Who amongst us can sincerely say that we have the strongest fibre and follows to the letter the moral code dictated by the Holy Book of Islam?
How many simply follow the rituals — pray, fast, give alms to the poor, without giving a thought to his/her spirituality? How many are only pretending to be “holier than thou”?
Those are the hypocrites — and unfortunately we live in a world of hypocrites.
Christians just celebrated Easter. Some went to church, though church attendance is down by double digits, some enjoyed egg-hunting, being with family, partying, and merry-making. How much time did they give to the thought of Christ being crucified on the cross for them?
Hypocrisy is rampant in every religion as well as in our daily lives, yet it is shunned by God and his prophets. It is mentioned in the holy Quran 37 times in 29 verses, as in (4:142) “Give tidings to the hypocrites that there is for them a painful punishment,” or in (4:45) “Indeed the hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of the fire and they will never find a helper.” How many Muslims remember these warnings?
They kneel and pray, at the mosque or street corner, to show their neighbours how good they are. Is this out of piety or adding points for their place in heaven?
The same applies to Christianity. Jesus admonished hypocrites 17 times, calling out the Pharisees who pretended to pray in the temple while trading, dealing, and wheeling. Hence the adjective “Pharisee” now applied to deceivers.
While mostly associated with religion, hypocrisy is rampant in all aspects of life.
Psychologists believe that this is a universal state — we are all born hypocrites. It is only a matter of the scale of the hypocrisy we practise, how long, how far, how bad, how ugly.
We are taught morality in our homes, schools, churches, mosques, etc, but life may wear out their teachings.
However, in every heart, there is a secret moral nerve that keeps instructing us. In the heart of the hypocrite that nerve is dead, so he judges others more severely of things he himself is guilty of. “Judge not, so that you may not be judged.”
What is hypocrisy anyway? It is the art of pretending what we are not, claiming to standards or beliefs to which one’s own behaviour does not conform.
Who amongst us is not prone to a little of that. We are humans and we make mistakes. The difference is we are humble enough to admit them and repent. Hypocrites are self-righteous. They look at the weeds but do not see the flowers.
There tends to be a strong cognitive dissonance between the way they judge themselves and the way they judge others who act exactly the same, actions inconsistent with words.
Man has a long and interesting history with hypocrisy. The word comes from the Greek meaning “play-acting”, and that is what it is. Man has been play-acting, or committing this “false treachery”, long before we had a name for it.
Mass hypocrisy surfaced around the time of the Roman Empire, around 800 AD, when the Church was preaching morality and goodness, while at the same time demanding high tribute, and starting wars in foreign countries.
Hypocrisy involves not only pretense, but lying, deceiving, treason, slander, dissembling, double-dealing falsifying, misleading and all the evils we were taught to avoid. It is an artful method secretly developed and imperceptible. “For neither man nor angel can discern hypocrisy, the only evil that walks invisible, except to God alone,” wrote John Milton.
It is virtually impossible for man, frail, and weak as he is, to avoid all or one of these human urges. People of religion are also human. They have their institutions to help and guide them, but others wander helplessly in a world of corruption trying to survive in a web they did not weave.
Societies are hypocritical, so are countries, institutions, businesses etc. Going with the flow is easier than adhering to a moral code that existed long before the present social situation.
Blaming religion for the wrongs that men do is unfair. Christianity is often blamed for the Spanish Inquisition and other horrors, but it is a faction made up of heartless men that are to blame. Christianity and its teachings remain intact. The hypocrites are us.
Are the Muslim Brotherhood and their surrogates Muslim? They fast, they pray, they cry Allah Akbar (God is Great) but they are as far from God and from Islam as heaven is to hell. They are factions within Islam, this misunderstood religion, which teaches love, peace, forgiveness and submission. Islam itself remains intact. The criminals that use it as a cloak to cover their dirty deeds are hypocrites, evil, and will end up in hell.
Since we cannot stop gossiping, tearing each other apart, bad mouthing our friends and neighbours, let us nurture even an ounce of loyalty to the God we pretend to worship.
“If anyone loves God and hates his brethren, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen”— (John 4:27).
If love is the answer to the woes of this world, humility is the answer to the nature of the hypocrite.
“I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.”
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.