Have you ever been pulled in so many directions, so many obligations, invitations, and commitments that you are unable to give any of them their haqq (due)?  You run late for events because you were too busy juggling three projects while making cupcakes from scratch, all so people will think you are 'so nice'.  You are often snappy with your own parents because you are so exhausted from doing all the work so that you do not disappoint your MSA brothers.  Maybe your intent initially was to please Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) when you started doing the work but somewhere along the way, a darkness crept into your heart and you didn't even realize it.

The Giving Mother, Wife, Friend

She stood in the hot kitchen wrapped in her niqab while her brothers-in-law and their friends sat at the dining table, painstakingly making another round of tamales for them. Her back ached and she knew she would miss her online Qur'an tajweed class but she kept telling herself that they only come over sometimes and she wanted them to think that she was a nice sister-in-law.

It is essential to be a good host to our guests but are there times when we are setting up other people as ilah alongside Allah?  Do you find yourself hurrying through your salahs or missing your daily dhikr so that you can help a friend decorate for her sister's wedding or help a brother find a great deal on a car?  Here, you pleased your friend but displeased your Lord.

 

The Overworked Volunteer

He knew he was exhausted but the task needed to be done and since it was the Fundraising Committee head who had asked him, he said yes, knowing that it will mean another sleepless night for him.

Do you always say yes to every event that happens at the masjid? Are you the person who is always working? Everyone else bailed out, so who steps in? You do. Why do you do it?  Is it because you want everyone to like you? Or maybe you start liking being known as the person who is ever ready to do work for the deen?

Being Too Nice To Say No

When volunteering becomes your life, you start enjoying the praise, the admiration. One way to check if you suffer from this disease is if or when you are replaced, do you feel resentment?  If you do, then know that your intention was not to serve Allāh or to please Him but to please others and to feed your own ego.

We are just not that indispensable to Allah – His work will get done. If your efforts for the deen are taking away from your efforts for Allah (i.e. you are missing your salah or not making du'a about the work that you are doing) then there is definitely an issue. If you ever start thinking that because you do so much, you are irreplaceable, you definitely have a problem.  Know that you are addicted to the something other than God.

Is the legacy you want to leave behind that you were “Masha'Allah, such a nice person”? There is no word for nice in the Arabic language – the closest translation is lateef, which means to be kind, gentle, and aware of feelings but NOT nice.

Definition for the word “nice”:  socially or conventionally correct; refined or virtuous pleasant or pleasing or agreeable in nature or appearance, exhibiting courtesy and politeness.

So what's wrong with being nice? Just like with anything taken to the extreme, being too nice can hurt you when people take advantage of you and use you because you are too nice to say “NO”.

Rasulullah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “He who displeased Allah for seeking the pleasure of people, Allah is displeased with him and those people are also displeased, for pleasing whom he had earned Allah's displeasure. And he who pleases Allah, although by it he displeased people, Allah is pleased with him, and also those people whom he had displeased for pleasing Allah become pleased with him. Allah makes him splendid and his speech and acts in the eyes of others beautiful.” [Tabarani]

This hadith is usually discussed in the context of things that are clearly haram or borderline questionable that we may do to please our boss, parents, spouse, society etc. Here, I am talking about those people who are not doing anything forbidden but are overburdening themselves and are hindering themselves from greater deeds because they cannot say no.

Are you a people-pleaser?

Do you believe that others' needs must come before your own (these are not valid needs like food or shelter but are the extra things that we do)? Do you identify with the following statements?

  • I often do more for other people and often let myself be used so I won't be rejected for other reasons.
  • I often do a lot for other people because I don't want to let them down even when I know that their demands are excessive and or unreasonable.
  • I always think of others, especially at the expense of my own health (especially mental health).
  • I often hear people who really care about me tell me, “Learn to say, 'No.' You need to stand up for yourself. You are too nice.”

