Seek Truth, Know Truth.

Archive for September 2007

Muatta Imam Maalik the following narration appears: “Yahya Ibn Saeed narrates from Umrah Binti Abdur Rahman that Aishah (radhiallahu anha) said: ‘If Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) had observed that which women have now introduced (i.e. after the demise of Rasulullah), he would most certainly have prevented them from attending the Musjid just as the women of Bani Israeel were prevented.” Yahya enquired: ‘What, were the women of Bani Israeel prevented from the Musaajid?’ Umrah replied. ‘Yes.’

When Ameerul Mu’mineen Hadhrat Umar (radhiallahu anhu) finally enacted the prohibition to prevent women from g going to the Musjid, they complained to Aishah (radhiallahu anha). Answering their complaint, Hadhrat Aishah (radhiallahu anha) said: “If Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) had known what Umar now knows (of the condition of women), he would not have granted you permission to emerge (i.e. to leave your homes and come to the Musjid for Salaat).” (Jaamiur Rumooz)

It is, thus, abundantly clear that Hadhrat Aishah (radhiallahu anha) did not recognize women to have any undeniable right to attend the Musjid. A permissible act restricted by numerous conditions–a permissible act which is discouraged even by the one who grants the permission- cannot be interpreted as an undeniable right. If it was an undeniable right, the Sahaabah would have been the very first people who would have recognized the right. If women had enjoyed any such inviolable right as the modernist asserts, the Sahaabah would never have prohibited women from the Musjid. The very fact that such a prohibition was enacted by the Sahaabah—by the most senior Sahaa bah— in the very age described as the noblest of ages by Rasulullah {sallallahu alayhi wasallam)

 There is no denying fact that during the time of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) women were allowed to visit the Musjid for Salaat. However, this permission was accompanied by a number of very strict conditions which are all non-existent in our times. Again, although there was this initial permission, Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasaIlam) discouraged women from availing themselves of this permission. His exhortation that women perform Salaat at home paved the way for the prohibition which came into effect later by the authority of the Sahaabah and the Fuqaha.


 (1) Attractive garments were forbidden. Women who came to the Musjid were not permitted to do fine and attractive clothing. It was declared that they had to dress shabbily and unattractively Hadhrat Abu Hurairah (radhiallahu anhu) narrates that Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said: ” …………. but, they should emerge while they are shabbily dressed.”

 In Ibn Majah it is narrated that once while Rasulullah (sallallahu alay hi wasallam) was seated in the Musjid, a woman dressed and adorned in her finery entered and walked proudly in the Musjid. Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) then proclaimed:

 “0 people! Prohibit your women from wearing beautiful garments and from showing off in the Musjid, for verily, Bani Israeel were not cursed until their women started to wear beautiful garments and show off inside the Musjid.”

Ibn Arabi in his Sharhut Tirmizi commenting on the type of dress which women should wear according to the Hadith which permits them to come to the Musjid, says:

 “When she emerges to go to the Musjid, she should come out dressed in dirty and shabby garb as it has been reported in the Ahadith.”

(2) Perfume was forbidden. Women who came to Musjid in the early days were not permitted to apply perfume. In this regard Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said:

 “Any woman who applies perfume and passes by a gathering is like an adultress.” (Tirmizi)

 “The woman who applies perfume must not be present with us for Isha.” (Muatta Imaam Maalik)

 Since it is not permissible for women to emerge from the house with perfume applied, be it night or day, the reference to Isha in this Hadith should not be understood to be confined to only Ishaa Salaat. The word Ishaa appears in the Hadith in view of the greater danger of mischief and evil during the night time. The Ahadith of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) clearly brands a woman as immoral for applying perfume and passing by a gathering.

 (3) The Jilbaab or outer -covering. When women emerged in those days, they were thoroughly concealed in their jilbaabs which were very large outer garments or sheets of unattractive colour. The sheets were so big that normally two women could be wrapped up in a single jilbaab. The jilbaab was not merely flung over the shoulders. It covered the entire head and the face as well. The jilbaab which the ladies wo re during the time of Rasululllah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was not a stylish garment with a decorative niqaab (face-veil). It was not designed for beauty as are some of the burqahs of modern times. The jiIbaab covered every part of t he body, the head and face included. It had to be left slightly open to enable the women to see where they were walking. In other words they had to peep through an opening to see their way. Such garments will not be worn by women of today. About these outer-garments, Hadhrat Aishah (radhiallahu anha) narrates:

 “After Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) had made the morning Salaat, the women would return thoroughly wrapped in their sheets. So thoroughly were they wrapped that they could not be distin-guished from the dark ness (The cloth persumably being black as the darkness).” (Bukhaari)

 (4) The women would leave immediately after the Fardh Salaat. The following narration in Bukhaari explains the practice which was adopted to ensure absolutely no contact with any of the men in the Musjid:

 “Hind Bintul Haarith said that Umm-e-Salmah (radhi- allahu anha), the wife of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), informed her that during the lifetime of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) the women would get up after the Salaam of the Fardh Salaat while Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and the menfolk who made Salaat with him remained seated After Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)stood up, the men would do likewise.”

Commenting on this procedure adopted in the early days, Imaam Zuhri (rahmatullah alayh) states:

 “The reason for Rasulullah’s delay in rising after the Fardh Salaat was to give the women the opportunity of leaving the Musjid before the men. (This prevented intermingling).”

 (5) Intermingling was prohibited even outside the Musjid, in a narration in Abu Dawood, the Sahaabi, Abu Usaid Ansaari (radhiallahu anhu) says that once outside the Musjid men and women had mixed. Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) then said:

 “(O Women!) Move back! Verily, it is not permissible for you to spread in the road. The edges of the road are compulsory on you.”

The Sahaabi narrating this Hadith says: “As a result the women would walk so close to the sides that their clothing would brush against the walls (of the houses).”

 The introduction of these conditions is not possible in this day. After the demise of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), even the Sahaabah discerned the difficulty in enforcing the strict or the exceptionally high degree of piety which had prevailed during the presence of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). They did not therefore concern themselves with remedial measures. On the con trary, they banned the practice of women coming to the Musjid. Their high degree of Deeni intelligence and insight convinced them that if women are not prevented from the Musaajid, the situation will deteriorate.

 Hujjatul Islam (i.e. Imaam Ghazaali) states in the Ihyaa: Rasul ullah (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) did permit women to attend the Musjid. But, the correct view now is prohibition excepting old women. In fact, the prohibition has become established since the age of the Sahaabah (radhiallahu anhum). Thus, Aishah (radhi allahu anha) said …………… and he narrated what had transpired in this regard with her… “It is obligatory to prohibit women from attending the Musjid for Salaat and gatherings of Thikr when there is the danger of fitnah with them.”

 “When the fear of fitnah is attendant to their emergence from the home, then it (emergence) is undoubtedly haraam. . . .The meaning of fitnah is zina and its introductory acts such as looking at the opposite sex, privacy (with the opposite sex), touching, etc…”

 Dirmaani (rahmatullah alayh} says:

 “The Hadith: ‘Do not prevent the female servants of Allah from the Musjids.’, is applicable to night times (i.e. the permission was only for night times). Furthermore, the permission exists only in the absence of fitnah against women or by women. During the life time of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) absence of fitnah was dominant.”

Allahmah Aini (rahmatullah alayh) says; “During our age mischief and evil are rampant.”

Allamah Aini (rahmatullah alayh) was among the Fuqaha of the eighth century of the Islamic era. The author of Lamiud Duraari asks:

 “When this (rampant fitnah and mischief) was the situation during the time of Allamah Aini (rahmatullah alayh) who died in the year 855 Hijri, then what do you think of the present age saturated with vice and fitnah?”

 Ibn Hajar (rahmatullah alayh) says:

 “The summary of the discussion of Nawawi and Zarkashi is that when intermingling of the sexes prevails whether in the Musjid or on the roads or there is the danger of mischief because of women’s adornment and exhibition of beauty, then it is forbidden for them to come out. . . . It is incumbent on the Imaam or his representative to prevent women from emerging.” (Laamiud Duraari)

 Hadhrat Hasan Basri (rahmatullah alayh) was asked about a woman who took an oath to the effect that if her husband was released from prison she would, as a measure of thanks unto Allah, perform two raka’ts Salaat in every Mus|id of the city of Basra where Salaat is performed in Jamaa’. Hadhrat Hasan Basri (rahmatullah alayh) commented:

 “If Umar was here, he would have smashed her head.”

Imaam Taimi (rahmatullah alayh) says:

 “The Hadith of Aishah (radhiallahu anha) contains the substantiation for the view that it is not proper for women to emerge (from their homes) to attend the Musjids when mischief has come into existence.”

