Posted by: Dawud Israel | May 20, 2009

Why We Need Fiqh of Humor

Bismillah, alhamdulillah wa salat wa salam ala Rasulullah

After coming across so many stupid MSA videos, many of which made me laugh and many of which disgusted me and hearing the same stupid jokes about a certain brother Muhammad telling non-Muslim to call him “Moe” and after reading this article I can’t help but think why don’t we have a Fiqh for Humor?

There are few discussions out there on this (see here) pointing out the facts Sahabas pulled pranks here and there, but there is little detailing a concrete fiqh with all the dynamics it would include. I don’t know for a fact if the madhabs have discussed this, but generally, I don’t see much discussion of it. There are sensitivities and bitter arguments that have flared up in the past and I think it is because this is a very ambiguous area.

Key questions:

-Does the fact it makes me laugh make it permissible?

-If I laughed at something offensive is there something wrong with me?

-If comedy is so open to interpretation where can I draw the line?

-Does the fact I am poking fun at a shaykh and yet love him, make it OK for me to do so? Or should this be avoided at all costs? Is the fact he found it funny

-What constitutes unacceptable jokes? Racist jokes, Sexist jokes are clear enough as unfair to me, but what about in the domain of jokes relating to “Muslim” jokes?

-What are the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable humor?

-At what point does cultural boundaries and sensibilities of humor come into play? In the age of globalization, can rulings on humor be seen as more culturally influenced than fiqh? Does fiqh even apply then?

-If a joke is offensive or could be interpreted as offensive should we forego it completely?

-Where does humor fit in on Internet interactions?

-Should you stop a shaykh when he is making too many jokes? What about in dawah to non-Muslims? Is it really warranted and wise to make jokes?

-What role of hikmah and discretion should be applied to jokes?

-Is there a limit to how much humor we should have in our community? Where should it figure in our priorities?

-At what point is it just a waste of time?

-What would you call beneficial humor in building bridges? What would you call harmful humor? Do such distinctions exist?

-Is commentary needed with a comic act?

-Should considerations of the effect on the ego and nafs be included in any discussion on humor? For example, if I were to make this joke in a video would someone watching it then take it a step further and cross a line?

So perhaps, what we need are guidelines and not do’s and don’ts.

What would you think of this video? What could be potential benefits and drawbacks of this style of comedy? What about this video? Is Baba Ali getting a good message across make his jokes OK? Would you find it funny if say, an American soldier made this joke?

In the past, I’ve gotten into arguments with Hamzah Moin, of Maniac Muslim and called him “progressive” on some of the things he’s produced. We’re definitely not the best of pals, but he has good intentions even though some things are definitely offensive. In one clip, there is some homosexual stuff happening and this brother who himself has some homosexual problems and tendencies (although he is chaste and away from sinful habits) found it extremely and profoundly offensive. How much does that say for perspective and what can’t be interpreted as offensive?

Lastly, Sh. YQ’s article (or should I say Sh. iYQ -wink-) crossed some lines and I shared my thoughts in the comments. I should re-iterate, he is a happening, cool and cuddly shaykh, so this isn’t your classic soul-less refutation I’m spieling, just some analysis and nasiha because this is the first time I have encountered a devoted student of knowledge producing a comic work. So naturally, one must wonder, what it means for Muslims. You can read that here.

Context and awareness of ones role, considerations of what effect a joke or comment could have are vital. There is, clearly, a psychological component to the practice of humor. Perhaps, a symptom of our being so distant from the era of the Sahabas is our preoccupation with humor? So then perhaps the real question is not, why isn”t there a fiqh of humor…but why do we need it in the first place!? Why has humor occupied such a place in our community…what are we not doing that such a phenomenon has resulted?

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, Ameen.


Responses

  1. I dont know whether to agree or disagree with your post.

    On one hand, yes – the vast majority of MSA videos are not funny, and in fact they border on mildly irritating, to say the least. That problem is enough for me to consider teaching people how to make their stuff more funny.

    On the other hand, a “Fiqh of Humor” class might not work because you can’t do that to humor. Its something that varies quite a bit from one geographical region to the other, from one country to another, culture to culture, and even at a sub-culture level. You can’t put rules and regulations around that sort of stuff.