Some of the most common people pleasing behaviors:

  • Putting others' needs before yours.
  • Keeping your opinion to yourself because you think it will upset others.
  • Saying yes to every request.
  • Feeling guilty when you say no.
  • Feeling selfish when you do something for yourself.
  • Suppressing emotions because you fear that if you express then you will upset others.
  • Feeling that you have no control over your life.
  • Avoiding confrontation.
  • Going out of your way to appease others.
  • Feeling crushed by criticism and disapproval.
  • Thinking that it is your Islamic duty to please others.

If you identified with the above statements and exhibit the common people pleasing behaviors, then you are a people pleaser.  Some may ask:  “What's wrong in being a people pleaser? Shouldn't we live our lives on earth trying to make people happy?” Think again. What is the purpose of your life? Does Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) want us to be people pleasers? Or is our maqsad (purpose) in life to please Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)?  If in the course of making Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) happy you are also pleasing people, then it is acceptable, but if you just spent 5 hours cooking food for someone else's party and then spent 30 minutes complaining about it to your best friend, then the net result is an exhausted body and a depleted soul.

The most destructive among the above common people pleasing behaviors is feeling selfish when you do something for yourself.  Mothers tend to do this a lot. We are willing to spend hours cheering for our children's soccer games but will feel guilty for slipping out to spend an hour on the treadmill. Many of us will spend hours organizing our husband's closets but feel guilty going to a halaqah for an hour. We slave away at these relationships, avoiding all conflict and all negative emotions, but they are simmering inside us and will eventually lead to stress and health problems. If you keep continuing in this way, then you will either burst with hostility at some point or will fall into depression.

We put a lot of effort in pleasing others, we think we are fulfilling their rights and then we compromise. We need to understand that if we please Allah, everyone else will be eventually be automatically pleased with us. Many self-help books don't look at the spiritual aspect of this behavior. I am not saying that all people pleasing behavior is wrong.  Indeed we are told:

“And do not forget to do good to one another.” (2:237)

'Abdullah b. 'Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Whoever fulfilled the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfill his needs; whoever brought his (Muslim) brother out of a discomfort, Allah will bring him out of the discomforts of the Day of Resurrection, and whoever screened a Muslim, Allah will screen him on the Day of Resurrection.”

And remember how the Prophet was pleased with the man who baked bread for his companions while on a journey.

Really ask yourself:  Why do you do the things that you do? Correct your niyyah at every step. Do what you do solely for the sake of Allah. If you feel like doing it to earn His Pleasure and not for anyone else then alhamdulillah you are on the right track.

Memorize this du`a for Riyaa taught to us by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and recite it often:

“Allahumma innaa na'udhu bika an-nushrika bika shay'an na'lamuhu, wa nastagfiruka limaa laa na'lamuh. [O Allah, we seek refuge in you from committing shirk knowingly, and ask your forgiveness for (the shirk that we may commit unknowingly].”

 

34 Responses

  1. Sadaf

    I do not think that I can thank Allah and then you enough, for writing this immensely beneficial post, Hena. It is a much, much needed reminder, especially for married women and mothers who also do da’wah work!
    May Allah reward you.
    P.S: I am a “selfish” woman. ;)

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    • Hena Zuberi

      Jazakillah Khayrun and Alhamdulilah. Your sisterhood is so precious and this comment from you means a lot because I know you understand exactly where I am coming from.
      xxoo

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    • Kayvee

      Jazakallah khairan for this article

      Unfortunately we are taught from a young age that being “selfish” is wrong

      Thats why its important to differentiate “selfishness” and “self-interest”

      Self-Interest is very important

      We cant help others, if we are struggling ourselves

      We cant give love and support when we are neglecting our own needs of love and support

      During the explanation of safety procedures, we are told to first put the oxygen mask on ourselves and THEN on others

      We need to help ourselves first to be in a place where we can truly give to others.

