“That’s just how I feel, Mom. I can’t lie, I’m not a hypocrite.”
It was a very matter-of-fact statement, made in Aisle 5 at the grocery store somewhere between the baked beans and tomato paste. The speaker was a girl, probably thirteen, maybe fourteen years of age. Her mother instantly disconnected from her mentally, and the girl reciprocated. As they ambled down the aisle filling their cart, I could sense they were in their separate worlds. And pretty soon, I was in mine.
As a father of four, I fully expect to suffer that sort of rejoinder in the coming years. But what got me writing this article was the confidence and self-assurance with which we, adults and children alike, see ourselves above being hypocrites. We are quite vocal about not being hypocrites, are we not?
At first blush, that seems quite honorable. In fact, let me be clear. That is honorable. No one should want to be a hypocrite. Nothing good about being hypocritical. Hypocrisy is a universally despicable attribute, best not to have applied to yourself. But we know the world has its share of hypocrites. The trouble is we also seem to know we’re never among them.
So, okay…what on earth am I trying to say here?
Let’s look back a thousand years in time, at giants of men and women, people of substance, their bodies and souls flushed with a maturity that saw them shoulder responsibility the likes of which very few adults in today’s world can even relate to. I will consider only one example.
Umar. May God be pleased with him.
Umar the son of Al-Khattab was the second of the four rightly guided Caliphs, succeeding Abu Bakr. Let’s go back to a time before either of their Caliphates.
There was a time in Medina when the Messenger of God (God send His prayers upon him, and His blessings and peace) once enjoined upon a trusted companion, a man by the name of Hudhayfah, the confidential task of mentally recording a list of a dozen or so names of men who the prophet himself had categorized as hypocrites. These men were not to be called out or exposed on account of this knowledge, and Hudhayfah (God be pleased with him) was only to carry with him the knowledge of their names. The prophet had asked him not to disclose the names on that list to anyone. The men comprising the list were to be afforded the status of Muslims.
When Umar learned of Hudhayfah’s knowledge, he approached him and adjured him by God to inform him if he himself was among those named. Hudhayfah was torn between his calling to keep the list confidential and Umar’s unrelenting insistence. He finally informed Umar that he was not of the hypocrites, and then pressed Umar not to ask him again.
That’s right. Umar wanted to know if he was among the hypocrites.
Umar, of whom the Messenger (God be pleased with him) is reported to have said: When Umar walks down a path, the devil chooses to walk down a different path.
Umar, of whom the Messenger is reported to have said: If there were to be a prophet after me, it would be Umar.
And Umar was concerned that he may be counted among a dozen hypocrites, that too of the worst order of hypocrisy imaginable.
You know what really made Umar (God be pleased with him) NOT a hypocrite? I think it had much to do with the fact that he did not see himself immune to it. It does not take a genius to know the nature of hypocrisy. It is a subtle beast that creeps up on you. It finds you justifying your thinking and actions fully and logically (and scientifically, even). It is a little bit like madness in that the mad one is sure of his sanity, not doubting it for one moment. It is quite unlike madness in that hypocrisy must be satisfied and indulged for it to grow, and satisfy you back.
I am not saying that everyone who says they are not a hypocrite must be one. No. God forbid. All I am saying is that rather than thinking of ourselves as immune to it, we may be better off following the example of Umar and checking in on ourselves from time to time, entertaining the possibility that we just may be acting hypocritical. Entertaining that possibility may well be the weakest form of inoculation to protect against that disease of the heart.
I once heard Shaykh Amin Kholwadia say these words, and he is often heard repeating the idea many different ways:
As soon as you feel good about yourself, know that the devil has got you, because he is made from fire and he understands the nafs better than you.
I wrote this some years ago, seems vaguely relevant.