Munqidh As-Saqqar presents the Islamic perspective on the seemingly harmless act of joking.
Generally, people believe that those who carry a happy-go-lucky attitude and indulge in excessive laughter are genuinely successful people. They may be the spark plug of a party but there is also a critical downside to this behaviour. Getting carried away to any extreme is strongly disliked in Islam, even if it means cracking jokes and making others laugh.
One may argue that laughing simply brings a few happy moments into the lives of others. However, it hardly stops there. This innocent intention unconsciously and at times deliberately hurts feelings, injures relationships, and creates animosity. Likewise, the person initiating excessive laughter loses his dignity and becomes impassive to other’s feelings.
A Muslim is expected to be serious as he was not created for the purpose of joking and amusement. When joking diverts a person from the purpose of his creation, which is to worship Allah (swt), it becomes dispraised. Excessive joking, which makes a person laugh too much, leads to the heart becoming hardened. The Prophet (sa) said: “Do not laugh too much, because excessive laughter kills your heart.” (Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, and Ahmad)
The heart of a Muslim has to be alive and tender, so that he should be able to execute his struggle against Satan. Excessive joking will lead the heart to heedlessness. Satan pledged to distract the mankind and to misguide them. Allah (swt) says: “Iblees (Satan) said (to Allah (swt)): ‘By Your Might, I will surely mislead them all, except, among them, Your chosen servants.'” (Sad 38: 82-83)
Moreover, heedlessness is a characteristic of disbelievers. Allah (swt) says: “Then woe that Day to the deniers. Who are in (empty) discourse amusing themselves.” (At-Toor 52: 11-12) On the Day of Judgement, the disbelievers will be asked: “What put you into Saqar (i.e., Hellfire).” (Al-Muddaththir 74: 42) They will reply: “…We used to enter into vain discourse with those who engaged (in it).” (Al-Muddaththir 74: 45)
Joking becomes prohibited, when it involves un-Islamic behaviour, such as:
Once, a group of the Prophet’s (sa) companions were on a trip. While one of them was sleeping, some others took the arrows of the sleeping one, which he kept for self-defence. When he woke up, he was frightened, due to losing them, so the others started laughing. Thereupon, the Prophet (sa) asked them: “What makes you laugh?” They replied: “Nothing, it’s just that we took this man’s arrows and that scared him.” Hearing this, the Prophet (sa) said: “It is not lawful for a Muslim to scare his fellow Muslim.” (Ahmad and Abu Dawood)
Lying while joking
The Prophet (sa) said: “Woe to the one, who tells lies to make people laugh, woe to him, woe to him.” (Tirmidhi, Abu Dawood and Darimi)
Abu Hurairah (rta) narrated that people said to the Prophet (sa): “You joke with us.” He replied: “I do but I only say that which is true.” (Tirmidhi & Ahmad)
Joking that may cause harm to others
Abu Hurairah (rta) narrated that the Prophet (sa) said: “None of you should point his weapon at his brother, as Satan may provoke him (to hurt his brother) and as a result, he would fall into a pit of Fire.” (Bukhari)
Joking which transgresses the limits of Allah (swt)
Joking could exceed the limits and reach to a point of committing major sins, such as mocking Quranic verses, the Prophet (sa), Islamic rules or Muslim scholars – just like the hypocrites did on the day of the battle of Tabook, when they mocked the Prophet (sa) and his companions. Due to this, Allah (swt) revealed the following verses: “And if you ask them, they will surely say: ‘We were only conversing and playing.’ Say: ‘Is it Allah (swt) and His verses and His Messenger that you were mocking?’ Make no excuse; you have disbelieved (i.e., rejected faith) after your belief.” (At-Tawbah 9: 65-66)
On many occasions, the Prophet (sa) used to joke. This certainly indicates that joking is lawful, provided it does not contain any of the mentioned prohibitions. The Prophet (sa) did not joke merely for entertainment-his jokes included instructions for his companions.
Joking for endearment
“Once, the Prophet (sa) went to visit Suhayb (rta), who was sick with an eye ailment. When he entered, Suhayb (rta) was eating dates, so the Prophet (sa) said to him jokingly: ‘Are you eating dates, while you have a sore eye!’ He replied: ‘I’m using the other eye to see.’ Thereupon, the Prophet (sa) smiled.” (Ibn Majah)
Joking for reforming the companions
“Khawwat Ibn Jubayr Al-Ansari (rta) was sitting with some women from the tribe of Banu Kab on the road leading to Makkah listening to their talk. The Prophet (sa) came across him there and asked him: ‘O Abu Abdullah, what are you doing sitting with these ladies?’ He replied: ‘I lost my camel and came looking for it’ (as a false excuse). The Prophet (sa) left him and went to take care of some affairs.
After a while Prophet (sa) returned and teased Khawwat (rta) saying: ‘O Abu Abdullah, has your camel given up running away from you yet?’ Khawwat (rta) said: ‘I was embarrassed and kept silent, and was avoiding him after that (because the Prophet (sa) realised that Khawwat (rta) was just trying to justify his sitting with the women), until we went back to Madinah.
When he saw me in the mosque, while I was praying, he sat down next to me, waiting for me to finish my prayer. Due to this, I prolonged my prayer. He (sa) said: ‘Don’t prolong your prayer, as I am waiting for you.’ When I finished my prayer, he teased me again: ‘O Abu Abdullah, has your camel given up running away from you yet?’ I was embarrassed and kept silent.
I kept avoiding him until one day he saw me, while he was riding his donkey and said: ‘O Abu Abdullah, has your camel given up running away from you yet?’ I replied: ‘I swear by Him, Who sent you with the truth, my camel has never run away from me, since I became a Muslim’ (i.e., confessing his sin, which the Prophet (sa) was trying to teach him to do by his joke). The Prophet (sa) said: ‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, O Allah, guide Abu Abdullah.’ After this, Khawwat Ibn Jubayr Al-Ansari became a much better Muslim.” (Tabarani)
The companions of the Prophet (sa) were the most serious of people, yet they used to joke. Bukhari mentioned in his book Al-Adab Al-Mufrad: “The companions used to play by throwing watermelon skins at each other, but when it was time for seriousness, they were real men.”