وَلَئِن سَأَلْتَهُمْ لَيَقُولُنَّ إِنَّمَا كُنَّا نَخُوضُ وَنَلْعَبُ ۚ قُلْ أَبالله وَآيَاتِهِ وَرَسُولِهِ كُنتُمْ تَسْتَهْزِئُونَ
And if you ask them, they will surely say, “We were only conversing and playing.” Say, “Is it Allah and His Signs and His Messenger that you were mocking?” [at-Tawbah: 65]
When the hypocrites were confronted with their mocking statements, they replied that they were just joking. The above verse is Allāh’s reply unto them.
Wisdom is the lost camel of the Muslim. If need be, we are obliged to obtain wisdom even from the creatures who mock Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم and ensure that no aspect of their evil is to be found amongst ourselves. The sad reality is that despite major and obvious distinctions, Muslims too are guilty of mocking the sacred. Some introspection would do us good.
Surely my Timing is Off?
The sincere critic might well say that even the impression of equating Muslims and the cartoon creatures is not at all politic at the time when we are still hurt at their provocations. I would say that unfortunately the attacks against Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم and Islām are so constant, that it is pointless to refer to a time of provocation and a time of cessation. There are merely ebbs and flows in the battle. Beyond that, our dignity lies is being true to our principles, including admitting when we are wrong. Muʿāwiyah bin ʾAbī Sufyān (may Allāh be pleased with both father and son) abandoned territory he had just conquered from the Byzantines, when it was pointed out to him that his interpretation of the end of the truce was flawed. There is no more public figure than the Commander of the Believers. Yet there is no loss of face to admit an error, even to the unbelievers. All honour belongs to Allāh. He elevates and disgraces as He pleases.
Humour of Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم
Again, lest the middle path be missed, Muslims are not to be dour, nor should they joke inappropriately. Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم joked without being lewd, insulting people or mocking the sacred.
عن أنس أن رجلا من أهل البادية كان اسمه زاهرا ، وكان يهدي إلى النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – الهدية فيجهزه رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – إذا أراد أن يخرج ، فقال رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – : ” إن زاهرا باديتنا ونحن حاضروه ” .
وكان النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – يحبه ، وكان [ رجلا ] دميما ، فأتى النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – يوما وهو يبيع متاعه ، فاحتضنه من خلفه وهو لا يبصره ، فقال : أرسلني من هذا ؟ فالتفت فعرف النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – فجعل لا يألو ما ألصق ظهره بصدر النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – حين عرفه ، وجعل النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – يقول : ” من يشتري العبد ؟ ” . فقال : يا رسول الله ، إذا والله تجدني كاسدا ، فقال النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – : ” لكنك عند الله لست بكاسد ” . أو قال : ” [ لكن ] عند الله أنت غال
A man from the countryside, called Zāhir bin Ḥarām used to bring gifts to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم . Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم would in turn provide him with provisions when he intended to leave. Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “Zāhir is our countryside and we are his city.” The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم loved him, and he was an ugly man. One day the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم approached him while he was selling his goods. He embraced him from behind, so that he could not see him. “Release me!” he said, “Who is this?” When he turned and recognised the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم , he kept rubbing his back against the chest of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم . The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم then began calling out, “Who will buy this slave?” “O Messenger of Allāh,” he replied, “By Allāh! You will find me to be a defective product.” The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم replied, “No, you are most valuable in Allāh’s sight.”
Similarly it was nothing strange for his Companions to joke with him in a wholesome manner.
عَنْ عَوْفِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ الأَشْجَعِيِّ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ ، قَالَ : ” بَيْنَا نَحْنُ مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَآَلِهِ وَسَلَّمَ فِي غَزْوَةِ تَبُوكَ ، وَرَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَآَلِهِ وَسَلَّمَ فِي قُبَّةٍ مِنْ أَدَمٍ ، إِذْ مَرَرْتُ ، فَسَمِعَ صَوْتِي ، فَقَالَ : ” يَا عَوْفُ بْنُ مَالِكٍ ، ادْخُلْ ” ، فَقُلْتُ : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ، أَكُلِّي أَمْ بَعْضِي ؟ فَقَالَ : ” بَلْ كُلُّكَ ” ، قَالَ : فَدَخَلْتُ
ʿAwf bin Mālik al-ʾAsjaʿī (may Allāh be pleased with him) narrated:
We were with Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم on the Tabūk campaign. Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم was in a [small] leather tent which I passed by. He heard my voice and called, “O ʿAwf bin Mālik! Enter!”
“O Messenger of Allāh!” I responded, “Should the whole of me enter, or just part of me?”
He replied, “All of you.”
