Purification of the Heart: Derision (part 26)

Continuing our Ramadaan series, this post continues the book entitled “Purification of the Heart: Signs, Symptoms and Cures of the Spiritual Diseases of the Heart”Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson‘s translation and commentary of Imam Muḥammad Mawlūd’s didactic poem “Matharat al-Qulub” (purification of the heart). The Imam was a 19th century Mauritanian scholar. For notes on the copyright status of the book, as well as links to purchase your own copy, please see the introductory post of the series.



As for derision, tend to it with the same treatment used for arrogance, and with the knowledge that one’s purpose in [derision] is to humiliate someone.

Yet by doing that, a person actually humiliates himself with God and is recompensed with misfortune.

Also, treat it by knowing the severe warning that has come in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim about showing contempt for any Muslim.

Definition and Treatment

The next disease is derision, ridiculing people, making jest at their expense. Moses  told his people that God had commanded them to sacrifice a cow. They replied, “Are you mocking us?” Moses  then told them, “I seek refuge in God from being ignorant” (QUR’AN , 2:67). Hence, mocking people is a form of ignorance, whether it is lampooning, caricaturing, or name-calling. Humor and levity are important in human life. But levity as a way of life harms the spiritual heart. Furthermore, laughter and amusement at the expense of the dignity of others is wholly inappropriate, although it is the staple of the comedians of our day.

Imam Mawlūd says that the cure for the psychology and practice of mockery is similar to that of arrogance, since a person who mocks another most likely sees himself as superior to his victim. ʿAlī ibn AbīṬālib said, “Do not belittle anyone, for he may be a saint of God.” Even if one sees a man inebriated and bellicose, vomiting in the street, one should not ridicule him, for one does not know what his future holds. Imam al-Qurṭubī said, “When he was bowing down to idols in Mecca, ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb was still beloved to God.” Only God knows the seal of people and their destinies. A Moroccan proverb says, “Never mock any creature of God, for it might be beloved to He who created it.” The Qur’an says,

O you who believe, do not let people mock another people; for it may be that these are better than them; nor should women mock other women, for it may be that these are better than them. And do not taunt one another nor insult each other with nicknames (QUR’AN, 49:11).

God also commanded, “Do not revile those who call upon others apart from God, for they may then revile God out of ignorance” (QUR’AN , 6:108). This Qur’anic ethic guards against inciting people to do things that are sacrilegious and harmful to their own souls, for if people start to curse God, the Exalted, they invite the worse kind of harm. Even in the context of triumph, being boastful and exulting is ignoble. The Prophet  was never boastful when victorious. He was completely magnanimous and grateful to God, the Exalted. When he entered Mecca, his beloved city, during the final conquest, he entered it with his head bowed and granted clemency to its inhabitants even though they had tortured, mocked, and reviled him. He exemplified complete beauty in character rooted in compassion and mercy.

Supplicating God against one’s enemies is not forbidden; in fact, it is recommended that people ask for victory when being attacked or occupied. For example, the situation in occupied Palestine is extremely difficult and unjust. It is the Palestinians’ right to ask God to relieve them of the tyranny from which they suffer. However, it also important not to generalize and associate those who are peaceful with the true aggressors. The Prophet  spoke well of the Jews, Mukhayraq and Rifāʿah, and his own wife Ṣafiyyah had Jewish relatives that she continued to visit on Sabbath. The idea that all Jews are evil is as absurd as the idea that all Muslims are terrorists. In our interdependent and pluralistic world, avoiding the pre-modern attitudes that set groups against one another has never been more important. Many Jewish thinkers have condemned the occupation and are among the most vociferous critics of Israeli injustice. An example of an excellent prayer to make when oppressed or occupied is al-Duʿā’ al-Nāṣirī which was written by a Moroccan scholar. In fact, many Moroccans believe that Morocco was freed from the French because that particular prayer was read nationwide during the French occupation.

People can be transformed. The opponents of the Prophet  were particularly vicious against Muslims. Hind actually bit into the liver of the Prophet’s uncle, Ḥamzah, when he was martyred at the Battle of Uḥud. However, she later became Muslim, and hence became a Companion of the Prophet , a member of that special generation of humanity. In fact, she even narrated hadith that can be found in the well-known compilations. Repentance is a recourse that the Lord of the Worlds has given humanity. Reflecting on the ethic that the Qur’an communicates to us in the aforementioned passages reveals that there is strength in dealing nobly with people. It is simply a better way to live. The treatment for derision is to realize that the essence of mockery is to humiliate people. Those who mock people in this life shall be mocked in the Hereafter, for it is a divine law that God recompenses people with the like of what they have done.

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