Too Much Laughter, Not Enough Crying
Part Three: Entertaining Ourselves to Death by Shaykh Farid Dingle
In order to get through life with ease, the Early Muslims (salaf) focussed on certain key ways of living that would make it spiritually & practically easier and more fruitful. They coined a term for the different and variegated rules that they lived by, a term that summarised the system of living for the Hereafter. They called it Zuhd: Unattachment in this world. For purposes of this article series, we have found the best match in terms of meaning to be asceticism. Other terms to describe Zuhd are being unconcerned for worldly matters, minimal living, or living simple. This is the third article from a series of articles and podcasts by SeekersGuidance scholar, Shaykh Farid Dingle.
Since religion “lost” to enlightenment, and everything sacred became comical, we laugh at everything that was once taken seriously. We laugh at religion and politics, we laugh at the immoral, we laugh at the suffering of others, we laugh at the state of the modern family, we laugh at adultery, and we laugh at our parents & grandparents. While laughing seems to be conterminous with happiness, we actually uproot the very source of happiness (the Sacred) by treating everything as nauseously profane. This kind of mindset is deadly when it comes to being religious Muslims and taking life, death, and the Hereafter seriously.
Waki ibn al-Jarrah dedicated a chapter to the importance of laughing in moderation, and on the importance of laughter’s counterpart: crying.
He opens the chapter with the hadith in Bukhari and Muslim, ‘If you knew what I knew, you would laugh little and cry much.’ What does that mean? It means that if you truly appreciated how short life is, how many opportunities we miss out on to better ourselves on an eternal timeframe, and how much we do harm ourselves and offend our Cherishing lord – you would act differently, you would live your life in a different way, and you would pine for all the days, months, and years that you have wasted. This hadith is both informative and instructive: it tells what is wrong with us, and what we should do.
Cultivating Active Concern
It is extremely important to contrast productive shock and sadness with depression, and the dividing line is actually very easy to draw. When you focus on yourself, and what a dire spiritual, financial, relational, or medical predicament you are in – you fall to depression. You are a man in a box. By contrast, when you look to Allah Most High and His ability to save you from every mess you got yourself in, then you have an active concern. There is a way to relieve yourself from this kind of worry. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, it is reachable, and it will save you if you hold fast to Allah’s rope.
Echoing these words, Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-As advised of a way to harness active concern. He said, ‘If you knew what I knew, you would laugh little and cry much, you would shout out at the top of your voice until you could do so no longer, and you would remain in prostration until your back gave in!’ Getting serious about the obligatory prayers, about prayer in general, and focussing on the quality of your prostration are all ways to get to the other side of the tunnel. In fact, they are not merely means, but rather ends: Allah only puts us in difficulties to turn us to Him. The goal is not actually getting out of debt, or being cured of cancer, or getting through a difficult divorce. Rather the goal is being with Allah in happiness and sorrow, difficulty, and ease. But tears—or feeling the pain—is an important part of the journey.
Moist Eyes from Tears of Fear and Sadness
Tears were no strangers to the early Muslims. One of the early Muslims said,
‘I saw Abdullah ibn Masud cry so much that the pebbles near his feet were wet.’ Another said, ‘I have never seen people like us. We walk in crowds crying.’ For them, it was even something the rest of creation did. ‘Do you find it weird that I cry out of dread of Allah?!’ said Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-As. ‘Even this moon is crying for fear of Allah.’
It was natural to them because it was the example given to them by the Prophet. Someone was reciting, ‘Indeed, with Us [for them] are shackles and burning fire — and food that chokes and a painful punishment.’ (Qur’an, 75: 12-13) and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) fainted. What a stark difference this is to someone who just thinks of Paradise and Hell as a complete joke! For him, it was a palpable reality whose mere mention and description provoked emotional and physiological effects. Indeed crying at hearing or reading the Qur’an was something common to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) peace and his followers. Abdullah ibn Umar was reading Surat al Mutaffifin. When he got to the words ‘On the day that man will stand before the Lord of the Worlds’, he fell down in tears and could no longer recite.
Why would they cry? Doesn’t that make the Qur’an and Islam something bad because it makes people unhappy? In essence, they cried because they were genuinely connected. They were connected with their souls, with the sense of awe and gratitude due to Allah, with the utter doom of Hell, and with the unthinkable happiness and security of Paradise. For them, as we say, it was all too much. But not too much in a negative sense. Rather, as mentioned before, it moved them deeply, and it spurred them on to do and act. It didn’t make them lose their minds or give up and die.
Abu Hurayra said, ‘No one will enter the Hell-Fire who cries because of dread of Allah. Not until milk goes back into the udder!’
One of the most obvious reasons they cried was because of their sins, or shortcomings. Waki cites a narration from Prophet Jesus in which he says, ‘Good on him who cries over his sins, watches what he says, and stays at home.’ Abdullah ibn Masud told his son, ‘My son, when you remember your sins, cry.’ Mujahid even mentioned that Prophet David (upon whom be peace) cried after he “sinned” until everything around him started to shake.
Abdullah ibn Rawah once started to cry, so his wife started to cry too. ‘Why are you crying?’ he asked her.
‘I saw you crying so I started to cry too,’ she replied.
‘[I am crying because] I have been told that I will definitely come to [the Hell-Fire], but I have not been told that I will actually leave it.’
The reference he was making was to the verses ‘And there is none of you except he will come to it. This is upon your Lord an inevitability decreed. Then We will save those who feared Allah and leave the wrongdoers within it, on their knees.’ (Qur’an, 19:71-72) The thought of coming to Hell and not being of those who fear God who will be saved from it was enough for him to cry. Such was his fear, that his wife cried almost out of osmosis.
The mere grandeur of Allah and His creation was also enough to make them cry. Abu Dharr al Ghifari said, ‘The sky shook—and well it deserved to!—There is not a single handspan in it save that in it there is a prostrating angel. If you knew what I know you would not enjoy your women so much in bed, and you would get out to the highlands crying at the tops of your voice!’ He was not condemning sexual intercourse, as we know it is something encouraged in Islam. Rather he was referring to excessive interest in the opposite sex and this world in general. The augustness of the message, and what it signified & implied was also something that shook them up. When the verse ‘Do you laugh and show surprise at this discourse, and not even cry?’ (Qur’an, 53: 59-60) was revealed, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was not seen laughing or even smiling.
How did they actively observe this state? Being conservative with laughter was certainly a habit that they observed. When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did laugh, it was more of a smile. They would also try to make themselves cry. Abu Bakr said, ‘Cry, and if you cannot cry then feign crying.’
And it is of no serendipity that Waki added in this chapter the words of Abdullah ibn Masud, ‘Get into the habit of doing good things because goodness is acquired by habit.’ When you habitually ignore everything important, and habitually laugh at everything and anything, and fill your life with continual hits of entertainment. It is no surprise that you cannot get yourself to change and will never weep over your sins. And conversely, when you habitually reflect on death and what you are doing with your life, it is no surprise that change eventually seeps into your life, and that tears, be they of love or fear, accompany you hand in hand through life.
We can conclude this chapter with the words of Abu al-Abbas ibn Masruq who said,
‘The tree of fully recognizing and appreciating Allah (marifa) is watered by thinking hard about things while the tree of heedlessness is watered by the rank of ignorance. The tree of repentance is watered by regret.’
Physical tears, perhaps, could be said to be both the water and the fruit.
May Allah forgive us all.
About the Author
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to crafts lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language which can be found here.
The corresponding podcast is due for release soon.