Hypocrisy occurs when one outwardly claims to be Muslim but his heart secretly harbours disbelief in various degrees. Hypocrisy is often concealed, and a hypocrite is one who appears beautiful from the outside, but has a disbelieving heart. While the Mu’min loves being unnoticed, the hypocrite constantly strives to appear busy with goodness in the public eye. He craves and seeks publicity and popularity. Yet, behind all these impressive actions, the hypocrite makes us forget Allah. His conversations lead us away from Allah. We will find him absent in the time of need.
The early Muslims from Mekah embraced Islam voluntarily, even though from a social standing, it caused them risk, hardship and even the loss of all their material possessions and status. After the emigration (hijrah), second generation Muslims were born, and being Muslim also yielded certain political and tactical advantages for some. Thus hypocrisy began in Islam, where people appeared to have embraced Islam, but were secretly plotting to boycott and sabotage the da'wah through any means possible. Nowadays, since Islam is mainly spread through legacy and birth, many people are officially certified as being Muslim. They practice the rituals due to upbringing, have the Islamic knowledge due to education from family and society, but deep down, look down on Islam and are not true believers. They will be the first to oppose any Islamic goodness and the last ones we can seek for support. However, they would never admit their hypocrisy, and thus remain hidden from the public because at a skin deep level, they have Muslim names and are seen attending Muslim rituals.
Someone may perform all the required rituals of Islam, from prayer to Hajj, and still harbour hypocrisy in his heart. For example, those who openly attack and criticise the correct Islamic teachings in the social media and in public, or those who repeatedly undermine Islamic values, teachings or reputable public figures. We may have characteristics of a hypocrite without realising it, and so we should guard ourselves.
In every moment of every day and occasion, we are supposed to be the servants of Allah. When we embraced Islam, we took an oath and covenant with Allah, acknowledging that Allah is the creator, governor, ruler and provider, while we are just the slaves and servants of Allah, and theoretically, a Muslim who submits to the will of Allah. Hypocrites claim to believe in Allah, but when a personal issue or condition arises and they are told to obey Allah and Rasulullah SAW in that matter, they turn around and provide all sorts of pretexts to disagree with Allah's rulings, advice, teachings and any order that does not suit them. The Qur'an clearly calls such people pure hypocrites. Be careful, because we can be hypocrites without being aware of it. Ignorance and lack of self-awareness is not a defence.
We are living in a time of so called Muslims giving excuses, voicing these excuses loudly and publicly, and refusing to submit to what Allah commands. Look at how many people deal with issues such as weddings, marriages, child upbringing, income and inheritance after death.
The early scholars summarized that seven traits will destroy seven, after which no good deed will benefit him. This is when one:
- Does good deeds with fear, but carelessly
- Does good deeds with hope, but without steadfastness (istiqamah)
- Does good deeds with niyyah (intention) but does not follow with a purpose
- Does good deeds and du'a, but without follow up action
- Does istighfar (ask for forgiveness) without feeling repentant
- Has many faces and decorates himself externally but not internally
- Performs abundant good deeds, but without sincerity
These dangerous tendencies can lead us towards hypocrisy, and we should be alert and avoid the above actions.
Further, the signs of the hypocrite are that:
- When he has an audience, he has the strength to be energetic and do good deeds but when he is alone, he is lazy
- He thrives in praise and fame, but is unable to accept criticism, for he does not have the sincerity to be introspective and humble.
Hypocrisy is treacherous for the soul. According to 'Umar RA, when one displays traits which he does not own, Allah will send him multiple calamities for his hypocrisy and ultimately destroy him.