Ghazali on Joking. Laugh with others, not at them.

Ghazali on Joking. Laugh with others, not at them.

Can Muslims take a joke?

Imam Ghazali’s book, Kitaab Al-Arba’in Fi Usul ad-Din, ‘The Forty Principles of the Religion,’ which he wrote before his death, is a summary of Ihya Ulumuddin, and his life’s works and thoughts.

In his chapter entitled Tazkiya al Qulub, ‘The Purification of the Heart’, he pinpoints blameworthy characteristics which we need to extract from our heart, in particular he focuses on five common evils of the tongue:

  1. Lying
  2. Backbiting
  3. Arguing
  4. Joking
  5. Praise

Muzzah – Joking

The fourth ailment of the tongue is joking, as too much of it increases laughter  and causes the heart to die and provokes malice and takes away dignity. The Prophet (peace be on him) said:

“Do not laugh too much, for laughing deadens the heart.” (Tirmidhi and Ibn Maajah)

Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

 “Verily, a man might speak a word to make those around him laugh, yet by it he plunges farther than the star of Pleiades.” (Musnad Ahmed)

A person who is mocking and teasing to entertain others and not careful in what he chooses to say may land himself in a lot of problems through his lack of judgement.

Islam does not lack a sense of humour

Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) used to say:

Entertain your hearts. And seek humour and light over wisdom.

The heart can be bored as the body can tired. Thus humour refreshes the heart. And halal entertainment is permissible.

Abdullah bin Masood said entertain your hearts and get comfort because a heart which is forced to do things constantly goes blind, so it needs an outlet.

In Islam we have humour, but we have conditions as well to put the limits on what can or cannot be mocked. If your jokes are harmless there is no issue.

Ibn Abbas reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

 “Do not argue with your brother, do not excessively joke with him, and do not make a promise for him only to break it.” (Tirmidhi)

1. A joke must not be lie

The Prophet (peace be on him) set the boundaries of what can and cannot be said in jest and thus taught us how to make jokes ‘shariah compliant’.

Foremost, it is not permissible to lie. Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

 It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, do you joke with us?”

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Verily, I do not say anything but the truth.” (Tirmidhi)

We see here that honesty has to be a consistent quality. It was important for honesty to be one of the defining features of the Prophet (peace be on him) as he had to carry the divine message, and so it was important that nothing that he uttered could be misconstrued, even in jest.

A believer is not at liberty to play games with the truth, to be honest sometimes, and lie at others, even when joking. Islam makes a clear distinction between what is right and wrong and what is true and what is false.

Mu’adh ibn Jabal reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

“I guarantee a house on the outskirts of Paradise, a house in the middle of Paradise, and a house in the highest part of Paradise for one who gives up arguing even if he is right, who gives up lying even while joking, and who makes his character excellent.” (al-Mu’jam al-Kabir)

2.     A joke must not be at the expense of someone or harm them

In Islam, you can laugh with others but not at them.

A joke must not belittle others. This is haram. You might break someone’s heart or life by ridiculing them, which is bullying. In Surat al-Hujurat Allah Almighty says:

Believers, let not a group (of men) scoff at another group, it may well be that the latter (at whom they scoff) are better than they; nor let a group of women scoff at another group, it may well be that the latter are better than they. And do not taunt one another, nor revile one another by nicknames. It is an evil thing to gain notoriety for ungodliness after belief. Those who do not repent are indeed the wrong-doers. (49:11)

Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said:

“A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, so he should not oppress him nor should he hand him over to an oppressor. Whoever fulfilled the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfil his needs; whoever brought his (Muslim)


Allah prohibited the sarcasm sukhria as it knocks people’s confidence and makes it hard for them to pick themselves up.

Psychology today gives insight into how sarcasm can be particularly hurtful and is used a weapon to put others down:

Sarcasm comes from the Greek sarkasmos, which means “the tearing of flesh.” The intention behind sarcasm may be to be humorous or playful, but there is frequently an element of poorly disguised hostility or judgment. When we grow up in families in which sarcasm is frequently used, there can be an insensitivity to others’ sensitivity to it. It can feel hurtful or hostile to the person on the receiving end of it. It frequently diminishes a feeling of trust and safety, provoking feelings of anxiety or defensiveness due to never knowing when the other shoe is going to drop.

