Islam is a practical religion, it does not float in the stratosphere of imaginary ideals but remains with the human being on the ground of realities and day-to-day concerns. It does not regard people as angels but accepts them as mortals who eat food and walk in the marketplace. Islam does not require of Muslims that their speech should consist entirely of pious utterances, that their silence should be a meditation, that they should listen to nothing except the recitation of the Qur’an, nor that they should spend all their leisure time in the mosque. Rather, it recognizes that Allah has created human beings with needs and desires, so that, as they need to eat and drink, they also need to relax, and to enjoy themselves.
Dr. Yusuf `Abdullah Al-Qaradawi, a prominent Muslim scholar, says: “Laughter or joy is part of the instinctive feelings created in humans, and Islam, being a religion that calls man to the natural phenomenon of monotheism, is not expected to forbid humanity from expressing such natural feelings. On the contrary, it welcomes pleasure. A Muslim should develop a positive and optimistic personality, and not a gloomy and pessimistic one that is negative towards life. One must try to follow the good example set by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) on this aspect. Despite his enormous responsibilities, he always had time for jokes; however, he never lied when joking. On many occasions the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) shared in the good cheer of his Companions; he’d joke with them and have fun. But as he shared in their joy, he shared in their sorrow.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon) found time to share good feelings with his wives, and was not carried away with the burdens of Prophethood to the extent that he neglected showing affection to his family. The famous Hadith of Umm Zar` found in Sahih Al- Bukhari is an evidence in this respect.
In another Hadith narrated by At-Tirmidhi, an old woman pleaded to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to ask Allah to let her enter Paradise. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) told her that there is no place in Paradise for old women. She burst into tears without understanding the deeper meaning of the Prophet’s words. He pacified her by saying that she would not enter Paradise as an old woman; rather, she would enter as a young woman full of vitality. Then he recited to her Allah’s words: ‘Lo! We have created them a (new) creation. And made them virgins. Lovers, friends.’ (Al-Waqi`ah: 35-37). The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) loved to instil joy and happiness in people’s hearts especially in happy occasions like feasts or marriage ceremonies. For instance, when Abu Bakr As-Siddiq (may Allah be pleased with him) tried to stop two young girls from singing in the Prophet’s house, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) told him: ‘Let it be, for we are now in the feast.’ Another version reads: ‘… to let the Jews know that in our religion there is time for merriment.’
The Prophet’s Companions and those who came after them also adopted the same characteristic. Though known for his strictness, `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) once told his maid: ‘I was created by the Lord of the generous while you were created by the Lord of the mean.’ When he realized that his maid was vexed by these words, he rushed to soothe her feelings by explaining to her: ‘Isn’t the Lord Who created the generous created the mean?’
However, some intellectuals and poets were not in favour of laughter, deemed it wrong and focused on its negative aspects while overlooking the positive ones.
This does not go in harmony with the practice of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) whom we should take as a model in everything.
Abu Salmah Ibn `Abdur-Rahman is quoted as saying: ‘The Prophet’s Companions neither went to extremes or passivity. They were always lively, and they had time for leisure and musical activities including activities traced to their pre-Islamic life. Yet, no one could use this to insult these Companions in their belief.
Ibn Sireen was once asked whether the Prophet’s Companions ever had time for fun. He replied: ‘What do you think of them? They are like other human beings having time for merriment. Ibn `Umar, for instance, used to joke and compose songs.
Legal Limits for Laughter and Fun:
Given all that we have said about laughter and merriment, it’s clear that Islam does not go against this because it is typically part of human nature. `Ali Ibn Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) said: ‘Give your heart a break for some time otherwise it will suffer a breakdown out of excessive strain.’ And Abu Ad-Darda’ (may Allah be pleased with him) also says: ‘I take to having leisure for my self with some sort of merriment in order to find strength to uphold justice.’
Laughter and fun have certain limitations:
1- In order to have fun or be in a joyous mood with friends one should not go to extremes: to the point of lying, for example, carrying out pranks on April Fool’s Day. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to joke, but he did not joke with lies.
2- Joking shouldn’t hurt people’s dignity and honour. Allah says: ‘O ye who believe! Let not a folk deride a folk who may be better than they (are), nor let women (deride) women who may be better than they are; neither defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. Bad is the name of lewdness after faith…’ (Al-Hujuraat: 11) The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also said: ‘Every Muslim should beware of making fun of his fellow brother.’ (Reported by Muslim)
3- Joking shouldn’t lead to frightening or terrorizing people, for the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: ‘It is not permissible for anyone to frighten a Muslim.’
4- Based on the famous saying: ‘For every situation there’s a suitable time, and a proper time for every speech’, one should not joke when people are overwhelmed with sorrow or when the situation needs composure. That is why Almighty Allah strongly rebuked the polytheists who laughed when they heard the recitation of the Glorious Qur’an. This is evidenced in Allah’s words: ‘Marvel ye then at this statement. And laugh and not weep. While ye amuse yourselves?’ (An-Najm: 59-61)
5- Having fun shouldn’t be an open and unrestricted game. Moderation preserves the mind from distortion and the society from falling apart. Besides, we all know that Islam goes against extremism and excessiveness in everything: even in worship and merriment. Excessiveness here refers to overdoing something to the extent of neglecting more important things. Perhaps this is what is meant in the following Hadith: ‘Don’t argue with your fellow brother and never joke with him.’
Sa`id Ibn Al-`Aas (may Allah be pleased with him) also used to tell his son: ‘Try to slow down a bit in joking, for too much joking weakens one’s personality and gives a chance for bad people to insult you. But I don’t mean that you should abandon it altogether, for that also drives away friends and companions.’
So this indicates that moderation is one of the true features of Islam, and it is what distinguishes Muslims from others. We pray to Almighty Allah to guide us to this proper way of life and conduct.”