Showing off is dispraised both in the Qur’an and in the Sunnah. In the Qur’an, Allah the Almighty says, [So woe to the worshippers who are neglectful of their Prayers; those who (want but) to be seen (of men).] (Al-Ma`un 107: 4-6)
And in the Sunnah, it was reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The thing of which I am most afraid (that it should afflict) you is the minor polytheism (shirk).” They (the listeners) said, “O Messenger of Allah, what is the minor polytheism?” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) answered, “(It is) showing off (riya’). Allah, Glorified and Exalted be He, says to those (who show off in worldly life) on the Day of Resurrection, when He rewards people for their deeds, ‘Go to those of whom you wanted to be seen in worldly life, (and see if) you (can) find (any) good with them.’” (Reported by Ahmad)
The Degrees of Showing Off
Showing off has different degrees, some of which are more serious than the others.
The first and most dangerous degree is not originally seeking to get a good reward for one’s deed, as in the case of a person who performs Prayer only when people can see him and neglects it when being away from their sight.
The second degree is seeking to get a good reward for one’s act but the deed is a little bit absorbed with showing off to the extent that if one were alone one would not do it. This degree is near to the first one, and both are detestable in the sight of Allah the Almighty.
The third degree is having the intention equally directed towards both getting a good reward for one’s act and being seen by people. In this case a person ruins his good deed, as he is not free from sin.
The third degree is that being seen by people encourages one to do such religious acts, but one does not neglect worship when out of people’s sight. In this case one is rewarded for the good intention and punished for the bad intention.
The Remedy for Showing Off
There are two elements in the remedy for showing off: first, uprooting it from the heart, and second, warding it off immediately whenever it comes to one’s mind when doing an act of worship.
As for uprooting it from the heart, it should be realized that love of prestige and high position is the primary root of showing off. There are three signs of such love: to love the pleasure produced by being praised, to avoid the pain of being dispraised, and to look greedily at what other people possess.
A person may not like being praised or mentioned by people, yet he does not like either to be dispraised by them. Such is the case of a person who, though a coward, does not flee from the battlefield so that he is not accused of cowardice. The best remedy for such a person, as well as the person who likes to be praised, is to meditate on what leads him to show off and to recall the tremendous consequences of this terrible flaw. He will then realize that, in spite of its being pleasant at the moment, it is harmful in the end, so it is quite rational that he should avoid it from the beginning.
Another main root of showing off is looking covetously at what other people possess. A person can remove this root by comprehending that only Allah the Almighty provides bounties and wealth, and that whoever looks covetously at the possessions of others is not free from humiliation and loss, even if he gets any of these possessions. How can he then leave that which in the hands of Allah for the sake of a deceptive desire for what others have?
The second element in the remedy for showing off is to ward it off immediately whenever it comes to one’s mind when doing an act of worship. This can be done through much practice and striving against one’s vain desires. This striving requires that the person who is afflicted with showing off habituates himself to being content with Allah’s bounties and not seeking to get what others have. He should also pay no attention to people’s praising or dispraising him, for Satan never leaves him alone when he is worshiping Allah and always attacks him with thoughts of showing off that may render his worship fruitless. If, for example, he is distracted by the idea that people are observing his worship, he should say to himself, “It doesn’t matter whether or not they know about my worship, for Allah knows best about it. So, what will be gained by anyone else’s knowing about it?”.