      You are like a cup…..fill yourself with love, support, and goodness…..until your cup overflows and your goodness and love touches others

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  2. Sultan Mirza

    Good article Masha Allah. Although I would like to point out that if a person avoids confrontation to prevent a bigger evil from occurring then that would not be classified as people pleasing. Correct me if I am mistaken please.

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    • Hena Zuberi

      Assalam alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatahu Br Sultan,
      You are absolutely right if the fitnah is bigger and confrontation leads to a greater evil. But that is where you have to use good judgement for often we avoid a short term fitnah but are feeding a long-term problem.
      JazakAllah khayr for reading and commenting.

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  3. kasim

    Sorry sister but the article gives an impression that being nice to others is not desirable. I know towards the end you give a kind of a disclaimer but still overall thats the message it carries and emphasizes. I know that is not your intention but it does come across that away. Whatever happened to the terms and teachings about sacrifice and tolerance.

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    • Hena Zuberi

      Assalam alaykum wa rahmatulahi wa barakatahu Br. Kasim,
      JazakAllah khayr for making that constructive criticism. You are not a people-pleaser, see people who suffer from this disease would have had a hard time responding in the negative to anything even a stranger’s blog post because they would have want the author to like them EVEN though they don’t even know them, because they are so scared of rejection.
      You are absolutely right most of our ummah needs to read about sacrifice and tolerance but this post is addressing people-pleasers. If you answered no to most of the tell tale signs that you do not suffer from this disease of the heart, Alhamdulillah.

      Trust me as a recovering people pleaser, I can testify it can kill your soul and I know many people who suffer from the it and each of their issues may be different but the crux of the matter comes down to the need to please others. You destroy your boundaries, try to have a different persona depending on who is around, make yourself into a hypocrite.
      Be gentle, be kind, be thoughtful, be respectful and honorable, be authentic, do ihsan and ikram, be amazing but don’t always try to be ‘nice’ and do it only for Allah not for anyone else.

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  4. umm_ismael

    Asslam ualaikum wr wb- very beneficial jk. I am a little confused though- In relationships there are givers and takers- should one not be on the giving side? Next question- small children disrupt ibadah and daily acts of worship- how does one become selfish in that

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    • Hena Zuberi

      Assalam alaykum Sis,
      Bismillah
      Yes, in every relationship there should be giver and takers and we should be able to play both roles. It is not a balanced relationship if one person, man or woman, volunteer or organization, mother or child is always giving without any reciprocation. We teach people how to treat us, we show them what is acceptable to us and what is not.

      However, if you have reached that level of wisdom that you do everything for Allah sake and expect nothing from anyone except HIm then Alhamdulilah but unfortunately many of us have not reached that level of spiritual development, we are weak and so are our spouses , children, friends, relatives, parents, communities. We need to get something back to keep going. #realtalk
      Organizations need to give feedback, recognition, motivation, promotions to its volunteers.

      That’s a great question. Your raising of your children is ibadah if you make your niyyah everyday that I am raising this soul for the sake of Allah as He gave it to me in my custody to take care of, I do not own him/her, s/he is Allah’s amanah and I am just taking care of it. This will greatly change your way of parenting, you will not see them as interruption as they are masoom, even their interruptions could not occur without Allah’s permission.
      Take care of their needs and come back to your salah.
      Take care of your ibadah when they are sleeping or busy with something.
      Plan out an activity for them while you are praying.
      Dhikr or Quran is easy to do even while nursing or holding your child( I dont know you children’s ages so excuse me if they are older).
      You can also make them pray with you so it is natural for them to be a part of your worship.

      I hope that helped anything beneficail I said is from Allah swt and if I said anything wrong it is from my own nafs.

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  5. Umm Ibraheem

    As long as our intention is correct, helping people is a means to get closer to Allah. I have the opposite problem where I don’t do enough for others and am too absorbed in myself, I would love to be that first lady in your example, making sure my occasional guests are well fed and hounored in my home , even if it means missing my Quran lesson which I can reschedule later.

