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Last Updated: 2012/01/15
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What is the precise meaning of mockery? Do caricatures qualify as ridicule as well?
What is the precise meaning of mockery? Do caricatures qualify as ridicule as well?
Concise answer

Most philologists and interpreters of the Holy Quran consider istihza (ridicule) and tamaskhur (mock) to have the same meaning. The meaning of this term is to humiliate someone and bring their dignity and degree down, or to demean the value of foundational humanitarian and religious teachings. Therefore, the meaning of tamaskhur is to mock and scoff at other people. Tamaskhur can be about both individuals and groups, as well as cultures, manners, tradition and moral and religious values.

Now if a caricature is meant to ridicule and mock, to damage someone’s dignity and expose their flaws or humiliate a race or nation, it is considered as tamaskhur and is evidently unacceptable in the eyes of religion and intellect. However if it is used in favor of public opinion, in order to portray social deficiencies and express the obstacles of society and people, then, without doubt it will not be recognized as tamaskhur and is rather considered an obligation on the shoulders of artists in terms of illustrating the social, political, economical, sectarian etc. difficulties and problems people face.

Detailed Answer

This first section of this article will pertain to analyzing the reasons, causes and consequences of this immoral act, meaning tamaskhur and istihza’ based on religious teachings. Afterwards we will attend to the question of whether the caricature an example of tamaskhur or if it is an exception. For this purpose, we will begin with the definition of tamaskhur.

Section One

A. Understanding the Concept of Tamaskhur and Istihza’

Most philologists and interpreters of the Holy Quran consider istihza and tamaskhur to have the same meaning. The meaning of this term is to humiliate someone and bring their dignity and degree down[1] or to demean the value of foundational humanitarian and religious teachings.

The term “sukhriyah” which is the root of “yaskharu”, has the same meaning of istihza’ which means to say something in order to humiliate someone and bring them down. There is no difference between verbalizing, pointing, making signs or even imitating someone, as long as it is done in a manner which that word, imitation etc. makes the audience laugh.[2]

These two interpretations are extracted from verses of the Holy Quran, such as:

1. “یا أَیّهَا الّذینَ آمَنُوا لا یَسْخَرْ قَوْمٌ مِنْ قَوْمٍ عَسی أَنْ یَکُونُوا خَیْرًا مِنْهُمْ وَ لا نِساءٌ مِنْ نِساءٍ عَسی أَنْ یَکُنّ خَیْرًا مِنْهُنّ وَ لا تَلْمِزُوا أَنْفُسَکُمْ وَ لا تَنابَزُوا بِاْلأَلْقابِ...”; [3] “O you who believe! Let not (one) people laugh at (another) people perchance they may be better than they, nor let women (laugh) at (other) women, perchance they may be better than they; and do not find fault with your own people nor call one another by nicknames…” .

2. “قُلْ أَ بِاللّهِ وَ آیاتِهِ وَ رَسُولِهِ کُنْتُمْ تَسْتَهْزِؤُنَ”;[4] “Say: Was it at Allah and His signs and His Messenger that you were mocking?!”

Types of Tamaskhur

Like many other things tamaskhur has different types. This action is manifested in writing funny sentences, calling others rude and inappropriate names, articles, drawing caricatures, imitating accents and dialects of other races and tribes, etc., which are transmitted through written media, such as newspapers magazines, audio and video media, such as radio, television, etc.

As we mentioned before, istihza’ and tamaskhur sometimes manifests through our tongues and sometimes through our actions; such as signs, hinting, pointing, imitating actions and movements and sayings in a way that naturally make the audience laugh. However, in the Quran there are a few other terms that are related to tamaskhur such as; humazah, lumazah and tanabuz, which cannot be expanded on in this short article but can be found in the exegesis’s of the Quran.[5]

Motivation and Reasons Behind Tamaskhur

From the Quranic point of view, just like other immoral behaviors, tamaskhur and istihza’ have numerous motivations and reasons which we will mention a few of:

1. Believing to Be Superior

Believing to be superior in terms of race, nationality or social class is one of the reasons for ridiculing other groups and nations. A great amount of comedy shows which revolve around the topic of races and cultures of other people fit in this category. The Quran says: “…Let not (one) people laugh at (another) people perchance they may be better than they…”.[6] From the phrase “perchance they may be better than they”, we can maybe conclude that the reason for ridicule and mockery is the feeling of superiority towards another.[7]

2. Worldly Interests and Materialism

In religious literatures, the fascination and attachment of the disbelievers to this world has been noted as one of the motivations to scoff at the Mu’mineen (believers): “The life of this world is made to seem alluring to those who disbelieve, and they mock those who believe, and those who guard (against evil) shall be above them on the day of resurrection; and Allah gives means of subsistence to whom he pleases without measure.”[8]

3. Ignorance and Lack of Knowledge

A vast range of people commit the sin of ridicule and mocking to entertain themselves simply because they aren’t aware of its negative effects in this world and the next, while the traditions have scorned upon ignorance and have warned of the bad effects of it many times. Imam Ali (A.S.) states: “أسوأ السقم الجهل[9]; the worse illness is ignorance.

