They Aim to Deceive the Believers
As mentioned earlier, what distinguishes hypocrites from other disbelievers is that they present themselves as being believers. For the sake of achieving some gain, they wish to be among the believers, thinking it “profitable” to be amongst them.
Through every situation, a hypocrite pretends to live by the principles of Islam, in order to prove himself to believers. He performs his acts of worship for show. Yet, such worship will not be acceptable in Allah’s sight, for in order for an act to be considered worship, it must be performed for Allah’s good pleasure alone. Hypocrites, on the other hand, seek other people’s approval rather than Allah’s good pleasure. In their prayers, charity, oaths or speech, they aim to win other people’s esteem, to reap some benefit and to prove themselves to others. However, sincere Muslims do not harbor such concerns, but live only to earn His good pleasure. For, they are aware that there is nothing hidden from Allah’s sight, and that one will be faced with every deed he had engaged in, in His sight, even if he had forgotten it. We can consider the characteristics of hypocrites under the following headings:
They make their oaths a cloak
Lying is one of the most frequently used methods hypocrites employ to conceal themselves within the community of believers, and to cover their dishonesty. It is such that, for hypocrites, lying almost becomes a habit, and in order to bring credibility to themselves, they resort to swearing false oaths. They swear oaths in Allah's name knowing what high regard these have in the eyes of believers. Allah reveals the true intent of the hypocrites as follows:
They made their oaths into a cloak and barred the Way of Allah, so they will have a humiliating punishment. (Surat al-Mujadala, 16)
Another verse in the Qur'an, stating that hypocrites swear falsely, is:
... And they swear to falsehood and do so knowingly. (Surat al-Mujadala, 14)
Being wrapped up in their own deceit, hypocrites are greatly deluded, assuming that their lies will not be exposed or that they will be called to account. But, according to the Qur’an: “… Allah knows that they are lying.” (Surat at-Tawba, 42) and “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, 10)
They perform their prayers for show
In the Qur'an, Allah mentions those who perform their prayers to earn people's esteem as follows:
So woe to those who do prayer, and are forgetful of their prayer, those who show off and deny help to others. (Surat al-Maun, 4-6)
With these verses, Allah introduces us the character of the hypocrite. Believers, on the other hand, as the following verse maintains, “It is the believers who are successful: those who are humble in their prayer” (Surat al-Muminun, 1-2), are those who sincerely turn to Allah in their prayers and feel “humility” towards Him.
Other related verses are the following:
... 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)
… and are forgetful of their prayer, those who show off and deny help to others. (Surat al-Maun, 6-7)
They seek esteem from others and not Allah's good pleasure
Generally, hypocrites tend to seek out other people's high regard rather than Allah's good pleasure. They are often over-exaggerated in their tempers, to present themselves as believers with fear of Allah. They perform which they do so as to make it known to everybody, and to earn the admiration of other believers. The Qur'an makes reference to the hypocrites' insincerity as follows:
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 are concerned of their good deeds not being publicized, for they lack sincere faith. They want to bring attention to what they do to as many people as possible, in order to—in their own minds—earn the esteem of the believers. Their sole purpose is to gain prestige among others. However, all ought to remember that, because hypocrites lack sincerity, and fail to observe Allah's good pleasure, their repayment in the Hereafter may not be as expected. In many verses of the Qur'an, Allah states those who expend much effort to the point of exhaustion, yet whose efforts, or in other words, acts of worship, are of no avail. For this reason, those so reprehensible in morality should avoid such a pitiful end.
They spend in charity for show
Another act of worship hypocrites perform for show is the giving of charity. Spending wealth (in the way of Allah) refers to all kinds of spending and types of donations made for Allah's cause, and to earn His good pleasure. While believers spend their wealth for Allah's good pleasure, hypocrites perform the act of worship for people's esteem. In the Qur'an, Allah reveals the hypocrites' intentions as follows:
… and also for those who spend their wealth to show off to people, not having faith in Allah and the Last Day. Anyone who has made Satan his comrade, what an evil comrade he is! What harm would it have done them to have had faith in Allah and the Last Day and to have given of what Allah has provided for them? Allah knows everything about them. (Surat an-Nisa', 38-39)
Yet, the Qur'an relates that the charity spent by hypocrites to win the esteem of others is unacceptable in Allah's sight:
Say: "Whether you give readily or reluctantly, it will not be accepted from you. You are people who are deviators." Nothing prevents what they give from being accepted from them but the fact that they have rejected Allah and His Messenger, and that they only come to prayer lethargically, and that they only give reluctantly. (Surat at-Tawba, 53-54)
From these verses, we learn that hypocrites perform their acts of worship “reluctantly.” This is another reason for the persistent distress hypocrites feel. All the acts in which they engage are of no avail, for they perform them simply to impress others. Furthermore, when Allah wills, He exposes the true character of these insincere people, to invalidate their actions in this world. Therefore, hypocrites also ultimately fail to attain their desired goal: other people’s approval.
In another verse, Allah provides the following example, to explain the invalidity of the acts of worship performed by those who spend for show, and His blessings upon those who spend for His good pleasure:
You who believe! Do not nullify your charity by demands for gratitude or insulting words, like him who spends his wealth, showing off to people and not believing in Allah and the Last Day. His likeness is that of a smooth rock coated with soil, which, when heavy rain falls on it, is left stripped bare. They have no power over anything they have earned. Allah does not guide disbelieving people. The metaphor of those who spend their wealth, desiring the pleasure of Allah and firmness for themselves, is that of a garden on a hillside. When heavy rain falls on it, it doubles its produce; and if heavy rain does not fall, there is dew. Allah sees what you do. (Surat al-Baqara, 264-265)
They do not make a concerted effort in Allah's Way
Though hypocrites spend their wealth to impress others, what they spend is a pittance. What they spend is only of a small amount; they never adopt the habit peculiar to believers, as described in the verse, “Allah has bought from the believers their selves and their wealth in return for the Garden.” (Surat at-Tawba, 111).
