30 Mar, 2023 | Thursday 8-Ramadan-1444
Elements of Hypocrisy Among Muslims

The Devil, Shaytan, was not a non-believer, or an atheist. He was an extremely religious entity. In some traditions, he was spoken of as 'the fallen angel', or 'the angel of Ligh'", Lucifer. In Islamic belief, the Devil is not an angel at all, but the chief of the jinn, an entirely separate order of beings. We all know the Devil is the enemy of humanity and tries hard to bring about our downfall - but what was the terrible sin he committed that started this enmity? In Islamic teaching, when Allah was initially creating human beings, He gave the already-existing Shaytan an order, and Shaytan objected to it. All angels automatically do God's will - there is no question of choice for them. But jinn (and humans) had free will, they could choose whether to obey God or not.

Perhaps the real interpretation of the sin of Shaytan was that of so many of us - he thought he knew better than God. Allah asked him to bow down to the humans, and he would not do so. Why? One theological answer is that he refused because in his devotion to God he would bow down to no one BUT God. He would not do what Allah asked him to do, because he did not know why Allah had requested that, any more than we do, and he thought he knew better. Sadly, anyone who thinks he or she knows better than God is way off beam, deluded, and committing the sin of shirk (dividing the Godhead by imagining that any other thing or person can overrule the supremacy and ultimate wisdom of God).

All we Muslims need to be very aware of the subtle ways in which human beings can be tempted away from real Islam by their self-righteous concepts of 'piety' which are just a form of conceit. Maybe you have known people like this - maybe your parents are like this extremely religious, but somehow their company always makes you feel guilty, depressed, or bored. These are warning signs that something is wrong. The company of Rasulullah (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) never drove people away.

Many times these pious people experience conflict and disappointment in their lives because somehow their interpretation of love for Allah has come in between them and their love for their families, their communities, and society at large. They have such high and inflexible expectations. In his lifetime, Rasulullah (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) was very concerned about some of his followers, whom he had to remind that the best of them were those who were best to their families. Sometimes the message doesn't sink in.

It is easy for a person to claim that they love Allah they do not see Him or hear Him, and He is not going to manifest and contradict them. If someone claims to love Allah, but has great difficulty, in loving or respecting the human beings around them whom they can see and relate to, then we have a right to be a little suspicious of their claim. Or, at least, to suspect that something has gone wrong with their Islam.

Here's an example - a parent or wife is ill or upset and in distress, but such a one knows it is time to go off to the mosque, perhaps to be away all evening. Is this Muslim right or wrong to go? He will no doubt argue that he is putting Allah first, putting Him before his family, and may even produce hadith to prove that he is right. Is this really what Allah wants? Do you think that perhaps what he is really doing is putting his desire to appear pious to himself and others before Allah?

Certainly Allah obliges this Muslim to perform the prayer, preferably with other men, but He also requires that he care for his family - and in this example, his so-called devotions deprive his family and make them suffer. There is nothing to stop him from praying at home occasionally. the Muslim who neglects his or her human commitments for the sake of earning points for his or her soul has forgotten that there will be a day when all our books are opened and does not realize that perhaps their book will record clearly that they failed those whom they should have been loving and helping when they were needed by them.

Sometimes, by really putting Allah first, we have to do something for a member of our family, a neighbor, a fellow citizen of our town, a stranger traveling through, or a parent, or a child, or an orphan, or a widowed or divorced woman completely outside the family. Don't forget, prayers never get in the way of love; sometimes people go to the mosque in the manner of pre-Islamic superstition or just to have the pleasure of the company of friends, and not for the sake of Allah and hope for his mercy. If this is a Muslim's motivation, then perhaps you can see that he or she will perhaps be points for having a selfish motivation.

It may be that women, who nearly always pray at home, understand this better than some men. What about their 'points'? Well, a woman's prayer is best done at home in a secluded part of the house. The man struggles to 'establish the prayer' (Qur'an) in his society, but there is a danger, that in making the "mosque like a men's club the man's performance of the prayer there is the enjoyment of the club atmosphere of men together. Who knows? It is a very dangerous thing to harbor bad opinions about people and to always be passing judgment on them, particularly if it is the judgment of a very general nature such as that passed on a whole segment of humanity such as men, women, or even Muslims.

But think about it. Husbands, wives, parents, children of our own - all will claim our time and our love, and if we wish to find happiness (which Allah revealed Islam for), then we must love and respect them in return, and see to their needs. We must strike a balance. We must also work out when the loved one's need is truly genuine, or whether they are only just tempting us.

