By Dr. Jasser Auda
“When people praise you for what they assume about you, blame yourself for what you really know about yourself. The most ignorant is the one who denies what he really knows about himself and believes what others assume about him.”
While journeying to God we will be put to many tests. One of those tests pertains to people’s praise for what they assume about you. This word of wisdom answers the following question: how does one deal with people’s praise?
People’s praise is a serious issue. A man was mentioned before the Prophet and another man praised him greatly. The Prophet said,
“Woe on you! You have cut the neck of your friend.” The Prophet repeated this sentence many times and said, “If it is indispensable for anyone 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. God is the One Who will take his accounts (as He knows his reality) and no-one can sanctify anybody before God.” (Al-Bukhari)
In another tradition, the Prophet said: “When you see those who shower (undue) praise (upon others), throw dust upon their faces.” (Muslim)
People’s praise may change one’s rituals from being done to please God to being done to please people, earn their praise or avoid their criticism. It also discourages one to do more good deeds if he feels that he is perfecting his actions or that he has done many good deeds which attracted people’s praise.
Another negative aspect of praise is that it makes one overlook his flaws and, instead, look at his merits.
In this word of wisdom, Sheikh Ibn `Ata’illah says: “When people praise you for what they assume about you, blame yourself for what you really know about yourself.” People praise you based on their assumption about you. But you know yourself better. You know that you are suffering from many flaws.
Notice that when the Sheikh talked about the beginnings he advised us to discover our flaws. The Sheikh said: “Trying to discover the flaws within you is better than trying to discover the worlds hidden from you.”
If you are highly praised by people, you should discover your flaws and blame yourself for what you know about it. You should feel ashamed because people are praising you for things which are not in you. You should pray to God to forgive your sins and conceal your flaws.
This is reminds us of what Imam `Ali (may God be pleased with him) when he described the Companions (may God be pleased with them) in his famous sermon: Imam `Ali said: “If someone praises one of them, he says, “I know myself better than others (know me), and my Lord is more knowledgeable of me than myself. O God, don’t take me to task for what they say, and make me better than what they think of me, and forgive me for those sins which they are unaware of.”
According to Imam `Ali’s description, when someone praised one of the Prophet’s Companions, he responded to him saying: “I know myself better than others (know me)”, i.e. I know myself and others think good of me. This is the same meaning given by Ibn `Atta’illah. Then the Companion adds: “And my Lord is more knowledgeable of me than myself”, i.e. God is more knowledgeable of my flaws, sins, and mistakes than myself. Finally, the Companion ends his response by praying to God: “Make me better than what they think of me.” They think good of me, so make me better than this. “O God, forgive me for those sins which they are unaware of.” God does not reveal things which we do not like and which we cannot tell people about.
Sometimes people’s praise takes away the reward promised by God for a certain good deed. Because this praise is actually the reward that one was seeking, as his intention was not to please God, but to please people. This is an utter hypocrisy.
The Sheikh says: “If the believer is praised, he should feel ashamed of God that people praise him for things which are not in him. The most ignorant is the one who denies what he really knows about himself and believes what others assume about him.”
Should I leave what I know for sure about myself and believe what people assume about it? This is a sign of ignorance and conceit.
In some other cases, people’s praise is glad tidings for the believer. Abu Dhar (may God be pleased him) reported: It was said to God’s Messenger (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 mortal world).” (Muslim)
Therefore, the servant should thank God for that, and should not be self-conceited. He also should not believe what people assume about him and forget his own flaws.
We pray to God to conceal our flaws, grant us humility, and give us glad tidings in this world and the next.
For them there is the glad tiding (of happiness) in the life of this world and in the life to come… (Yunus 10:64)
The article is excerpted from “Some of Al-Hikam Al-Ataiyyah” (The Path to God: A Journey with Ibn `Ata’illah’s Words of Wisdom In the Light of the Quran, the Prophetic Tradition, and Universal Laws of God- By Dr. Jasser Auda