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Surat Al Tawbah And The Hypocrites: IOK Ramadan Reflections Series #10

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IOK Ramadan Reflections Series: Surat al Tawba and the Hypocrites

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Surah al Tawbah is a chapter that heavily focuses on the hypocrites. But the Quran isn’t interested in exposing who the hypocrites are. In fact, most of the companions didn’t know by name who the hypocrites were; because that’s not the point. Unlike a lot of what we see from YouTubers, Islam isn’t a religion that has come to expose people. Rather, the Quran exposes the actions and behaviors of hypocrites. Yes, we might be able to use these descriptions to better understand who sincere believers in comparison to hypocrites, but that’s not the point. Perhaps the wisdom is because Islam seeks to stabilize and unite society rather than create instability and division. Let’s look at some of the behaviors of hypocrites in this surah.

The first is excusing oneself from religious duties. Allah says, “Only those would ask permission of you who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day and whose hearts have doubted, and they, in their doubt, are hesitating” (9:45) Someone who constantly attempts to excuse their self from religious duties, whether through procrastination, rejection of the command, of just sheer laziness, these are a sign of hypocrisy. I don’t mean that if a person is occasionally guilty of this then they are a full out hypocrite. But someone who catches themselves resorting to these excuses, then there is a problem that needs to be addressed and resolved. If left unresolved, this behavior can grow to where it does reach major hypocrisy. One example we hear from Muslims today is “I pay my taxes and therefore I don’t need to pay zakah.” Another example is to say “I need to delay salah because I have important [worldly] things to do.”

Islam and iman have come to engage our mind, heart, and our bodies. They have come to discipline and shape our demeanor as well as our behaviors. Therefore, excusing oneself from religious duties goes against the purpose. Even from a technical perspective, Allah only commands us to do something when there is a major benefit from doing it; Allah only prohibits us from doing something when there is a clear harm that comes from it. So someone who neglects their religious responsibilities is not only making their self vulnerable to hypocrisy, they are also harming themselves and or the greater society. In this month of Ramadan, we need to revise our commitment to Allah and Islam. 

A second attribute Allah points to is that they are problem causers. Allah says, “Had they gone forth with you, they would not have increased you except in confusion, and they would have been active among you, seeking [to cause] you fitnah. And among you are avid listeners to them. And Allah is Knowing of the wrongdoers” (9:47). Hypocrites want believers to fail and therefore they cause problems to prevent the progress of the Muslim community or individual. Of course, the larger problems they instigate and the more frequently, the closer they are to major hypocrisy. Once again, Allah sent Islam and the prophets to bring stability to individuals and communities. And so, a problem-maker works against one of the purposes and goals of religion; of why Allah sent messengers and revelation. A problem-maker is trying to stop good and or bring harm. How many times have people in masajid caused problems just for the sake of causing problems? Yes, some people are well-intentioned, but there is an appropriate way of presenting one’s self and a problematic way. Are we problem makers or problem solvers? Who are the people who are trying to unite the ummah, versus those who are trying to disunite it? Allah criticizes the problem makers and praises problem solvers as he says in the following verse “No good is there in much of their private conversation, except for those who enjoin charity or that which is right or conciliation between people. And whoever does that seeking means to the approval of Allah – then We are going to give him a great reward.” (4:114) Allah also says “and settlement is best.” (4:128)

Another attribute of hypocrites is that they are happy with the distress of believers. They rejoice when something bad happens to believers as a community or an individual. Allah says, “If good befalls you, it distresses them; but if disaster strikes you, they say, “We took our matter [in hand] before,” and turn away while they are rejoicing.” (9:50) Enjoying the distress or misery of a fellow believer is a sign of hypocrisy. We often hear people say “look at that family, see how Allah is punishing them? I warned them and they didn’t listen to me.” Believers, however, are as the Prophet (s) describes “the believers are like one body, if one part hurts the rest feels it.” It is part of iman to feel empathy towards other believers, whether you know them or not. It is part of iman to say “salaamu alaykum” to believers whether you know them or not. But it is part of hypocrisy to want distress and misery for a fellow believer, whether an individual or community. Ask yourself the question, “Do you feel for your fellow believers?” Let’s be clear, besides the Prophets and companions, Allah doesn’t force us to love people. However, loving fellow believers is part of iman.

Another characteristic of hypocrites is excessive oaths. In many verses in this surah, Allah quotes hypocrites as using Allah’s name to justify their behaviors. Excessive use of the name of Allah, especially for worldly and self-gain, is part of hypocrisy. Even from a psychological perspective, the more we engage something, the more desensitized we become to it. Even in economics, the more you consume something, the less valuable it becomes to a person. The more apples in the market, the less valuable they become. The more oaths a person takes, the less valuable, revered, and glorified Allah becomes in the heart of a person. This behavior erodes a person’s reverence of Allah until none is left. These verses are instructing us not to use Allah’s name in meaningless ways.

The last behavior this reflection will discuss is mockery. Allah says, “And if you ask them, they will surely say, “We were only conversing and playing.” Say, “Is it Allah and His verses and His Messenger that you were mocking? Make no excuse; you have disbelieved after your belief.” (9:65-66) I don’t discourage Muslims from engaging in comedy or making jokes, but Allah is teaching us that there is a redline: Allah, His Messenger, and verses. Don’t joke around about “virgins in paradise” or “marrying 4 wives.” Mockery is an unhealthy spiritual attribute. Those who constantly mock harm their life and iman and can eventually cause their heart to become spiritually dead. Take for example David Wood, an individual who frequently attacks Islam and Muslims, he constantly uses mockery to attack Islam. This is a sign of spiritual death. Allah quotes Musa (as) saying “And [recall] when Moses said to his people, “Indeed, Allah commands you to slaughter a cow.” They said, “Do you take us in ridicule?” He said, “I seek refuge in Allah from being among the ignorant.” (2:67) Just to be clear, there is a difference between mockery and joking; between mockery and being silly. And I hope that this differentiation is clear.

I hope that this month of Ramadan, we can begin to remove any characteristics that we may have which coincide with the attributes of hypocrites. And tawfiq is from Allah.

Tonight’s Ramadan Reflections Series talk was brought to you by the IOK Seminary Faculty. Catch up on previous videos or catch the next videos on the IOK Ramadan Reflections Series page.

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

IOK Seminary Faculty train highly motivated and dedicated Muslim men and women in classical Islam and contemporary scholarship, giving them the tools to grow as individuals, effectively serve those around them, and preserve the Islamic tradition in the West.

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