Category Archives: Blameworthy Attributes

On Laziness after Gatherings of Remembrance

Answered by Sayyidi Habib Umar bin Hafiz (may Allah protect him and benefit us by him)

 

I sometimes experience laziness or bad thoughts after attending gatherings of remembrance. What can I do to combat this?

This is a result of the anger of the Devil and the frustration of the lower self, due to the good that you have attained. So ignore these things and the Devil will achieve nothing, and continue doing good works.

The Blameworthiness of Status and Ostentation — Habib Ali al-Jifri

The following classes were delivered by Habib Ali al-Jifri on “The Blameworthiness of Status & Ostentation – Part Two” from Habib Umar bin Hafiz’sabridgement of the Ihya Ulum al-Din of Imam al-Ghazali.

The classes were delivered at the Reviving the Islamic Spirit Knowledge Retreat in Toronto, Canada (December 2013). Audio recordings and summaries of each class are included below.

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Class 1 — The Blameworthiness of Ostentation

Why Study Ostentation?

  1. Ostentation is the opposite of sincerity. Without sincerity, our actions are worthless.
  2. Ostentation is a sign of poor manners [sū’ al-adab] with God. From this perspective, it is the most dangerous spiritual illness which can afflict the heart of a believer, and this is why it [i.e. ostentation] was characterized by the Emissary of God ﷺ as minor polytheism [al-shirk al-asghar] or hidden polytheism [al-shirk al-khafiyy].
  3. Ostentation is complex and it can become more and more subtle and more difficult to identify or diagnose it in its various forms, and in so doing, to “surgically” remove it from our hearts.

Learning about ostentation and how to abandon it is a significant challenge, but do not allow fear of failure prevent you from confronting this spiritual disease.

Concerning the Blameworthiness of Ostentation

Ostentation is forbidden and the one who shows off in worship is one whose state is loathsome in the Sight of God Almighty.

God also reveals: “We feed you for the Countenance of God alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks” [Q 76:9]. God praises those who are sincere seeking nothing but His Countenance.

The Prophet ﷺ said: “If someone shows off, God will expose him, and if someone seeks reputation, God will also expose him.”

He ﷺ also said: “The thing I most fear for you is lesser polytheism.” The Companions (may God be pleased with them) asked: “what is ‘lesser polytheism’, O Emissary of God? He ﷺ replied: “It is ostentation.”

Minor polytheism, ostentation (or showing off), is subtle and complex. For example, it can take the form of “affected humility”, i.e. a humility by which whose who affect it expect others to praise them. Affected humility can be expressed as false confessions of guilt about one’s shortcomings in worship of God.

A Practical Suggestion to Counteract Ostentation

Recite “lā ilāha illa Allāh” abundantly without moving your lips. This way, you can remember God Almighty with words beloved to Him, and it would not be obvious to somebody not observing you closely that you are remembering God.

Class 2 — The Reality of Ostentation (Part 1)

The root of the Arabic word riyā’ is derived from the root verb meaning “to be seen.” Fundamentally, it involves seeking to be held in esteem by people by showing them one’s best attributes. Status and position [jāh] are usually sought by both non-devotional and devotional acts.

Ostentation is a term only used to designate the act of using devotion or worship to seek attention. So it is by definition wanting the attention of God’s servants through obedience to God.

  • The ostentatious one [murā’i] is the worshipper.
  • The audience of the ostentation is those people one is showing off to in order for them to hold one in esteem.
  • The ostentation itself is the acts the ostentatious person seeks to show.

What is the relationship between jāh and riyā’?

Every worshipper [murā’i] seeks a position of esteem [jāh], but not everybody seeking a position of esteem [jāh] is a worshipper [murā’i].

Ostentation takes many forms but they can be reduced to 5 categories:

  1. One’s body
  2. One’s clothing
  3. One’s speech
  4. One’s action
  5. One’s popularity

Note: Since we cannot be certain that what we observe [empirically] about an act is proceeding from a desire to show off or a true desire, we are not permitted to come to a judgment about the hearts of others. It is only for God to judge the intentions of others and our attempts to do so is like trespassing on the domain of our Lord Almighty. So we do not learn about this to judge others but to increase our self understanding and change ourselves.

Wretched is one who learns about ostentation to judge others and felicitous is one who learns about ostentation to judge oneself in order to worship God alone with sincerity.

Class 3 — The Reality of Ostentation (Part 2)

Principle: the means to forbidden things are forbidden.

