Do I need to ask for someone’s forgiveness if I insulted them in a joke?
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One is always required to seek forgiveness if one offends a Muslim brother or sister, regardless of whether one was serious or joking. In Islam, if I offend someone, it is necessary for me to seek that person’s pardon.
The Messenger Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Every Muslim is haram for another Muslim – his blood, his wealth, and his honour.” [Muslim]
Accordingly, if I violate a Muslim’s honour, it is incumbent upon me to seek his pardon. Furthermore, being ignorant of Allah’s law does not free one from the responsibility for the crime he committed. By way of example, if a person drives at 160 km an hour in a 120 km an hour zone and a police officer stops him, his ignorance of the speed limit will not absolve him from receiving a fine. Likewise, a person who stands before Allah on the Day of Judgment will not be saved on the basis of his ignorance unless Allah wishes to pardon and forgive him.
Nicknames and Insults
Our scholars discuss nicknames and insults in detail. The source of the discussion is the following verse in the Qur’an:
“O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name [i.e., mention] of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.” [Qur’an, 49:11]
This verse clearly prohibits men and women from joking disparagingly and mocking each other. It also prohibits insults and offensive nicknames.
Types of Nicknames and Their Permissibility
Hafidh ‘Ala’i (Allah have mercy on him) has summed up the discussion about permissible and impermissible nicknames. The summary of his discussion says that nicknames are of three types.
The first one does not contain any insult or disparagement. It also does not refer to any deficiency in the person so named, and he or she does not dislike the name. There is no doubt that this category is permissible. An example of this category is the nickname “Dhul Yadayn” (the possessor of two hands) that the Messenger of Allah gave to one of his companions. It is thought that he was named thus because he was known to have long arms. An alternative interpretation is that he was known for kindness and generosity. The name did not involve disparagement or a reference to deficiency, and the companion was not unhappy with the name.
The second category is disparaging and refers to a deficiency on the part of the person named. This kind of nickname is prohibited, based on the above verse. The prohibition is not lifted if the person named is happy with the nickname. Similar to this is qadhf (accusing a chaste lady of committing adultery). A person who accuses a woman of adultery is not absolved from the crime of this accusation even if the woman is pleased with it.
The third category consists of a description of a person’s outer feature, for example, a nickname referring to physical deficiencies such as being squint or lame in one leg. Many scholars of hadith became known by such nicknames. Provided that the names are only used to identify and not to disparage, they are permissible.
Ruling in Summation
Calling one’s friend by an animal’s name, such as a donkey, bull, or pig, falls into the second category as it is disparaging. Thus, it is impermissible, even if the one named is pleased with it.
And Allah knows best.
[Shaykh] Abdurragmaan Khan
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Abdurragmaan received ijazah ’ammah from various luminaries, including but not restricted to: Habib Umar ibn Hafiz—a personality who affected him greatly and who has changed his relationship with Allah, Maulana Yusuf Karaan—the former Mufti of Cape Town; Habib ‘Ali al-Mashhur—the current Mufti of Tarim; Habib ‘Umar al-Jaylani—the Shafi‘i Mufti of Makkah; Sayyid Ahmad bin Abi Bakr al-Hibshi; Habib Kadhim as-Saqqaf; Shaykh Mahmud Sa’id Mamduh; Maulana Abdul Hafiz al-Makki; Shaykh Ala ad-Din al-Afghani; Maulana Fazlur Rahman al-Azami and Shaykh Yahya al-Gawthani amongst others.