Among the people there are some who say, "We believe in Allah and the Last Day," when they are not believers. They think they deceive Allah and those who believe. They deceive no one but themselves, but they are not aware of it. There is a sickness in their hearts and Allah has increased their sickness. They will have a painful punishment on account of their denial.
(Surat al-Baqara: 8-10)
To most people, the word hypocrite does not mean much. Some interpret it as meaning "two-faced" or "liar," as they use it in everyday speech, but remain unaware of its significance in the Qur'an. People with some knowledge of religion, on the other hand, think of the hypocrites as a group of deniers who mainly lived at the time of our Prophet (May Allah bless him and grant him peace [saas]).
The fact is, the hypocrites are a group whom Allah mentions in hundreds of verses of the Qur'an and He reminds us to be on our guard against them. From the Qur'an, we also learn that hypocrites as a group are not encountered only infrequently, but on the contrary, they are "organized" within every community of believers.
When we look into the Qur'an, we can see that this rule applies to all times: to the followers who accompanied the Prophet Musa (peace be upon him [as]), to those who believed in the Prophet Sulayman (as), to the community of the Prophet Ibrahim (as), to that of our Prophet (saas) who lived 1,400 years ago—in short, whatever Muslim community the Qur'an mentions, one can see that there were hypocrites within it. That is because, as the verse reveals, "This is Allah's pattern with those who passed away before. You will not find any alteration in Allah's pattern" (Surat al-Ahzab: 62), Allah tests every community of believers in similar ways. If there is any community of believers, then inevitably there will be a group of hypocrites within it. This is an unchanging law of Allah.
For that reason, Allah reveals in many verses of the Qur'an the characteristics of this community that represents a danger to believers. And therefore, hypocrites are one of the kinds of people most often described in the Qur'an.
These people are able to live, sometimes for many years, among those sincere believers who totally dedicate their lives to Allah. They pretend to be like those who struggle on His path, dedicating their lives and property. But in fact, they are nothing of the sort and are concerned solely with their own interests. This group has been seen in every true and honest community of believers throughout history. Indeed, as stated above, the Qur'an provides a great deal of information about the hypocrites in the communities of many prophets, including Prophet Muhammad (saas).
In this book, we shall be examining one by one the characteristics of hypocrites, with the details set forth in the Qur'an. We shall then turn our focus on self-satisfaction, a major defect that hypocrites suffer from.
As later chapters will consider in detail, self-satisfaction is one of the most important distinguishing features of hypocrites. Anyone with a hypocritical character imagines himself to have no need of anything and to be always on the right path. For that reason, as revealed in the verses, "No indeed! Truly man is unbridled seeing himself as self-sufficient" (Surat al-'Alaq: 6-7), their unbridled nature and denial constantly increase. Since they regard themselves as superior to others and independent of all needs, they are unable to submit to the commandments of Allah or to take advice.
But the better to understand the true character of the hypocrites and their perverted logic, we first need to grasp the difference between the hypocrite and the typical denying personality.
The Difference between Deniers and Hypocrites
But most people, for all your eagerness, are not believers. (Surah Yusuf: 103)
As the above verse tells us, most people do not have faith. Those who do not believe in Allah have always constituted the majority on Earth. This group, known as "deniers," includes those who openly deny Allah, idolaters and all those with sickness in their hearts, as well as hypocrites. The one characteristic they share in common is that they do not fear Allah as they should and live their lives far removed from His book. However, there is one group among the deniers listed above whom Allah says are "in the lowest level of the Fire" (Surat an-Nisa': 145).
So what is the difference that makes the hypocrites so much worthy of punishment than other deniers?
