the Fire. Then a person will be brought who was given abundant wealth, and will be questioned as to what he did in gratitude for Allah’s favors. He will say: “I spent the wealth generously for your sake.” Allah SWT will say, “You did so in order to be called generous and you were called so.” Then at Allah’s command he also will be dragged on his face to be thrown in the Fire. These were the dreadful consequences of even good deeds which had mixed intentions. From the above discussion it is clear that the occurrence of ostentation nullifies the deed and makes it worthless. Ostentation may be apparent and visible or hidden. That is why we have to be very cautious about our intentions, for some times ostentation can be more unnoticeable than a crawling ant. It may occur at the first instance of a deed, during the deed and after finishing it.

A few months back we have started the series of 10 blame worthy characteristics which has been ended now with the topic ‘ostentation’. These are those characteristics which make the heart of a person unclean and his deeds invalid. In a very lengthy Hadith, it is explained in detail how even the good deeds are rejected. Here a summary of the Hadith is presented: It is said that Allah SWT created seven angels before creating heavens and earth, and each one is made in charge of one heaven to return the deeds of those people who suffer from blameworthy characteristics. When the recording angels (kiraman katibeen) take the deeds of a man to the 1st heaven, the angel of the 1st heaven says the recording angels to take back and throw the deeds on the doer’s face, for Allah SWT has commanded him not to let the deeds go upwards of such a person who has the habit of backbiting and complaining. In the same way the good deeds of those people who suffer from pride, envy, self-admiration, arrogance, hard heartedness and apparent ostentation are rejected. At last, when the recording angels take the virtuous deeds of a person, after passing successfully through all the seven heavens, to the Majestic Presence of Allah SWT and bear witness of sincerity in his actions, Allah SWT says, “You record the deeds of My servant, and I observe what is in his heart. Verily, he did not seek Me by his deeds; he desired other than Me, so My curse is upon him.” (The Beginning of Guidance by Imam Ghazali RH)


Here are some remedies to avoid ostentation and other vices.

  • By being constantly aware of the fact that Allah SWT not only beholds our apparent acts but also knows the hidden intentions of the heart behind them, as it is said in The Holy Quran: “He knows whatever is in the heavens and the earth. And He knows whatever you conceal and whatever you reveal. For Allah even knows what lies hidden in the hearts of people.” (64:4)

  • By affirming once self the harm that the ostentation contains i.e., its dreadful consequences.

  • By implementing the saying of Hazrath Mahdi AHS: “Whatever you do, you see (check) for whom you are doing that. If it is for Allah’s sake it is well and good, otherwise it is all in vain and futile.” This saying of Hazrath Mahdi AHS can be well performed by the one who loves Allah SWT the most and this immense love can be nurtured by the constant zikr of ‘Illallah TuN Hai, la ilaha huN nahi’ through incoming and outgoing breaths. In this zikr we firmly affirm the oneness of Allah SWT by negating each and every object including the self. When one continuously negates the self it helps him eradicate all his self-centred passions and thus he gets rid of not only ostentation, but all other blameworthy characteristics.

May Allah SWT help us to have pure and clean hearts and make us His sincere slaves, AMEEN.

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