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    • Hena Zuberi

      Assalam alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatahu Sister,
      MashaAllah, may Allah swt grant you that noble wish. You hit the nail on the head as long as our intention is correct. See the lady in my first example would not just do it for one day, Today it is her brother in law, tomorrow it will be her cousin, the next day her child’s teacher, and then next her friends from over seas. It never ends for her, she is constant all the time saying yes to yet another request and that rescheduled Qur’an class never happens!
      Believe me sister it is a disease and until one recognizes and tries to fix themselves or they will burn up all their deeds in gheebah, keenah or hypocrisy and stand empty handed in front of Allah swt on the Day of Reckoning.
      I mainly write to remind myself first and foremost.
      JazakAllah Khayr and may Allah swt help you serve others for His Sake.

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    • Hena Zuberi

      Wa iyyakum Sisiter Yasmin, you are one of our most loyal readers, may Allah swt bless you and your loved one here and in the Akhira.

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  6. IA

    Jazakallahu khair, a very beneficial article.
    -“And do not forget to do good to one another.” (2:238)-
    Should this be (2:237)?

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  7. RCHOUDH

    Jazakillah ul khair for this much needed reminder. I think what helps to make sure that not just one person takes on most of the responsibilities within an organization, is to actively delegate responsibilities towards others, especially if they have certain skills that can be useful towards those responsibilities. So for example, even if your organization has board members, it’s good to ask the wider community for help in taking on smaller responsibilities so that board members don’t feel unnecessarily overburdened.
    Also I would like to add to your post that no one should take on responsibilities that they know they can’t handle. For example, if you know you’re not good at accounting, don’t become a treasurer for an organization, even if no one else is available to take it on. Also try to always keep time available for yourself and your family. I know that sometimes for mothers who homeschool, we may organize too many activities for each other, that take time away from us making time for just ourselves, our husbands and kids (and other relatives if we live nearby them like parents, brothers/sisters, etc).

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    • Hena Zuberi

      Assalam alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatahu Sister,
      YOur comments are always a great addition to the site, MAshaAllah.

      Jazakillah Khayr for making those points. Indeed our masajids and other non-profits have severe issues. We should all be doing these roles with the most ihsan even more than the jobs we are paid for since we are doing it for Allah, but ihsan means doing it in the best way and if we aren’t qualified that not the best way is it- Please check out Muslim Strategic Initiative, a great site on way to help run Muslim organization in the best way possible.

      Generally for daees and volunteers:
      Our bodies, our spouses, our homes all have rights over us and if the da’wah effort is sucking up all our energy until we have none left for the other important things in our lives. that can lead to trouble. Keep the balance. I know many daees whose own children are neglected while they are seen at every masjid fundraiser or at every jawla.

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      • RCHOUDH

        Jazakillah ul khair for letting me know about the initiative, I’ll be sure to check it out Insha’Allah.

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  8. Ismail Kamdar

    Jazakallah Khair for this important reminder, I find myself falling into this trap too often.

    I would like to add, from experience, that never saying ‘no’ and always trying to please others does lead to fatigue, burnout, stress and anxiety as one becomes stretched very thinly and many of one’s personal needs go unfulfilled.

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    • Hena Zuberi

      Assalam alaiaykum Br Ismail,
      Alhamdulillah as a Caller to Islam, with all your different duties, I can imagine how pressed you are for time. Keep my family and I in you duas.
      JazakAllah khayr

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  9. Abu Mus'ab

    This is one of the cogent reasons I am an avid reader of MM, until recently. I miss the blue background home page. MM used to have. It reminds me of the good old articles. Here on MM, we talk about things the Ummah needs to talk about but for some reasons (which I can’t rally fathom) are not BRAVE ENOUGH to discuss it. Thanks Hena Zuberi for being BRAVE ENOUGH as usual.