In cases of genuine need, most wives would probably agree that when they find their men are prepared to make sacrifices for them, there is nothing they will not sacrifice for their part. This is the nature of reality in the family and the wider world as well. Rasulullah (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) is referred to in a famous hadith to the Muslims as being 'like two hands washing'. When a husband and wife care for each other, they appreciate each other and are prepared to make sacrifices for each other. Rasulullah (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said:-

"The best of you is the one who is best to his family-'
[Sahih al-Bukhari]

Muslim women have to also pay attention to this hadith and be kind to their husbands, their children, their parents and grandparents, and indeed anyone who needs their help and support. As we have noted, Allah, in the Qur'an has drawn every Muslim's attention, male or female, to the needs of all of humanity starting with the immediate members of the family but not stopping with them. Indeed a Muslim, man or woman, is best recognized by their unselfish care and concern for others.

It is easy to claim that we love Allah - anybody can do that, but Muslims have to show it. This we cannot do by putting on air or trying to give a superior impression. We should not exaggerate all in our practices. Some of us seem to think that Allah will be more impressed if we make double the number of rak'ats every time, rather than being regular with what is required of us. What counts with Allah is our intention, our motivation. If we continue to pray after the required amount for no reason other than our love of Allah, then we must hide it from people so that no one ever knows about it but Allah, and we will have nothing but good. However, if we are merely gathering points, or, the disaster of disasters, want to be thought particularly holy and devout persons, then these are bad motives.

Muslims show their regard for Allah, firstly by sacrificing themselves in doing their regular prayers, and, secondly, by demonstrating in action that they care for others besides themselves. If a parent says he or she loves a child, but then neglects it, ignores it, and does nothing simply for the sake of loving it, then no matter how many times they might declare that they love it, we would not believe them. If someone says they love gardening, but never water the plants when they see they are dying of thirst, we would not believe them. It is the same with the claim to love Allah. If someone really loves Allah, they never need to say so, they don't need to - it is the most obvious thing about them. The love they have for Allah's creatures radiates out of them.

Being a Muslim always involves challenge and thought. We have to be consciously aware of ourselves and our motives all the time, and therefore we become involved in changing ourselves and the society in which we live, including the society of our own families. This does not mean that we should start annoying them by becoming over-zealous missionaries, in our own homes.

Sometimes people develop a rather irritating habit of 'preachifying', becoming religious snobs and looking down their noses at those they consider are not living up to their own high standards. This never delivers Allah's message; rather it drives people away from Allah.

The best way to draw others towards Allah is to be embodiments of Islam ourselves - to make sure of our own standards and life, and get on with it quietly, humbly, and cheerfully. If Allah honors us, then our examples will be seen by others as the meaning of lives lived in dedication to Allah. Don't become obnoxious to others. The way of setting a good example is attractive, and others will be drawn to Allah by us, insha'Allah.

In an environment like this society, where Muslims are in a minority, there can be a very dangerous tendency to turn in on ourselves and not only create a ghetto atmosphere, shutting out everyone outside the limited circle of 'our own' whether that be the family or the wider community, but also a kind of race to be the most pious. Sadly, when this competitiveness enters in, the reality of Muslim brotherhood and sisterhood seems to be the first thing to go out the door.

On the other hand it is always a sheer joy to be in the company of a genuinely saintly Muslim person - they radiate such gentleness and serenity that their beautiful and humble manner encourages you to strive to be like them, even if you cannot approach within a hundred miles of their wonderful conduct. We have to draw close to these people as much as we can.

There is another sort we must learn to avoid at all costs. Every community has its examples of them - the irritating, extremely pious believers (usually with no reluctance to let us know their opinions) who somehow, rather than setting us at ease, always manage to make us feel wrong because they are doing, or insisting upon, something that makes us feel uncomfortable and inferior.

This trait can be quite a common feature amongst people new to Islam and others who merely feel insecure and therefore crave attention and approval (or disapproval! - yes some people do crave disapproval, strange as it may seem), and people who either are very young and idealistic or perpetual adolescents.

There is some danger in this zealous 'holier-than-thou' attitude, for the persons themselves more than for anyone else. Some, in order not to be lumped together with less pretentious people, whom they dismiss with rather ignorant contempt as not Islamic enough, decide to sport particular styles of dress. This is a ploy designed to proclaim an Islamic identity, and, against the sunnah, to get these people noticed. We are not saying this with malice, because it is a kind of immaturity, rather than evil. Normally, such manifestations would go unnoticed in Muslim societies, but when it is done here as a badge proclaiming the wearer as Islamic (it is important to understand the difference between being a Muslim, one submitted to Allah, and being Islamic), those not doing it is, by implication, less than Islamic or tin-Islamic, then the attitude is not one becoming of a Muslim. It is the very opposite of modesty - it is showing off. -A glance at the attire worn by Muslim women in our communities will reveal an enormous range of cultural differences - from the plain, self-effacing dress of the Irardan woman in black, to the glittering Pakistani in shalwar/kameez and sequinned dupatta. If we glance further afield to Sudan, to the countries along the Silk Route, and to Malaysia, we would find a wonderful diversity of ways in which Muslim women dress in modest, and often pleasant, fashion. Similarly with men, the robes of the Arabs, long shirts and trousers of other peoples, the waist wrapper of the Malays, the turbans, Haiks, caps, and hats, there is a wonderful variety of ways of conferring to the sunnah of modesty.

