Simulation means doing a good deed for the sake of ostentation rather than for the sake of God. It is a great sin, and causes spiritual deterioration and death. And the Quran says:
So woe to those that pray and are heedless of their prayers, to those who would be seen [at worship], yet refuse charity. (107:4-7)
In another verse we read:
... showing off to the people and not remembering God save a little. (4:142)
Here is a prophetic tradition about the vice of riya':
[The Prophet (S) said:] "The main thing that I fear concerning you is minor idolatry' (shirk)". They asked "What is minor idolatry'?" He answered: "Simulation! On the Day of Judgement, when Allah the Almighty is examining the past deeds of His creatures, He shall say to the simulators, "Go to those to whom you showed off during your lives in the world and ask them for your reward."
There are different kinds of riya': riya' in worship, whatever form it may take, is always reprobate; riya' in other matters, which is sometimes reprehensible, but at other times may be permissible (mubah) and even desirable. For example, if one is openly generous with the intention of encouraging others to be generous also, his action is not only without reproach, but in fact is highly commendable. The significance of simulation in each case depends on the intentions of the individual involved.
The opposite of riya' is ikhlas (sincerity), which means doing everything for the sake of God alone, without expecting any reward from anyone for what he does. The station of ikhlas is one of the highest that a believer may attain, but may be reached through persistent exercise and perseverance.
Adapted from: "Jami' al-Sa'adat" by: "Muhammad Mahdi al-Naraqi"
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