How Do We Identify and Prevent Different Levels of Hypocrisy?

Answered by Shaykh Bassem Itani


What are the levels of hypocrisy, and how can we avoid it?


All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds, and blessings and peace be upon our master Muhammad, his family, and all his companions.


Hypocrisy can be ideological or practical. Ideological hypocrisy involves outwardly displaying faith while internally harboring disbelief. Practical hypocrisy involves outwardly displaying good deeds while internally harboring the opposite, i.e., bad deeds. This is a discrepancy between one’s internal and external states. We can refer to the former as “greater” or “higher” hypocrisy and the latter as “lesser” or “lower” hypocrisy.

I point out an important aspect to help you understand the meaning of hypocrisy accurately. The word “hypocrisy” (Nifaq) is derived from “nafaqa,” which refers to a burrow dug by some animals like moles and rabbits with two or more openings. When attacked by an enemy, they escape from the other end. Thus, a hypocrite has two faces: apparent and hidden, contradicting each other.

An ideological hypocrite is one who internally harbors a religion like Judaism, Christianity, or others or disbelieves in Allah while outwardly displaying Islam. The ruling on ideological hypocrisy is disbelief. Hence, we see the Quranic text broadly highlighting the reality, signs, and forms of this dangerous hypocrisy in society, warning Muslims against this category, indicative of the corruption of their hearts. For instance, Allah (Most High) says:

“When they meet the believers they say, ‘We believe.’ But when alone with their evil associates they say, ‘We are definitely with you; we were only mocking.’ Allah will throw their mockery back at them, leaving them to continue wandering blindly in their defiance. They are the ones who trade guidance for misguidance. But this trade is profitless, and they are not (rightly) guided.” [Quran, 2:14-16]

A chapter in the Quran is named “al-Munafiqun” (The Hypocrites) for this very reason. Similarly, the Prophetic Sunna also clearly depicts the reality and traits of the hypocrites. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

“You will find the worst of people on the Day of Resurrection before Allah to be the two-faced person who comes to these with one face and to those with another.” [Bukhari]


A two-faced person, the hypocrite, walks between two groups with two different faces, coming to one with a face and to the other differently. Allah (Most High) says:

“Torn between belief and disbelief—belonging neither to these (believers) nor those (disbelievers).” [Quran, 4:143]

This means the hypocrites are confused between faith and disbelief, not outwardly with the believers, nor inwardly with the disbelievers. Their exteriors are with the believers, but their interiors are with the disbelievers, and some of them are afflicted with doubt, inclining towards these at times and towards those at others. [‘Ayni, Umdat al-Qari]

Legislation has given ideological hypocrisy a specific meaning, along with prayer, pilgrimage, fasting, etc.

The hypocrite in actions is a believer who resembles some of the hypocritical behaviors in belief that do not expel them from Islam, such as lying, breaking promises, and betrayal. In Shari‘a, such a person is deemed a transgressor (fasiq). Some of their actions may be major sins, while others are minor. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) provided some signs of a hypocrite in actions in some narrations. He said,

“The signs of a hypocrite are three: when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he breaks it; and when he is entrusted, he betrays.” [Bukhari]

I guide you to some matters that help a believer avoid practical hypocrisy:

Dangers of Hypocrisy

Firstly, a believer should be aware of the dangers of practical hypocrisy. These include the wrath of Allah Almighty upon those who practice this act, punishment in the grave and hellfire, public disgrace when their true nature is exposed among people, weakened faith in the heart and deterioration in behavior and ethics due to practicing hypocrisy, and increased heart disease that makes one feel distant from Allah Almighty. This awareness leads one to despise the actions of hypocrites and their ways and traits, thus avoiding this heart disease and distancing oneself from practical hypocrisy.

Protection against Hypocrisy

Secondly, a believer should frequently remember Allah (Most High), including reciting the Quran, as remembrance is a protection against hypocrisy and a safeguard for the heart. Remembrance nurtures faith in the heart, just as water nurtures plants, making one’s heart humble, loving, and fearful of Allah. It prevents the heart from accepting any traits of hypocrisy. Allah (Most High) says,

“And remember Allah often so you may triumph.” [Quran, 8:45]

The Quran confirms that frequent remembrance leads to success, a path of righteousness that leads to Allah’s pleasure and eternal paradise.


Thirdly, a believer should frequently pray to be kept away from hypocrisy. A prayer emerging from a pure, clean, and sincere heart is answered by Allah. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to pray, “O Allah, I seek refuge in You from discord, hypocrisy, and bad manners.” [Abu Dawud]


Fourthly, a believer should act in ways that oppose the traits of hypocrites. For instance, contemplate the qualities of hypocrites and act in opposition. Discipline oneself to be truthful, which is the opposite of lying, to be trustworthy, which is the opposite of betrayal, and to keep promises instead of breaking them, and so on. This is one of the practical ways to prevent the despicable trait of hypocrisy.

I advise everyone on the path of truth to verify their faith and accompany scholarly and righteous people to benefit from their gatherings. Their company offers guidance for minds, souls, and hearts and brings a light that dispels disbelief, wickedness, disobedience, and hypocrisy from the heart.

May Allah protect me and you from discord, hypocrisy, and bad manners. Our final prayer is that all praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds.

[Shaykh] Bassem Itani

Shaykh Dr. Bassem Hussayn Itani was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1965. He earned his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies in 2005. Among his mentors were Shaykh Muhammad Taha Sukkar, Shaykh Adib al-Kallas, Shaykh Mulla Abdul ‘Alim al-Zinki, Shaykh Abdul Rahman al-Shaghouri, Shaykh Abdul Razzaq al-Halabi, Shaykh Dr. Mustafa Dib al-Bugha, Shaykh Dr. Wahba al-Zuhayli, Dr. Muhammad al-Zuhayli, and others, may Allah have mercy on them all. 

Shaykh Itani has a rich background in both academic and administrative fields. He has held significant positions in many governmental and non-governmental institutions in Lebanon and abroad. This includes his role as a member of the Academic Committee at SeekersGuidance and a senior teacher with the free online global seminary.

From 2020 to 2021, he served as the Dean of the College of Da‘wa – University for Islamic Studies (Lebanon) – Postgraduate Studies. He was the Director of Dar Iqra for Islamic Sciences from 1998 to 2018. Shaykh Itani is a well-versed teacher in several academic subjects, including Fiqh, Usul, Aqida, and Tafsir. He has supervised and examined numerous Master’s and Doctoral theses at various universities and colleges in Lebanon.

His contributions to Islamic sciences are also evident in his writings and research. His notable works include “The Relied-upon Statements of Imam Zufar in the Hanafi School,” “Collective Ijtihad: The Sublimity of Thought in the 21st Century,” and “Custom and its Impact in Islamic Jurisprudence.” Shaykh Itani has actively participated in numerous scientific conferences and seminars, both in Lebanon and internationally. He is linguistically adept, excelling in Arabic, proficient in French, and comfortably conversant in English.