The greatest oppression is to commit shirk (ascribe partners with Allah Ta’ala). The lesser shirk is to perform righteous actions for some ulterior motive such as name and fame, while it should have been done solely for the sake of Allah Ta‘ala. Hence it is reported in a hadeeth that Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) said, “The one who has performed salaah to impress others, has committed shirk with Allah Ta‘ala.” (Musnad Ahmad #17140)
The gravity of the sin of riyaa (showing off and doing any action for people) is highlighted in a famous hadeeth. Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) is reported to have said that on the Day of Judgment a learned person, a generous person and a martyr will be called up. However, their great actions of teaching Deen, spending wealth for the upliftment of Deen and sacrificing one’s life for Allah Ta‘ala will all be rejected due to having been done to gain the praises of people. It is further mentioned that they will be the first to be thrown in the fire of Jahannam. (Sunan Tirmizi #2382)
Therefore, sincerity in every action must be checked and re-checked. Allah Ta‘ala knows what is in the depth of one’s heart. One should therefore be only concerned to please Him at all times.
The evil of seeking fame and recognition is not restricted to acts of worship only. It extends to other aspects as well. For instance, Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) has declared: “The one who wears a garment to attain recognition or to impress others, Allah Ta‘ala will clothe him in garments of disgrace on the Day of Judgment.” (Sunan Ibni Maajah #3606) To wear good clothes that do not contravene the laws of sharee‘ah is permissible. However, if the motivating factor in choosing a garment is to impress others, it becomes impermissible. A typical example of this is branded clothing. Many people choose a particular brand to appear to be in style. Hence if a person cannot afford the original, a fake with the brand name will also do. He will not choose another un-branded garment of equal quality and comfort even if the latter comes at a much reduced price.
Another example of wearing a garment for recognition is to try to wear something “different” at every occasion. For instance one wore a new garment on some family occasion. On the next occasion one chooses another garment to wear because “they already saw the other one.” Such a person will fall within the warning of the above hadeeth.
Similarly, if one chooses a particular type of car, or chooses to furnish one’s home in a particular manner in order to impress people, the same warning will apply. Likewise if one has invited guests on some occasion, nothing should be done merely to impress the guests. One should make the guests comfortable. However, to resort to decorative aspects in order to impress will render the act impermissible and it will become a means of sin.
In many aspects the dividing line between permissibility and sin is one’s intention. However, one should be extremely cautious in declaring that one’s intention is sincere. Shaitaan easily deceives us with flimsy interpretations. It is better to be safe than sorry. One should therefore first consult one’s elders or a senior experienced ‘Aalim in such matters.
Our life is very short indeed. When we leave this world, all those who we impressed with our actions or wealth will not be able to help us. It is thus foolish to destroy our good deeds and to invite the wrath of Allah Ta‘ala by trying to impress people. If Allah Ta‘ala is pleased with us, the entire world’s displeasure is of no significance, nor can it harm us in any way.
May Allah Ta‘ala grant us sincerity and save us from doing anything to show off to others, aameen.