UPDATE: Yes, this was an April Fool’s post. Seeing as I’ve called Qaradawi a “moderate monster” I’m sure that my implied endorsement of his fatwa had some people worried for my sanity. Scroll down below the fatwa for more details.
According to the dictionary, April Fools’ Day is a day for practical jokes, but in many places those jokes take the form of lies.
Islam condemns lying. Good people in general consider it a vice. If lying is originally forbidden, then April Fools’ would consequently be forbidden because of the unwarranted dismay and chagrin it causes, even if it is for just one hour. It plays with people’s trust, and is a pure emulation of vice.
In this regard the eminent scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states:
Telling lies is bad conduct. It is not proper for righteous people and true believers; rather, it is a sign of hypocrisy, as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The hypocrite has three characteristics: he tells lies, breaks his promise, and breaches the trust” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) warned against lying for the purpose of entertaining people. He said, “Woe on anyone who speaks to entertain the people by lying, woe on him, woe on him…” (Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi, and An-Nasa’i).
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also said, “One is not considered a true believer till he abandons lying for fun and arguing even if he was telling the truth” (Ahmad and At-Tabarani). Several Prophetic hadiths warned the Muslims against frightening others seriously or jokingly. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, “It is not permissible for anyone to frighten a Muslim” (Abu Dawud).
Consequently, lying is forbidden in any form, and on this occasion (April Fools’ Day) it is forbidden for four reasons:
1. The prohibition of lying which is confirmed by the Qur’an and the Sunnah,
2. The unwarranted grief or fear it may bring on a person or his entire family, even if only for one hour,
3. The betrayal of trust it entails,
4. The emulation of a silly custom that is not ours, that of lying.
Sometimes the idea of telling a lie on this day may be obnoxious to the whole society, not only to a person.
Moreover, Sheikh `Atiyyah Saqr, former head of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee, adds:
It is agreed upon by all religions and sound minds that truthfulness is a virtue and lying is a vice. To tell the truth, your words should reflect reality; to tell a lie is to contradict what you are actually saying or doing. The worst kind of lying in sayings is perjury and in deeds it is hypocrisy.
Lying is forbidden unless it is for necessity. In that case, the principle “necessity makes the unlawful permissible” applies. Necessity has to be evaluated and used when no other option is available. Some of these acceptable lies is what we call connotation, a word carrying a double meaning. The Muslim may use the positive not the negative interpretation of the word.
It was reported that lying was legitimatized to benefit (someone or something), not to impair (the same). The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “A person who reconciles between two people and says good things, even if it is not true, is not a liar” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim). Umm Kulthum bint `Uqbah also said, in an addition to the hadith, “I never heard the Prophet permitting lying except in three cases: during war, to reconcile between two belligerent parties, the usual talk between the spouses.” What is meant by this talk is love talk to relieve the sufferings of life.
My original plan for this post was to write up a fake fatwa in which I sternly warned muslims not to participate in April Fools’ Day, because it was tantamount to lying and this is forbidden for the pious muslim. As I crafted my (fake) argument it occurred to me that it’s possible I wasn’t being all that original, so I did some cursory research on google, and the result basically ruined my joke.
Remember, a fatwa is nothing more than a religious opinion. The opinion against April Fools hinges on equating humorous satire with malicious falsehoods, which literally misses the joke. Techcrunch has a great lineup of this year’s online April Fools’ jokes and I think it’s clear that the intention here is general amusement. Granted, it does verge on being obnoxious, and is definitely silly, but a betrayal of trust? And who exactly is feeling grief or fear? (apart from children-hating people who can’t buy a ticket for a no-kids flight after all).
Is it possible to take an April Fools’ joke too far? Obviously, yes – calling someone and telling them their parent has died or some other horibly unfunny trick is obviously crossing the line. But this is where we need only employ common sense, not religion, as a guide. Fulminating against April Fools’ Day because of “grief or harm” is treating people like infants; obviously that’s not part of the tradition.
A related fatwa at IslamOnline makes the point:
TITLE: Lying Jokingly
QUESTION: Dear scholars, As-Salamu `alaykum! Is it a sin if you jokingly say things but know it is wrong if you were to actually do it? For example, if you jokingly say you want to have a beer, but deep down you know it is haram, and you know you would never try it or even seriously think about trying it? Even though you may joke a lot about it but you’ve never tried it nor do you plan to try. Is it still sinful to joke like that? Jazakum Allah khayran.
ANSWER: Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Dear questioner, we would like to thank you for the great confidence you place in us, and we implore Allah Almighty to help us serve His cause and render our work for His Sake.
In his response to the question you raised, Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), states the following:
“Islam is not against jokes. Good humor is part of Islam. Many books of Hadith have chapters on the humor of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). These are called An-Nawadir or Al-Fukahah.
However, Islamic position is that even in jokes one should not tell a lie or laugh at or ridicule the laws of Allah. Allah Almighty says in the Qur’an: “If you question them, they declare (with emphasis); ‘We were only talking idly and in play.’ Say: ‘Was it at Allah, and His Signs, and His Messenger that you were mocking?'” (At-Tawbah: 65)
Sometimes these types of jokes lead to sinful acts or at least they make a person take the Haram things lightly.”
(It’s worth noting that the question was answered by an American muslim scholar)
The point is that there’s plenty of room for humor – as long as in the process, we don’t cross the line into the hurtful or profane. There’s always the danger of taking a joke too far. Even Qaradawi agrees, that laughter and fun are good things – in moderation, as are all things.
Now, excuse me – I’m going to go fret anxiously about Peak Bandwidth.