Sarcasm is a thinly veiled attempt to disguise feelings of angerfear, or hurt. It can be a means of diminishing feelings of vulnerability that may be experienced in the willingness to acknowledge the underlying feelings. When the deliverer of the sarcasm gets angry or defensive at the recipient of it for “taking things too personally” or being “too sensitive,” they are trying to invalidate the other’s feelings and avoid feeling guilty or responsible for causing them pain.

3.     Joke in moderation

The Prophet (peace be on him) had a sense of humour but he did not make jokes all the time. There are many instances of his playfulness and light-heartedness such as when he raced with Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her). She reported:

She was with the Prophet (peace be upon him), while on a journey. Aisha said, “I raced him on foot and I outran him, but when I gained some weight, I raced him again and he outran me. The Prophet said: This is for that race.” (Sunan Abi Dawoud)

Ibn Kathir said:

“It was the character of the Prophet to live in a beautiful manner with his wives, being cheerful and kind to them, generously spending on them, and laughing with them.”

4.     Anything sacred must be respected not ridiculed

A joke must not make fun of Allah and His Messenger (peace be on him). They are to be glorified not trivialised. Jokes must not poke fun at the religion, or aspects of religion such as hellfire. There are many jokes about people who went to hell and what they saw there or what happened to them, or what the angels said, however these are not topics for ridicule or entertainment.

There is enough to laugh about without having to joke about the sacred. Yet some people laugh about anything. It is not acceptable to laugh about the Quran and hadith. This is very haram thing to do, along with anything that is in the Sunnah, like the beard or hijab for instance.

In the Surat al-Tawbah in the Quran Allah said:

“If you ask them (about this), they declare: ‘We were only talking idly and joking.’

Say: ‘Was it at Allah, and His ayaat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) and His Messenger that you were mocking?’

Make no excuse; you disbelieved after you had believed” [9:65-66]

It is not just Islam, but we have to be considerate of all religions and not make fun of anything that people value and revere.

5.     Do not laugh at people’s misfortune

The comedy that exists around people hurting themselves is not Islamic. Programmes like ‘You’ve been framed’ broadcast clips of people’s mishaps, and encourage people to send in their clips, saying ‘Let us have a laugh at your misfortune and turn it into cash!’

To laugh at someone’s pain or humiliation is not from the culture of kindness that should typify the ethos of the believer. Scaring and alarming people is not allowed. Abu Layla (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

The companions of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said that they were travelling with the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and a man among them fell asleep. Some of them got a rope and tied him up, and he got scared. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: ‘It is not permissible for a Muslim to frighten another Muslim.’ (Abu Dawood)

Pranks like making someone fall over by removing their chair, or pushing a sleeping man on his mattress into the river are cruel not funny. Someone falling over is not a source of amusement, they might have fractured their hip. Filming someone to laugh at their reaction at being told bad news is painful, not humorous.

April Fools’ Day and Deep Fakes

We have legitimised lying on occasions such as April Fools but this is wrong. It is not about being a kill-joy, as Muslims should be cheerful and good natured, and able to relax and enjoy the blessings of Allah, but comes back to the importance of conveying the truth and nothing else. If you pass round information purporting to be the truth when it is it not, on April Fool’s Day or any other time, you dent your credibility. Next time, people will not believe what you say.

Islam is about not blurring the distinction between truth and lies.

There is already enough fake news which makes it hard to distinguish between what is real and what is not, what is happening and what is not. In addition, the abundance of deep fake images, CGI and doctored images add more confusion to our reality. In our time, as the impossible is often becoming possible, and there are fewer and fewer indications when a forwarded video is full of lies, we realise even more that it is important not to add to the confusion.

Real humour vs bullying

Real humour brings joy to people’s heart and entertains them and binds them together, however when you laugh at the expense of others it is not a joke, it is nasty. A bully can laugh at his victim and encourage others to do the same, but making light of his intimidation does not legitimise what he is doing.

