HE WHO SEEKS the praise of others has worshiped them without realizing it.
It is almost always true that a person who loves socializing has an empty life. For, one whose heart is busy [with the remembrance] of [Allah], the All-True, flees from people. Thus whenever the occupation of seeking to know [Allah], the All-True, is expelled from one and [when this] takes hold of the heart, the void is filled by [the desire to please] people. Such a person then begins to work for people and acts for the sake of people, and such a one unconsciously destroys himself by his search for the approval of people.
I have in mind the like of one who wears the costume of poverty and mysticism, donning clothes that are not worth a dinar, though he has much wealth and entertains himself with delicious food. Furthermore, his actions are based on the dictates of arrogance. So he draws near to the lords of wealth and looks down on those of knowledge. Thus, he visits the former and not the latter. Moreover, he refuses what provisions he is offered, only that he may become renowned for his mysticism. Thus you see him pretending to train himself in self-control, but in reality, he is as sly as a fox, and on the inside he is a vicious dog when it comes to pursuing his things.
For this reason, I say: Sub ḥân’Allâh! Nothing but his clothes is relieved of worldliness. Do you think, perhaps, that he has never heard that the Prophet ﷺ said:
Indeed, Allah loves to see the effects of His blessings on His servant. (Tirmidhi, ṣaḥîḥ al-isnâd)
I seek refuge in Allah from being impressed with myself or from seeking to impress others. For, indeed, he who is impressed with himself has become arrogant, and the arrogant one is an idiot. For there is nothing that he or she is [more] proud of save that someone else has more of [something that he denies to himself]; and whoever seeks to impress people has worshipped them without realizing it.
Yet one who works to please Allah, Transcendent and Resplendent, he is far from seeking the approval of people. Thus if people seek to come close to him, he protects himself by trying not to act in a way that compels them to draw near to him.
For we have surely seen many of the likes of those who seek the approval of others without realizing it. Take the scholar, for example, who refrains from walking in the market, or visiting his brothers in Islam, or buying something himself (as opposed to sending somebody to the market for him). He deceives himself by saying that he hates to mix with people in the market, whereas the reality is that in the world of scholars refraining from these things raises a person’s status. Thus if he mixed with the people of the market, his aura would be lost and the kissing of his hand would come to an end.
Bishr Al-Ḥâfi [a renowned mu ḥaddith] used to sometimes sit with a gathering of friends at the local spice shop. More striking than any of these examples is that our Prophet ﷺ used to go to the market himself and buy what he needed and then carry it back home with him.
Thus ʿAlî ibn Abî >âlib went to the market and bought a garment when he was the Caliph, Commander of the Believers. And Ṭal ḥa ibn Musarrif, who was the premier reciter of Quran in Kufa during his lifetime [d. 112 A.H.], when he thought he was overburdened (with too many students), walked to Al-Aʿmash and recited the Quran to him [as if Ṭal ḥa was the student and Al-Aʿmash the teacher]. Thereafter students began to prefer Al-Aʿmash and stopped going to Ṭal ḥa.[Ṭal ḥa was 36 years older than Al-Aʿmash [d. 148 A.H.]. So it is likely that Ṭal ḥa wanted to turn over his responsibility to someone younger and show his students who to go to after him.]
It is these kinds of people, by Allah, who are the true ‘red phosphorous’ and al-iksîr (elixir) in their rarity and preciousness, not what the alchemists deem al-iksîr. [Etymologically the English ‘elixir’ comes from the Arabic al-iksîr, meaning cure-all, a substance that alchemists believed could change iron into gold, and a potion the ancients believed would lengthen life.] It is with this kind of sincerity that one should act for Allah.
Any other scenario besides the likes of these—in which people are sincere—is worship of people and deception. Such insincerity has enveloped the majority of humanity, excluding the pious of old. It is even as the poet has sung it:
Gladly would I pay the ransom of the gazelles of a pure forest
Unpolluted by treacherous eyes and words that are dishonest