The Etiquette of Joking

A Muslim is naturally 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 their creation, which is to worship Allah, it becomes dispraised. Another reason to make joking dispraised is when it is excessive and makes a person laugh too much which in turn leads to the heart becoming hardened;

The Prophet (s) said: “Do not laugh too much because excessive laughter kills your heart.” (Tirmidhi, Ibn Maajah & Ahmad).

Waheeb Ibn al-Ward looked at some people as they where laughing on the day of ‘Eid al-Fitr and remarked: “If Allah has forgiven these people, then these are not the actions of grateful people; If they were not forgiven, then these are not the actions of those who are fearful.”

A Muslim requires his heart to be alive and tender; a heart which heedlessness cannot find its way into, to be able to strongly execute his struggle against Satan. Excessive joking will lead his heart to such heedlessness. Satan pledged to distract man and misguide him, as Allah says that which translates as: “Iblees [Satan] said [To Allah]: By Your might, I will surely mislead them all. Except, among them, Your chosen servants.” (Saad: 82-83).

Moreover, we must know that heedlessness is a characteristic of the disbelievers. Allah says that which translates as: “Then woe, that Day, to the deniers. Who are in [empty] discourse amusing themselves.” (At-Toor: 11-12).

So leave them to converse vainly and amuse themselves until they meet their Day which they are promised.” (Az-Zukhruf: 83).

Then leave them in their [empty] discourse, amusing themselves.” (Al-An’aam: 91),

Then, on the Day of Judgment, the disbelievers will be asked that which translates as: “What put you into Saqar [i.e., Hellfire].” (Al-Muddaththir: 42), they will reply with that which translates as: “...We used to enter into vain discourse with those who engaged [in it].” (Al-Muddaththir: 45)

Our righteous predecessors seriously warned against this type heedlessness, Abu Ya’laa used to say: “Are you laughing while your funeral-shroud may be being prepared?”

Muhammad Ibn Waasi’ asked some people: “If you saw a man in Paradise crying, would you be surprised?” they replied ‘Yes’, he said: “The one who laughs in this life, not knowing what his consequence is in the next one, is more surprising than that.”

Excessive joking makes one lose their dignity and even the foolish people around the one joking will eventually despise them.

‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “He who jokes, people will despise him.”

Muhammad Ibn Al-Munkadir said: “My mother once told me: son, don’t joke with children for that will make you lose your dignity.”

Sa’eed Ibn al-’Aas said: “Don’t joke with a noble man because he will hate you, or an inferior man because he will humiliate you.”

Husayn Ibn ‘Abdur-Rahmaan said: “We were told that joking removes one’s dignity and breaks friendships.”

In addition, joking could cause hatred to enter the hearts, as ‘Umar Ibn ‘Abdul Azeez, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “Fear Allah and don’t joke because it causes hatred and would make an inferior person despise you. Instead, talk about Qur’anic verses and discuss them, if this is difficult, then at least carry out a decent manly conversation”.

Khaalid Ibn Safwaan said: “People used to say, everything has its seed, and the seed of enmity is joking.”

Joking becomes prohibited and not only dispraised when it involves Islamically unlawful behaviour such as:

*Scaring Muslims:

Some of the Prophet’s companions, were once on a trip with the Prophet (s) and one of them was sleeping. A group of the companions took some of the sleeping one’s arrows, which he kept for self-defence, and hid them. When he woke up, he was frightened, due to losing them, so they started laughing. Thereupon, the Prophet (s) asked them: “What makes you laugh?” they replied: “Nothing, its just that we took this man’s arrows and that scared him.” Thereupon, the Prophet (s) said: “It is not lawful for a Muslim to scare his fellow Muslim.”
(Ahmad & Abu Daawood).

He (s) also said: “Don’t take your brother’s stick, whether jokingly or seriously. If one of you finds his brother’s stick, then let him return it to him
(Ahmad & Abu Daawood).

*Lying while joking:

The Prophet (s) said: “Woe to the one who tells lies to make people laugh, woe to him, woe to him” (Tirmidhi, Abu Daawood & Daarimi).

He (s) also said: “A slave would utter a word meaning no harm except wanting to make people laugh, and it would cause him to go down in Hell as far as the distance between the Heavens and the earth.”

Abu Hurairah (r) with him, narrated that people said to the Prophet (s) : “You joke with us.” He (s) replied: “I do but I only say that which is true” (Tirmidhi & Ahmad).

