Since Riyaa’ (performing righteous deeds or acts of worship to show off) is a serious and debilitating disease that can lead the Muslim astray, it is therefore of great importance for him to be able to know what is real Riyaa’ and what is not. The following are some matters that are NOT:
1 — Being praised for the good works that one performs: The Messenger of Allah, Salla Allahu Alayhi Wasallam, was once asked, "What about a man who does righteous deeds and then the people praise him for doing them?’ He replied, ‘This an immediate glad tidings delivered to the believer.’" [Muslim].
2 — Being active in performing acts of worship when seeing or when being in the company of righteous Muslims: Imam Al-Maqdisi said in his book, Mukhtasar Minhaj Al-Qasidin, "A person may be in the company of those who stand up in prayer most of the night, while he is used to praying for only an hour (for example), so he does what they do. They may also fast, and so he fasts along with them. If it was not for their presence, he would not have become this active. Some people may think that this is Riyaa’. Not at all, for there is room for explanation in this case. Every believer aims to worship Allah, but he sometimes faces hurdles or even forgetfulness.
But when he sees others busy in this regard, his own laziness disappears." He then said, "Such a person can test his intention by being alone in a place where he sees his company but they cannot see him. If he then generously continues busying himself with acts of worship, then it is for Allah’s Sake alone. Otherwise, his actions are indeed Riyaa’." When one is alone, his laziness with regards to performing acts of worship fits the description that the Prophet gave, when he said, "The wolf only eats the isolated (sheep or cattle)." Getting rid of this laziness is easily achieved by following and implementing the Prophet’s command, "Therefore, stay with the Jama’ah (the group or the congregation) ."
3 — Wearing fine and clean clothes and shoes: Imam Muslim reported that the Prophet Salla Allahu Alayhi Wasallam said, what translated means, "He who has even one atom of Kibr (arrogance) in his heart will not enter
4 — Keeping sins a secret matter: This, in fact, is an obligation on all Muslims, for they are not allowed to announce the sins they have committed. The Prophet said, what translated means, "All my Nation is safe, except Al-Mujahirin (those who announce their sins). Among the acts of Mujaharah is that a man commits an evil act, then wakes up in the morning, and while Allah has kept this sin a secret, he boasts, ‘O Fulan (fellow)! Last night, I did this and that.’ He goes to sleep while Allah has kept his secret, but he wakes up in the morning and uncovers what Allah has kept secret!" [Al-Bukhari & Muslim].
Announcing the sins that one commits leads to many evils, such as encouraging others to follow suit and taking Allah’s prohibitions lightly. Those who think that keeping sins secret is a type of Riyaa’ have in reality fallen prey to the plots of Satan who has confused their religion for them.
5 — Acquiring fame without seeking it: Imam Al-Maqdisi said, "Seeking fame is not allowed for Muslims. However, there is no harm in unintentionally acquiring fame, by Allah’s Grace and without one actually seeking to be famous. Yet, fame is a Fitnah (test, trial, calamity) for those who are weak in their faith."
The Muslim Creed Magazine