The Fundamental Traits of Hypocrites
In their outward appearance, hypocrites are almost no different from Muslims. Their intentions, however, is entirely different. To one considering their outward appearance, hypocrites could give the impression of being a pious person; with their speech, behavior and other traits, they impersonate believers and in their manner of worship, pretend conformity to religious norms.
However, their understanding of the religion is a product of their errant rationale, rather than of the Qur’an. The basis of their perspective on religion is their ambition to reap personal benefits, and satisfy their own desires and intentions.
In concealing these intentions, hypocrites strive to take advantage of those benefits that emerge from the positive environment fostered among believers who live by the morality of the Qur’an. They seek to profit personally from this bounty, abundance, beauty, peace, security, joy, unity, compassion, love and respect Allah has granted the believers as blessings. However, they believe none recognizes their opportunism but that they can readily deceive the believers. Moreover, they believe they are successful, a good fortune they attribute to their intelligence.
However, though they think otherwise, hypocrites are truly deluded. For, to the true believer, even the slightest insincerity is apparent. Still, beyond that, Allah, Who is aware of the innermost thoughts, knows the real intentions of these people. Consequently, those attributes of a believer they pretend outwardly have no validity whatsoever in Allah’s sight.
Allah relates this truth in the following verse, “... What they are doing [their worship] is purposeless.” (Surat al-Araf, 139) Moreover, Allah knows of the hypocrites’ disingenuousness, and whatever else they think are able to conceal. Consequently, in the words of the Qur’an, through such insincerity, "... [hypocrites] deceive no one but themselves but they are not aware of it." (Surat al-Baqara, 9)
A number of attributes of hypocrites are as follows:
They issue from the community of believers
Hypocrites must be from among the believers. Where there are no believers, one can talk about the people called idolaters or disbelievers. However, if there is a community of believers within a society, some may insinuate themselves into it, and pretend to be among them so as to gain advantage of the blessings that abound among the believers. The pursuit for personal gain is the only reason for their feigned piety.
From the verses of the Qur’an, we learn that the existence of a group of hypocrites within a community of believers is consistent reality. By living among the believers, hypocrites aim primarily at destroying their community from within, to harm them and disrupt their unity, and to support the disbelievers against them and Allah’s messenger. Towards all such purposes, the hypocrites choose to remain within the community of believers, for as long as possible. According to the Qur’an:
There is a group of you who propagated the lie… (Surat an-Nur, 11)
They appear pious though they have no faith
As we stated previously, the primary attribute of a hypocrite is his appearance of piety, though being devoid of faith. They do not harbour faith in their hearts; rather, their false piety is for ostentation. In verse of the Qur’an, Allah describes the condition of these people as follows:
Who is better: someone who founds his building on fear of Allah and His good pleasure, or someone who founds his building on the brink of a crumbling precipice so that it collapses with him into the Fire of Hell? Allah does not love wrongdoers. (Surat at-Tawba, 109)
Hypocrites expend great effort to imitate believers, for they assume that they will gain some profit by it. Out of their hypocrisy in religion, they believe they can deceive the believers by trying to talk to them in what they believe is a convincing manner. In the Qur'an, Allah draws our attention to the ploys of the hypocrites:
They swear to you by Allah in order to please you, but it would be more fitting for them to please Allah and His Messenger if they are believers. (Surat at-Tawba, 62)
Hypocrites attempt to convince others that they have faith, but act only to earn other people's consent. But, when they are alone, or with other hypocrites, they are never conscious that Allah sees them at every instant, and that He knows whatever they may be doing or thinking. Due to the impurity of their faith, they fulfill their acts of worship when they are with the believers. They act and speak as they do when they are among them. Yet, once they are alone, they cease performing their acts of worship, speak as disbelievers do, and are heedless as disbelievers are towards Allah. And, however good their skills at imitation may be, Allah has stated in the Qur'an that the hypocrites will be certainly exposed. Allah relates this truth as follows:
Among the people there are some who say, "We believe in Allah and the Last Day," when they are not believers. They think they deceive Allah and those who believe. They deceive no one but themselves but they are not aware of it. There is a sickness in their hearts and Allah has increased their sickness. They will have a painful punishment on account of their denial. (Surat al-Baqara, 8-10)
In another verse, Allah describes the condition of the hypocrites as follows:
The hypocrites think they deceive Allah, but He is deceiving them... (Surat an-Nisa', 142)
Their outward behavior is to deceive
Hypocrites are not recognizable by their outer appearances; rather, in that respect, they may be no different from sincere people. In the Qur'an, Allah refers to their ostentatious appearance, and their elaborate way of speaking:
When you see them, their outward form appeals to you, and if they speak you listen to what they say. But they are like propped-up planks of wood. They imagine every cry to be against them. They are the enemy, so beware of them. May Allah destroy them! How they are perverted! (Surat al-Munafiqun, 4)
Indeed, among the attributes of believers that hypocrites try to imitate are their physical purity and manner of dress. It is therefore hard to distinguish hypocrites from sincere believers. However, hypocrites suffer from a form of spiritual impurity that penetrates into every aspect of their lives. By the verse, “... Leave them alone, then! They are filth....” (Surat at-Tawba, 95), Allah informs us about this characteristic of the believers. Furthermore, Allah “... adds defilement to their defilement...” (Surat at-Tawba, 125) The light of faith never appears on their faces, for their minds are always devising evil, hatching plots, and occupied in treachery, hatred, deceit and jealousy. In the Qur’an, Allah describes their faces with the following example:
... It is as if their faces were covered by dark patches of the night. (Surah Yunus, 27)
In another verse, hypocrites are described as follows:
They will be plunged into abasement wherever they are found, unless they have a treaty with Allah and with the people. (Surah Al 'Imran, 112)
The faces of believers, on the other hand, are bright with the light of faith, for they are continually seeking of Allah’s good pleasure. As Allah relates in the following verse, “... Their mark is on their faces...” (Surat al-Fath, 29) Consequently, contrary to believers, the spiritual impurity becomes apparent in their demeanor.
They do not understand the Qur'an
It is He Who sent down the Book to you from Him: verses containing clear judgements—they are the core of the Book—and others which are open to interpretation. Those with deviation in their hearts follow what is open to interpretation in it, desiring conflict, seeking its inner meaning. No one knows its inner meaning but Allah. Those firmly rooted in knowledge say, "We believe in it. All of it is from our Lord." But only people of intelligence pay heed. (Surah Al 'Imran, 7)
Sometimes, their responses make it clear that Allah's Words have not had any influence upon them. Some of the verses informing us about this condition of the hypocrites are as follows:
Each time a sura is sent down there are some among them who say, "Which of you has this increased in faith?" As for those who believe, it increases them in faith and they rejoice at it. (Surat at-Tawba, 124)
Each time a sura is sent down, they look at one another, implying, "Can anyone see you?" Then they turn away. Allah has turned their hearts away because they are people who do not understand. (Surat at-Tawba, 127)
These responses of the hypocrites, as conveyed in the verses of the Qur’an, clearly reveal that they cannot grasp their divine purposes, or draw lessons from them. Being doubtful about Allah and the religion, they assess everything with disbelief rather than submission. As Allah informs us, “...The believers are those whose faith is increased when His Signs are recited to them.” (Surat al-Anfal, 2) However, the same verses reveal the sickness in the hypocrites’ hearts. Through the influence of Satan, hypocrites wish to infect the believers with this same weakness. In conveying their corrupt interpretations, they seek to inspire vain desires in those around them, to plant doubts in their hearts, or to cause disagreements among believers. For this reason, Allah warns believers of such people:
What! Are they in doubt about the meeting with their Lord? What! Does He not encompass all things? (Surah Fussilat, 54)
They remember Allah little