I thereupon entered. [al-Bukhārī]
Sacred is not limited to Muḥammad صلى الله عليه وسلم
Sūrāh at-Tawbah makes it clear that Allāh takes offense at insult to three:
1. Allāḥ Himself
2. His Signs
3. Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم
One should ask that why is it that we only excite ourselves over the third, and worse, involve ourselves in insulting the sacred as well. I had previously written about the insults heaped on Jesus peace be upon him. A cursory examination of western art, literature, movies, theatre etc, would reveal that he is a hundred times more insulted than Allāh’s Messenger, Muḥammad صلى الله عليه وسلم . If we as Muslims were honest, we would express our hurt at this as well.
Yet how can we truly be hurt at the abuse of Jesus peace be upon him, when Allāh’s honour means nothing to us? A friend of the Muslim physicist I had mentioned previously, expressed his immense amusement in mentioning some movie or the other, in which to my understanding, Allāh transfers His powers to a man who uses this power to enlarge a woman’s breasts. The physicist asked if I saw the movie. When I refused to dignify the question with a reply, he said, “I thought as much. You probably regard it as blasphemous.”
Such then is the state of educated Muslims. Such an insult against Allāh is only blasphemous to myself, nobody else, and never should our voices be raised in protest at such filth.
Daily Ridicule of the Sacred
A negative aspect of the free availability of religious knowledge in the information era, is the incorrect application into the mundane of what should be uttered with caution and respect. The sacred is not a joke. I am not interested in the technical justifications the overly intellectual may present, I simply ask that if your defence is, “It is only a joke,” then what is the difference between you on the one hand, and the hypocrites who made the same argument, and the cartoon creatures who insist that Muslims need to learn how to laugh at their religion?
I have no intention or inclination to compile an encyclopaedia of the free flowing tongues of the Muslims, but hope that two examples will suffice:
1. “Sign of Qiyāmah”
2. A certain politician dies and his reckoning takes place.
Sign of Qiyāmah / Day of Resurrection
Every so often you will hear a Muslim uttering a statement, “Wow, you are early today…..this is a sign of Qiyāmah; that stingy man invited me to a feast…. This a sign of Qiyāmah….” Etc.
Do we not pause for moment at our supposed wit and reflect that the very mention of the Day of Reckoning should make our hearts tremble? We should shed tears at the thought of what answer do we give our Creator in regards the non-fulfilment of His rights and people’s rights. If our hearts were correct, we should lose sleep at the thought of that day. How hardened have our hearts become and how contaminated are our minds, that the Reckoning is now a device to demonstrate my wit and make people laugh.
Signs of Qiyāmah are serious matters. What is your mentality that you equate your daily mundane acts with earthquakes, massacres of Muslims, the Anti-Christ etc? Are you so important?
Signs of Qiyāmah are what Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم told us to be so. However intelligent we may be, do we have knowledge of the unseen to say this is a sign of Qiyāmah? And no! Do not tell me it is a joke. This entire chapter of knowledge is based on the words of Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم . He was most serious about it. Do not joke about Allāh’s Signs and His Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم ! Do not quote the hypocrites in your defence.
Those who were in the company of Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم would never quote him on any topic unless they were absolutely sure what he had said. On the topic of Signs of Qiyāmah, we have no teacher other than Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم . So why are you so free with your tongue? Do you not realise the implication? To say something is a sign of Qiyāmah, you imply that Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم made this statement. Fear Allāh in regard your tongue. There are so many topics to joke about. Why turn Qiyāmah into fun and games? How different are you to the cartoon creatures?
Reckoning of a Politician
Another “great” example of Muslim wit is their depiction of a politician dying.
They will say that the deceased meets “St Peter at the Pearly Gates”. Is this the ʿaqīdah [belief] of the Muslims? Do you not realise that you are calling Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم a liar?
Is it funny to claim to know what happens in the realms of the unseen? To claim knowledge of the unseen is ascribing partners unto Allāh. So is it a joke? Does a Muslim then make jokes on a topic which is the worst unforgivable sin unto Allāh?
These jokes invariably proceed with, “God says to him…” as if that is somehow cleaner than “Allāh says…” If you are not educated then may Allāh educate you. If you are educated and are aware of the enormous import of saying, “Allāh’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم said…” even in jest, then how possibly can you joke, “God says…” Is there really nothing else to joke about?
Main Distinction no Justification
Although Muslims who make these jokes are different to the cartoonists, in the sense that no Muslim would make these jokes with malicious intent, we understand from the Ḥadīth that we have to guard our tongues. There are limits to what we can say, as we are so fond of telling the west in our debates on freedom of expression. Whatever distinction there might be in intention and degree of jest, it is hypocritical of us to expect the west to respect our sacred when we too mock the sacred.