A denier does not believe in Allah and totally rejects His existence—together with moral values and the Qur'an, of course. A hypocrite, on the other hand, does not deny Allah directly, but claims that he believes in His religion and the Qur'an. In contrast to the deniers who openly declare their rejection of Allah, the hypocrite conceals his denial and gives the impression of being a believer. He will claim to have faith and to fear Allah. Through His verses, however, Allah reveals that a hypocrite does not tell the truth and that the true faith of a believer is absent from his heart. In Surat al-Baqara, it is stated that:
Among the people there are some who say, "We believe in Allah and the Last Day," when they are not believers. (Surat al-Baqara: 8)
Since the hypocrite claims to have faith, he is to be found among the community of sincere believers. He will sometimes spend his entire life among them. But since he conceals his denial, he constantly seeks conflict among believers, desiring to harm those who truly believe in Allah and to cause them to make concessions regarding their belief. This conflict-producing characteristic of hypocrites is revealed in the Qur'an:
When the hypocrites and people with sickness in their hearts said, "What Allah and His messenger promised us was mere delusion." (Surat al-Ahzab: 12)
If they had been overrun from every side, and had then been asked to revert to disbelief, they would have done so and hesitated very little about it. (Surat al-Ahzab: 14)
Despite all his denial, the hypocrite will never come out and openly declare "I am a denier." On the contrary, he will claim to have an exceedingly high level of taqwa, or heedfulness. In his view, believers are on the wrong path and he, himself, is on the true one. He maintains that his aim, therefore, is to encourage believers towards the true path. This is another one of the hypocrites' methods of instigating corruption.
Are Hypocrites Irreligious?
One of the most important features of hypocrites is that although they say they believe in religion, their personal conception of religion is incompatible with the Qur'an. The reason is that they insist on their own particular independent reasoning rather than the Qur'an. The logical webs of the hypocrites are described in the Qur'an:
Is it their intellects that direct them to say this or is it that they are an unbridled people? (Surat at-Tur: 32)
As set out above, the hypocrite claims to fear Allah, but his attitudes have nothing in common with those who really do fear Him. His aim is not to please Allah: On the contrary, he exhibits all kinds of behaviors that will call down Allah's wrath upon him. Yet in doing all this, he will fiercely maintain that he fears Allah exceedingly and that all his actions are compatible with the Qur'an.
In addition, the hypocrite will appear to fulfill most acts of religious worship, and may indeed even carry these out. Yet there is a great difference between his manner of performing these and those of a believer—as well as his objective. For example, the believer performs prayers solely to earn Allah's approval, while the hypocrite does so in order to show off. Allah reveals this behavior of the hypocrites in this verse:
The hypocrites think they deceive Allah, but He is deceiving them. When they get up to pray, they get up lazily, showing off to people, and remembering Allah only a very little. (Surat an-Nisa': 142)
Outwardly, hypocrites and believers appear to perform the same acts of worship. The fact is, though, that believers "are humble in their prayer" (Surat al-Muminun: 2) and earn a reward for their observances. Hypocrites, on the other hand, suffer Allah's wrath because of their insincerity and duplicity.
On the surface, therefore, the hypocrite is no atheist but rather, claims to believe in God and to abide by most religious observances. Yet he is still not a religious individual. He is devout only when it comes to his own conception of religion, which is the "Religion of Hypocrisy." Yet because he seeks to distort religious moral values, even despite his sound knowledge of them, all his endeavors will be in vain in the Hereafter. Allah describes that day in another verse:
Their actions will come to nothing and, on the Day of Resurrection, We will not assign them any weight. (Surat al-Kahf: 105)
This Religion of Hypocrisy is the religion of satan, who established his hidden dominion over people, seeking to turn them from the path of Allah and to dominate their minds in all ways possible. He urges them to do evil, and directly seeks to prevent their doing good. He possesses a most extraordinary logic, which—in the next chapter—we shall describe in full detail and reveal the connection between it and human hypocrisy. Hypocrites are well aware of this logic of satan's, but to them it makes no difference. Although no hypocrite will ever say, "I follow satan and live by his religion," still he will exhibit that same twisted logic.