2:8-10 Hypocrisy – its origins and signs
Hypocrisy – how it originated and what are the signs
Hypocrisy is a disease of the heart. Just like heart disease, very often people do not even realise they have it. If they do not seek a cure for it, their disease spreads aggressively and leads to dire consequences personally, as well as for those around them who suffer from their machinations.
And of the people are some who say, ‘We believe in Allah and the Last Day,’ but they are not believers. (2:8)
They [think to] deceive Allah and those who believe, but they deceive not except themselves and perceive [it] not. (2:9)
In their hearts is disease, so Allah has increased their disease; and for them is a painful punishment because they [habitually] used to lie. (2:10)
The origins of hypocrisy
Hypocrisy was born in Madinah. Why? In Makkah, with its hostility and persecution of Muslims, the only ones who embraced Islam were genuinely convinced of its truth. However in Madinah, Islam became the dominant religion and ultimately of the entire region, so not everyone who became Muslim believed in Islam and there was now a mix of those whose belief was superficial, and for some a deception. In addition, there was resentment from the upper classes towards the lower classes who had converted first, as well as between different tribes.
Without sincerity, people’s egos, jealousies and desire for power keeps bubbling unchecked. In a hypocrite it is veiled behind a façade. Allah Almighty exposes this façade which fools the hypocrites themselves more than anyone else. They think they are being clever but in fact they are buried in deep darkness. Their duplicity means their affiliation is slippery. In the Prophet’s (peace be on him) time, they would say one thing to believers and the opposite to fellow troublemakers.
The impact of hypocrisy on Islam’s early history
In Surah al Ahzab we are told of the hypocrites’ plot against the Prophet (peace be on him). They would retreat from battle out of cowardice but under the pretext that their homes might be attacked in their absence. And their motivation was most often self-gain. Abdullah ibn Ubayy bin Salul was a leader of the Khazraj tribe in Madinah whose leadership was eclipsed by the arrival and leadership of Muhammad (peace be on him). Though Ubayy converted, he was the leader of the hypocrites, and continually undermined the Prophet (peace be on him), sided with his enemies and fanned vicious rumours, in particular of Aisha’s (may Allah be pleased with her) infidelity.
Stirring up trouble for the sincere followers of Islam, who had been trying to follow it as purely as possible, it was the hypocrites who stoked enmity between Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her) and Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) and they mobilised the two to go into battle against each other. Later they assassinated Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him), and protected the person who assassinated Umar (may Allah be pleased with him). Hypocrisy was the root of the first schism in Islam as the Shi’a’s broke away from Sunnis.
Hypocrisy in our reality
Hypocrisy started in Madinah, but continues today and this is why so many ayahs are dedicated to this topic. Allah Almighty is warning us to be truthful to ourselves and to Him, because he sees through us. Hypocrites lack a firm belief and so do not appreciate that Allah Almighty’s words are the truth and that there are consequences for their actions. They mistake their petty gains for reality, trading a small profit for an eternal loss. Many of the hypocrites were very knowledgeable people. They did not lack intelligence, they lacked sincerity.
Allah Almighty wants all our dealings to be straight. Truthfulness is an essential trait of a believer, and it leads to trustworthiness. A hypocrite does not say what he believes and cannot be trusted.
Ironically, the most trusted people, the companions of the Prophet (peace be on him) who were committed to him, were never complacent about this. They continually questioned their motivation because they wanted to ensure that their actions were based on sincere intention. They feared showing off or falling short in their deeds. Ibn Abi Mulaykah said, ‘I met thirty of the Companions of the Prophet (peace be on him), all of whom feared being hypocrites, and none of them ever said that he had faith equivalent to that of Jibreel and Mika’eel (peace be upon them)’. So a true believer is always vigilant about his/her self.
What are the signs of a hypocrite?
It is tricky to self-diagnose, because hypocrites become numb to their condition. Warning bells should ring if you these signs are apparent:
- Immersion in desire for worldly gain.
- Primary aim is doing well in this life with no concern for the afterlife.
- Feel superior to others.
- Do not keep promises
- Cannot be trusted
- Tell lies or deceive others or behave in a differently with different people
The Prophet (peace be on him) said in his hadith, if a person displays all three traits, they are a hypocrite.
How can I avoid being hypocritical?
- Do not look down on others. (Whether it is their knowledge, class or their style of practicing Islam. There is no room in Islam for arrogance.
- Do not have double standards – be consistent. You should not have a different public and private self. You should be yourself with everyone.
- Keep sincere friends. The word for friend ‘sadeeq’ in Arabic is the one who tells you the truth. Good friends are like mirrors; they tell you the truth about yourself. A true friend isn’t the one who is always praising you. A real friend tells you when you have done something wrong, kindly. Imagine if the mirror deceived you? We need to improve each other and help each other in a nice way. This is the believer to his brother.
- Always check your intention. Did you do something for praise or did you do it genuinely for the sake of Allah Almighty?
- When you have done something for the wrong reasons, acknowledge it to yourself.
May Allah Almighty make us from those who are honest and trustworthy and protect us from the self-deception of hypocrisy. May Allah Almighty keep our hearts soft and may our words reflect our hearts. Ameen.
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