We all know that one who goes over the top in showing off with fancy cars, sprawling mansions, designer clothes and the like can certainly lead a person down the slippery slope of pride and vanity. But, often times, in religious circles the opposite is true, as well. Those who go over the top in ‘showing off’ how ‘not showing off’ and simple they can be, if that makes any sense.
I was once sitting in a dars when the Shaykh spoke regarding fundraising events that call upon members of the audience to stand up and call out a figure that they were willing to donate. A student in our dars said that he felt that standing up and announcing a figure in front of everyone is a form of showing off and he would rather donate in secret with the respective person in charge, as that is a more humble approach. The Shaykh replied that a person who actively thinks in this manner is also committing a form of riyaa (vanity), as the person who is free of riyaa is a person who is not affected by this mantra of ‘trying to actively be humble.‘
This concept is best manifested in the manner that we have been instructed to dress in our Deen. There are two extremes with regards to dress that both not so religious people and religious people fall prey too. One is to dress above one’s means by incorporating the latest fashion to look sharp and in line with the latest trends. The other is to shun looking sharp and trendy in hopes that the simple ‘appearance’ is the path of piety.
Hakeem Al Ummah Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi rahimullah sums up this matter, in his Malfuzaat:
The criterion for clothes is that the wearer’s attention must not be drawn to it, nor should his gaze linger on the garments he is wearing. If a nawab (a person of wealth and position) wears clothing worth a few hundred rupees, he will not be attracted to it at all. On the other hand, a poverty stricken and common person, on wearing clothes worth just a few rupees (ie even a few rupees for him is a lot) he will be attracted and become preoccupied with its beauty and designs. So, for the nawab, clothing worth a few hundred rupees is permissible, and for the poverty-stricken person, clothing worth just a few rupees is not permissible.
Also, if a person (who can afford better) wears cheap and low quality clothing, he too will become preoccupied with his clothes by either (continuously) thinking how low and humble he is or by thinking that his nafs (lower self) is so annihilated, he doesn’t care about dignity and honor. This is also preoccupation in thoughts (which should be avoided).
Khateeb al-Baghdadi narrates in his Tareekh al-Baghdad:
Imam Abu Hanifah rahimullah once asked a man who was shabbily dressed to stay behind, after the others had left from his circle of study. He then said: “Lift up the prayer rug and take the money that is there and buy yourself some nice clothes.” The man replied that he was wealthy and had no need of the money. Imam Abu Hanifah said: “Has it not reached you that the Prophet said: Allah likes to see the mark of His benevolence on His servant?” [Tareekh Baghdad 13:263]
Possibly referring to the following hadith in Saheeh Muslim regarding the father of Ibn Abi Al Ahwas radiAllah anhu:
أَنَّهُ أَتَى النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فِي ثَوْبٍ دُونٍ فَقَالَ لَهُ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ أَلَكَ مَالٌ قَالَ نَعَمْ مِنْ كُلِّ الْمَالِ قَالَ مِنْ أَيِّ الْمَالِ قَالَ قَدْ آتَانِي اللَّهُ مِنْ الْإِبِلِ وَالْغَنَمِ وَالْخَيْلِ وَالرَّقِيقِ قَالَ فَإِذَا آتَاكَ اللَّهُ مَالًا فَلْيُرَ عَلَيْكَ أَثَرُ نِعْمَةِ اللَّهِ وَكَرَامَتِهِ
He came in a shabby thobe to greet the Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam and he (the Prophet) said: ‘Do you have wealth?’ He said: Yes, from all its types. He said: ‘From where does your money come?’ I said: ‘Allah has given me from camels, sheep, horses and slaves.’ He said: ‘Then if Allah gave you wealth, reveal the magnitude of the bounty and blessing that Allah Ta’ala has given you.”
Qadi Iyad rahimullah in Tartib Al-Madaraik quotes Imam Malik rahimullah as saying:
“I do not like not to see the traces of His blessings on anyone to whom Allah gives blessings. Concealing blessings is ingratitude.“
Imam Abd Al Aziz Ad Dihlawi rahimullah in Bustan Al Muhadditheen says about the Salaf As Salih and good clothing:
The right acting first generations had a sincere good intention about the use of expensive good quality clothing…Those who wore good quality expensive clothes intended to display the effects of the blessing of Allah, exalted is He.
In conclusion, as with any aspect of our Deen there is fine balance. Going over the top in either direction, either too fancy or too simple, just for the sake of going over the top is an unfounded concept within our Deen. Rather our Deen teaches us a great lesson in balance, and one of especial note during this worldwide economic recession:
To live a lifestyle that is within our means.