An Ethical LifeSeries

The Spiritual Sickness of Showing Off, or Ri’ya

Suffering from the disease of showing off and finding a possible cure

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After understanding what ethics means in Islam, now we can start discussing different ethical, or akhlaqi, diseases which we suffer from and try to find the cure for them.

Riya is showing off a good characteristic or manner with the sole intention of getting a positive response from people. A person reading his prayers or fasting just to let people know that he is a good practicing Muslim will be an example of riya. An example is that sometimes, in the main mourning period of Arbaeen, sometimes we can fall weak and commit riya in these acts of mourning for Imam Husayn (as) and his family and companions. It is not to say we should not hold majalis, but we should not be overly consumed with how the majlis is held, or what kind of food should be served. Instead, we should be mindful that our majalis and mourning rituals are purely for the sake of pleasing Allah (swt). In this sense, even the simplest remembrance of Imam Husayn (as) done with a pure intention will be accepted and rewarded. And this will help us realize not to overdo things, which may lead us toward riya.

Ayatullah Faiz Al–Kashani said in his book Muhajjatul Baidha, that people resort to riya in five types of actions:

  1. Riya of the body
  2. Riya of beauty and dress
  3. Riya of speech
  4. Riya of actions
  5. Riya of outward kind

1) Riya of the body
If we show off that our bodies are getting weak because we are more consumed with worship instead of eating and sleeping, then that will be considered as riya of the body. On the other hand, riya in the worldly aspect is when someone beautifies his or her body to become ‘famous.’

2) Riya of beauty and dress
Keeping a long beard just to get a good name among religious people is riya of worship, whereas the worldly aspect of riya in beauty is showing off your beauty to others so people will be attracted to you.

The wordly aspect of riya of the dress is when we buy brand name and expensive clothes simply to gain the positive attention, or even envy, of others. The riya of dress related to worship is when someone shows off that he or she is pious by wearing old clothes or clothes which are lower in quality than a person of his social status usually wears.

3) Riya of speech
Riya of the speech in worship is talking about the hereafter or religious topics to show off “how religious we are,” or uttering adhkar (invokations of God) like “alhamdulillah” just so people know that this person is very religious. In the worldly aspect, riya could be tooting one’s horn and boasting one’s achievements so he or she can gain respect among people.

4) Riya of the actions
Praying with a long ruku or sujood with the intention of pleasing the people, can be riya of the actions in our worship. In the worldly aspect, riya of the actions, for example is holding a big dinner party simply to show off one’s wealth.

5) Riya of the external affairs
This kind of riya is different than the other four types mentioned as it is not related to one’s own self but it is related to external affairs. One example of this type of riya in worship is sitting in the company of scholars and/or inviting them to one’s home so this person would seem pious. The worldly aspect is visiting and socializing with wealthy or influential people to show off one’s importance.

In all five types of riya mentioned above we see that they are divided in two categories. One category is related to worldly affairs and the other one is related to acts of worship. In Shar’i laws riya in the worldly aspect is not considered haram, as in a person will not face the punishment for committing a sin. However, a real mo’min should refrain from committing riya in worldly affairs because if we get into the habit of showing off, we will continue committing riya in acts of worship. And this will not only make our acts of worship null and void, but we will get perhaps a self imposed punishment for that as well. No good will come from this spiritual disease.

Cure for this disease
It’s important to know that riya is an intentional sin, meaning if someone wants to get rid of this sin they should recheck their intentions before performing any act of worship. There are a few recommended acts which can help us get rid of this disease.

1. Removing the love of this material world out of our hearts, and focusing on the fact that our life in this world is for a limited time. It’s better to make use of this limited time for an eternal reward rather than enjoying the praise of mortal men.
2. Making our intentions purely for the sake of Allah to get rid of riya in our ibadaat (worship). And reminding ourselves that any worship without a pure intention will make our reward go away.
3. Asking help from Allah (swt) to get rid of this disease especially by praying and doing tawassul (asking for intercession) with our Holy Prophet (s) and the Holy Imams (as).
4. Respect and honor is only given by Allah Almighty and not by anyone else.

“Those who take disbelievers as allies instead of the believers. Do they seek with them honor [through power]? But indeed, honor belongs to Allah entirely.” (4:139).

5. If our lifestyle is
tawheedi, meaning if our life revolves around Allah (swt) and seeking His pleasure alone, we wouldn’t care about what people have to say. And through seeking His pleasure alone, we will be honored by the world as well. This doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to the right and honest advice of our brothers in iman (faith) but it means that we should only focus on what Allah has asked us to do.

“If Allah should aid you, no one can overcome you; but if He should forsake you, who is there that can aid you after Him? And upon Allah let the believers rely.” (3:160).

These are a few tips of getting rid of this disease. But we need to keep in mind that it might take some time to fully get rid of riya in our life. There might be days we will commit riya but we shouldn’t become hopeless and we should keep checking our nafs (lower self) everyday.

Our religious teachers have also mentioned that sometimes Shaytan tries to misguide us by convincing us that the act of worship we are performing is because of riya. We need to be aware of this too, for example if we are not offering congregational prayers for fear of riya, then that most probably is Shaytan talking us out of performing good actions.

May Allah help us in getting rid of riya before we leave this world, because that will be the time when we will realize what we have done. May the Almighty guide us so we don’t see the day that our slates of actions are clean, while we thought that we prayed thousands of rakaat of prayers, and kept hundreds of fasts.

Editor’s note: Islamic Insights is honored to host the “An Ethical Life” column by esteemed guest contributor and student from Qum, Brother Raza Rizvi. Besides being a medical doctor educated and trained in Pakistan, Brother Raza is now pursuing his bachelors degree in Fiqh and Usool from the Amir-ul-Momineen Seminary in Qom, Iran. His column will focus on discussing the recognition, types, consequences, and cures for spiritual diseases from the Islamic point of view.

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Raza Rizvi

Raza Rizvi is a medical doctor educated and trained in Pakistan, but is currently studying an entirely different realm of education. Raza is now pursuing his bachelors degree in Fiqh and Usool from the Amir-ul-Momineen Seminary in Qom, Iran.

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