We were appalled recently by the account we heard from the cricketer, Azeem Rafiq who was subjected to racism under the guise of changing-room banter. It is not vindicate you, when you inflict harm on others and say you were just joking and blame the victim for lacking a sense of humour. This is not joking. The one who bears the jokes gets scarred and God knows if those scars will ever heal.

Mocking does not only imply mocking with the tongue but it also includes mimicking somebody, making pointed references to him, laughing at his words, or his works, or his appearance, or his dress, or calling the people’s attention to some defect or blemish in him so that others also may laugh at him. All this is included in mocking.

I was once told that some teenage boys used to make fun of a girl’s skin condition. They used to poke fun at her all the time until one day she was no longer there. One of the boys said that later he developed a skin problem which was far worse and which covered his whole body. He felt bad that they had destroyed her and he is suffering now.

Wathilah ibn Al-Asqa’ reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

“Do not rejoice over the misfortune of your brother, lest Allah have mercy upon him and afflict you with trials.” (Tirmidhi)

The inviolable sanctity of each man

In Islam everyone is entitled to dignity and honour and no one has the right to attack it, no matter whether the attack is based on reality or not, and whether the person who has been attacked has a reputation of his own or not.

We know from experience, that certain people get picked on more than others. We have all seen this in schools and at work. Sometimes people justify it saying that the person is fine with it and doesn’t mind it. However put yourself in their shoes. They may put a brave face on it, but inside they will be hurting.

Sometimes people mock themselves but we should be careful that in doing so, we do not open ourselves up to become the butt of people’s jokes. Keep your dignity.

Know when to be serious

Making fun of things should not be your default mode. If someone spends all their time watching funny clips on Tik Tok they are wasting time and deadening their spiritual heart. Jokes should not take up 99% of your life. If that is the case, you are missing the times when you have to be serious and things you have to take seriously.

If a heart is engaged in laughter all the time, where is the time for dhikr, reflection, regretting mistakes, taking oneself into account and salah? It is wasting time. Don’t kill your heart, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Do not laugh too much, for laughing too much deadens the heart.” (Saheeh al-Jaami’, 7312)

Imam Nawawi said:

“The kind of joking which is forbidden is that which is excessive and persistent, for it leads to too much laughter and hardening of the heart, it distracts from remembrance of Allah, and it often leads to hurt feelings, generates hatred and causes people to lose respect and dignity. But whoever is safe from such dangers, then that which the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) used to do is permissible for him.”

6.     Limits on who you can joke with

You cannot have a laugh with everyone. For instance, if you make a joke at airport security or at a gangster you will end up getting in trouble or hurt. You cannot joke around with respected elders and scholars and dignitaries. That is not good adab. There are limits.

Scholars quote a proverb that the amount of jokes in your conversation should be as much as the salt in your food – if you put too much of it, it is not palatable. But a little bit, makes it enjoyable. Know when and how and where to use humour.

The Prophet (peace be on him) used to joke with his friends and we see this in the larger books about the Prophet (peace be on him) such as the commentaries on Shamail Tirmidhi, Dala’il al-Nubuwwa (The Signs of Prophethood) by Imam Bayhaqi where you see his humorous side and the jokes he would make with this Companions. In Adab al Mufrad by Bukhari, he recorded instances when they threw melon rinds at each other. The Prophet (peace be on him) could take a joke as long as it was within the limits and the right time.

