Tawhid and Shirk in Worship
By: Shaheed Ayatullah Abdul Husain Dastghaib Shirazi
The Almighty Allah has invited all the creatures to pay obeisance to Him in order that His Majesty may become manifest. The people can obtain numerous blessings and unlimited mercy and achieve such a position which even imagination cannot visualise.
“So no soul knows what is hidden for them of that which will refresh the eyes; a reward for what they did.” (Surah as-Sajda 32:17)
The Lord of the Worlds and the Lowly Man
The human being is a lowly creature. So lowly that he cannot even seek nearness to the Almighty, let alone achieve it. That is why Allah (S.w.T.), by his unsurpassed Wisdom and infinite Mercy appointed the Last Prophet (S) as an intermediary to form a firm link between the lowly man and the Almighty Allah.
Due to the presence of this Wasilah (intermediary) the soul of man is affected to such a degree that it undergoes a transformation. Just as alchemy changes the base metal into pure gold, the heart of the worshipper become pure and is filled by the light of the Creator, repelling the darkness of Ignorance. Gradually he rises in status as his worship enables him to rise up towards the Divine. He thus achieves the best of both the worlds.
Purity of Intention
There are some conditions for acceptance of the acts of worship. The most important condition is purity of intention (Niyyat). Purity of intention with respect to a deed has the same significance that the soul has for the body. Absence of the purity of intention during worship takes man further away from Allah (S.w.T.).
The Holy Qur’an contains numerous verses in this regard. A few of them are quoted below:
1) “And they were not enjoined anything except that they should serve Allah, being sincere to Him in obedience.” (Surah al-Bayyina 98:5)
2) “Say: I am commanded that I should serve Allah, being sincere to Him in obedience.” (Surah az-Zumar 39:11)
3) “Say: My Lord has enjoined justice, and set upright your faces at every time of prayer and call on Him, being sincere to Him in obedience.” (Surah al-Ar’af 7:29)
4) “Say: I am only a mortal like you; it is revealed to me that your god is One God, therefore whoever hopes to meet his Lord, he should do good deeds, and not join anyone in the service of His Lord.” (Surah al-Kahf 18:110)
One Who “Shows-Off” is a Mushrik
It is concluded from the authentic traditions that one who tries to show-off in religious matters is a mushrik and a hypocrite. He is inevitably condemned to Divine punishment. It is one and the same whether his show-off concerns the obligatory acts or the recommended acts.
Similarly he may simply exhibit outward piety or his aim may be to acquire honour and respect among the people. Even if he has a dual aim (of showing off and fulfilling his obligation) his act is classified as Shirk. A few Qur’anic verses are quoted for the benefit of the readers:
1) “Surely the hypocrites strive to deceive Allah, and He shall requite their deceit to them, and when they stand up sluggishly; they do it only to be seen of men and do not remember Allah save a little. Wavering between that (and this), (belonging) neither to these nor to those.” (Surah an-Nisa’ 4:142)
2) “So woe to the praying ones, who are unmindful of their prayers, who do (good) to be seen.” (Surah Ma’an 107:4-6)
The Holy Prophet (S) said,
“Certainly what I fear for you most is the lesser Shirk.”
Someone enquired, “O Prophet (S), what is meant by lesser Shirka” He replied, “It is Riyah when Allah would reward His creatures for their deeds on the Day of Judgement He would address those who committed Riyah thus, ‘you approach those, to please whom you had performed all the deeds in the world. And obtain your rewards for your deeds from them.’ (Bihar al-Anwar).
Is it possible to receive rewards from them? Absolutely not!
The Deceitful Person Deceives Himself Alone
Someone enquired from the Holy Prophet (S) as to how could salvation be attained on the Day of Judgement? He replied,
“It could only be possible if one does not deceive Allah. Certainly if anyone tries to deceive Allah he is himself deceived by Allah (i.e. he is repaid for his deceit) and Allah takes away belief from him. If he possesses reason he should know that in trying to deceive Allah, he is only deceiving himself.”
