Linguistically "Riyaa" comes from the root "Ra'aa" which means to see, to behold, or to view. The derived word 'Riyaa' means "eye-service, hypocrisy, dissimulation; dissemblance."
From the Shara'i point of view, "to perform acts which are pleasing to Allah, with the intention of pleasing other than Allah" is called Riyaa. Thus, Riyaa originates in the heart.
Mahmood bin Labeed reported that the Allah's Messenger (SAW) said, "The thing that I fear most for you is the minor Shirk; Riyaa." (Musnad Ahmad)
Abu Saeed (Radhi Allaho anho) reported that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) came to us while we were discussing about Dajjaal and said, "Should I not inform you of that which I fear for you even more than the dangers of Dajjaal? It is the hidden Shirk; a person stands to pray, and he beautifies his prayer because he sees the people looking at him." (Sunan Ibn Majah Vol 2, No 3389)
Abu Musa al-Ash'ari reported that Allah's Messenger (SAW) delivered a sermon to them one day and said, "O people! Fear this Shirk (meaning Riyaa), for it is more inconspicuous than the crawling of an ant." (Authenticated in Sahih al-Targheeb wat-Tarheeb, No 33)
The primary cause of Riyaa is weakness in faith. When a person does not have strong faith in Allah, he will prefer the admiration of people over the pleasure of Allah.
There are three symptoms that are indicative of Riyaa, and it is essential that a believer should avoid all of them.
1. The love of praise: As mentioned in a Hadith of the first three people being thrown into the hellfire; the scholar (who taught for fame), the martyr (who fought for fame), and the person who gave his money in charity (so that people would say he is generous).
All three of these people desired the pleasure of people over the pleasure of Allah. The person who desires the praise of people must feel some pride in himself, for he feels himself worthy of being praised. There is a danger, therefore, of him becoming arrogant and boastful.
Hadhrat Abu Hurairah (Radhi Allaho anho) quoted Allah's Messenger (SAW) as saying: "Allah, Most Great and Glorious said: Pride is My cloak, and greatness is My robe, so whoever competes with Me, with respect to either of them, I shall cast him into Hell." (Sahih Muslim, Vol 4, No 6349, Sunan Abu Dawood, Vol 3, No 4079)
Hadhrat Abu Hurairah (Radhi Allaho anho) quoted Allah's Messenger (SAW) warning about a person's adoration of himself: "There are three destructful things: desires that are followed, greediness that is obeyed, and a person's self-admiration and conceit; and this is the worst of the three."
Allah also warned against falling into the category of those Christians and Jews whom the Holy Qur'aan mentions:
"Do not assume that those who rejoice in what they have done, and love to be praised for what they have not done, think not that they are absolved from punishment, (but rather) for them is a painful torment." (Aal-Imraan: 188)
2. Fear Of Criticism: No one likes to be criticised. The dislike of criticism regarding religious practices may be divided into two categories:
- The first category is that of a person who neglects a commandment of Allah in order to avoid the criticism of his peers. However, the true believers are described in the Holy Qur'aan as follows: "...They do not fear the criticism of those who criticise. And this is the blessing of Allah; He gives it to whomsoever He wishes. Verily, Allah is Self-Sufficient, All-Knowing. " (Al-Maaidah: 54)
- The second category is that of a person who obeys certain commandments of Islam, not for the sake of Allah, but because he fears people will look down on him and criticise him if he does not do it. For example, a man may make his formal prayers in the mosque because he does not want people to crticise him for praying at home, or to think that he is not praying at all.
3. Greed for people's possessions: If a person covets what other people possess, whether it is rank, money or power, then he will wish them to envy him similarly.
For example, if he is jealous of a position of a certain person in society, he will try by every possible means to attain the same position. Such desires lead people to spend their lives putting on a show for other people so that they will admire their rank, money, or power.
These three categories are implied in the following statement of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Abu Musa related that a person came to the Holy Prophet (SAW) and asked: "A person fights to defend his honour (ie to avoid criticism), another to prove his bravery (ie to be praised for it), and a third to show off (ie so that his position can be seen); of these three, which one fights in the way of Allah?" The Holy Prophet (SAW) answered:
"Whoever fights to make the word of Allah prevalent [ie to bring honour to Islam, and to establish it in the land], he is the one who fights in the way of Allah." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol 4, No 65)
Some scholars advised: "Remove the causes of Riyaa from yourself by considering the opinion of people as important to you as animals and small children. Do not differentiate in your worship between the presence of people or their absence, or between their knowledge of your actions and their ignorance. Rather be conscious of the infinite knowledge of Allah alone."
There are several ways to avoid Riyaa, which are as follows:
1. Increasing knowledge of Islam
We are taught the specific Du'aa for Riyaa: "O Allah, we seek refuge in you from committing shirk knowingly, and ask your forgiveness for the shirk that we may commit unknowingly."
3. Reflecting upon Heaven and Hell
4. Hiding one's good deeds
5. Reflection upon one's shortcomings
6. Accompanying the pious
7. Knowledge of Riyaa.