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  10. Salima

    Assalamualaikum Sr. Hena,
    MashaAllaah. An article that I can really relate to.

    I feel that we sould do istikhara everyday for the journey of that day, so Allaah may help us making the right decisions throughout the day. This way inshaAllaah we would know to sort out our priorities including ibadah, family, community, choice of words, etc. for the sake of Allaah.
    Jazak Allaah Khayr. Keep writing inshaAllaah.
    Salima Rahman

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  11. Shiney

    Sr. Hena, i can’t express how beneficial this article was! it really affirmed some of the notions i had of how/when one should put themselves first and when they should put their families first. a lot of times, culture teaches women that the path to becoming a good daughter, a good wife, or a good mother or even just a good person is to always put others before yourself, even if it means cutting your prayers short or missing reading Qur’an that day. i always struggled to live up to this standard when i was in high school, because i wanted to take the advice given to me but I didn’t think it was right to compromise ‘ibadah. but now Alhamdulillah, I think I have achieved a good balance. overall, i loved the article and i hope to read more from you :)

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  12. umm-e-abubakr

    BISMI RABBI

    Respected Sister

    Assalaamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah!

    Sharing some humble observations for your kind consideration.

    Alhamdulillah your article seems good enough except for a few parts like:

    “Feeling selfish when you do something for yourself. Mothers tend to do this a lot. We are willing to spend hours cheering for our children’s soccer games but will feel guilty for slipping out to spend an hour on the treadmill.”

    The idea behind your article is to point out the absurdity of extra-meticulous details in everything we do (for others usually). These details consume most of our time, attention and energy, they overburden us and thus become a source of hindering us from GREATER DEEDS or acts of Ibadah. But the lines quoted above do not refer to any greater deed rather it may lead the reader into SELF PITY esp. the women in their roles as mothers, wives, daughters and sisters. This same thought / idea lead to the concept and movement of “Women Emancipation” in the west i.e. their liberation from religious, legal, economic, and sexual oppression / bondings and their escape from narrow gender roles.

    The sunnah of Rasul Allah s.a.w is the most moderate and desirable for us all (men & women):

    “I asked ‘Aisha r.a. what did the Prophet use to do at home. She replied. “He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was time for the prayer, he would get up for prayer.” (Bukhari)

    …..no self pity involved in Rasul Allah s.a.w’s example. He s.a.w gave rights of people when it was time to do so and gave rights of The Creator when it was time to do so. And while giving rights of people his s.a.w’s niyah was to Please Allah SWT.

    ——————-

    secondly the lines quoted in the article:

    “I often hear people who really care about me tell me, “Learn to say, ‘No.’ You need to stand up for yourself. You are too nice.”

    … again seem to clash with a hadith in which Rasul Allah s.a.w forbade a man who was chiding his Muslim brother for being over courteous and over nice all the time and Rasul Allah s.a.w. said that “الحیاء کلہ خیر” (roughly translated it means: Decency {courtesy} always brings goodness).

    If we try a little more intelligently, we can easily enhance our skills of time management, prioritizing & delegating tasks, multi-tasking, over coming extra doses of sleep, food, baseless talks (face to face or via phone or chat), or pursuits like window shopping, net surfing etc. This will surely help us save time, resources and energies to perform lots of Greater Deeds amongst which one is to bring comfort (big or small) to fellow Muslims.

    rest of the article seems superb

    and truly Allah SWT knows best

    Loads of duas for all
    Wassalaam

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  13. Hafeez

    jazakAlaahu khair for the article especially the dua at the very end is very beneficial and important. May Allaah azza wajal make your matters easy in every aspect of your life and your family life.

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  14. Omar

    Masha Allaah. May Allaah give us all such a great understanding of deen. A great topic covered well BUT I fear some of the points will be greatly misunderstood by many who may go to the extreme trying to avoid what this article points out as people pleasing behaviour which actually leads to more harm, Satan is an open enemy to us!

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