“How can Allah be deceived and defrauded?” a person asked. The Prophet (S) continued, “The person fulfills all his religious obligations but his aim is to please someone other than Allah. Fear Allah and restrain from ‘Riyah’. On the Day of Judgement the deceiver (Riyakar) will be addressed by four titles, ‘O Kafir, O Sinful, O Crafty one, O Loser, your deeds are nullified and the reward of your deeds is lost. Today you have no worth whatsoever. Go and seek the reward of your deeds from those, to please whom you performed your acts.’ (Muhajjatul Baidha, Bihar al-Anwar)
The Fire of Hell Weeps Due to the Deceitful Ones (Riyakar)
It is narrated from Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) and Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.):
“If a person performs a good deed to achieve Allah’s pleasure and the reward in the hereafter; but also intends to please other people, then he will be termed as a Mushrik.” (Bihar al-Anwar)
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w) has informed,
“Certainly the fire of Hell and the people of Hell would cry for help due to the deceitful ones.”
Someone asked, “O Prophet of Allah (S). How would the fire cry?” He replied,
“The fire would scream and cry for help due to the intensity of the heat of that fire in which the Riyakar people would be burning.”
Amir ul-Mu’minan ‘Ali (a.s.) says,
“Certainly, Allah sent His messenger, so that He may extricate the humankind from the worship of people and direct them to the worship of Allah.”
Sometimes Worship Leads the Worshipper to the Fire (Of Hell)
Abu Basir has narrated from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that he said,
“On the Day of Judgement a person would be brought forward. He had performed Salat in his life. He would be told that you have prayed but your intention had been to show-off, so that people may appreciate your worship. This person would be cast into the fire. Then a reciter of the Qur’an would be brought. He would be told, ‘at the time of reciting the Qur’an, your intention had been to exhibit your sweet voice so that people may appreciate your tone.’ This one shall also be tossed into the fire. The third person to be presented shall be one who had died a martyr in Jihad. He would be told that, ‘Your intention while fighting was to make a show-off your strength and valour.” He shall also be led towards the fire. The fourth person had been a charitable man. He would be told, ‘your intention in giving charity was that people may call you generous.’ Then he would also be led towards Hell. (Layali Akhbar).
Numerous traditions confirm that the Riyakar person is a Mushrik. This is sufficient for the believing and the thoughtful people.
The Merits of Pure Intentions and the Censure of Riyah
Apart from the punishment in the Hereafter and cancellation of good deeds the Riyakar person will also fail to achieve his aim in this world. In the world it had been his intention to achieve honour among the people but instead he would have to face humiliation and shame. The noble Qur’an tells us,
“…he loses this world as well as the hereafter; that is a manifest loss.” (Surah al-Hajj 22:11)
On the contrary, one who performs good deeds for the Hereafter will achieve honour in this world too. The following verse of Surah al-Kahf says:
“…therefore whoever hopes to meet his Lord, he should do good deeds, and not join anyone in the service of his Lord.” (Surah al-Kahf 18:110)
The tafsir of this ayat is as follows: “Someone performs a good deed not for seeking Allah’s pleasure, but to obtain praise and admiration from people, so that people may see and hear him and he may become famous. He is like the one who has an associate with Allah in his worship. One who conceals his worship acts from the people (and reserve them solely for Allah would finally be given an honourable position among the people, by Allah. While one who exhibits his worship; his weaknesses are exposed by Allah and consequently he is degraded.” (al-Kafi)
True Deeds are Surely Manifested
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says,
“If one intends to do a small act with the sole intention of pleasing Allah, Allah causes this small deed of his to be manifested on a greater scale upon the people. (On the contrary) if someone performs the greatest of deeds which causes him physical tiredness and exhaustion due to wakeful nights, while his intention had been to acquire the praise of people, his deed would be reduced to a trifle by Allah and manifested on the people.” (till the people begin to dislike him.) (al-Kafi)
If someone has committed Shirk with regard to the acts of worship, he must repent sincerely and have a firm determination not to repeat his mistake. He should intend to perform all his deeds in the future for the sole purpose of achieving Allah (S.w.T.)’s pleasure. First of all it is Wajib upon him to seek forgiveness of his past sins. Secondly he must repeat all the worship acts in which he had committed Riyah, even if a part of that worship had been contaminated with the intention of showing off. Suppose he had begun his act with pure intention but later he was involved in Riyah, even so his deed is nullified. Like the person who gives Zakat to a needy man but later tries to obtain some benefit in return. In this case he has to first repent for his sin and then again give Zakat with the sole intention of achieving Allah (S.w.T.)’s pleasure.
