Contention 29

“Nafs is a comedian. So enjoy your Sufism!”

Commentary:

Humour is a divine subtlety in man, rooted in the absurdity of the possibility of human disagreement with reality. Its absence from nature indicates that it is connected to the struggle of the spirit, which only man can know. Lying or mockery are forbidden by the Sunna; and yet three forms of humour will do us immeasurable service.

Firstly, there is the humour which shows us the absurdity of purely literalist religion. Here is one typical example. A sinner was once walking through a Bosnian forest. Suddenly a bear jumped out and began to chase him. As he ran the man started to panic, and as the bear drew closer, he started to pray for the first time in many years. Wondering what to say, and not wishing to anger Allah by calling down harm upon the beast, he finally said: ‘O Allah! Make this bear a Muslim!’ And when the bear caught up with him, it spoke, saying: Bismi’Llahi Rahmani Rahim – and ate him.

Secondly, there is lightheartedness, or joie d-espirit. Bakr ibn Abdallah reports that ‘the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ used to throw melon-rinds at each other, but when matters were serious, they were the only true men’ (Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad).

Thirdly, humour reminds us of the ludicrousness of the ego. Rumi’s Masnavi includes the story of a man of Qazvin who went into a barber’s shop and asked for a tattoo. ‘Make it a bold lion,’ he commanded, ‘between my shoulder-blades.’ But when he felt the sharp pain of the barber’s needle he cried: ‘Ouch! What are you tattooing?’ ‘The tail,’ said the barber. ‘The tail has slain me! Let it be a lion without a tail.’ The barber resumed, but soon the man was crying out again. ‘What is that?’ he asked, and the barber replied: ‘The ear, my good fellow!’ ‘Then let it be a lion without an ear.’ The barber resumed work, but soon the man was calling out once more: ‘What part is that, brother?’ ‘Sure, it is the belly of the lion, your honour!’ ‘Let him have no belly, friend,’ said the customer. At this, the barber flung down his needle, saying: ‘No tail, ear or belly? Allah Himself never created such a lion!’

Thus does the lower self seek to thwart our spiritual growth. Rumi explains as follows: ‘Bear with fortitude, brother, the pain of the lancet, that you may escape from the poison of your infidel self.’

(Source: Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions, Contention No. 29, Pg. 52-53)

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