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The true Muslim is the furthest removed from hypocrisy, flattery, and false praise., because the guidance of Islam protects him from sinking to the lowest level, as so many people nowadays have done, without realizing that they have sunk to the depth of disastrous, loathsome hypocrisy.

The Prophet (SAW) has protected us from falling into the mire of hypocrisy and flattery. When Banu ‘Amir came to him and praised him, saying “You are our master,” he said, “The only Master is Allah.” When they said, “You are the most excellent and greatest of us,” he said, “Say what you say, or a part of it, but do not speak like agents of Shaytan. I do not want you to raise me above the status to which Allah has appointed me. I am Muhammad ibn Abdullah, His servant, and His Messenger.” (Hayaat as-Sahaabah)

The Prophet (SAW) prevented people from exaggerating in their praise of others, some of whom may not even be deserving of praise, when he forbade them to describe him as “Master”, “excellent”, and “great”, at the time when he was without doubt the master of the Muslims and the greatest and most excellent of them. He did this because he understood that if the door of praise was opened to its fullest extent, it might lead to dangerous types of hypocrisy which are unacceptable to a pure Islamic spirit and the truth on which this religion is based. He forbade the Sahaabah to praise a man to his face, lest the one who spoke the words crossed the boundary of hypocrisy, or the object of his admiration be filled with feelings of pride, arrogance, superiority, and self-admiration.

Bukhari, Muslim, and Abu Dawood narrated that Abu Bakrah (RA) said, “A man praised another man in the presence of the Prophet, who said, ‘Woe to you! You have cut your companion’s throat! You have cut your companion’s throat! You have cut your companion’s throat!’ Then he said, ‘Whoever of you insists on praising his brother, let him say, ‘I think so-and-so is such a such, and Allah knows the exact truth, and I do not confirm anyone’s good conduct before Allah, but I think him to be such-and-such, ‘if he knows that this is the case.’”

If praising a person cannot be avoided, then it must be sincere and based on truth. The praise should be moderate, reserved, and without any exaggeration. This is the only way in which a society can rid itself of the diseases of hypocrisy, lies, deceit, and sycophancy.

Bukhari reports from Rajaa’ from Mihjan al-Aslami (RA) that the Prophet (SAW) and Mihjan were in the mosque when the Prophet (SAW) saw a man praying, bowing, and prostrating, and asked, “Who is that?” Mihjan began to praise the man saying, O Messenger of Allah, he is so-and-so, and is such-and-such, The Prophet (SAW) said, ‘Stop. Do not let him hear you or it will be his downfall!’ According to a report given by Ahmad, Mihjan said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, this is so-and-so, one of the best people of Madinah,’ or ‘one of the people who prays the most in Madinah,’ and the Prophet (SAW) said, ‘Do not let him hear you, or it will be his downfall!’ – two or three times – ‘You are an ummah for whom I wish ease.’”

The Prophet (SAW) described hearing praise as being a person’s downfall, because of its profound psychological impact on the human mind which by nature loves to hear such words. So the one who is praised begins to feel superior to and to look down on other people. If such praise is repeated by the hypocrites and flatterers – and how many of them there are surrounding those in positions of power and authority! – this will satisfy a strong desire in his heart and will become something he wants to hear regularly. Then he will hate to hear criticism and advice, and will only accept praise, thanks, and adulation. No wonder, then, that truth will be lost, justice will be eliminated, morality will be destroyed and society will be corrupted.

For this reason, the Prophet (SAW) ordered his companions to throw dust in the faces of those who praise others, lest their number, and hence hypocrisy and flattery, increase, which would have had disastrous consequences for the whole Muslim society.

Bukhari, Muslim, and Ahmad – and Tirmidhi with a different isnad – report that “A man began to praise one of the governors, so Al-Miqdad (RA) started to throw dust in his face, saying: ‘The Prophet (SAW) said: ‘If you see those who praise others, then throw dust in their faces,’’”

The Sahabah (RA) used to feel upset when they heard others praising them, although they were the most deserving of such praise because they feared its disastrous consequences and adhered to the basic principles of Islam that abhor such cheap, empty expression.

Nafi’ (RA) and others said: “A man said to Ibn Umar: ‘O you who are the best of people!’ Or ‘O son of the best of people!’ Ibn Umar said, ‘I am not the best of people, neither am I the son of the best of people. I am just one of the servants of Allah: I hope for His mercy and fear His wrath. By Allah, you will continue to pursue a man until you bring about his downfall.’” (Hayat as-Sahabah)

This is a wise statement from a great sahabi of the utmost Islamic sensibilities, who adhered to Islamic teachings both in secret and openly.

by Muhammad Ali Al-Hashimi

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