People often assume about us something which is not true. One of the scariest thoughts for a person, who is often glorified or given undue praise, is that they will not meet the standard of that praise when they would stand in front of Allah (swt) – that they will be held countable for the good that others say about them. Prophet Muhammad (sa) mentioned this frightening scenario that after a person was buried and people started to say amazing things about him, the angels actually asked him: “Haadha kuntu?” Were you really as they say you were or were you really as they thought you were? Such situations do not apply only to great scholars or preachers, but also to every person, who is doing something righteous publicly. We hate slander and destructive praise because it can put us in the situation of hypocrisy, may Allah (swt) protect us.
Abu Bakr (rtam) was very aware of this, so he used to make it a point to hide his good deeds. Other companions often found Abu Bakr (rtam) doing some secret good deeds that no one was aware of. Imagine, how many good deeds Abu Bakr (rtam) must have done that we are not aware of, may Allah (swt) be pleased with him. There is a Dua that Abu Bakr (rtam) teaches us:
اللهمَ اجْعَلْنِى خَيْرًا مِمَّا يَظُنُّونَ وَاغْفِرْ لِى مَا لَا يَعْلَمُونَ وَلَا تُؤَاخِذْنِى بِمَا يَقُولُون
“O Allah! Make me better than what they think of me, and forgive me for what they don’t know about me, and do not hold me accountable for what they say about me.”
If you look at this Dua, the first thing he pleads is: “O Allah! Make me better than what they think of me” – because I don’t think I’m as good as others think about me. He continues: “…but forgive me for what they don’t know about me” – because there are factual truths of sins about me that they are unaware of. And lastly: “…do not hold me accountable for what they say about me” – the witnessing of people means something good so we ensure that it should not be a false portrayal.
Ibn al Jawzi has a beautiful saying; we cover this Dua by his sayings:
“If people are impressed with you, don’t think they are impressed with you, they are impressed by the beauty of Allah’s (swt) cover of your sins.”
They are impressed by the beauty of Allah’s (swt) Hijab on you; it’s not really you – it’s the veil that Allah (swt) has provided. You need to be aware of this, so you can continue on the good deeds. Do not let destructive praise sedate or paralyze you from actually living up to the best of yourself. May Allah (swt) make us better for what people think of us, may Allah (swt) forgive us for which they don’t know of us, and may Allah (swt) do not hold us accountable for the things that they say about us.
Transcribed by Faiza Rizwan – Transcriber for hiba and mother of four