What is the place of praising a person and boasting in Islam?

The Details of the Question

What is the place of praising a person and boasting in Islam?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The word “tazkiya” in Arabic includes the meanings of praising, cleaning, training and exalting among its lexical and terminological meanings. 

Allah states the following in verse 32 of the chapter of an-Najm: “Justify not yourselves.” The Arabic equivalent of the word justify is tazkiya (praising). Thus, it is not a good thing for a person to praise himself, to boast.

In our culture, there is a phrase: “tahdith an-ni'mah” (proclaiming Allah’s bounties); what is meant by it is mentioning the bounties and goodness granted to a person by Allah by attributing them to Him, which is a kind of thanking by the tongue and which is regarded acceptable.  

“(O Muhammad!) Hast thou not turned Thy vision to those who claim sanctity for themselves? Nay-but Allah Doth sanctify whom He pleaseth. But never will they fail to receive justice in the least little thing.” (an-Nisa: 49) In this verse and in the interpretation of the verses mentioned above, boasting and praising others are dealt with, and their decrees are explained by taking hadiths into consideration too.

When somebody was praised in the presence of the Prophet (pbuh), he said to the person who praised, “Woe be to you! You have cut off the neck of your brother. If one of you is to definitely praise his brother and if he is sincere, let him say: ‘I think so’. Only Allah knows his state and only Allah will reckon him. Do not praise anyone above Allah.”

It is contrary to Islamic ethics and forbidden to praise a person with some words that are not true in order to win a person’s favor and to benefit from him. Such praising will harm the praised person since it will prevent him from checking his soul in order to improve himself. There may be two outcomes of praising a person by mentioning good characteristics of him: 

1. When a person is praised definitely, he might tend to be conceited, like himself and slow down his struggle to train himself spiritually. “Cutting off the neck of one’s brother” expresses these dangers.

2. In some cases, such praising might cause a person to continue his nice deeds when he is praised and might encourage others to regard him as a model and example. In such cases, it is permissible to praise others. 

In the community, most people praise their teachers, religious leaders, masters, friends and relatives using a definite language, not a careful language. In sufism, most dervishes say their sheikh is a person of Paradise adding that those who follow him and even those who are buried near him will attain intercession and will go to Paradise. I would like to quote a hadith that is included in sound resources in order to warn those brothers of us:

Osman b. Maz'un, one of the first muhajirs, died. Ummu'l-Ala, a woman of the people of Madinah praised him as follows: “May you attain Allah's mercy! I witness that Allah has treated you nice things.” Thereupon, the following conversation took place between her and the Prophet?'

-'How do you know that Allah has treated him nice things?

-O Messenger of Allah! May my father be sacrificed for you! Whom will Allah treat nice things, if no him?

-No doubt, death came to him. By Allah, I too wish him good, but by Allah, I do not know what Allah will do with me though I am Allah's Messenger.

- By Allah, I will never praise anyone from now on. (Bukhari, “Janaiz”, 3)

As Ibn Hajar explains, this statement of the Prophet (pbuh) was in compliance with verse 9 of the chapter of al-Ahqaf:

“I am no bringer of new-fangled doctrine among the apostles, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I follow but that which is revealed to me by inspiration; I am but a Warner open and clear.”

Allah mentions the nice end of the Prophet in the chapter of al-Fath, which was revealed after that chapter.

It is not in compliance with the belief of Ahl as-Sunnah to say that the people whose end is not mentioned in the Quran will go to Paradise and that they will attain salvation but it is all right to hope so.   


Hayrettin Karaman (Prof. Dr.)

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