Consider the case of loving wealth and fame. Love of wealth and fame are not praiseworthy. However, working to attain wealth and fame as mere means to achieving beneficial objectives is not blameworthy. The problem for us is when the heart becomes attached to wealth and fame: it is that attachment that leads us into ostentation. If the heart becomes attached to love of these things, then that abases the self and compels it to be preoccupied with these things.

If people’s hearts are not preoccupied with their fame and they are not concerned with maintaining their fame, or anxious about its loss, then their fame may not be harmful to them or blameworthy. But if those things happen, this is dangerous.

If we are to consider the difference between a hypocrite and an ostentatious person, we could say in summary:

The hypocrite is one who acts as though he has faith but in fact no faith is present in his heart. An ostentatious person has real faith in his heart but his heart’s preoccupation with status and power leads to his acts of worship being governed by people’s perception rather than being dedicated to God alone.

Class 4 — Degrees of Ostentation

Ostentation has three pillars and each of the pillars has various degrees. The three pillars of ostentation are:

  1. Act of Ostentation Itself [nafs qaṣd al-riyā’]
  2. Goal of Ostentation [murā’a li ajlih]
  3. Object Used for Ostentation [murā’a bih]

The degrees of ostentation, within each pillar, are summarized in the following mind map (click the image to enlarge):

Degrees of Ostentation

Class 5 — Questions & Answers

Dealing with ostentation feels overwhelming due to its complexity. I feel like avoiding it altogether. What advice do you have?

God has commanded us to do good actions and He warned us about the things that ruin those actions. So if we fall short in doing the action and we do not purify our intentions, then we have committed two mistakes.

The first mistake is that we neglected the good that God commanded us to do.

The second mistake is that we did not work on purifying our intentions. Ostentation, desire for prestige, and the like, are ailments of the heart regardless of whether or not we do good actions. These illnesses exist within the heart and we still need to treat them with doing the good actions that God has commanded. Seek God’s aid and do not consider yourself incapable.

If the point of ostentation is to please people, should we then withhold complimenting others [to protect them from ostentation]?

There isn’t one universally applicable answer here and context changes things. To begin to answer this question we must consider (1) the giver of praise and (2) the receiver of praise.

If a person wants to express true love for the person he praises, such an intention makes the act sound in relation to the person praising. If, however, the person praising intends dissimulation or to trick others, this is incorrect.

One should, by one’s knowledge of the person to be praised, determine as best he can if the person praised will become deluded or harmed by the praise received [e.g. the praise leading to him becoming conceited]. If that could be the case, one would be justified in withholding praise of that person. If, however, the praise would likely encourage him to continue or to increase doing good, then giving praise to such a person in this context would be acceptable.

Hassān ibn Thābit and Ka`b bin Zuhayr composed much poetry in praise of the Prophet, peace be upon him, who was protected from ostentation and he praised those who were not protected from it from his sahaba, e.g. Abu Bakr, `Umar, `Uthman, and Ali, may God be pleased with them.

When a believer is praised, his faith increases. But if one fears that the one praised will not be able to deal with praise or become conceited or deluded, then refrain from praising.

Class 6 — Subtle Ostentation

Subtle ostentation can be apparent [jaliyy], hidden [khafiyy], or even more hidden [akhfā’].

The kind of ostentation that is subtle but still apparent relates to the motive of the ostentatious action.

The kind of ostentation that is subtle and hidden relates to when a worshipper finds an act of devotion lighter or easier to do when being seen by others.

The kind of ostentation that is subtle and more hidden than the previous two kinds of subtle ostentation above relates to ostentation that is so hidden that it can only be indicated by certain signs. The most obvious of these signs is when a person merely feels pleased when others see him performing an act of worship.

In your approach to worship, be like the one who plants seeds hidden in the earth. Do your work and don’t worry about what is not in your capacity. Winds may appear to be blowing away what you’re planting but with patience you might see that what was actually happening was pollination leading to fruit.

Class 7 — Ostentation which Invalidates Actions

It is narrated that `Abdullah ibn Mas`ūd [may God be pleased with him] heard a man saying: “I read the chapter of ‘The Heffer’ from the Quran yesterday. So Ibn Mas`ūd [may God be pleased with him] said “That is all he will get out of it.” This saying of Ibn Mas`ūd [may God be pleased with him] indicates that that man’s heart was not free from ostentation even when he was doing an act of worship (reciting from the Quran).