Believers are people who constantly remember Allah, turn inwardly to Him, and seek repentance from Him. They remember Allah by themselves often, as well as remind others of Him in word and deed. Remembering Allah is a natural consequence of being conscious of Allah's blessings. In one verse of the Qur'an, the importance of the remembrance of Allah is stressed:
… Remembrance of Allah is greater still. (Surat al-'Ankabut, 45)
One of the most incriminating characteristics of hypocrites is that they are not truly devoted to Allah; they do not turn to Him, or keep their minds occupied with His remembrance, nor seek forgiveness from Him. They will remember Allah at times, but rarely, for they recognize it as essential for being perceived as a Muslim. In one verse, Allah relates this fact as follows:
The hypocrites think they deceive Allah, but He is deceiving them. When they get up to pray, they get up lazily, showing off to people, and only remembering Allah a very little. (Surat an-Nisa', 142)
In other verses, Allah relates that hypocrites are those who do not keep their minds occupied with the remembrance of Him:
Satan has gained mastery over them and made them forget the remembrance of Allah. Such people are the party of Satan. No indeed! It is the party of Satan who are the losers. (Surat al-Mujadala, 19)
The men and women of the hypocrites are as bad as one another. They command what is wrong and forbid what is right and keep their fists tightly closed. They have forgotten Allah, so He has forgotten them. The hypocrites are deviators. (Surat at-Tawba, 67)
When hypocrites remember Allah, they do not do so in the way He ought to be remembered, for they do not assign to Allah the attributes due to Him, or appreciate His grandeur, artistry and supreme knowledge. Their manner of remembering Allah is not candid, sincere and frank, for their purpose in remembering Him is solely to imitate believers. Indeed, theirs is artificial and half-hearted, and based on rote learning, and aimed at hiding their true intentions and sentiments. When talking of everyday issues, they speak fluently and easily, making use of rich vocabulary. When it comes to the remembrance of Allah, however, they falter, and speak in a manner that is contrived. That they feel the need to perform this obligation, though they do not truly desire to, causes them to develop inner misgivings towards the believers. This condition is related in the Qur'an as follows:
When Allah is mentioned on His own, the hearts of those who do not believe in the Hereafter shrink back shuddering, but when others apart from Him are mentioned, they jump for joy. (Surat az-Zumar, 45)
In addition, they intentionally keep away from gatherings where the name of Allah is mentioned, and contrive various excuses to do so. Similarly, they also avoid places where the Qur'an is being read, for it reminds them of the truths of death, the Day of Judgment, and Hell, which they try to forget. Remembering these facts disturbs their consciences. In one verse, Allah relates this trait as follows:
[Disbelievers are] those whose eyes were blind to My remembrance and whose ears were unable to hear. (Surat al-Kahf, 101)
In another verse, Allah talks about the expression on hypocrites' faces as follows:
When Our Signs are recited to them—Clear Signs—you can detect denial in the faces of those who disbelieve. They all but assault those who recite Our Signs to them! Say: "Shall I inform you of something worse than that? The Fire which Allah has promised those who disbelieve. What an evil destination!" (Surat al-Hajj, 72)
They are arrogant
Another prominent characteristic of the believers is their modesty; they accept the fact that they are fallible, and thus immediately obey admonitions and warnings. Hypocrites, however, in their conceited arrogance, always think they know best, and fail to listen to advice or admit to their mistakes. They believe themselves to be clever. Further still, they regard themselves devoted servants of Allah. That the hypocrites of our Prophet's (saas) time did not accept his (saas) asking for forgiveness on their behalf is a clear sign of their conceit:
When they are told, "Come, and the Messenger of Allah will ask forgiveness for you," they turn their heads and you see them turn away in haughty arrogance. (Surat al-Munafiqun, 5)
When believers invite these people with sickness in their hearts to be sincere believers and remind them of Allah's verses, hypocrites' attitudes make it evident that they act in compliance with their conceit. They believe in their impeccability, and even do not recognize their humane mistakes. In the Qur'an, Allah relates us the end of their indulgence in their conceit:
When he is told to have fear of Allah, he is seized by pride which drives him to wrongdoing. Hell will be enough for him! What an evil resting-place! (Surat al-Baqara, 206)