Similarly in the case of Salat the person may exhibit a part of it (Be it a mustahab part) e.g. Qunat or he may perform Salat in congregation or sit in the front row to show-off. In all such cases he has to perform this Salat again.
Riyah in the Acts of Worship
There is no firm proof that Riyah is Haram in the pure worldly acts, which are not considered acts of worship. Consequently the Fuqaha have not given any verdict concerning this. But the true believers refrain from all types of Riyah; even with the worldly acts and the mubah actions. The root of Riyakari is the love of this world. Hence if one falls into this habit, he may even begin to make it a part of his worship.
The respected scholar, Faiz al-Kashani writes in his book, ‘Muhajjatul Baidha’, “People resort to Riyakari in five types of actions.
(1) Bodily Riyah
(2) Riyah of beauty and dress
(3) Riyah of speech
(4) Riyah of actions
(5) Riyah of the outward kind.”
The above types of Riyah are explained below.
1) Bodily Riyah
Bodily Riyah with regard to the actions pertaining to the hereafter is that someone tries to show that his body has become weak due to excessive fasting and night worship. Or he may keep his lips dry so that people think that he is fasting. Or he may show himself to be pious so that people praise him, and day and night he remains busy in religious acts. Bodily Riyah with regard to worldly matters is that he displays his body and tries to create a position in the eyes of the people.
2) Riyah of Beauty and Dress
This type of Riyah with regard to the hereafter consists of shaving ones moustache so that people think that he is following the recommended acts or walking slowly with head turned downwards or wearing dirty clothes to show that one has disregard for the world. The riya of beauty and dress with regard to this world is to show off ones dress and handsome appearance so that people are attracted towards the person.
3) Riyah of Speech
Riyah of speech with regard to the hereafter is for example uttering Zikr (i.e. Alhamdu lil-Lah) to show-off to the people. To exhibit one’s knowledge and greatness by preaching to the people in assemblies. To forbid evil and enjoin good to the audience by making people fearful of Divine wrath without having any pure intention.
In the worldly connection this Riyah could take the form of boasting of ones achievements and capabilities so that the people adore him. To be extremely social and greet beyond limit, even strangers, to achieve popularity, etc.
4) Riyah of Actions
In connection with actions of the hereafter Riyah consists of praying Salat to show-off. For example reciting lengthy chapters or remaining for a long time in Ruku or as-Sajda. To pray Salat extremely slowly. Performing the Wajib and the mustahab fast, Hajj and Ziarat, giving charity and feeding people so that one is regarded as pious.
With regard to the worldly actions, it is to behave with people in consonance with their way of thinking and to spend in similar ways. That is, to strive to become honourable in the eyes of these people. To spend lavishly upon people by inviting them in large numbers for dinner etc.
5) Riyah of the External Kind
All the four types of Riyah explained above are concerned with the person himself. The fifth type of Riyah is that which is connected with the external affairs. This type of Riyah also is with regard to the Hereafter as well as this world. With regard to the Hereafter it consists of a person sitting in the assembly of the learned people without any pure intention; just to exhibit his interest in religion etc. Or to go out to meet pious people or invite the learned scholars to his home for dinner so that people consider him to be religious. In the same way Riyah is prohibited with regard to the worldly actions. For example visiting frequently the courts of Kings and rulers so that people realize his influence and reputation and the gullible people are deceived by his outward show.
Riyah is Associated With Intention
It must be understood that Riyah of a person depends upon his intention. In other words all such actions which a person performs to show off are Riyah whether those actions are related to the hereafter or this world. In all types of actions related above, riyah is not committed till one has the intention to show-off. But if one performs an action solely for the pleasure of Allah (S.w.T.) it is worship. For example if one dresses up nicely or decorates his house with the intention of fully expressing the bounties of Allah (S.w.T.); this action is worship. However if his intention is to show-off to people it is Riyah. Anyone who wishes to study this topic in detail should refer to the book Qalbe Salam by the same author.