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The evil of sycophancy

As a modern means of survival in Nigeria, the art of sycophancy is becoming widespread in modern times. Very many of us today are dexterous sycophants equipped with different skills to flatter people unnecessarily in order to win favours from them. Even our traditional praise singers who specialize in flattering people are likely to learn from today’s sycophants when it comes to flattering people. 

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Leaders who admire sycophants are in most cases self-deceived. They quite often know the truth in spite of their desire to shut their eyes at it. Yet, they would always like sycophants to inconvenience truth for the purpose of compromising it. Part of our fears is that sycophancy, if left unimpeded, is not only going to become a norm but shall also be institutionalized in most of our private and public establishments especially the civil service, the banking industry and our institutions of learning. 

Sycophancy has now become a means to getting appointments, promotions and juicy postings in both public and private sectors. Sycophants in workplaces appear to be popular with powers that be. In reality, such people where they exist are commonly referred to as ‘A.P’ meaning ‘Anybody-in-Power’ owing largely to their lack of principles and conscience. Allah (SWT) affirms in Qur’an 4:108 that if sycophants think their sins are hidden to fellow men, they are certainly not hidden from Him (SWT), the All-Knowing. 

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Let us remember that no matter its utility or strength of mobility, sycophancy can only thrive in systems or organizations where leaders in such places provide the enabling environment for it to survive. The existence of sycophants or sycophancy depends to a great extent on the leader or head of a particular organization. Leaders must therefore discourage their subjects or subordinates from actions that are tantamount to sycophancy. One serious consequence of sycophancy is that it leads those who give room for it in to regret while sycophants themselves end up losing respect. But that is only in a society that has regard for integrity. 

Sycophancy is a wrong that leads to other wrongs. In their attempt to flatter people particularly leaders, sycophants end up backbiting others and fabricating some incredible lies. Sycophants in many cases are pathological liars. They swear on all occasions, small or great, because they know that their ordinary words are not believed in. A sincere man’s words, according to a proverb, are as good as his bond. Some sycophants sometimes do not even have idea of the truth about certain issues. Yet, they are ready to swear with everyone and everything. Evil seems to be the good of sycophants, and good their evil. They do not only go after evils but also attempt all the times to prevent other people (especially their admirers) from doing right. In any case, a sycophant will always intrude where he has no right. 

I do not want to believe that sycophancy is a product of poverty. This writer feels it is a matter of faith and attitude as well. Sycophancy is a disease of the heart, a heart that is ungrateful to Allah (SWT). Allah (SWT) warns against paying attention to despicable men of the character described above no matter their influence or even wealth. Some sycophants today control resources greater than what ordinary men of honesty possess. Allah (SWT) states in Qur’an 68:10-I3 that “Heed hot the type of despicable man, ready with oaths; A slanderer going about with calumnies; (Habitually) hindering (all) good, transgressing beyond bounds, deep in-sin; violent (and cruel), with all that, base-born”. 

The words of sycophants, like their actions, are promptly recorded by the computing angels and such would be brought before them on the Day of Judgment. Allah (SWT) mentions in Qur’an 58:18 “Not a word does he utter but there is a sentinel by him ready (to note it)”. Backbiting as a major trait of sycophancy and a sin of the tongue, which according to a hadith of the Prophet (SAW) related on the authority of Jabir is worse than fornication (zinah). The Prophet (SAW) in another hadith exhorts believers saying “whoever believes in Allah (SWT) and the Last Day should either speak well or be silent”. Imam Tirmidhi similarly relates another hadith in which the Prophet (SAW) mentions that “Whoever can be silent has prospered”. These prophetic traditions implicitly exhort sycophants and Muslims to speak only about what will benefit the system they belong to and humanity in general instead of flattering their admirers or back-biting others. 

Allah (SWT) in Qur’an 49:12 equates backbiting to the eating of the prson’s dead flesh. No one would like to even think of such an abomination as eating the flesh of his brother. But when the brother is dead, and the flesh is carrion, abomination is added to abomination. In the same way we are asked to refrain from hurting people’s feelings when they are present; how much worse is it when we say things, true or false, when they are absent? It is the prayer of this column that sycophants and their admirers would desist from this devilish act so that our words and deeds would find basis only in truth and sincerity, amin. 

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