The primary cause of riyâ’ is a weakness in Îmân. When a person does not have strong faith in Allâh, he will prefer the admiration of people over the pleasure of Allâh. This weakness in îmân causes a person to ignore the blessings and rewards of the Hereafter, and increases a person’s desire for fame and prestige in this world. This desire causes a person to fall into riyâ’.
There are three symptoms that are indicative of riyâ’, and it is essential that a believer avoid all of them. 
1) THE LOVE OF PRAISE
This symptom is mentioned in the previously mentioned hadîth concerning the first three people to be thrown into the fire of Hell: the scholar, the martyr and the person who gave his money in charity. All three of these people desired the praise of people, over and above the pleasure of Allâh. The person who desires the praise of people must feel some pride in himself, for he feels himself worthy of being praised. There is a danger, therefore, of him becoming arrogant and boastful. Abû Hurayrah quoted Allâh’s Messenger (saws) as saying:
| “Allâh – Most Great and Glorious – said: Pride is My cloak, and greatness my Robe, so whoever competes with Me, with respect to either of them, I shall cast him into Hell. “|
In another hadîth Abû Hurayrah quoted Allâh’s Messenger’s (saws) warning about a person’s adoration of himself:
| “There are three destructful things: desires that are followed, greediness that is obeyed, and a person’s self-admiration and conceit: and this is the worst of the three! “|
Allâh also warned against falling into the category of those Christians and Jews whom the Qur’ân mentions:
|“Do not assume that those who rejoice in what they have done, and love to be praised for what they have not done, – think not that they are absolved from punishment, (but rather) for them is a painful torment.”|
This is why the Prophe ﷺ’s Companions, may Allâh’s pleasure be on all of them, feared greatly to even be put in a situation where they would be praised. ‘Abdur-Rahmân ibn Abî Laylî  reported:
| “I met over one hundred and twenty of the Prophet ﷺ’s Companions from among the Ansâr. Whenever any of them was asked for a religious verdict, he wished that someone else would answer it for him.” |
Their reluctance to give religious rulings was also due to their great fear of saying something incorrect about the religion.
2) THE FEAR OF CRITICISM
No one likes to be criticised. The dislike of criticism regarding religious practises may be divided into two categories.
A. The first category is that of a person who neglects a commandment of Allâh in order to avoid the criticism of his peers. He prefers to disobey Allâh rather than be unpopular among people. For example, some men do not wish to keep beards, and some women do not wear the proper Hijâb because they fear the criticism of their peers. This, obviously, is something prohibited (harâm). but does not fall under the heading of riyâ’. The believers are described in the Qur’ân as follows:
|“…(They) do not fear the criticism of those who criticize. And this is the blessing of Allâh; He gives it to whomsoever He wishes. Verily, Allâh is Self-Sufficeint, All-Knowing.”|
The true believer realizes that the criticism by created beings is nothing in comparison to criticism by the Creator.
B. The second category is that of a person who obeys certain commandments of lslâm, not for the sake of Allâh, but because he fears people will look down on him and criticise him if he does not do it. For example, a man may make his formal prayers in the mosque because he does not want people to criticise him for praying at home, or to think that he is not praying at all. Or, a lady may wear the Islamic outer-garment and scarf when attending religious gatherings because she does not want her religious friends or the lecturer to think bad of her. This category falls under the general topic of riyâ’.
3) GREED FOR PEOPLE’S POSSESSIONS
If a person covets what other people possess, whether it is rank, money or power, then he will wish them to envy him similarly. For example, if he is jealous of the position of a certain person in society, he will try by every possible means to attain the same position. Such desires lead people to spend their lives putting on a show for other people so that they will admire their rank, money or power. Religious acts will likely be incorporated into the show leading inevitably to the major sin of riyâ’.
These three categories are implied in the following statement of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ:
Abû Mûsâ related that a person came to the Prophet ﷺand asked,
| “A person fights to defend his honour (i.e. to avoid criticism), another to prove his bravery (i.e. to be praised for it), and a third to show off (i.e. so that his position can be seen): of these three, which one fights in the way of Allâh?”He (saws) answered:”Whoever fights to make the Word of Allâh prevalent [i.e. to bring honor to Islâm, and to establish it in the land], he is the one who fights in the way of Allâh.”|
1 Quoted from ar-Riyâ’ by Salîm al-Hilâlî.
2 Sahih Muslim, vol.4, p. 1381, no.6349 and Sunan Abu Dawud, vol.3, pp.1141-2. no.4079.
3Authenticated in Mishkâh al-Masâbîh. no. 5122. The English text can be found in Mishkat Al-Masahih. vol.2, no. 1061.
4 Âl ‘Imrân, (3): 188.
5 ‘Abdur-Rahmân ibn Abî Laylâ (15-83 A.H.) was born during the caliphate of “Umar ibn al-Khattâb. He narrated hadîths from ‘Alî, Ubayy ibn Ka’ab and many other Companions, of. Tahthîb al Kamâl, no.3943 and Tahthîb at-Tahthîb, no 4134.
6 Reported by ad-Dârimî (Sunan ad-Dârimî. vol.1, no.53) and lbn Sa’d in at-Tabuqât al-Kubrâ, and authenticated by al-Hilâlî in ar-Riyâ.
8 Sahih al-Bukhari, vol.4, p.50, no.65, Sahih Muslim, vol.3, p. 1054, no.4684 and Sunan Abu Dawud, vol.2, p.698. no.2511.
Riyaa: Hidden Shirk published by Al Hidayaah