Abu Umaamah (r) with him, narrated that the Prophet (s) said: “I guarantee an abode within the boundary of Paradise for the one who refrains from arguing even if he was correct; and an abode in the middle of Paradise for the one who abandons lying even in jest; and an abode in the sublime part of Paradise for the one whose manners are honourable.” (Abu Daawood).

*Joking that may cause harm to others:

Abu Hurairah (r) with him, narrated that the Prophet (s) 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).

In another narration, he (s) said: “He who (even) points at his brother with a piece of iron is cursed by the angels until he puts it down, even if the other was his blood brother.” (Muslim).

*Joking which includes transgressing the limits of Allah:

Joking could exceed the limits to reach to a point of committing major and heinous sins, like mocking Qur’anic verses, the Prophet (s), Islamic rules or Muslim scholars – just like the hypocrites did on the day of the battle of Tabook when they mocked the Prophet (s) and his companions; due to this Allah revealed the verses which translate as:

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 [i.e., rejected faith] after your belief.” (At-Tawbah: 65-66).

Allah warned us from even sitting with such people as He said that which translates as: “And when you see those who engage in [offensive] discourse concerning Our verses, then turn away from them until they enter into another conversation. And if Satan should cause you to forget, then do not remain after the reminder with the wrongdoing people.” (Al-An’aam: 86).

He also says that which translates as: “And it has already come down to you in the Book [i.e., the Qur’an] that when you hear the verses of Allah [recited], they are denied [by them] and ridiculed; so do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation. Indeed, you would then be like them. Indeed, Allah will gather the hypocrites and disbelievers in Hell all together.” (An-Nisaa’:140).

The Prophet (s) used to joke, and there are many examples for this, so this certainly indicates that joking is lawful, provided it does not contain any of the prohibitions mentioned.

Jaabir (r) said: “Whenever the Prophet (s) would receive revelation or preach to us, I would think to myself, due to his appearance: ‘he is warning people against a punishment that will definitely befall them’. But, when that was finished, you would see that he had the happiest and most cheerful face, which was his nature.” (Al-Bazzaar).

The Prophet’s joking was not merely for entertainment, but would include teachings and instructions for his companions. The Prophet (s)would joke at different times for different reasons:

For the purpose of endearment, there are many stories that illustrate this point:

* Once, the Prophet (s) went to visit Suhayb (r) when he was sick with an eye ailment. When he entered Suhayb (r) was eating dates, so the Prophet (s) 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 sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam smiled.” (Ibn Maajah).

Anas (r) narrated that a man came to the Prophet {s) and said: “Give me an animal to ride on” the Prophet (s)replied: “I will give you the son of a female camel” the man said with astonishment: “What could I do with the son of a female camel?” (i.e., thinking that he would be given a camel too small to ride). Thereupon, the Messenger of Allah (s) replied: “What do female camels deliver except camels?” (i.e., that every camel, even if it is fully grown, is the product of a female camel). (Abu Daawood & Tirmidhi).

Awf Ibn Maalik (r) said, “I went to the Prophet (s)during the battle of Tabook while he was in a leather Qubbah (a small tent-like structure used for sitting in before war). I greeted him with Salaam and he (s) responded and said: “Come inside” I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, all of me?’ he (s) replied: “All of you” so I entered” (Ahmad & Abu Daawood).

‘Uthmaan Ibn Abi Al-’Ataakah commented that ‘Awf Ibn Maalik asked this question because the Qubbah was very small’.

Ka’b Ibn Murrah (r) said: “I heard the Prophet (s) saying, “Shoot at the enemy; Allah will elevate he who shoots and his arrow reaches the enemy, by raising him by one step in Paradise” Ibn An-Namaam (r) asked: ‘O Messenger of Allah, what is this step?’ he (s)replied with humour: “It is definitely not like your mothers doorstep; Indeed the distance between two steps in Paradise is one hundred years”” (An-Nasaa’i & Ahmad).

Anas (r) narrated: “There was a Bedouin named Zaahir whom the Prophet (s) loved and he was ugly. One day the Prophet (s) approached him from behind as he was selling some merchandise and hugged him and teased him saying: “Who would buy this slave (i.e., Zaahir)” Zaahir replied: ‘You would not get much for someone like me’ the Prophet (s) said: “But you are precious in the sight of Allah.” (Ahmad).

*The Prophet (s) would also comfort his companions and cheer them up, as Anas (r) narrated: “The Prophet (s)once saw my young brother extremely upset, so he (s) asked: “Why do I see Abu ‘Umayr (a fond nickname that he gave him) so sad?” the people replied ‘His bird has died.’ So he (s) said comfortingly: “O Abu ‘Umayr what happened to your bird?”” (Ahmad).