The Qur’an commands that people should not make fun of, embarrass, or ridicule one another, nor call each other by unbecoming nicknames. This is an important principle if there are to be good relations among people in a community.
O you who believe! Let not some people among you deride another people, it may be that the latter are better than the former; nor let some women deride other women, it may be that the latter are better than the former. Nor defame one another (and provoke the same for yourselves in retaliation), nor insult one another with nicknames (that your brothers and sisters dislike). Evil is using names with vile meaning after (those so addressed have accepted) the faith (– doing so is like replacing a mark of faith with a mark of transgression). Whoever (does that and then) does not turn to God in repen- tance, (giving up doing so), those are indeed wrongdoers. (Hujurat 49:11)
Here I will address the issues in this verse, using Elmalili Hamdi Yazir as a source, but attempting to simplify his ideas. After the verse opens with a call to believers to conscientiously treat each other well, it inspires believers to do so with the great- est sincerity, indicating that this will make it possible for many more nations and people to perceive and accept the beauty of Islam. Then, this verse goes on from generally fostering brother- hood to teaching people the adab of how to treat each other, both face to face and when apart. There were several events that occa- sioned the revelation of this verse:
1. According to a narration from Dahhaq, several people from the tribe of Banu Tamim teased and mocked Companions like Bilal al-Habashi, Habbab, Ammar, Suhayb, Abu Dharr, Salim, and Mawla Hudayfa.
2. Aisha said she used to tease Zaynab bint Huzayma al-Hila- liyya for being short. Likewise she and Hafsa talked be- tween themselves about how short Umm Salama was.
3. Ibn Abbas relates that Safiyya bint Huyayy once came to the Messenger and said, “The women call me ‘Jew, daughter of a Jew’ to tease me.” The Messenger replied, “Why do you not reply, ‘My father was Aaron, my uncle was Moses, and my husband is Muhammad’?”
4. Thabit ibn Qays was partially deaf and therefore when he was near the Prophet, other people would let him through the crowd so he could come closer to hear. One day he came and started going through the others, saying, “Move, make room.” One man did not pay attention, and Thabit became offended and asked, “Who is this?” The man told him his name. The other retorted, “No, you are the son of the woman who—” attributing him to a woman known for indecency. The man was embarrassed, and when this verse was revealed, Thabit never talked about nobleness by birth again.
5. Ikrima, the son of Abu Jahl (Islam’s most determined en- emy), became Muslim, but he was called “Son of the Pharaoh of the community of believers.” This upset him and he told the Prophet about it.41
According to Qurtubi, to mock someone means that one is looking down on them, insulting them, putting them down, and talking about their faults in order to ridicule them. Razi says from a community point of view, mocking another person means “showing one’s believing brother or sister less than their deserved respect and honor, approaching them in an uncomplimentary way.” In the above verse the words qawm (tribe) and nisa (wom- en) are used, which in Arabic denotes the men and the women of the community. There are other linguistic clues as well which prove this. The concept of the community is important in this verse in several ways:
1. It serves as a reminder that Islam is not a religion solely for private practice, but is meant to be lived as a community.
2. It shows that mocking others can cause serious problems and individuals must cease to practice such behavior.
3. The verse also implies that this action or habit on the part of one individual becomes like a sickness that affects the whole community, as a person who mocks others will al- ways have some hangers-on laughing at the jokes and try- ing to become their friend by doing the same. If any ques- tion remains as to why such actions are forbidden, every believer should be concerned about the final reason: It may be that, in God’s sight, the one who is mocked is ac- tually better than the one who is mocking. For we can on- ly know the outer appearance of others; God alone knows their hearts. We are not capable of knowing what level of value a person has in front of God. Therefore, no one has the right to belittle, look down on, or make fun of anoth- er person because of some outward appearance or action; this may be misleading. If the person we mock is greatly loved by God and we show them disrespect, then surely we will have wronged our own soul as well as that of the person. In other words, making fun of others is wrong in two ways: First, if a Muslim mocks another believer, they are mocking themselves, since we are all like one body. Second, if a person does something shameful, it brings shame most of all on their own soul. Thus, the verse can be paraphrased like this: “Do not mock, embarrass, or be- little believers; for to do so is to mock, embarrass, and be- little yourself.” Or, if we look at it from the second aspect, “When you make a fool of someone or demean them, the result is that you have made a fool of yourself and besmirched your own name.” In other words, the first meaning is more to do with brotherhood, while the second meaning pertains to the honor and dignity of our individual soul.
A nickname is given either to honor someone or to bring them down in some way. The verse uses the word nabz to refer to epithets with derogatory meanings; these are forbidden. On the other hand, it is permissible to give or use positive epithets. According to Kashshaf, the Prophet said, “One of the rights of a believer over his believing brother is to be called by the name he loves most.” This is why giving a beautiful epithet is Sunna, in ac- cordance with the Prophet’s example. Some of the Companions had such kunya, or respectful but intimate names. Most societies have such epithets. But any kind of derogatory term of abuse should be avoided. Calling someone by a derogatory name is fisq, or deviant, immoral behavior, so a person doing this is considered to be ignoring the ethics of Islam. This is a very serious situation for anyone to find themselves in. Knowing that this brings serious punishment and a state that is less than true practice and belief, one should actively and carefully avoid calling other people names or mocking them.42
MAKING A MOCKERY OF FAITH
Another related topic addressed in the Qur’an is a type of hypoc- risy. This occurs when people act one way while with believers, but make fun of the believers when they are not with them, thus showing their hidden identity. Just as believers should not make fun of one another, they should also exercise common sense and avoid making themselves the butt of others’ jokes by speaking of their beliefs among people who may mock them once they leave. In Sura Baqara it is written:
When they meet those who believe, they declare (hypocritically), “We believe”; but when they are alone in secret with their (apparently human) satans (to whom they hasten in need to renew their unbelief and their pledge to them for fear of losing their support), they say, “Assuredly we are with you; we only mock (those others).” (Since what they do only means demanding straying and ridicule,) God returns their mockery, leaving them to wander blindly on in their rebellion. Such are the ones who have bought straying in exchange for guidance, but their trade has brought no profit, and they have no way out to escape it. (Baqara 2:14–16)
There is no question about how despicable this kind of behav- ior is morally; such people cannot be called believers. They show a friendly, fawning face toward believers while they are with them, but only so that they can hide their true, malicious intentions. Then when they get together with the evildoing mischief-makers, they say, “We are truly with you and were only acting; trust us.” The more they swear their allegiance, the more they are actually confirming their treachery, pitting themselves against the believers with their fellow conspirators. Such an action is against basic de- cency and morality, as these people are mocking and devaluing be- lief itself; thus, it is easy to understand why such an attitude is one of the markers of unbelief (kufr).
To ridicule someone, even in jest, means to violate their hon- or and dignity. Most people who make fun of believers do not have the courage to insult them; if they do, then insult reflects badly on the person uttering it, not on the one they are insulting. But when people insult believers, God and the whole universe will hold them in contempt, whether they realize it or not, even if they think that their action is concealed. Without a doubt it must be the greatest burden to have such a thing on one’s conscience.43
Gulcu, Dr. Musa Kazim. “Good Character” Tughra Books Press. February 2009.
- November 13, 2013
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