What are the deeds that need to be kept secret and that should not be told to others?

The Details of the Question

- Some people say fard prayers should be performed secretly to prevent show-off. Is it true?
- Satan told the Prophet (pbuh) that he tried to make people reveal their secret deeds. What are those secret deeds, which should not be told to others?
- Only sadaqah (charity) comes to my mind. Some people say prayers can be performed secretly but I do not think that a deed of worship that gains man a lot of thawabs when performed in congregation should be performed secretly. What are other deeds that should be kept secret?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

As you mention, one of the deeds that are very virtuous to do secretly is sadaqah (charity). It should be so secret that the left hand should not notice what the right hand gives.

Fard prayers are not performed secretly. Fard prayers, which are ordered to be performed in congregation and which are stated to gain man twenty-seven times more thawabs, cannot be performed secretly. However, it is very important to perform nafilah prayers like duha, awwabin, wudu and tahajjud secretly and to perform nafilah fasting secretly in order to prevent them from show off.

A person gains more thawabs if he keeps secret the amount of the Quran he reads and dhikr he makes every day since it will prevent show off.

Similarly, visiting ill people, prisoners and victims secretly in order to console them and not mentioning them unnecessarily are among such nafilah deeds of worship.

It is not always possible to keep such good deeds secret but one’s intention is important. He does not tell people deliberately what he does but some people see him inevitably; he does not inform others about what he does.

The value of a deed done secretly or openly varies based on circumstances and from person to person. For instance, it gains man more thawabs to give sadaqah openly - in order to encourage others to do so. The Companions gave charity for war openly; the Prophet (pbuh), the Companions Hz. Abu Bakr, Hz. Umar and Hz. Uthman revealed the amount they gave in order to encourage people.

"In order to encourage people, the good deeds of worship and charities of an imam, scholar, etc. related to religious duties are not and should not regarded as hypocrisy and show off unless such a person uses his duty for his own interest. Yes, an imam glorifies Allah aloud and makes other people hear them when he fulfils the duty of imamate; it is not regarded as show off at all. However, when he is not in the mosque, it is more virtuous for him to glorify Allah secretly because when people hear him outside, showing off might be in question.” (Kastamonu Lahikası, p. 185)

Show off is not in question in fard and wajib deeds in principle because everybody does the same deeds. There is no extra “virtue, privilege” that leads to show off. Therefore, there is no show off in rawatib sunnahs performed in connection with fard prayers. However, nafilah prayers that are performed additionally are not like that. Satan might cause man to show off related to them.

Finally, it will be useful to quote the following statement of Badiuzzaman Said Nursi indicating a principle regarding the issue:

“No show off is in question in fards, wajibs, principles of Islam, following the Sunnah and avoiding harams. Doing them openly is not regarded as show off unless a person has a weakness in his belief and has a hypocritical nature. Great people like Imam Ghazali state that one gains more thawabs when he does a deed of worship that is connected with the principles of Islam openly than secretly. One gains more thawabs when he does other nafilah deeds secretly but at times of bid’ah, it is more virtuous to show one’s taqwa by avoiding harams in order to show the honor of following the sunnah.” (see Kastamonu Lahikası, p. 184)

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