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If honesty reflects internal rectitude, dishonest external conduct mirrors hypocrisy. Utterly relevant to this principle is the Prophet Muhammad’s reminder that there are three signs of a hypocrite (munafiq): when he speaks, he lies; when he promises, he breaks his promise; and when he is trusted with something, he betrays that trust.

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The significance of this Prophetic tradition is accentuated by the fact that it has been rigorously authenticated by many authorities including Bukhari and Muslim, in various chapters of their canonical hadith collections. It is worthy to note that exactly the same is reported by al-Tirmidhi and al-Nasa’i, while similar versions are reported by Ibn Abi al-Dunya, in his work on the virtue of avoiding evil talk titled al-Samt.Those three signs of hypocrisy are also confirmed by the Qur’an, as pointed out by al-Khara’iti, in his Kitab Makarim al-Akhlaq, as the following:

First, when he speaks, he lies: the hypocrites swear openly that they are taking the Prophet Muhammad as a model of submission to God. On the contrary, "God bears witness that the hypocrites are indeed liars. They have made their oaths a screen for their misdeed" (63:1-2).

Second, when he promises, he breaks his promise: it is recorded in the Qur’an that the hypocrites made a covenant with God, that if He bestowed on them of His bounty, they would spend largely in charity, and be truly among the righteous. But as soon as He has given them out of His bounty, they became covetous, and turned back from their promise, averse from its fulfilment.

The Qur’an subsequently states that such excessive love of worldly possessions gives rise to moral hypocrisy of being false to promises and words: "So, God has put as a consequence hypocrisy into their hearts, till the day they meet Him: because they broke their Covenant with God, and because they lied again and again" (9:75-77).

The third sign, when he is entrusted with something, he betrays that trust, which ultimately referring to the divine trust to man, the trust which was once offered to but declined by the heavens, the earth and the mountains because they are being afraid of it. Such betrayal is indeed an unjust and foolish act resulting in divine punishment (33:72-73).

In fact, in the narration recorded by Imam Muslim, the Prophet is reported to have made a further insistent remark, "even if the person involved ritually observes canonical fasting and prayers, and asserts that he is a Muslim or one who submits to God." On some occasions, a person observes religious rituals exactly in order to deceive others. To borrow from John Ruskin’s Time and Tide: "a knave’s religion is always the rottenest thing about him." The Caliph ‘Umar reminded us on this: "Don’t let a man’s humming of prayer during the night deceive you. A true man is the one who keeps his trust and returns it to whom it is due, and from whose tongue and hand Muslims are safe."

To return to the original hadith that we are discussing, in the version reported by Bukhari and other authorities, there is an additional, fourth sign: when he quarrels, he deviates from the truth, being very insolent-or impudent-evil and insulting. This is because a real hypocrite is willing to say anything whatsoever to win a dispute. He wants to win at all costs and does not care about what is true and what is false.

Because of this habit, he may also be very skilful at repelling the truth when it is presented to him.There is also a marfu‘ hadith from Abu Umamah on other additional signs of hypocrites, "when he gets financial opportunity, he acted unfaithfully in embezzling the property; when he is commanded in religious matters, he disobeys God; and when he encounters enemy or difficult situation, he becomes a coward." Observing that a liar tends to be a betrayer, embezzler, coward, and disobedient to God all at once, it has been wisely said, "Everything is something, but the friendship of a liar is nothing."

One of the Sufis noted, "If a man does not fulfil the one perpetual religious obligation (al-fard al-da’im), his performance of religious obligation at the times assigned (al-fard al-mu’aqqat) will not be accepted from him." Someone asked, "What is the one perpetual religious obligation?" He responded, "Truthfulness." Meaning, God’s acceptance of one’s five times daily prayer, annual zakat, fasting the month of Ramadan, and pilgrimage during its months, for example, is subsequent to one lives a truthful life.

It has been stated by Masruq ibn al-Ajda’, a respected tabi‘in, that "nothing is more grievous to God than one’s being untruthful (laysa shay’ a‘zam ‘ind Allah min al-kidhb)."Perhaps the reason is because, to borrow Yazid ibn Maysarah’s apt simile, that "untruthfulness irrigates the field of all wickedness as water irrigates the roots of tree (inna al-kidhb yasqi bab kull sharr kama yasqi al-ma’ usul al-shajar)."As Syed Sulaiman Nadvi observed in his study on relevant Qur’anic verses titled Ethics in Islam, untruthfulness is indeed productive of other evils, such as being sinful and transgression, called in the Qur’an as affak athim and musrif kadhdhab, respectively (26:221-222;40:28).

This is because a liar will not hesitate to commit an evil act, or to exceed the limit of propriety.He thinks that he would be able to hide such acts of his merely by telling another lie, or breaking another promise, or betraying another trust-all at what he calculates as an appropriate time. A liar is also an ungrateful person to any of his benefactors, because he suspects others are as untruthful as he is in his intention, speech and action. The Qur’an identifies such a person with kadhib kaffar (39:3).

Source : Dr. Mohd Sani Badron, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia.

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