For many Muslims involved in da'wah work or Islamic studies, one of the biggest struggles they face is praise and fame from their communities and peers. It is the nature of humans to praise what they see of people, but we are taught in our Deen that too much praise can harm a person.
Once, the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) heard a man praising another, and he responded to him, “”May Allāh 's Mercy be upon you! You have cut the neck of your friend.” [Bukhāri]
My teacher used to say, “praise is poison”, because of how it can ruin a good intention into a corrupt one. When we are constantly praised, our weak souls begin to rely and covet this praise, so good deeds are then done solely to hear those words of praise. A person's nafs may rely so much on this praise that they begin seeking it for what they did not do. Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla) describes in the Qur'an:
لَا تَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ يَفْرَحُونَ بِمَا أَتَوا وَّيُحِبُّونَ أَن يُحْمَدُوا بِمَا لَمْ يَفْعَلُوا
“Think not that those who rejoice in what they have done, and love to be praised for what they have not done…” (3:188)
The scholars and righteous of the past would find ways to keep this praise away from themselves and remind those around them to not over praise others. This is why we find many narrations where they humiliate or speak lowly of themselves - it is to keep their nafs in check.
This supplication was not taught to us by the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), but it is one that his best friend, Abu Bakr (radi Allahu anhu) would make after being praised (some narrations state that it was a duaa of Ali radi Allahu anhu).
It is reported that he would say,
اللهمَ اجْعَلْنِى خَيْرًا مِمَّا يَظُنُّونَ وَاغْفِرْ لِى مَا لَا يَعْلَمُونَ وَلَا تُؤَاخِذْنِى بِمَا يَقُولُون
Allahumma-ja'lni khayran mima yadhunoon wa-ghfir li ma la ya'lamoon wa la tu'akhidhni bi ma yaquloon.
O Allāh, make me better than what they think of me, and forgive me for what they do not know about me, and do not take me to account for what they say about me.
Listen to the duaa:
Selected Word Analysis
yadhunnun – dhann is supposition. Notice here that Abu Bakr (radi Allahu anhu) did not say, “ya'lamoon“, “what they know” but rather, what they THINK about me. He is showing us through the use of this word that what people think is not always true, and supposition can never equal actual knowledge.
tu'akhidhni - aakhadha means to reproach or blame someone. It means to hold someone accountable for something. Abu Bakr (radi Allahu anhu) is asking that he not be held accountable for what is said about him, because it is not in his control.
Points of Benefit
- Being praised is something that even giants struggle with. Abu Bakr (radi Allahu anhu) was the giant of this Ummah, the greatest man after the Prophets, yet he struggled with hearing the praise of others. Struggling with praise does not mean you are weak, rather it means you are human.
- Be careful in overpraising others. Sometimes we praise people in an extravagant way, and this only hurts the person more. As the Prophet (alayhi salaatu wa salaam) said, “you are cutting the neck of your brother”- you may think you are benefiting the person but it may only be hurting them more.
- It is important to be balanced when praising others. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “If it is necessary for any of you to praise someone, then he should say: 'I think! that he is so and-so', if he really thinks that he is such. Allāh is the One Who will take his account (as He knows his reality), and none can sanctify anyone before Allāh.” [Bukhāri]
- Once a man was praised by another, so he responded to him and asked him, “Have you seen me while I was angry, and found me forbearing?” The man who praised him said no. He then asked, “Have you traveled with me and saw that I had good character (during travels)?” He said no. Then he asked, “Have you found me trustworthy with regards to fulfilling the trusts?” He said no. The man concluded, “then it is not allowed for you to praise someone if you have not seen his behavior with regards to these situations.”
- Make duaa for those who are faced with popularity, fame and praise. It is a great inner struggle for them.
- Being praised for an action you did secretly for the sake of Allāh is a good thing. It was said to Allāh's Messenger (may peace be upon him): What is your opinion about the person who has done good deeds and the people praise him? He said: It is glad tidings for a believer (which he has received in this world). [Saheeh Muslim] This is not the same as someone acting out of seeking praise or changing their deeds afterward for praise, but this when someone is praised for what they've already done such as people finding out they were feeding the poor or praying during the night.
- If you are praised, then be careful not to let praise and self-admiration overcome you. Praise makes people content with their deeds so they do not worship or do good as much because they are happy with their situation.
Some sayings of the Salaf regarding praise/fame:
Al-Kuraybi said, “They used to prefer that a man hide his righteous deeds, (to the extent), that his wife or anyone else wouldn't be aware of it. (Al-Siyar: 9/349)
Abu Hazim said, “Hide your good deeds more than you hide your bad deeds.” (Al-Musannaf: 7/195)
Al-Fudayl ibn 'Iyad said, “Whosoever is saddened by loneliness and feels tranquil around the people, is not safe from riyaa.” (Al-Siyar: 8/436)
Sa'eed ibn Al-Haddad said, “Nothing hinders from the path of Allāh like seeking praise and status.” (Al-Siyar: 14/214)
Sufyan ath-Thawri said, “Safety is that you don't desire to be known.” (Al-Siyar: 7:257)
Bishr ibn al-Harith said, “The (person) that loves fame has not feared Allāh. Don't act in order to be mentioned, and hide your good deeds like you hide your bad ones.” (Al-Siyar: 10/476)
May Allāh make us among the sincere ones and may He purify our hearts from seeking praise and being affected by it.
Find more supplications from this series here.