In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy.
A man among the companions of the Prophet [peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him] used to say when he was praised: [اللَّهُمّ لاَ تُؤاَخِذْنِي ِبَما يَقُولُونُ ، وَاغْفِرْ لِي مَالا يَعْلَمُونَ – O Allaah! Do not take me to account for what they say and forgive me for what they do not know (about me)].
Al-Allaamah Zayd Bin Haadi Al-Mad’khali [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said: This is one of the invocations and supplications [which a person supplicates with], specifically when praised and he hears it; for example, when it is said, ‘’Fulaan [i.e. such and such person] is upright and righteous’’, so he hears what was said about him, or such praise reached him, or it is said, ‘’Fulaan is very truthful, such and such is a good doer, a charitable person, a scholar and so on’’. If he hears this, then a believer fears for himself and feels shy that he is the opposite of what the people say about him, and because of this he re-examines himself and becomes active in carrying out deeds to make him righteous- a good doer and worthy of the praise given to him by the people.
If he does this, he will be successful and blessed; but if he becomes deceived by what the people say and becomes oblivious of his mistakes and shortcomings, shaytaan will afflict him with self-importance. Due to this, when a believer hears the people commending and praising him with [attributes] of righteousness, he utters this dhikr: ‘’O Allaah! Do not take me to account for what they say]’’ – Meaning: ‘’Do not hold me account due to this praise and commendation, and the good characteristics [mentioned about me].’’ That is because he fears for himself.
The soul of a person is weak, so he says, ‘’And forgive me for what they do not know (about me)’’- Meaning: ‘’The people commend a person based on what they know about him outwardly, so the person fears that he has Mukhaalafaat [i.e. deeds that are in opposition to the commands and prohibitions in the Sharee’ah] which are unknown to the people, so he asks his Lord [The Blessed and Exalted] not to hold him to account and to forgive those sins of his, shortcomings and mistakes which are unknown to the people. The children of Adam are deficient, but there are those amongst them who fall short and return to [repentance or rectification] and are active again in the performance of good deeds after falling short. And amongst them are those who fall short and persist upon (sin) until punishment comes upon them. (1)
Imaam Fudayl Ibn Iyaad [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said, “O miserable one! You are disobedient yet you see yourself as a good-doer; you are ignorant yet you see yourself as a scholar; you are miserly yet you see yourself as a generous person; you are an idiot yet you see yourself as a sensible person, and your lifespan is short yet your hopes are prolonged”. Imaam Adh-Dhahabi [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said, “I swear by Allaah, (Fudayl) spoke the truth! You (O miserable one) are an oppressor yet you see yourself as one who is oppressed; you eat haraam yet you see yourself as one who fears (Allaah); you are a rebellious evil person yet you see yourself as someone who is just; you seek knowledge for the sake of the worldly things yet you see yourself as one who seeks it for the sake of Allaah”. (2)
Ibraaheem Ibn Adham [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said: It has reached me that Umar Ibn Abdul Azeez [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said to Khaalid Ibn Safwaan [may Allaah have mercy upon him] “Admonish me and be brief”. Khaalid said, “O Leader of the believers! Indeed, a people have been deceived by Allaah’s concealment of (their sins, blameworthy affairs, shortcomings etc) and are put to trial by the good praise (received from others), so let not the ignorance of others about your (real state of affairs) prevail over what you know about yourself. May Allaah protect us and you from becoming deceived by Allaah’s concealment of (our real state of affairs), delayed and negligent in that which Allaah has obligated and inclining towards desires”. Ibraaheem said, “He (Umar) wept and then said, ‘May Allaah protect us and you from following desires'”. (3)
[Ref 1: Awnul Ahadis Samad Sharh Al-Adabil Mufrad’ Vol 2, page 389]
[Ref 2: Siyar A’laam An-Nubulaa: 8/440]
[Ref 3: Hilyatul Awliyaa 8/18]