When they were told, "There is no god but Allah," they were arrogant. (Surat as-Saffat, 35)
Considering themselves irreproachable, they are not disposed to recognize the end that awaits them in the Hereafter, as recompense for their moral failings and wickedness. Conceit, a characteristic typical of hypocrites, locks them in a vicious circle. Believers constantly improve themselves by making up for their mistakes and shortcomings, while hypocrites proceed into further depths of deceit. They do not benefit from admonitions. Allah informs believers about the end that awaits them, despite their supposed self-sufficiency:
No indeed! Truly man is unbridled, seeing himself as self-sufficient. (Surat al-Alaq, 6-7)
Similarly, as the verses of the Qur’an are being read, they interpret the meanings conveyed in them as if they concern not themselves, but other people. Consequently, they fail to grasp those matters from which they should be taking lessons. Although they read the Qur’an repeatedly, they consider death, the Hereafter and Hell remote. They think they are pure in intention, and, therefore, immune from punishment.
Due to their conceit, hypocrites consider other believers as inferior to themselves. Whatever they are blessed with, such as wealth, fame, status or beauty, makes them feel more arrogant, and causes them humiliate less well-off believers. The fact is, however, it is only fear of Allah that distinguishes who is superior. Believers do not esteem such false criteria; they love and respect others according to the profoundness of their faith, and not for their money, physical appearance or status. For this reason, those within the community of believers who grow in arrogance because of their possession of such blessings can be easily recognized.
They speak what is not in their hearts
Another attribute of the hypocrites is their mendacity. Having no fear of Allah, they resort to lies whenever they are in trouble, thinking they can deceive believers. They also resort to false excuses to avoid their responsibilities. In the Qur'an, Allah draws our attention to the fact that the hypocrites of the time of our Prophet (saas), who were called to defend the Muslims against the enemy, tried to escape through lies:
What assailed you on the day the two armies met was by Allah's permission, so that He would know the believers, and so that He would know the hypocrites. They were told, "Come and fight in the Way of Allah or at least help defend us." They said, "If we knew how to fight, we would certainly follow you." They were closer to disbelief that day than to faith, saying with their mouths what was not in their hearts. And Allah knows best what they are hiding. (Surah Al 'Imran, 166-167)
As we can clearly see, hypocrites abandon the believers in times of difficulty, seeking to protect themselves and their own interests. However, the way they attempt to do so is in a hypocritical manner. That is, they try to justify their excuses. Of course, they do not admit outright that they are afraid of being harmed. Instead, they foolishly provide excuses, and try to convince believers in their genuineness. In the Qur'an, Allah relates such ploys as are typical of hypocrites:
Those Arabs who remained behind will say to you, "Our wealth and families kept us occupied, so ask forgiveness for us." They say with their tongues what is not in their hearts. Say: "Who can control Allah for you in any way whether He wants harm for you or wants benefit for you?" Allah is aware of what you do. (Surat al-Fath, 11)
And a group of them said, "People of Yathrib, Your position is untenable so return!" Some of them asked the Prophet (saas) to excuse them, saying, "Our houses are exposed," when they were not exposed; it was merely that they wanted to run away. (Surat al-Ahzab, 13)
The excuses put forward by hypocrites, such as, “If we knew how to fight, we would certainly follow you,” or “our houses are unprotected,” may seem legitimate. But, Allah revealed, “[They] say with their mouths what was not in their hearts”. (Surah Al ‘Imran, 167) Moreover, in telling such lies, they swear on Allah’s name. In the Qur’an, Allah refers to the insincerity of hypocrites as follows:
They will swear by Allah: "Had we been able to, we would have gone out with you." (Surat at-Tawba, 42)
Another verse that refers to such lies is the following:
… and he calls Allah to witness what is in his heart, while he is in fact the most hostile of adversaries. (Surat al-Baqara, 204)
They hinder goodness and compete in wickedness
Another prominent attribute of believers is their enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong. That is to say, a believer does his utmost to call people to the morality of the Qur’an and hinder them from evil.
