Question: Is political and religious satire permissible in Islam?
Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your important question.
Commanding the right and forbidding the wrong are both communal obligations, and may take the form of satire.
That said, individuals’ names and honor still have sanctity and one may not mock their physical appearance, or relish the unfortunate position they are in of sin, corruption, or disbelief.
The Spirit of Forbidding the Wrong
The basis of forbidding the wrong, be it political or religious, is a genuine sense of compassion and concern for the perpetrator of the sin, and those he is wronging.
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or is oppressed.’ It was said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, we help the oppressed, but how do we help an oppressor?’ The Prophet said, ‘By stopping him’ (Bukhari and Muslim).
This tells us that any satirical work that one produces to correct a wrong should be written out of genuine brotherly love, and not out of the love of mocking others.
In view of this, the basic tack in commanding the right and forbidding the wrong is being gentle and non-confrontational. In the Qur’an, Musa is sent to the world’s biggest political and religious tyrant and is told, ‘And speak to him with gentle speech that perhaps he may be reminded or fear [Allah]’ (Qur’an, 20: 44).
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Satire in War
In the context of war, fewer holds are barred, and genuine mocking does have a role.
At the Battle of Bani Quraydha, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) told his poet Hassan ibn Thabit, ‘Mock them, and Gabriel will be with you’ (Bukhari).
In war, the non-Muslim combatant has a very limited inviolability (hurma). His life, property, and reputation are no longer sacred, so satire may well be used to increase the morale of the Muslims and insult and deter the non-Muslims combatants.
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) also said, ‘Fight against the pagans with your money, lives, and words (alsinatikum)’ (Abu Dawud and Nasai).
Got no Shame
According to some ulema, someone who is openly morally corrupt, such as someone who is quite happy to be completely drunk on live television, or to fornicate before a crowd, and makes no effort to hide his licentiousness, may also be mocked (Mughni al Muhtaj, Khatib al Shirbini ).
One should be careful though only to mock the sins they do in public. Mocking their looks, or sins that they hide would be another kettle of fish.
Normal politicians, be they Muslim or not, may not be individually mocked. Only the ideas, such as racism, being two-faced, or actions (without reference to the perpetrators) may be mocked.
Laughing at Sin
Finding sin funny is a spiritual disease. One should be disturbed at hearing sins and crimes committed, hate the thought of them, find it difficult and heavy on one’s heart to talk about and be genuinely concerned for those who do them.
Enjoying talking about sins, corruption, and political and military crimes are sinful (al Futuhat al Rabbaniyya, Ibn Allan).
When satire seamlessly shifts from genuinely trying to correct a wrong to an opportunity to laugh at sin, it becomes sinful.
Outside of the context of war, character assassination is not permissible. Rather one should only ever attack bad political or religious acts without reference to those who do them.
Satire should be based on a clear goal and should not be tarnished with any sense of belittling or personal vengeance.
I pray this helps.
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language