THERE WAS A teacher at my school who used to have his own canon of English grammar. Naturally, from the first moment he uttered his very first sentence in his first ever lecture, he became the laughing stock of the whole class and stimulated the highly developed brains of the genius comedians among us.
Absurdities are ridiculous. Sometimes they trigger ridiculously absurd hilarity.
But what if you’re at the other end of this hilarity-equation?
When I was in school, I used to be very shy. (I still am, some would say. Others would scoff at the former’s preposterous mistake.) I used to talk very little, and whenever I would open my mouth, it would be either to consume a whole chicken bun, or to say something very witty that would awe the audience. But it would come out as plain awkward. (The wit, I mean, not the bun.) Even the chicken in the bun probably laughed at me sometimes.
One day after school, I was waiting for my grandfather to take me home. There were a few other girls hanging out with me, very kind of them I thought. One of them, tired of my continued silence for about half an hour, proposed to the others, “Let’s play at who can keep mum the longest.” So they all remained silent for about a minute, and then burst out laughing.
Imagine my remembering this ridiculously insignificant incident after all this time.
Can you hear the faint echoes of an embarrassing moment of your life? How did you feel if people made fun of your personality, grammar, accent, clothes, the food you eat, or the way you dress your hair? It hurts, doesn’t it? And what if one sunny morning you open your inbox or Facebook page and the very first thing you see is a hairstyling-joke meme that mocks at your own recently cut and lovingly dressed hair? Probably it’ll haunt you for the rest of the day, or at least when you look in the mirror. And it will cost you some bucks, and hurt looks from your hairdresser for such an early revisit.
This is exactly why the Quran forbids scoffing:
Believers, no one group of men should jeer at another, who may after all be better than them; No one group of women should jeer at another, who may after all be better than them; Do not speak ill of one another; Do not use offensive nicknames for one another. How bad it is to be called a mischief-maker after accepting faith! Those who do not repent of this behaviour are evildoers. [Sûrat Al-Hujarat, 49:11]
Yaskhar (to jeer), explains Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan, founder of Bayyinah Institute, “… is to put somebody down in any way…their physical ability, how fat they are … their accent, their glasses, their clothes, their neighbourhood, their car, their computer, their phone, … you just find something to make fun of. Don’t do that. Don’t put people down like that. Good healthy fun is something else.”
Similarly, Lamaza (to speak ill of) is to “find flaws in someone and bring them out whether they are true or not… to be condescending towards someone, to put somebody’s morale down, to take away their self-confidence.”
Don’t get me wrong. The Quran doesn’t forbid healthy fun. It’s perfectly okay, perhaps even recommended, to laugh with people, but not to laugh at them.
Think of how many people we may have hurt unintentionally, just by liking, making, and promoting jokes about their traits, peculiarities or quirks. We may have thought it a good joke, but it may have cut deeply in their hearts. Not everyone defends themselves against such attacks. People whose hearts bleed will suppress it in fear of further ridicule, of being accused of “not being a sport.”
The joke may be a momentary mood booster for us, but it may come back with its evil, haunting laugh in the lives of those who are targeted by it.
A person utters a word thoughtlessly and, because of this, he will fall into the fire of Hell deeper than the distance between the east and the west. (Bukhâri and Muslim)
And what if, as Allah warned in the above âyah, this person is better than you and me in the eyes of Allah?
What would a doting mother do if you hurt her favourite child? Allah is above all likeness. His love for us is said to way surpass a mother’s love for her child.
I won’t leave myself or you with the baggage of guilt. It’s part of good self-development strategy to objectively analyse areas of Shayṭân’s hold over us and to plan an effective defence strategy. Here are some tips for self-improvement, taken from my personal agenda:
- Duʿa’. Duʿa’. And more duʿa’.Here’s a beautiful duʿa’ from the Prophet ﷺ:O Allah, … I seek refuge in You lest I cause or suffer wrong. (Abu Dawud, graded ṣaḥîḥ by Al-Albani)
- Improve your empathy-barometer. Try to read people’s hearts through their eyes, and to understand their emotions from their body language. We don’t want to hurt others intentionally, and being aware of the possibility of causing them pain will immediately put us on our guard.
- Constant vigilance (Pottermores out there, remember Mad-Eye moody?) Be on the watch. And be a scientist, not a judge. Instead of criticizing and punishing yourself, analyse your behavior and figure out some practical ways of correcting it.
- Watch out for gatherings where your tongue seems to loosen by itself. When we’re around certain people or groups, we feel an incomprehensible compulsion of making stooges of others and need to work extra hard to refrain from it.
- Respect elders. When someone younger than you hurts or insults you, the pain is worse. The Prophet ﷺ said,He is not one of us who does not have mercy on our young and does not respect our elders. (Tirmidhi, ḥasan)
- Respect cultural norms. In my culture, for example, it’s extremely disrespectful to call elders by name.So if a guy calls his mother-in-law, “Hey, Nilufa, could you get me some more parathas?” he’ll be surprised to find himself a hot topic of gossip and baleful looks from the aunties.
- Respect yourself. Inferiority complex fuels the need to put others down. Build up your self-esteem, without falling into arrogance.
It’s very satisfying to laugh, no doubt. But we need to sift through the sources of laugh available out there and pick only the healthy sort.
So laugh out loud, and share your laughter with others. The fun will multiply manifolds, insha Allah.
The Qur’an: A new translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem. Oxford, 2005.
Nouman Ali Khan, Tafsir of 49:11 in Quran Cover to Cover, Bayyinah.tv.