The tendency among hypocrites, on the other hand, is just the contrary; they try to prevent the deeds in conformity with Allah’s religion and feel anguished by that which brings them good. Conversely, they become enthusiastic with regards to that which concerns their selfish whims and desires. They support whatever circumstances they think will harm believers and complicate their affairs. In the following verse, Allah states:
The men and women of the hypocrites are as bad as one another. They command what is wrong and forbid what is right and keep their fists tightly closed. They have forgotten Allah, so He has forgotten them. The hypocrites are deviators. (Surat at-Tawba, 67)
They hate what is pleasing to Allah
Hypocrites go astray, for they do not conform to Allah's Will, but hate what is pleasing to Him. For believers, on the other hand, complying with Allah's good pleasure is what is of primacy, and for them the sole source of joy and happiness. On the contrary, hypocrites despise every act of worship, and do not sense pleasure in being servants to Allah. In one verse, Allah commands:
That is because they followed what angers Allah and hated what is pleasing to Him. So He made their actions come to nothing. (Surah Muhammad, 28)
They are ungrateful
Hypocrites, as are all other disbelievers, are ungrateful towards Allah. They are never appreciative to Allah, the Creator, Who created them, and Who provides them all manner of blessings, but turn their backs to His commands.
A second type of ingratitude found among hypocrites is that towards believers. Believers are those who help and support each other when they join their community. Believers summon each other to faith, and try to render themselves worthy of Paradise. The admonitions and reminders believers make are intended for their good.
For this trait of the believers, hypocrites harbor enmity towards them. Surely, this is true ingratitude, as mentioned in the Qur’an:
They swear by Allah that they said nothing, but they definitely spoke the word of disbelief and returned to disbelief after their Islam. They planned something which they did not achieve and they were vindictive for no other cause than that Allah and His Messenger had enriched them from His bounty. If they were to repent, it would be better for them. But if they turn away, Allah will punish them with a painful punishment in the world and the Hereafter, and they will not find any protector or helper on the earth. (Surat at-Tawba, 74)
You can ask forgiveness for them, or not ask forgiveness for them. Even if you asked forgiveness for them seventy times, Allah still would not forgive them. That is because they have rejected Allah and His Messenger. Allah does not guide deviant people. (Surat at-Tawba, 80)
They are unclean both physically and spiritually
In the Qur'an, Allah informs us that hypocrites are "unclean". As well as in the verse 28 of the Surat at-Tawba, which stresses that hypocrites are "unclean" in general, there is mention of their spiritual and physical impurity in those verses related to hypocrites. While outlining the difference between the mosque founded by hypocrites to cause harm to believers and divide them, and the mosque of believers, Allah draws our attention to the fact that in the mosque of believers, there are those who love to purify themselves. (Surat at-Tawba, 107-108) The Prophet (saas) also stresses the cleanliness of the faithful in one of the hadiths:
"Surely, Islam is pure, therefore be pure, because he can never enter Paradise who is not pure." (Ahmad Diya'al-Din al-Kamushkhanawi, Ramuz al-Ahadith, vol.1, 96/2)
Another verse that talks about hypocrites maintain the following:
But as for those with sickness in their hearts, it adds defilement to their defilement, and they die as disbelievers. (Surat at-Tawba, 125)
They are not at ease, but plagued with doubt
A hypocrite’s mind is filled with anxiety, worries and despondence. His misery afflicts him already while he is still in this world. Effectively, they live with great insecurity and fear. They can never attain the submission, ease and peace which believers experience.