One of the most serious spiritual dangers is when a person engages in contention for lordly attributes, i.e. those qualities that are only becoming of God Almighty. Since only Allah can see people’s intentions, we cannot determine specifically which individuals are rewarded by God but we can say that this or that deed deserves divine reward based on Qur’an and Sunnah. We can say this act or that act is legally valid (in Sharia), but we cannot say whether Allah has accepted it or not.

We need to nurture the souls of human beings so that sincere hearts motivate and govern their adherence to the law and moral principles. Otherwise, a rational person without sincerity can always find ways to twist the law to their ego’s desires and behave in ostentatious ways.

Class 8 — Remedies of Ostentation and the Means of Treating the Heart

Ostentation can be removed through effort exerted in self-discipline by the grace [tawfīq] of God Almighty. Everything discussed so far has been to prepare us for the work we have to do in discipling the self.

Two remedial measures are:

  1. To remove the roots through which the tree of ostentation grows. This is the foundational approach.
  2. To put a stop to any thoughts of ostentation as soon as they occur. This is a preventative measure.

This class discusses the roots of ostentation and the practical ways of treating them. It also goes into great depth about the transformative and protective power of loving Allah the Exalted — especially when dealing with ostentation.

A powerful prayer to protect oneself from the whisperings of the devil shared by Muhammad bin Wāsi` [may God be pleased with him]:

اللَّهُمَّ إنَّكَ سَلّطْتَ عَلَينَا عَدُوا بَصِيرًا بِعُيُوبِنَا، مُطَلِّعًا عَلَى عَوْرَاتِنَا، يَرَانَا هُوَ وَقَبِيلُهُ مِنْ حَيثُ لا نَرَاهُم , اللَّهُمَّ فَآيِسْهُ مِنَّا كَمَا آيَسْتَهُ مِنْ رَحْمَتِك , وَقَنِّطْهُ مِنَّا كَمَا قَنَّطتَهُ مِنْ عَفْوِكَ , وَبَاعِدْ بَينَنَا
وَبَينَهُ كَمَا بَاعَدْتَ بَينَهُ وَبَين جَنَّتِك

O God! You have inflicted on us an enemy who sees our faults, is aware of our weaknesses, and he and his tribe see us from whence we see them not. O God! Strip his hope of harming us just as you have stripped his hope of receiving your mercy. Make him despair of misguiding us just as you have made him despair of your pardon. And make him distant from us just as you have made him distant from Paradise.

Class 9 — Signs of Sincerity

Being free of ostentation and sincere for God alone in one’s worship can be indicated by certain signs. Some signs to consider include:

  • If you encounter someone else who appears to be more competent or better in some other way than you, and more popular than you in the eyes of people, you do not feel jealous or anxious; rather, you feel happy for that person. Further, there is nothing wrong with feeling happy for other people and wanting to also have what they have for yourself as well.
  • If “important” people are in your presence then you do not change the way you speak especially for them. That is to say that you do not show more concern for or give more attention to people who have a relatively more privileged position in society than others.
  • If people follow you around like an entourage, you do not like it.
  • If people sin in front of you or suffer embarrassment in some way, you do not become pleased. Instead you pray to God in private to make those people safe from sin and whole.
  • You do not take advantage of people or have expectations from them that you should only have of God.

Calling to God [da`wah] is not about seeking authority over others. It is not about taking advantage of the insecurities of people or exploiting their spiritual needs for your own ends for this would be incompatible with the objective of calling people to God, i.e. to know, act according to, and realize the deep meanings of lā ilāha illa Allāh and Muḥammad al-rasūl Allāh.

Can Patience be Blameworthy?

Answered by Sayyidi Habib Umar bin Hafiz (may Allah protect him and benefit us by him)

Is sabr (patience), in some states, considered blameworthy?

Sabr in its true sense is only praiseworthy and is a cause of ascension. Sabr is to remain steadfast in performing what you have been commanded to do to the best of your ability and to be patient in abstaining from that which you have been prohibited from doing. Then you look at the various events that occur in your life. If something unavoidable occurs which is hard to take, then you must patiently bear it.

If a Muslim is abased in front of you or someone is oppressed and you are able to prevent such things happening but do nothing this is not regarded as sabr. This is in fact weakness and cowardice. Likewise to remain in the state which you are in, not taking the means to ascend to a higher state is not regarded as sabr. This is in fact laziness. So sabr is never blameworthy as it is defined in the Sacred Law. Rather it is a means of attaining limitless reward. Allah says: Only those who are patient will receive a reward without measure.1 He also says: Give good tidings to the patient ones.2

Sabr dictates that you should not be anxious when a problem arises that you cannot avert. You should instead be patient, surrender to Allah and fulfil your obligations with regards to the state that you are in.