7. Laughing behind people’s backs is backbiting

Laughing at someone behind their back is backbiting – it is haram. You might break someone’ heart or life with your bullying. The definition of ghiba (backbiting) is saying something about someone that they do not want you to say, even when it is true. The Prophet (peace be on him) said backbiting is:

“To mention your brother in a way he dislikes.” (Muslim)

In Surat al-Hujurat Allah Almighty says:

Believers, let not a group (of men) scoff at another group, it may well be that the latter (at whom they scoff) are better than they; nor let a group of women scoff at another group, it may well be that the latter are better than they. And do not taunt one another, nor revile one another by nicknames. It is an evil thing to gain notoriety for ungodliness after belief. Those who do not repent are indeed the wrong-doers. (49:11)

Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said:

“A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, so he should not oppress him nor should he hand him over to an oppressor. Whoever fulfilled the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfil his needs; whoever brought his (Muslim)

8.     Comic timing

A good joke isn’t simply the one that has a good punchline told with the right comic timing, but one that is told at the right time. Sometimes the joke is fine, but the time is appropriate. If someone received bad news it is not the right time to crack a joke, but some people lack insight and make jokes at the wrong time. We need to be sensitive and considerate towards other people’s feelings.

Jokes can be used positively to diffuse tension. For instance when a situation gets heated, between a husband and wife, or by a teacher to break the ice with their students. Some teachers can be intimidating and serious, so their students are afraid to ask questions. A small joke can put them at ease.


We can learn from comedy and one of the first books I bought and enjoyed a great deal was Ibn al Jawzi’s tales of foolishness ‘Akhbarul Hamqa wal Mugafaleen’.

Comedians like Trevor Noah manage to convey painful truths in a powerful way, and sometimes a clever cartoon can speak volumes.

In the traditions of Juha and Nasruddin, truths are often effectively conveyed through the mouths of jesters and simpletons.

Being a comedian is a problematic career. In the past, scholars refused to allow comedians to court to give evidence as they did not trust their testimony or think that what they said could be taken seriously.

Comedy which is crass, goes into people’s private lives as we see on programmes like Graham Norton or lewd humour typified by comedies like American Pie go against the grain of modesty and morality.

Comedy has been used to subvert morality. We see this most clearly in genre of Restoration comedy (1660–1710) for instance, where those who are devious con, cheat and cuckold the less shrewd characters and this is seen as a source of mirth. And in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (1601), we have the humiliation of Malvolio, the puritanical Christian, who despises fun and games, and joking and drinking.

Probably the current content of our Muslim comedians is 80% fine and 20-30% off. They need to be reminded and trained about the content and delivery.

It is not necessary to pepper comedy with bad language. Comedy can be clean and still be funny.


Throughout history, satire has been used to expose many problems, contradictions and issues in society as well as challenge those in power.

In recent times, programmes like ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘Yes Prime Minster’ are brilliant political satire.

Good satire has the power to force administrations to clarify, amend or establish their policies. In English literature, we see writers such as Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope bring human vices, follies, and shortcomings under the microscope through ridicule, irony, parody, and caricature. When written well, it can inspire social reform.

Freedom of expression

Due to its nature and social role, satire has enjoyed a special freedom to mock prominent individuals and institutions. However as we saw with Charlie Hebdo and the Dutch cartoons, satire has to have boundaries. We do not condone those who use violence but we do not give a carte blanche to cartoonists or writers to insult people’s beliefs.

Islam is not anti-humour but it is anti-lies. Humour has the power to uplift and show the truth but can also be used to denigrate others, or their faith system, or blurr the lines between truth and reality. We have to understand the limits and use it well.

Shaykh Haytham Tamim – The Thursday Al Ghazali Class 2nd December 2021 with additions by Ayesha Khan

Related posts

Evils of the tongue – arguing

Evils of the tongue 2- backbiting

Evils of the tongue 1- lying

The benefits of feeling hunger

Why is following the sunnah the key to success. Ghazali’s secrets part 1

What is wrong with excessive laughter?

Do you have to practice what you preach?

Self righteousness when giving counsel

Command good and forbid evil

Brotherhood, friendship and wilayah

How to deal with difficult neighbours

The first 6 rules of how to deal with people

Dealing with gossip (7-8)

How to deal with people according to their status (9-11)

Cover the faults of others (12-13)

Shake hands (15 continued)

Defend others in their absence, be tactful, be cautious of the company of the rich (16-18)

Avoid the people of ghaflah

Be good to your relatives

Love they neighbour

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is appeal-2021-banner-1.jpeg

Do support us with your duas and donations and enable us to continue spreading free content through our regular blogs, live sessions and videos.


Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.