On Wit and Humour
Wit or humour is a pleasing attribute of life, and just as its excess is bad, to be devoid of it, also, is not commendable. Besides, if an eminent and holy person behaves towards an ordinary man in a light-hearted manner and jokes with him, it makes him happy and he feels honoured. Hence, the sacred Prophet, too, sometimes, made jokes with his Companions, but his jokes were, always, refined and in good taste.
(1) It is related by Abu Hurairah that once some Companions said to the Apostle of God: “Sir! You make jokes with us.” To this, the Prophet (saws) replied: “I tell what is just and correct (in a joke as well).”
– Tirmizi and Abu Dawood
(2) It is related. on the authority of Anas, that, once, a person begged the Apostle of God for a camel to ride. “Yes, I will give you the young one of a she-camel for riding,” said the Apostle. “What will I do with the young one of a she-camel?” the man asked. “A camel, after all, is the young one of a she-camel,” the Prophet replied.
– Tirmizi and Abu Dawood
(3) It is related by Anas that the Apostle of God “said to an old woman: “No old woman will go to Heaven.” At this, the woman asked: “Why? What have they done?” She used to recite the Qur’an regularly. The Prophet asked her if she had not read the verse in the Quran: “Lo! We have created them a (new) creation and made them virgin.” [Meaning the Lord shall recreate the old women in Heaven and make them young maidens] (LVI: 35-36).
The two aforementioned narratives of Hazrat Anas offer an example of the refined sense of humour of the Prophet (saws). In some other Traditions, however, jesting is forbidden. But as these Traditions show, and it is, also, supported by the practice of the Prophet (saws), we have just seen in the above reports, the commandment applies to jokes that have a malicious intent and are likely to be hurtful.
(4) It is related by Abdullah bin Abbas that the Apostle of God said: “Do not quarrel with your brother, nor joke with him, nor make a promise to him which you can not fulfill.”
The context in which jesting has been forbidden in it clearly shows that it relates to jokes that may be a cause of pain or annoyance to others.
To laugh or show pleasure or approval by smiling, also, is natural to man and there is no virtue in always being grave and solemn. It was customary with the holy Prophet to greet people with a smile, and it is easy to imagine how happy it would have made them.
(5) It is related by Jarir bin Abdullah Bahali that “since I embraced Islam, it never happened that the Apostle of God would have checked me from visiting him, and whenever he saw me, he smiled, i.e., greeted me with a smile.”
– Bukhari and Muslim
(6) It is related by Haris that he “never saw anyone who smiled more than the Apostle of God.”
(7) Ayesha relates, saying that “I never saw the Apostle of God bursting into laughter, revealing the inner part of his mouth, i.e., he never laughed loud and long so that one could see the inner part of his mouth. He only smiled.”
In some Traditions, the holy Prophet’s act of showing pleasure has been described as mirth or Zahk (laughter), but it, simply, denotes what was so typical of him, i.e., a smile. Sometimes, however, when the Prophet felt very happy, he would smile broadly which revealed a part of his inner mouth. It is, thus, stated in some reports that “the Apostle of God laughed so much that the molar teeth could be seen.”
(8) Narrates Jabir bin Samurah: “The Apostle of God would remain seated, till the rising of the sun, at the place where he had offered the Fair prayers, and get up when the sun had risen. (During that time), the Companions, (often), used to relate incidents of the Age of Perversion and laugh heartily, but the Apostle of God only smiled.”
It would be advisable, here, to refer to the two statements of celebrated Companions which have been reproduced in Mishkaat from Sharh-i-Sunnah. They read:
(i) It is related by Qatadah Tab’ee that once, someone enquired from Hazrat Abdullah bin Omar whether the Apostle of God (ever) enjoyed a joke with the Companions and laughed with them, upon which he replied: “Yes; of course. The venerable men laughed (on occasions of laughter), but, even then, Faith used to be greater in their hearts than the mountains. (Their laughter was not like the laughter of the heedless which deadened the heart).”
(ii) Bilal bin Sa’ad narrates: “I have seen the holy Companions. They used to run between fixed marks, (as the young do for fun or exercise), and, also, laugh. Then, as the night fell, they became ascetics.”