    General guidelines can be suggested, which would stem from the basics of Islam. i.e. Don’t mock someone’s religion. Don’t insult their parents. Sexual jokes, or jokes about sexual body parts should be considered outside the realm of modesty. Don’t joke about certain aspects of the deen. etc etc.

    But other than that, you cant really *teach* someone how to be funny. A sense of humor is at once both spontaneous as well as refined over a period of time.

    And one other thing – TOO MUCH humor can indeed kill the heart. It makes you insensitive to those things which should soften your heart in front of your Creator. And joking around too much also means others dont take you seriously and thus, you might have a hard time making a serious point, because others will have come to expect that you’re always joking about everything. or being sarcastic, etc.

    IMO, many of the questions above can’t really be answered – it would be like trying to tie up a cloud with rope.

  2. You know, last time I checked, the shuyookh were not possessions of the people.

    Reading that comment, I sensed a lot of misplaced anger. It’s as if the person was saying:

    “How dare he say this? How dare he act in a manner I am not comfortable with? How dare he break the mould? How dare he be imperfect? How dare he make a mistake? How dare he be human?”

    These are the same people who will shout “give me my seventy excuses” when they slip up. Honestly.

    I know I am digressing from the point of discussion: fiqh of humour. But I find such comments extremely irksome, mainly because of their disrespectful tone, rather than because they are critical.

    This person talks about respect, then gives none to begin with. I have little tolerance for such people, and their opinions.

    Anyway… on the topic in hand, perhaps there is little written, because there is little comment on it in the Qur’an and Sunnah. Allah and His Messenger remained silent on many things, to make life easier for us.

    If we have a Fiqh of Humour, you know it’s only going to lead to differences of opinion; few people agree on what is considered funny to begin with.

    There are some basic rules, such as lying is not permissible, as is slander/gheebat. You find a lot of that in non-Muslim humour.

    Also, I think laughing too much (think braying of a donkey) is not good for the soul. There is a time for this, and time for that.

    If we have too many rules, it’ll become burdensome on society.

    I think the best course of action for people working in the field of humour, is to get direct advice on each production from a trusted, knowledgeable individuals, before such things go public. That way their bases are covered, insha’Allah.

    Allahu ‘alam.

  3. *sallalahu ‘alayhi wa salam [forgot to add this in my comment]

  4. iMuslim:

    It’s equally troubling to think we are subject to whatever our shaykhs do…that we can’t question them. We have no say, and they are effectively, dictators…and the community moves at their pace. Whatever they do, we can’t question it?
    Spectator Islam hasn’t helped us much.

    If you see it that way, then you understand why me raising certain questions and concerns is only natural. I’m critical yes, more critical because I know no one else will be and what you see as disrespectful is more influenced by the disparity between everyone’s laughter and my questions, than my actual words.

    I’m not an authority…just asking the relevant questions.

  5. Salman:

    Good analogy in the tieing down a cloud. It is difficult but I think we need at least some direction or guidance in relation to our comedy. Especially because much of it is influence not by Islam, but by non-Muslims.

  6. Why so serious?

    HAHA!

  7. Asalaamu Alaykum,

    You are right to question YQ, (there’s too many yes men for him), but you are not the only one to critique him (read the comments before yours).

    And I think there are more people questioning/harassing YQ than making him a dictator. There’s even some blog that trackbacks to YQ’s article titled: yasir “funnyman” qadhi carries a Mac- kamathalil himaari yahmilu asfaara! « How wahhabies deceive honest Muslims.

    My response to your critique is on MM, but I think the bigger topic is the Muslim comedians.

    I think comedy crosses the line when you brazenly mock the sunnah.
    Someone asked Shaykh Waleed in a class about this and he answered categorically against it.

    Wallahu Alim

  8. Will take a look at what you said Asim. I asked iMuslim to edit my comment…cuz I usually would have edited it properly but was in a rush.

    I DO think however, his article was abrasive and hark back to the days of bitter, hateful argumentation…I thought we were past that now? Even more troubling than that were the comments reflecting a very prejudiced understanding of Islam. One that excludes a countless number of brothers. This leads, inevitably to conflict, fostering hatred, and violence in some form or another. This was my main concern: that little attention was paid to the sensitivities and the potential repercussions.


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