Believers do not hesitate to spend all their resources to earn Allah’s good pleasure. Hypocrites, on the other hand, remain in the company of believers merely for personal gain. Therefore, rather than seeking Allah’s good pleasure, they consider self-sacrifices as investments made for the future; they think a small gift of charity made in the name of pretence will entitle them to benefit from the bounty of blessings conferred upon the believers.
In the Qur’an, Allah draws attention to the stinginess of hypocrites:
Among them there were some who made an agreement with Allah: "If He gives us of His bounty we will definitely give alms and be among the righteous." But when He does give them of His bounty they are tight-fisted with it and turn away. So He has punished them by putting hypocrisy in their hearts until the day they meet Him because they failed Allah in what they promised Him and because they lied. (Surat at-Tawba, 75-77)
The miserliness and selfishness of a hypocrite is quite contrary to the self-sacrifice typical of a believer, for a believer seeks rewards for his deeds in Allah's sight, aiming only for the Hereafter. He has fully grasped the transitory and ephemeral nature of this world, and that the purpose of his existence here is solely to earn Allah's favor.
They are greedy and selfish
As well as avoiding all types of self-sacrifice, hypocrites struggle to reap as much as they can personally from other believers. Trivialities occupy their lives, for they do not designate seeking Allah's favor its purpose. For that reason, contrary to the nobility and self-sacrifice of believers, hypocrites are greedy and selfish. According to the Qur'an, the hypocrites' profiteering from believers is mentioned as follows:
Among them there are some who find fault with you concerning the alms. If they are given some of it, they are pleased but if they are not given any, they are angry. If only they had been pleased with what Allah and His Messenger had given them and had said, "Allah is enough for us. Allah will give us of His bounty as will His Messenger. It is to Allah that we make our plea." (Surat at-Tawba, 58-59)
The phrase, "Allah is enough for us", provides a full disclosure of the believers' disposition. A believer hopes that Allah will generously reward him for his deeds in the Hereafter with His Paradise, mercy and favor. In one of his sayings, our Prophet (saas) said that the same is true for believers in the life of this world:
If you put your faith completely in Allah, He will arrange for your sustenance in the same way as He provides for the birds. They go out in the morning with their stomachs empty and return filled in the evening. (Tirmidhi)
On account of the triviality of this world, it would not befit believers to be greedy or to oppose the prophets and the believers. A believer studiously avoids being among those described in the verse below:
But if anyone opposes the Messenger after the guidance has become clear to him, and follows other than the path of the believers, We will hand him over to whatever he has turned to, and We will roast him in Hell. What an evil destination! (Surat an-Nisa', 115)
A believer knows that Allah may grant him bounteous blessings also in this world. A hypocrite, on the other hand, being unaware of Allah and His blessings, seeks frivolous and worthless objectives, and thus degrades himself.
They conspire against believers
If the hypocrites in the community of believers are more than one, they meet in private and, as the Qur’an informs us, hold “secret meetings”.
A hypocrite, who strives to remain in the company of believers, will ultimately locate others who are similar to himself, who are also selfish and arrogant. They form groups, try to distance themselves from believers, and remain in each other’s company. They are not comfortable to be among believers, for they remind them of their corruption, and remind them to be self-sacrificing.
Allah tells us in the Qur’an about the factions formed by the hypocrites, and the secret meetings they hold. A “secret meeting” is the congregation of hypocrites, without believers’ knowledge, during which they discuss possibilities for “rebellion” or “fitnah”. In the Qur’an, this comportment of hypocrites is described as follows:
Do you not see those who were forbidden to confer together secretly returning to the very thing they were forbidden to do, and conferring together secretly in wrongdoing and enmity and disobedience to the Messenger? And when they come to you they greet you with words Allah has never used in greeting you, and say to themselves "Why does Allah not punish us for what we say?" Hell will be enough for them! They will roast in it. What an evil destination! (Surat al-Mujadala, 8)
In another verse which informs believers about these "secret meetings", Allah says that they are held the "night."
They try to conceal themselves from people, but they cannot conceal themselves from Allah. He is with them when they spend the night saying things which are not pleasing to Him. Allah encompasses everything they do. (Surat an-Nisa', 108)
In another verse, Allah reveals that these actions of the hypocrites are inspired by Satan:
Conferring in secret is from Satan, to cause grief to those who have faith; but it cannot harm them at all, unless by Allah's permission. So let the believers put their trust in Allah... (Surat al-Mujadala, 10)
By pretending to be believers, some hypocrites strive to remain in the company of believers, only to spy and convey the information to disbelievers. Because, disbelievers consider believers their enemies, but cannot cause them harm due to the solidarity of believers. Therefore, they approach hypocrites from the community of believers, offer them certain benefits and, in return, ask for information.
This treachery of those hypocrites who lived in the time of our Prophet (saas), is revealed the verse, "and among you there are those who hearken for their sake; and Allah knows the unjust." (Surat at-Tawba, 47). In the Qur'an, hypocrites are described as "listeners (who collect information) on behalf of others". The related verse reads:
O Messenger! Do not be grieved by those who rush headlong into disbelief among those who say "We have faith" with their tongues when their hearts contain no faith. And among them are those who listen to lies, listeners on behalf of other folk who come not onto you... (Surat al-Ma'ida, 41)