What is Ar-Riya?

Every act of worship is done for Allah alone. When a Muslim performs acts of worship to be seen by others, then that is Riya (showing off in order to be praised).

So showing off in acts of worship is considered Ar-Riya. It is a very big sin in Islam. It can constitute to disbelief, based on the intention of the person.

Is a deed of worship only done to be praised by others? Then that falls under the major form of hypocrisy, which is disbelief. When a Muslim does an act of worship for Allah, but also to be praised by others, then that act is minor hypocrisy, which is not disbelief.

  1. The forms of Ar-Riya
  2. How to prevent Ar-Riya
  3. How to ask forgiveness for Ar-Riya

The forms of Ar-Riya

The deed of Riya consists of two forms. One of which will make the person a disbeliever. It is important for Muslims to guard against this deed.

Shaytan always tries to spark something in the hearts of Muslims to make them focus on what others perceive of them. This can result to the Muslim wanting to be praised by others for his or her deeds.

1. Minor Riya

The minor form of Riya does not constitute to a Muslim becoming a disbeliever. It is still a big sin in Islam. This deed can cause the Muslim to go to hellfire if Allah does not want to forgive on Day of Judgement.

All of the rewards that an act of worship brings with it will be nullified when a person does it to be praised. It falls under the act of minor Shirk to perform Riya.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
"Verily, my greatest fear for you is the lesser form of idolatry." They said: "What is lesser idolatry, O Messenger of Allah?" The Prophet said, "It is boasting in worship. Allah Almighty will say to them on the Day of Resurrection, when people are rewarded for their deeds: Go to those for whom you wished to be praised in the world and see if you finds reward in them.”
(Musnad Ahmad hadith 23119)

The pious predecessors were strict about doing good deeds in private. They did not want to expose their deeds to the minor or major form of hypocrisy. Because of this, she protected their good deeds in order to preserve the hasanaat.

'Abdullah ibn 'Umar radiyAllahu 'anhu said:
"Whoever tries to make people hear about his deeds will be exposed by some people who have been informed by Allah. ('Abdullah ibn 'Umar then began to cry)"
(Al-Zuhd #308 by Waki' bin Al-Jarrah)

2. Major Riya

It is a big sin to perform acts of worship solely for others to praise you. That is considered the major form of hypocrisy in Islam. One becomes a disbeliever by performing major Riya. It falls under major Shirk (worshiping others besides Allah).

When a person solely wants to be praised by others for performing acts of worship, then he finds their opinion more important then that of Allah. For they pray to be seen by others, talk good to be seen by others and live their life for others.

Allāh has promised the hypocrite men and hypocrite women and the disbelievers the fire of Hell, wherein they will abide eternally. It is sufficient for them. And Allāh has cursed them, and for them is an enduring punishment.
[Surah Tawbah, 68]

Indeed, the hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of Hellfire - and never will you find for them a helper -
[Surah An-Nisaa, 145]

How to prevent Ar-Riya

Now, how do you prevent falling into ar-Riya? Islam is based on Ikhlas, worshiping Allah alone because He wants that. Not because others want it.

1. Ikhlas (Sincerity)

Al-Fudal ibn 'Iyyad said:
“Allah 'azza wa jalla accepts only those deeds which are both correct and sincere (pure). If the deed is done correctly but not sincerely, it will not be accepted. And if it is sincere but not correct, it will not be accepted.” He was asked, "Abū 'Ali! What is the righteous and correct act?" He replied: "The righteous deed is one that is done only for Allah 'azza wa jal. And the righteous deed is an act according to the Sunnah."
[Hilyah Al-Awliya volume 8 page 95]

'Abdullāh ibn Mas'ud radiyAllahu 'anhu said:
"Allah does not accept [the act] of one who strives to be heard or seen, nor from one who is playing, [He only accepts the supplication] of one who calls on Him from the bottom of his heart."
(Al-Zuhd #874 by Hunad bin Al-Sarī)

Al-Hasan Al-Basri said:
"A person remains good as long as he knows what things spoil his deeds."
(Al-Zuhd page 339 of Imam Ahmad)

It is essential to have a pure intention, for this will immediately break down hypocrisy. A good intention requires quite a bit of time and effort to earn. Moreover, it is a gift from Allah to His slave to protect himself with.

2. Protect the heart

Because of how weak are hearts can be at times, putting ourselves in a situation to be praised will only have more effect on us. It will weaken or damage our pure intentions.

Al-Fudayl ibn 'Iyyad said:
"Whoever feels sad about loneliness and feels good around people, is not safe from Riya."
[As-Siyar volume 8 page 436]

We learn from this Athar that it is important to keep pure intentions and not to get involved in worldly affairs. For example, excessive companionship can lead to a weaker heart, which increases the chance of Riya.

3. Du'a

The best weapon against falling into Riya is to do lots of supplication. Allah is the One that protects and guards against all evil.

'Abdullāh ibn Mas'ud radiyAllahu 'anhu said:
"Allah does not accept [the act] of one who strives to be heard or seen, nor from one who is playing, [He only accepts the supplication] of one who calls on Him from the bottom of his heart."
(Al-Zuhd #874 by Hunad bin Al-Sarī)

Muslims ask Allah for protection and get it when they sincerely ask for it. With Allah's protection, Muslims become stronger in their faith and act faster according to the Quran and Sunnah.

How to ask forgiveness for Ar-Riya

When asking for forgiveness, it is important that the Muslim be aware of the dangers of Ar-Riya. Thus, this person should want to improve in order for Allah to erase the sin.

In the minor form of Riyaa, the Muslim asks for forgiveness and does not have to worry about whether he has left the religion.

'Ali bin Husayn (son of Al-Husayn radiyAllahu 'anhu) said:
"Taubah is done by taking action (correcting) and turning away from it (by regret), not just by pronunciation."
[Al-Tawbah #57 by Ibn Abī Al-Dunya]

When a person regrets major hypocrisy, then that person must ask for forgiveness, practice the correct Aqeedah and enter Islam by to pronounce the Shahada.

Abu Athari writes about basic principles within Islam. He uses his critical and well-researched way to spread knowledge of the first three Muslim generations.

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