I may have my personal opinions on these styles of dress, but I must realize that the clothes any of these Muslims wear are no indication whatsoever of how good or true their Islam is. It is quite possible that a Muslim modestly dressed according to the custom of the Western country they live in might live in humble and unassuming prayerful Islam, whereas a woman or man, dressed up in Islamic attire, whose faces (if one saw them) might well be swift to register disapproval of others' faults and shortcomings, might be unforgiving, hardhearted, bigoted and selfish.

So young Muslim men and women, don't be put off. We do need to be aware of and forewarned about, some of these matters that occur among Muslims to avoid falling into the same traps ourselves. Some of the earliest verses of the Qur'an are on the subject of the defects that can be found in those who profess Islam (in the case of the following ayats the profession of Islam is a conscious he). The warnings from Allah against them are stem indeed:-

"And of mankind are those who say, 'We believe in Allah and the Last Day,' while they are not believers. They are trying to trick Allah and the ones who do believe, and they do not trick any but themselves, but they do not perceive. In their hearts is a sickness. And Allah has intensified their sickness. And for them, there is a painful torment because of how they used to lie.

And when it is said to them, 'Do not spread mischief in the land, 'they say, 'We are the very ones who are putting things right.' No! Rather, they are the mischief makers but they do not realize.'
[Surah al-Baqarah; 2: 8-12].

Now these verses were revealed about those who profess Islam and do not accept it at all who are authentic 'hypocrites', as well as about certain groups among the Jews and the Christians. Yet many of us have elements of hypocrisy in us although we do genuinely affirm Islam. These people referred to in the verses, although they seem to be pious, treat other Muslims who do not happen to go along with them with contempt. Allah goes on to reveal this aspect and His response to it:-

"When it is said to them, 'Believe as the people believe!' they say, 'Shall we believe -as fools believe?' No! Rather it is they who are the fools but they do not know."
[Surah al-Baqarah; 2: 13].

They are not really to be trusted. They may be effusively friendly to us superficially, pretending to be enjoying our company for the sake of politeness, but they are only happy in the company of their clique of cronies.

"When they meet the ones who believe they say, 'We believe,' but when they go along with their Shaytans, they say, 'We are with you. We are only mocking."' [Surah al-Baqarah; 2: 14].

The result?

"Allah mocks them, and He leaves them in their rebellion wandering blindly. Those, they are the ones who have bartered guidance for error so that their trade does not profit them and they are not guided aright."
[Surah al-Baqarah; 2: 15-16]

Some people assume erroneously, on reading Surah al-Baqarah and Surah Al-Imran, that the above verses do not apply to Muslims at all, but are about the People of the Book who are also repeatedly mentioned elsewhere in the same surahs, i.e. the Jews and the Christians. Nevertheless, let the reader also consider that Allah Himself said that these people are among the ones who state that they believe in Allah and the Last Day (see 2: 8), in other words, they are either hypocrites among the Muslims, or, at least, they include such. We are safe in saying this for the commentators of the Qur'an are quite clear about this. A hypocrite is someone who is a disbeliever but pretends to be a Muslim. Nevertheless, all of us are open to an element of hypocrisy entering into an otherwise sincere and sound Islam.

Thus enthusiastic but divisive sectarians may believe they are the righteous ones, and may even believe they are the only ones on the right path. This in itself is the surest sign of the weakness of their Islam, for it is the mark of the real Muslim that he or she will question his or her sincerity before others. We do not say that they are the hypocrites intended by these ayats but there are uncomfortable echoes of the verses. Fortunately for us all, Allah Himself is more generous.

"Truly the ones who believe, and the ones who are Jews, and the Nasara (Nazarene Christians) and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and do right actions, then for them is their reward with their Lord, and there will be no fear for them nor shall they grieve."
[Surah al-Baqarah; 2: 62].

It is quite heartwarming for a struggling convert to Islam to turn aside from whatever discouragement he encounters from people and discover the encouragement of Allah, the Exalted Lord of the Worlds Himself. If we may paraphrase: Rejoice, be patient and persevere, for Allah knows everything you are going through. Don't be put off by anyone, care for nothing except Allah. This is a paraphrase of the good cheer that you can discern in the ayats of the Noble Qur'an for the struggling believer.

What is the advice of Allah concerning the unfortunate and off-putting behavior of people, remembering that the verses were revealed in the context of total hostile opposition from active disbelievers?-

"So pardon and turn away until Allah brings about His command. Truly Allah can do all things. And establish the prayer and produce the zakah (charitable tax on wealth). Whatever good you advance for your selves you will find it with Allah. Truly, Allah sees what you are doing.'
[Surah al-Baqarah; 2: 109-110].