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'Ar-Riya' and 'Sumrah': Sins of Vanity

We should never make a display of our good deeds. Islam attaches great importance to sincerity. This is one of the reasons why we have been warned against what is called Ar-Riya and Sumrah.

Ar-Riya is commonly called “ostentation”, “vanity” or “doing deeds to show others.” Sumrah on the other hand refers to a deed we do for the sole purpose for others to talk about it.

One of the ways the Devil poisons the sincerity of a believer is by getting him to tell others about his good deeds, that is to say, to “make it public”. Here are some examples where a person consciously (or unconsciously) commits Ar-Riya or Sumrah by placing in his conversation to another person the following sentences:

1. “When I got up at 3 am for Tahajjud, it was cold.”

2. “Alhamdulillah, through the supererogatory fasts which I observed I managed to lose a few extra pounds.”

3. “I like to give alms when I get the chance ...”

4. “Verily Quran reading is a source of tranquillity. Every day after I finished reading the Quran after the Maghrib prayer, I feel like a weight off my shoulders...”

In several ahadith, the Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh) taught us that one of the qualities of a good believer is that he does not make known his good deeds in public. He (pbuh) said: “Seven people will be shaded by Allah on the Day when there will be no shade but His... a person who spends in charity and conceals it such that his right hand does not know what his left hand has given...” (Bukhari, Muslim).

God knows how many of us fail to do a good deed without one expecting something in return (example: glory, acclamation, recognition, reward) to the point where some of us prefer not to do those good actions if they know they will not get the recognition they want in return.

Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh) also said: “O people! Pray in your homes (voluntary prayers), because the best prayer of man is the one made at home, except for the obligatory prayers.” (Bukhari).


1. Ar-Riya at the beginning of the action (Ibadah) – This cancels the deed.

2. Ar-Riya during the action (Ibadah) – It is compulsory to push it away, and if one is successful in doing so, then the action is accepted.

3. Ar-Riya after the action (Ibadah) – If someone praises this deed, the deed is cancelled. 

In a hadith narrated by Abu Zar (ra): The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was asked about a person who has done a good deed and that others are praising him for it. The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “This is good news for a believer.” (Muslim).

On the other hand, if the person himself, reproaches someone and extols about the good deeds done for him, this (reproach and reminder) cancels the action. Example: “Remember that I had done this or that for you…?” Moreover, in Surah Al-Baqara (Chapter 2: The Cow), Verse 265, Allah says: “O you who believe! Do not invalidate your charities by reminders or injury...”

Ar-Riya and Al-Sumrah are therefore forbidden for a true believer. The sincerity in action is required since sincerity is for the eyes and appreciation of Allah and not the people. If a believer acts in good faith without a second thought, or does a good deed to give a good example to humanity, so that people do good deeds for the cause of Allah, therefore this action is acceptable (all depend on the intention of that person) because it is fertile ground for the harvest of other good deeds. But Riya and Sumrah are wrong because these two invite the Devil to take part in the actions of people and make them futile and contemptible in the eyes of Allah.

May Allah save us from Ar-Riya and Al-Sumrah. May Allah help us to control our passions and make them slaves of the divine light which is within us. Insha-Allah. Ameen.

-Friday Sermon of March 06, 2015 (14 Jamad’ul Awwal 1436 Hijri) delivered by the Khalifatullah Hadhrat Munir Ahmad Azim Sahib (atba) of Mauritius


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