4. Committing Sin

One of the causes for ridicule is being drowned in sin, for sins darken the heart and make one despise good values. Therefore, when facing the Quran and divine teachings he insists on scoffing at and considers them unimportant. Regarding this group, the Holy Quran says: “Then the fate of those who committed misdeeds was that they denied the signs of Allah and they used to deride them”.[10]

Effects of Ridicule and Mockery

The ugliness, negativity and impermissibility of mockery, ridicule and false attributions, finding fault in others and divulging their secrets is clear, let it be through the means of media or normal conversations and other forms of social communication. But its ugliness is much more through the media, because the negative effects of such are much more. Here we will point to two examples of such negative cultural, religious, political and social effects:

1- Endangering the respect of others

One of the problems we face today, is the spread of Bluetooth and text messages containing immorality, impropriety, mockery and ridicule of different classes of society, etc., while according to our religion, the respect and dignity of the believer is higher than that of the Ka’bah: “عَنْ أَبِی عَبْدِ اللَّهِ (ع) قَالَ الْمُؤْمِنُ أَعْظَمُ حُرْمَةً مِنَ الْکَعْبَةِ[11] (Imam Sadiq (as) has said: the respect and personality of the believer is higher the Ka’bah’s).

2- Forgetting Allah

One of the negative outcomes of ridicule and mockery and engaging in these acts, in addition to undermining one’s religious devotion, and the weakening of the foundations of people’s beliefs, is forgetfulness of Allah: “فَاتّخَذْتُمُوهُمْ سِخْرِیّا حَتّی أَنْسَوْکُمْ ذِکْری وَ کُنْتُمْ مِنْهُمْ تَضْحَکُونَ[12] (But then you took them by ridicule until they made you forget My remembrance, and you used to laugh at them!). This verse is saying that merely engaging in the ridicule of the believers and laughing at their beliefs, actions an demeanor was the cause for forgetting Allah and His remembrance which in turn, will entail His punishment.

Section Two: Caricatures

In today’s world, caricaturing is an art next to all the other arts, such as political comedy, which is a medium used to address social, political, economical, etc. issues. Today, caricaturists use this art of theirs to reflect many of these problems, fulfilling their cultural, social and religious responsibility alongside others using this method.

For example, if a caricaturist illustrates this ayah, “(As for) those who swallow the property of the orphans unjustly, surely they only swallow fire into their bellies and they shall enter burning fire.”[13], in the shape of caricature showing a person who his busy nurturing on fire or the verse: “Woe to…Who amasses wealth and considers it a provision (against mishap)”, which is the ayah saying that the nonbelievers do not adhere to Allah’s advice, would this be considered to be ridicule and mockery just because of the fact that it is a caricature?! Of course not, in fact it is the fulfillment of a religious duty.

In any event, if this action (drawing caricatures) is to disrespect someone or to expose their flaws with an immoral, unreasonable and unreligious intention[14] it is evidently considered haram, but if it is used in favor of public opinion and portrayal of social concerns and problems it is not only not haram but the mission of artists in addressing social, political, economical, sectarian, etc. issues.

[1] Fahri, Seyed Abu al-Hasan, al-Muhit dictionary, entry of tamaskhur; Mustafawi, Hasan, al-Tahqiq fi Kalimat al-Quran al-Karim, vol. 11, pg. 256; Qurashi, Ali Akbar, Qamuse Quran, vol. 7, pg. 154, Daar al-Kutub al-Islamiyah, Tehran, 1992.

[2] Tabatabai, Seyed Muhammad Husein, al-Mizan fi Tafsir al-Quran, vol. 18, pg. 321, Islamic Publications Office, Qum, 1417 AH.

[3] Hujurat:11.

[4] Tawbah:65.

[5] For example, see: Tafsir Nemouneh, Makarem Shirazi, vol. 27, pg. 309, Daar al-Kutub al-Islamiyah, Tehran, 1993; Qamus al-Quran, vol. 7, pg. 164.

[6] Hujurat:11.

[7] Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 22, pg. 179.

[8] Baqarah:212.

[9] Tamimi Amidi, Abd al-Wahid, Ghurar al-Hikam, pg. 73, Islamic Propagations Office, Qum, 1987.

[10] Rum:10.

[11] Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 64, pg. 71, al-Wafa’ Institute, Beirut, 1409 AH.

[12] Mu’minun:110.

[13] Nisa:10.

[14] If it is carried out with the intention of enjoining good and forbidding evil, it will no longer be considered mockery.

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