Shaykh Yahya Rhodus speaks on the three signs of hypocrisy that a believer needs to watch out for and work on to better conform to the ideals of Islam.

The Messenger of God, Allah bless him and give him peace, said:

The characteristics of a hypocrite are three: when he speaks he lies; when he gives his word, he breaks it; and when he is given a trust, he is unfaithful. (Bukhari and Muslim)

There are a number of things we learn from this hadith of our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, the one who is truthful in of himself and the one who is proven to be true. First is that the hadith begins with a word “ayah,” which is translated as sign.

It is as if the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, is teaching us to read the signs of people. And this gets back to the whole function of prophecy. The Prophet, Allah bless him and given him peace, is teaching us how to view the world. He, Allah bless him and given him peace, is teaching us how to perceive.

The Mirror Image of Our True Selves

As one of our teachers said: “The Sunna is an optic, it is a way that we can then look at the world if we implement it within ourselves.” Likewise if we want to further this discussion we could speak of revelation itself as being like a mirror, a mirror by which we see our true selves.

As is the case of the mirror is that it shows how we really are. A healthy person looks into the mirror to see what needs to be improved, what needs to be cleaned up. Whereas the egoist will look into the mirror to admire his or herself. Much of religion ultimately relates to self-knowledge. “Whoever knows himself, knows his Lord.”

We are taught to approach knowledge as this is what revelation helps us do. It is to know the true state of our self, so that we can improve but it also works in both ways. There are people that have their true nature come out: that of disbelief, when they approach revelation.

Signs of the Hypocrite

Our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, begins this hadith by saying: “The sign (ayah) of a hypocrite.” We will look further into this word, signs, because this is one of the scary words. This is one of the important words that we need to know so that we can protect ourselves from it.

Our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, is teaching us to read the signs in people. There are certain things that one outwardly does that indicate certain realities within one. When we talk about things that are bad or evil, it’s important that we learn about them or learn of them so that we can protect ourselves from them.

So, What is hypocrisy? Hypocrisy is when a person’s outward does not correspond to his inward, or his words to his deeds. There are two types of hypocrisy. 1) There is hypocrisy in belief. And 2) there is hypocrisy in acts.

The worst of the two is hypocrisy in belief. This is the category of people that Allah Most High says: “Indeed the hypocrites are in the lowest descending rank of the fire” (Sura al Nisa 4:145) We know that this is a very severe state and the reason is because not only is someone concealing their own belief while outwardly professing Islam. What ends up happening is that they are doing two wrongs. They are wrong in disbelieving and they are wrong in deceiving other people.

Hypocrisy in Acts

If we look at the second aspect of this we see how many problems arise from people placing their trust in other people whose internal reality is other than what they profess outwardly. There is a long list of harms that stem from this and we have multiple examples of this in the life story of our Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and give him peace.

Here the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, is not talking about hypocrisy in belief, rather he is referring to hypocrisy in acts. What we ultimately mean by this is that a person who has these three characteristics which the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, mentions resembles the hypocrite in belief in the fact that the outward does not correspond to the inward.

For instance, when someone lies you often times as a default position will accept what they’re saying as true, but what’s hidden behind them is that they’re actually lying, so that the outward is different to the reality. Or when someone gives you their word and make a promise but then break it.” So outwardly that it appears that it’s going to be one way but it is another in the end. And when someone is given a trust. Outwardly it looks like they are going to take care of that thing but then they do not. OR do something else entirely.

These three things resemble hypocrisy in belief which is severe. So our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, mentions this in order to warn us from it so that we can be true believers.

Lying, Breaking Promises and Breaking Trust

The definition of lying is to inform another that something is otherwise than it really is, whether intentionally or out of ignorance. However one is not taken to account unless one lies intentionally. That is, when someone thinks something is true then they convey that, but it turns out not to be true. They are not taken to account for that.

The proof of this is when the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: “Whoever lies about me intentionally then let him take his place in the fire.” Nevertheless we have to be careful because our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, also said “It is sufficient for a man to be in a state of sin that he tells other people everything he is told.”

We have to be careful, even if lying is if we intentionally don’t tell the truth, there are other ways that we get close to falling into this.

Truthfulness of the Tongue

One of the things that we should be seeking is truthfulness of word. We know that it starts with “sidqul lisaan,” being truthful of tongue, and it ultimately leads to being “siddiq,” an ultimate confirmer of truth, in all the dimensions of that meaning.

We have to get used to telling the truth. We have to get used to telling the truth even if it is bitter. Truthfulness saves you in the end. There is one thing to note here in relation to exaggeration. Some people say: “I’ve told you a 100 times” even though they don’t intend that exact amount, but intend that it be a lot.

However, if someone is in actual fact only asked once, some scholars say that this is a lie. But if the person is asked a number of times – more than what is generally accepted – then the person is not committing a sin when they say such a thing. There are degrees between these two that we have to be very careful of falling into. We need to watch carefully what we say.

Likewise, there are times when we are under pressure. There are times when we are uneasy. When it’s easier for us to lie. We have to then be committed to telling the truth and to be scrupulous in thinking about different circumstances that we find ourselves in so we can always maintain sidqul lisan: truthfulness of tongue and avoid lying.

The Value of One’s Word

The second characteristic here is “when he gives his word, he breaks it.” We have to get know that if we are giving our word, we are going to fulfill that. If you make an ordinary promise to someone else and you don’t intend to fulfill that promise, it is haram (unlawful) and sinful.

If, however, someone makes a promise and intends to fulfill that promise and for some reason can’t, that’s a different situation. But the dictates of ihsan (spiritual excellence) are that someone takes their own words very seriously. If they say they’re going to do something, they follow through.

There are some scholars who can’t rest at night if they have given their word until they fulfilled their word. It’s better not to tell someone that you’re going to do something and to go ahead and do it without mentioning it to them, than it is to tell them that you’re not able to fulfill this.

This is something that we need to teach ourselves and unfortunately that you find especially in our times. People are not living up to this and if this becomes prevalent in someone it is actually one of the signs that there is a sign of hypocrisy in acts in relation to him.

Betrayal of Trust

Finally “when he is given a trust, he is unfaithful.” Allah says in the Qur’an: “Do not betray Allah and his messenger, nor knowingly betray your trust.” (Sura al Anfal 8:27) The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: “Someone who cannot keep a trust is devoid of faith. Someone who can not keep an agreement is devoid of religion.”

Not keeping our trust is something very serious. If you are entrusted with something, whether it be a physical object or a secret or whatever it might be, it is a trust before Allah. This is one of the greatest criteria by which we determine who the real people are.

We have these three traits: that of lying, that of breaking promises, and that of betraying our trust.
Our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, included here that which relates to that “qawl,” which is lying. That which pertains to actions, which is the actual act of betraying the trust. And that which relates to intention, which is the breaking of promises. A person who has these traits is getting closer and closer to these people that Allah has deemed blameworthy in the Qur’an.

So the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, combines these characteristics that comprehensively deal with the human being by way of word, by way of action, and by way of intention so that we can protect ourselves from this.

May Allah Most High protect us and the believers from all forms of hypocrisy and bless us to be upright sincere people for this religion.


The Content of Character podcast is brought to you by Shaykh Yahya Rhodus of Al-Maqasid Institute, and powered by SeekersHub Global Islamic Seminary. Listen to this episode in full on the SeekersHub website, or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, Android, or RSS.

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"Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a similar reward"-- The Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him)