 —

1 Al-Zumar, 39.10

2 Al-Baqarah, 2.155

On Having a Bad Opinion of Others and Its Cure

Answered by Sayyidi Habib `Umar bin Hafīz (may Allah protect him and benefit us by him).

What is the definition of having a bad opinion of Muslims?

To anticipate that they will be the cause of evil occurring or that evil will befall them in this life and the next. To forbid them from transgressing the Sacred Law is not having a bad opinion of them, but making a judgement that they will not repent, will not be granted forgiveness or that they will have a bad ending is.

How can I rid myself of having a bad opinion of others?

Learn to revere the knowledge of Allah, which encompasses everything. Know that Allah knows and you do not know.1 If someone claims to be certain about an assumption he has made he is claiming to have knowledge. However, if he knows that Allah possesses all knowledge and has hidden knowledge of many things from him in order that he has awe of Him he will be ashamed to have certain belief in his own assumptions. Only He knows what our ending will be. Allah commanded us to have a good opinion of His slaves and warned us against disobeying Him by having a bad opinion of them. He says: O you who believe, avoid much suspicion, for suspicion in some cases is a sin.2 So we should obey Him and be in a state of shyness in front of His knowledge.

 

Al-Baqarah, 2:216

Al-Hujurat, 49:12

 

 

On Removing Hardness of the Heart

Answered by Sayyidi al-Ḥabīb `Umar bin Hafīẓ (may Allāh preserve him and benefit us by him).

How does someone remove hardness from their heart?

By seeking forgiveness often and having a heart that is broken before Allāh in the depths of the night and reciting the Qur’ān with reflection, and remembering that our ultimate end is to Allāh.

 

On Purifying the Lower Self from Pride

Answered by Sayyidi Habib Umar bin Hafiz (may Allah preserve him and benefit us by him).

How can we purify our lower selves from pride (`ujb)?

You can do this by remembering who you really are. Your reality is nothingness and your ending is being taken to account by Allah. So what is there to be proud of between nothingness and being taken to account? Allah says: You have not received any blessing except that it is from Allah.1 All bounty belongs to Allah; you possess nothing. So witness your Lord’s generosity, and beware: were He to take you to account for your best actions He would punish you. However, out of His bounty He rewards you, shows you His generosity and multiplies your good deeds. Reflecting on this will remove your pride.

 —

1Al-Nahl, 16:53

 

 

On Overcoming and Controlling Anger

Hb Umar Tarim

Answered by Sayyidi Habib Umar bin Hafiz (may Allah preserve him and benefit us by him).

How can we overcome our anger?

You can do this through knowledge and action. Knowledge is to remember the reward that Allah has promised to those who overcome their anger and those who show forbearance and to remember that venting one’s anger distances you from Allah. The best way for someone to avoid incurring Allah’s anger is by them not becoming angry with others. There are certain actions that also help someone overcome their anger: sitting if you were standing; lying if you were sitting; making wuḍū’; remembering Allah and supplicating and doing good to the person who has angered you or wronged you.

What can I do to control my Anger?

Remember the virtue of controlling your anger. Remember that by controlling your anger you save yourself from the anger of Allah. Remember if you cannot control your anger you expose yourself to mistakes in this life and punishment in the next life. By controlling your anger you emulate the Prophets and the pious and by failing to do so you emulate foolish people and devils.

When you become angry, sit if you were standing and recline or lie down if you were sitting. Also make wudu’ or ghusl. Seek refuge in Allah by making the following supplication which the Prophet taught Sayyidah Aishah:

اللَّهُمَّ رَبَّ مُحَمَّدٍ اغْفِرْ لي ذَنْبِي و أَذْهِبْ غَيْظَ قَلْبيْ وأَجِرْنِي مِنْ مُضِلَّاتِ الفِتَن

Allahumma rabba Muhammadin ighfir li dhanbi wa adhhib ghayza qalbi wa ajirni min mudillati-l-fitan

O Allah, Lord of Muhammad, forgive my sins, remove anger from my heart and save me from tribulations which send people astray.”

If you are sincere in seeking to control your anger you will naturally become forbearing.

On Purifying the Lower Self from Arrogance, Ostentation and Envy

Answered by Sayyidi Habib Umar bin Hafiz (may Allah protect him and benefit us by him).

