Why do we live our lives “to leave an impression”? We are all prisoners of – our own perceptions of – what impressions others have about us.
Being really free from caring/hallucinating about what other people think, is liberating. It sets our souls free to live without those mental and psychological chains of slavery that hook us to the “other” (or what we think the ‘other’ is thinking). It sets us free from the grip of the “self/ego” (Al-Nafs). Because the first aspect that is responsible for making us care about others – wanting to show off, compete, or compare ourselves to them – is the “ego” (Nafs).
According to mystic Sufis, one needs to reach a point in life, under the training of a wise Sheikh (mentor), where he/she no longer occupies her/his mind with “the other.” You fear non but Allah, care to please non other but him. That way you are free on earth; since your only Lord is Allah.
But we all have our little lords whom we try to impress and please, and these are hard to impress, you can never get their 100% love, loyalty, sincerity and approval. They might act like they approve of you in your presence, but behind your back, your tie didn’t look that good, you are a snob, and certainly that speech was not funny!
We walk into a room and try to show off our new suit, or leave the impression that we are VIPs – by walking a certain way, looking at people in a certain way, shaking hands and smiling in a certain way. If we are “artists” or rebels, we also seek to attract attention to our “free” way of pulling our hair up, or wearing our sloppy jeans. Sometimes we like to leave the impression of the “deep thinker,” the intellectual, and behave accordingly. Sometimes we like to leave the impression of the pious, the religious, and the good believer, and show off our “good faith” accordingly.
All of this, to the Sufi crowd such as Ibn Arabi (ق), is a form of “hidden shirk – Al-shirk Al-khafee الشرك الخفي” (Hidden polytheism).
According to the Islamic Supreme Council of America:
One must cut down self-pride and make the inner-self prostrate, for one who truly submits to his Lord can no longer submit to his or her self. Once that state is reached, prayer is purely for Allah. That is why the Prophet (s) said:
الا اخبركم بما هو اخوف عليكم عندي من المسيح الدجال؟ قال قلنا: بلى، فقال: الشرك الخفي ان يقوم الرجل يصلي فيزين صلاته لما يرى من نظر رجل.0
“Shall I inform you of what I fear for my Community even more than the Anti-Christ?” They said, “Surely!” He said, “Hidden polytheism.” [When a man gets up to pray, and takes his time with his movements to impress another man].
He feared for his community not the outward polytheism of idol-worship, for he was informed by Allah that his community was protected from that forever, but the secret polytheism, which is to do something for the sake of showing-off.
Showing off is a sign of lack of sincerity in the heart
Showing off our new car, hair due, status, financial capabilities, or simply performing prayer while paying attention to what impression we are leaving on people around us, are all forms of hidden idol-worshiping.
Lack of sincerity is born when we do not intend to do something for the pure sake of doing it… it is like paying alms to the poor, yet caring that people learn about it, or that they brand us as good people because we paid charity.
Some people give a hefty tip to the waiter, while their intention is not to help him financially, but to show the table of executives he has invited that he is generous. That is trickery, insincerity, showing off, and ultimately hidden idol-worshiping, hidden association.
Real good is pure good, it needs to be done with the pure intention of benefiting people without any hint of ego associated with it. Giving charity to a man, in a closed room, while one is thinking to him/her self, “I am good, I am generous,” is ego talk. This is not sincere.
One needs to give charity, and hope, only hope, that Allah will accept it as a pure deed only for Allah: To give charity not so as to feel pleased with oneself, nor to please others. Doing any kind of good deed to impress others, is hypocrisy. People think that giving money is the final aim. “He got his money, I am free to think what I like in the process.” Yes, the poor man got his money, but with what intention? Intention counts.
Reaching this station needs mentor-ship by an ego-expert, who knows its trickery, illnesses, and twisted ways.
On this earth, the most important thing to do is purify ourselves. There is nothing more important than this, to reach true Serventhood.
According to an article on the website of the Islamic Supreme Council of America:
That is known as the station of annihilation, in which the servant no longer sees herself or himself, no longer sees anything, but only sees, feels and is immersed in the Presence of the Lord without any partner and with no likeness.
… and if there is something more important than this, then we are in deep spiritual trouble.
Finale: The Prophet said:
The perfection of religion (al-Iħsān) is to worship Allah as if you are seeing Him and if you do not see Him, know that He sees you.
If we reach this station of belief this means we will be so aware of Allah we will no longer exercise hypocrisy, showing-off, lying, cheating, gossiping, back-stabbing, harming people, materialism, etc. But we are so plagued with all of those, how can we in one life-time purify ourselves from all of those very hard-to-figure-out illnesses of the ego?
We submit our egos to a mentor. We break our pride before him, and we learn how to tread upon the earth without the shackles of snobbery, pride, and self-worship that weigh us down.
* Article compiled with the help of different resources, including “The Meccan Revelations” (الفتوحات المكية) by Ibn Arabi (ق)