Hypocrites feel insecure as long as they are with believers. Believers are those who have submitted themselves to Allah, and, thereby, attained the peace of mind of acknowledging that it is Allah Who removes all distress. They put their trust in Him alone.
Hypocrites, on the other hand, suffer constantly from insecurity; they never submit themselves to Allah. They are constantly fraught with the effort of justifying themselves or passing themselves off as someone else. Such efforts involve them in false pretences. They can therefore not be expected to be at peace, or feel secure and at ease.
In that disquietude, they think every adversity is a design against them. They are overly concerned that at any time they may be exposed for their hypocrisy. In the Qur’an, the state of mind of the hypocrites is related in the following verse, “... They imagine every cry to be against them.” (Surat al-Munafiqun, 4).
In another verse, Allah informs us that hypocrites are continually distressed, as well as being deluded by false hopes:
They will call out to them, "Were we not with you?" They will reply, "Indeed you were. But you made trouble for yourselves and hung back and doubted and false hopes deluded you until Allah's command arrived. The Deluder deluded you about Allah." (Surat al-Hadid, 14)
They despair easily
Another telling characteristic of a hypocrite is that, although he pretends to have fortitude, he despairs when faced with even a minor misfortune. However, that is not how he presents himself to others; he maintains that he has a profound faith, and promises that he will not swerve from the straight path, and that he will seek Allah's good pleasure, whatever the circumstances may be, and that he will remain trusting in Allah in everything he does. However, all such promises are mere words while his psychological reaction differs greatly. Unaware that Allah's support and help is always available, and that there is good in everything that Allah ordains, they become despondent with slightest adversity. In a verse of the Qur'an, Allah describes the condition of hypocrites as follows:
... More fitting for them would be obedience and honorable words. Once the matter is resolved upon, being true to Allah would be better for them. (Surah Muhammad, 20-21)
Indeed, although hypocrites look very much like believers on the outside, they share many common traits with disbelievers. At times of distress, they have a disposition contrary to the believers. When they are afflicted with sickness, for instance, they rebel against Allah, despair of His mercy, and fail to put their trust in Him. However, Allah informs us that none despairs of Allah's mercy except disbelievers.
... No one despairs of solace from Allah except for people who are disbelievers. (Surah Yusuf, 87)
In addition, by His grace, Allah eases the trial he imparts upon believers, but only for those who sincerely believe. A Muslim, who submits himself to Allah sincerely, faces the unceasing succession of tests imposed on him by Allah with security, thankfulness and trust in Him. For hypocrites, on the other hand, there is fear, apprehension and anxiety. Being under the influence of Satan, hypocrites falsely assume that the difficulties they encounter have developed beyond the control of Allah's mercy, knowledge and planning. Through such responses from them as, "if I hadn't done such and such, this would not have happened", it becomes evident that they are unaware of the ultimate perfection of every instant of the divine plan decreed by Allah. Indeed, all is created by Allah, in compliance with a plan, and for a divine purpose. And, what befits a believer is to try to recognize that such a purpose has always been ordained, and to submit himself to the wisdom of fate.
They are apprehensive with believers
Another attribute typical of hypocrites is the persistent fear they feel. Unlike believers, who are told to “feel no fear and will know no sorrow” (Surat al-Baqara, 38), hypocrites live in constant agitation. They fear the exposure of their true intentions and their dishonesty. They are in terror of their true characters being recognized, and their hypocrisy being rightly identified. In the Qur’an, this fear of the hypocrites is described as follows:
They swear by Allah that they are of your number, but they are not of your number. Rather, they are people who are scared. If they could find a bolt-hole, cave or burrow, they would turn and scurry away into it. (Surat at-Tawba, 56-57)
The extent of the terror felt by hypocrites is mentioned in another verse as follows:
You are a greater cause of terror in their breasts than Allah! That is because they are people who do not understand. (Surat al-Hashr, 13)