How can we purify our lower selves from blameworthy traits such as arrogance, ostentation and envy?

We can do this with a combination of knowledge and action. Through knowledge we know the reality of these traits and how a person comes to possess them and the fact that they go against our best interests in this life and the next. Then we act against the dictates of these traits.

The cure for arrogance (kibr), for example, which is seeing yourself as being great, is to return to the knowledge of yourself. Every human’s origin is from a contemptible drop of fluid and its ending is a putrid corpse. Between those two times it carries filth in its stomach. We should also reflect upon our weakness in the face of illness and in the face of difficulties. By continually reflecting upon these realities we realise that it is unbefitting to be arrogant. Thus we uproot arrogance from the heart. Then we act in contradiction to the dictates of arrogance. Arrogance dictates, for example, that we sit at the front of a gathering or that we are haughty in our way of speaking. Instead we should sit in the middle of the gathering and try to be humble in the way we speak.

The cure for ostentation (riya’), which is seeking to attain status in people’s hearts, is to know that such a trait will nullify the reward of your actions. If the people for whose sake you perform acts of worship knew that they were being sought, and not Allah, they would look down upon the person performing those acts. The reality is that those people who are being sought are unable to benefit or harm that person who is seeking them. Also anyone seeking other than Allah in his acts of worship will lose his rank with Allah and bad deeds will be recorded against him instead of good deeds. When it comes to action, we should conceal any action that may be concealed. We must openly perform those that actions that cannot be concealed such as the congregational prayer, the Hajj, teaching and calling to Allah but while doing so disliking any thoughts of ostentation that come to our minds. We should repeat the Prophetic supplication:

الَّلهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ أَنْ أُشْرِكَ بِكَ شَيْئاً وأَنا أَعْلَمُ وأَسْتَغْفِرُكَ لما لا أَعْلَمُ

Allahumma inni a`udhu bika an ushrika bika shayan wa ana a`lamu wa astaghfiruka lima la a`lamu

O Allah I seek refuge in You from knowingly associating partners with You in any way, and I seek Your forgiveness for that which I do not know.”

(3 times in the morning and 3 times in the evening).

The cure for envy (hasad), which is resenting the fact that Allah has bestowed a blessing on someone, is to know that showing envy is expressing opposition to Allah. Allah has decreed a certain thing and the envious person wishes that it were not so. If someone has envy they should know that they will lose their rank with Allah and will not be able to prevent the person he envies from receiving Allah’s blessing. Allah may in fact increase that blessing, causing the envious person even more grief in this life before the suffering he will experience in the next. When reflecting upon this, any intelligent person would abandon envy. Action is easy: if you find yourself envying someone, then praise that person and pray for them abundantly. Ask Allah in a state of prostration that He strengthens that person and increases him in that which Allah has blessed him with, especially in the thing which you envy him over.

The root cause and foundation of all these blameworthy traits is love of this world (hubb al-dunya). The means of removing all these traits and the foundation of all praiseworthy traits is love of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).

On Persisting in Sins but Longing for the People of Allah

Answered by Sayyidi Habib Umar bin Hafiz (may Allah protect him and benefit us by him)

What is the state of a seeker who continues to commit sins while maintaining an attachment to and a longing for the people of Allah?

Good is hoped for this person. They should be constantly aware of their state and they should attempt to rectify it. They should know that an attachment to the pious and a longing to be in their company are good deeds in themselves. They should increase in remorse for their wrongdoings.

On Envying the Da`wah Successes of Others

Answered by Sayyidi al-Ḥabīb `Umar bin Hafīẓ (may Allāh preserve him and benefit us by him).

How can we remove the desire to outdo our brothers and our envy for them, especially when we see their success in da`wah?

The cure for this is look at the reality. The reality is that nothing happens except by the will of Allāh, so how can we wish for other than what our Lord wills? The reality is that if our brothers succeed in da`wah or in any other realm of the religion, then this is a source of assistance, goodness, blessings and strength for all of us. So how can we dislike this strength, harbour envy towards the one who has been given it and desire for it to be removed? When any one of us increases in faith, succeeds in worshipping Allāh or calling to Him, or in teaching and learning, or purification of the self, then it is a source of strength, blessings and goodness for everyone. We praise Allāh for it, and we desire for many people to be successful in these areas. All the people that work for the sake of the religion are a source of aid for the rest, and a means of collective strength in achieving our goal and purpose in life. Thus we should realise that the success of our brothers is a source of happiness for us, and if we realise this, all feelings of envy will leave us.