Being informal

Our Weaknesses

Being Informal

Mawlana Muhammad Asif Attari Madani

Injury in the name of friendship

During a prophetic biography lesson, a student told me that he used to study in a high school in Karachi. In the 7th year, two students, who were friends and very informal with each other, started to play a game known as “Gudi Maar.” The way this game is played is that when they meet and one of them does not have his hand on the back of his neck, the other can slap his neck with force. One day, one of the friends struck the neck of the other with such a mighty slap—he possibly was holding a sharp object in his hand—severely injuring his neck. The boy was rushed to hospital where the wound had to be stitched up.

This is one example from the plethora of un-Islamic activities that are done in the name of “having no formalities” with others. Unfortunately, many misunderstand what it means to have a formality-free relationship with someone, believing it to mean that we can say and behave in any way with the other. This is grossly wrong.

Types of informality

These days, the journey from being total strangers to being acquaintances, then to friendship, and finally, to  having an informal relationship, is traversed quickly. A sense of informality can be found among relatives, siblings, and spouses. Subsequently, they may be able to speak about sensitive and private matters without hesitation, freely use each other’s things without asking for permission, or unreservedly borrow money from each other. We find examples of informality in the lives of the awliya, but they are extremely rare and did not entail harming Muslims, dishonouring them, or causing them financial loss.

The benefits and harms of being informal

At a basic level, having a friendship or relationship that is free from rigid formalities gives life beauty, colour, and hope, as a person knows that there is someone they can share their most personal thoughts with, share their grief and joy with, use their possession without any hesitation nor feel any shame in asking them if they are in need of any money. However, it is necessary that all of these dealings be carried out within the boundaries of Islam. Anything which Islam has prohibited is not permissible, irrespective of whether such an act is carried out in the name of being ‘informal’ or something else.

In this case, this comfortableness will lead to loss in this world and the Hereafter, for the laws of Islam do not become suspended due to it, and it does not give you the freedom to call others inappropriate names or bully them by calling them fat, dark-skinned, greedy, etc. Being comfortable does not give you the license to make negative assumptions about others, insinuating that they are only pretending to cry in the fear of Allah Almighty; backbite them; reveal their shortcomings; make accusations against them; swear at them; and borrow money from them and not pay them back.

Adopt the middle path

Sayyidunā Yūnus b. ʿAbd al-ʾAʿ رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه mentions that Imam Shāfiʿī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه said, “Yunus! Constantly avoiding people breeds animosity, and being informal with them creates many evil companions, so live between complete detachment and total informality.”[1]

5 guidelines about being informal

1.   Think carefully before forging an informal relationship, because it may not be straightforward to end later. A person’s mood is always changing, and whilst you might have a change of heart tomorrow and decide that you no longer want to have this relationship with a certain person, they might not feel the same. Then they will become a lingering problem that you wish rid yourself of, but cannot.

2.   Islam sets clear parameters for informal dealings, and these should be observed without compromise and taken as touchstones, lest you consider something impermissible to be permissible. Consult a Sunni mufti if you are unsure by explaining that you have an informal relationship with someone, and if it is permissible for you to behave in the way you intend.

3.   Remaining comfortable [with another] is not a lifelong thing, meaning, you establish a frank relationship with someone and think this will continue forever, because it is not necessary that those things which we like today will appeal to us tomorrow after we become older, our status changes or our temperament shifts. This is especially true when meeting a friend after a long time; one should avoid being too comfortable at first, because if the other person displays displeasure, we might feel embarrassed.

4.   Informal relations should be kept with people of a similar standing and age, so that no-one’s honour and dignity is violated. Therefore, avoid being overly comfortable with children, students and those working below you. It is mentioned in Fatāwā Razawiyya:

If this is done occasionally, using only the skins (of mangoes, etc.) among people of a similar age and standing, for the purpose of bringing joy to the heart, in a friendly, playful manner that is mutually understood, and this does not involve any sort of unlawful act nor leads to the violation of religious dignity in the present or future, then it is permissible.[2]

5.   There is no scope whatsoever for non-mahram males and females (e.g., brother-in-law, sister-in-law, colleagues, etc.) to be informal with one another. This must be avoided.

Avoid these matters

Being too comfortable is not appealing to everyone, and one can even become sinful in some cases, so avoid these things:

1.   Unexpectedly slapping someone on the neck or back. Mufti Ahmad Yaar Khan رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه writes, “It is unlawful to fool around with a person in such a way that will hurt them, for example, misleading them, slapping them, etc.”[3]

2.   Twisting their arm behind their back.

3.   Picking something up and throwing it at them (if it hits their eye or another sensitive part of their body, it can lead to problems).

4.   Pulling out the chair from beneath the one who is about to sit.

5.   When the other person has not yet sat down properly, but you quickly begin to ride the bike.

6.   Suddenly accelerating a moving bike, which causes the person sitting behind you to lose their balance.

7.   Throwing ink on a person’s clothes on the first or last day of school or college.

8.   Taking money from their pocket despite being told not to.

9.   Pushing them into a lake, river, or the sea, or pulling them in.

10.   Whilst knowing that they will dislike it, taking something special, like ice cream, fruit chaat, pizza, etc., from in front of them and eating it.

11.   To wake a sleeping person, slapping them, wrapping them up, or pulling their blanket (this is because their clothing is sometimes not fully covering their body, and doing this will reveal their reserved area: the ʿawra).

12.   Entering their room without permission.

13.   Trapping someone in a room or washroom by locking the door from outside.

14.   Squeezing their hand so hard that they scream, and then laughing at them.

15.   Squeezing them so hard whilst hugging that it hurts them. Many years ago, something like this occurred with a schoolteacher in Head Panjnad (South Punjab). Someone squeezed him with so much force whilst hugging him on the day of Eid that he fell unconscious to the ground, and he had to be taken to the hospital. He was revived with great difficulty.

16.   Rebuking them whilst they are eating and drinking by saying, “Stop now. You are still eating like an animal.”

17.   Scolding and shaming them in front of everyone, thinking that they will not mind.

18.   Interfering in their domestic affairs.

19.   Using their mobile, looking at their messages and WhatsApp, looking at videos and pictures of their family (in fact, nobody should keep photos and videos of their female family members on their mobile).

20.   Sitting among their family members without having any consideration for the parameters of segregation and veiling.

21.   Hiding something important of theirs, such as their key, mobile, etc., and causing them to worry.

22.   Making yourself their guest, irrespective of whether they agree or not, and making expensive requests.

23.   Using their vehicle for every minor job. Safety lies in a person using their own possessions and not utilising their friend’s belongings without permission, because problems can rise even among close friends. For example, if a person returns their friend’s motorbike with a puncture, or damages it in an accident, their friend will not rejoice, rather, it is possible that he will express his anger by uttering insulting words, such as, “You do not know how to ride it properly,” “You used all of the petrol,” “You have damaged the brakes,” etc.

24.   Taking photos and videos without permission, especially when they are sitting in an unfitting manner.

May Allah Almighty grant us the ability to do everything in accordance to the teachings of Islam.

اٰمِیْن بِجَاہِ النَّبِیِّ الْاَمِیْن صَلَّی اللہ تَعَالٰی عَلَیْہِ وَاٰلہٖ وَسَلَّم

[1] Hilyat al-Awliya, vol. 9, p. 130, raqm 13,361

[2] Fatāwā Razawiyyah, vol. 24, p. 111

[3] Mirāt al-Manājī, vol. 5, p. 127




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