We are all drawn to people with a good sense of humour. Humour has the power of warming people’s hearts and lifting the spirits like no other human characteristic, and it provides a welcome break amidst the pressures of life.
Humour and joking are permitted in Islam. We learn this from several ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Abu Huraira radi allahu anhu said that the Prophet peace be upon him was told, “O Prophet of Allah, you are joking with us.” He said, “I only say what is true.” (Tirmidhi) Another Hadith relates that the Prophet would nickname Zainab bint Salama by repeatedly calling her ‘O Zuweinab’.
Other ahadith relate that the Prophet peace be upon him would play and joke with small children. Thus we see that joking is a Sunnah. Sufyan ibn Aiyna was asked, “Is joking prohibited?” He replied, “It is a Sunnah, but the point is that it must be done appropriately.” Many of the scholars agree. Umar said, “I admire a man who is like a child with his family (playful), and once he leaves them, he is more serious.” Thabit ibn Ubaid said, “Zayd ibn Thabit was one of the most humorous men in his home. Outside of his home, he was as serious as any man.” It is also related that Ibn Abbas asked some of his guests to have light and humorous conversation so that they would have a good time and not feel bored.
Rabi’a said, “Virtue is made of six parts, three while in town (at the place of your home) and three while on journey. The first three are reciting the Qur’an, frequently being at the mosque, and spreading the way of Allah to other lands. The other three parts while travelling are spending, showing virtuous behaviour and joking in what Allah has permitted.” Ibn Abbas said, “Joking appropriately is permissible. For the Prophet joked but he said what was true.” Al ibn Ahmad Al Faraheedi said, “People would feel imprisoned if they did not joke”
On the other hand, some of the scholars have prohibited joking and they are supported by some ahadith. It is related that the Prophet said, “Do not be vague with others and do not joke.” (Tirmidhi) Another Hadith states that the Prophet said, “Everything has a beginning and hostility begins with joking.” Ja’far ibn Muhammad said, “Beware of joking for it causes embarrassment.” Ibrahim Al Nakh’I said, “Joking shows foolishness and arrogance.” Imam ibn Abdul Bar said, “Some of the scholars denounced joking for what it causes of offences, spite and malice between people.”
So how are we to compromise between these two views? Al Hafeth said, “What is prohibited is exaggerated or continuous joking as it distracts from worship of Allah and being serious about religious matters. This often leads to hard-heartedness, envy and loss of respect. Useful joking, which aims to calm people or entertain or relieve them for a short time is permissible.”
Types of Joking:
According to ibn Hayan, there are two types of joking.
The first is preferred and defined as, “That which Allah has permitted, which commits no sin and does not lead to separation between people.”
The second is the negative harmful type, which is defined as, “Causes hostilities and sadness, and creates disrespect amongst people.”
Outlining some of the benefits and harms of joking is beneficial in that it entertains, lifts the spirit and lightens the burdens of life, bringing people closer together. In describing this kind of joking, a man wrote, “Such humour does not hurt or criticize anyone. It leads a person from sadness to happiness, ceases the frown an allows people to relax and be themselves.” Joking defeats its purpose when it separates people, causes hostilities and envy between them.
Guidelines for Humour:
• Joking should not deviate from the truth. The Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him said, “I only say what is true.”
• Joking should not become consistent in a person’s manner, for seriousness is also a virtue. Muhammad ibn Ar Rashid said, “The issues of Islam are more serious than to be dealt with jokingly. Smiling, joking, relaxing and laughing are certainly welcome at appropriate times and places. But at times of work, seriousness is called for.
• Bad language or reference to improper topics of conversation may not be subject of jokes.
• Joking must be at the appropriate time and place. Dr Adel Shuweikh said, “Humour is most welcome after the Fajr prayer. He is supported by what has been related by Sammak ibn Harb, “I asked Jaber ibn Samra if he spent time with the Prophet and he said, “Yes, the Prophet would often not leave the mosque after the Fajr prayer until the sun rose. They would be laughing and he would be smiling.” (Muslim).
He also said, “Another time for making light was after the ‘Isha prayer. Humour is permitted with family uncles and siblings. It is more preferred if it serves the purpose of advice and guidance, or if it creates friendship and warmth between people.” It is up to the person to decide whether the time is right for humour.
Thus it can be seen that it is the topic of humour and its effects, which determine whether or not it is permissible by Islam. Imam Nawawi said, “Joking is prohibited when it is excessive and consistent. It becomes ineffective and causes the heart to harden. It distracts a person from worship of Allah and concern with religious issues. It often causes harm, envy and disrespect. If these elements are absent from a joke, then it is what is permissible by Islam. The Prophet would use humour to reach people and draw them together.”
In any case, being modest and natural will, much of the time, serve the same purpose as joking. This is useful for people whom jokes do not come naturally. It is good to always remember in mind that humour must have a purpose in order to be fruitful. Joking is like adding salt to food. It must be measured and we must remember that some people do not eat food with salt. In other words, it is inappropriate to joke with some people.
Adh-Dhahabi related that Khalaf ibn Salim said, “We were at Yazeed ibn Haroun’s and he made a joke. Ahmad ibn Hambal cleared his throat, and Yazeed said, ‘Who cleared his throat?’ When he found out who it had been, he put his hand on his forehead and cried, ‘Why didn’t you tell me Ahmad ibn Hambal was here, so I would not joke?”
At other times, joking may cause you to lose dignity. It is said, “Do not joke with children to the extent that they lose respect for you.” Ibn Hayan said, “Whoever jokes with an inappropriate person will lose that person’s respect, even if what he is saying is true. One should be selective with whom he jokes.” Ibn Al Muqafa’ said, “One should separate his behaviour between two groups of people. One group is made up of public. Here he should be serious and purposeful with every word he speaks. The other group is made up of people who are closer to him. With this group, he should be humorous and caring. Each of these behaviours will be beneficial and productive in the right place.”
Try to understand the people you deal with, in order to decide whether or not it is appropriate to joke with them. Such was the way of the Prophet, for he would not joke with all his friends. Here are a few points to keep in mind. Although it may seem common sense that we should be respectful when joking but many of us end up hurting someone’s feelings unintentionally. Humour is a great way to diffuse a bad situation, or ease an uncomfortable one but it must be used appropriately. Just as a knife is useful and necessary to prepare food, so it can cause you to bleed. Many people don’t realize it, but sarcasm is anger thinly veiled.
Points to remember:
• Is this time a right time to joke?
• Is this an appropriate person to joke with?
• Is this an appropriate topic to joke about?
• Is this the right place?
Also remember these points while joking:
• Never criticize while joking.
• Do not impose jokes if they do not come naturally.
• Beware of excessive joking with certain individuals.
• Show respect to the person you are joking with, as the Prophet Muhammad did when he told a man he was joking with, “In the eyes of Allah you are great.”
• Monitor yourself when you are feeling humorous.
• Maintain good behaviour with people who make a mistake when joking with you. Do not answer harshly or stare back.
• It is better not to joke with someone when you meet for the first time.
We must be careful to maintain a Muslim code of behaviour and never harm another Muslim through humiliation or insensitivity. While joking we should implement all the above-mentioned points and maintain a good Muslim personality.