Allah Most High says:

 “And stay in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former times of ignorance; and establish regular Prayer, and give regular Charity; and obey Allah and His Messenger. And Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, O members of the Family, and to make you pure and spotless.” (Surah al-Ahzab, V: 33)

 Similarly, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) in many Hadiths encouraged women to offer their prayers at home:

 Sayyida Umm Salama (Allah be pleased with her) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “The best Mosque for a woman is the inner part of her home.” (Musnad Ahmad & Tabrani)

 Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Do not prevent your womenfolk from attending the Mosque, even though their houses are better for them.” (Sunan Abu Dawud)

 Sayyida Umm Salama (Allah be pleased with her) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “A woman’s prayer in her inner room is better than her prayer in the outside room, and her prayer in the outside room is better than her prayer in the courtyard, and her prayer in the courtyard is better than her prayer in the Mosque.” (Mu’jam of Imam Tabrani)

 Indeed, women in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) did attend congregational prayers in the Mosque, and they were not prevented from doing so. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) himself advised against preventing women from attending congregational prayers, for example:

 Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “If your wives seek permission from you to go to the Mosque at night, let them.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 827)


 Salim narrates from his father that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “If the wife of any one of you seeks permission to go to the Mosque, he may not prevent her.” (Sahih Muslim, no: 442)

However, the understanding of the various classical and contemporary Hanafi Fuqaha is that women in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) had the unique opportunity of praying behind the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) himself- an act that cannot be paralleled today. Secondly, they used to observe all the requirements of Shariah including those of proper covering (hijab), hence they were not prohibited from attending the congregational prayers. Despite this, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) still advised and encouraged them to pray in their homes.

 Sayyiduna Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) in his time felt that the concession given to women for attending the congregational prayers in the Mosque is sometimes being misused and could be misused even more in the future. He felt that women were no longer taking care of the Shariah requirements as they used to in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), and he was also aware of the fact that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) advised women to offer their prayers at home. Hence, keeping all of the above in mind, he issued a verdict that women should no longer attend congregational prayers in the Masjid, and this decision of his was collectively accepted by the other Companions.

 Similarly, Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) used to refuse women entry to the Mosque for Friday prayers and would say: “Go, your homes are better for you.”

 Sayyida A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) said:

 “If the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) was alive to see what women are doing now (in A’isha’s time), he would surely have prevented them from attending the prayers in the Mosque just as the women of Banu Isra’il were prevented.” (Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)

The renowned Hadith scholar and Hanafi jurist, Imam Badr al-Din al-Ayni (Allah have mercy on him) states whilst commentating on the above statement of Sayyida A’isha:

 “Had A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) witnessed what women are involved in the various types of innovations and wrongdoings these days, she would have been even more extreme in her preventing women from entering the Mosques……Also the fact that there had not been a long time between her statement and the demise of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), and also the fact that women in her time were not involved in even one portion of a thousand of what women are up to these days.” (Umdat al-Qari, 3/230)

Imam al-Kasani (Allah have mercy on him) states:

 “It will not be permitted for young women to go to the Mosque for congregational prayers due to the fact that Sayyiduna Umar (Allah be pleased with him) prevented women from doing so. Moreover, women’s going to the Masjid is a cause of mischief (between men and women) and mischief (fitna) is Haram, and that which leads to something Haram will also be unlawful.” (Bada’i al-Sana’i, 1/157)

Numerous similar statements and rulings of the authorities in the Books of the Shariah proclaim explicitly the prohibition on women attending the Musjid for Salaat or for listening to lectures. Each and every one of these Fuqahaa who spoke on this question was fully cognizant with the initial permission which applied during the age of Rasulullah (sallallahu alay hi wasallam). Nevertheless, they issued the verdict of prohibition on the basis of the Fatwa of Hadhrat Umar, Hadhrat Aisha and other Sahaabah (radhiallahu annum) as well as on the grounds of the prevalence of fitnah which undoubtedly did not predominate the scene as we find in our age.
(Abu Dawood)

A hypocrite is a false pretender and dissembler to virtue or piety. In the Islamic terminology, the word Hypocrisy is a substitute for ‘Nifaq’. This word Nifaq has been mentioned in the Qur’an thirty-one (31) times in different forms such as: Nifaq; Munafiqoon; Munafiqat; Munafiqeen, and Nifaqan. Allah hates those people who acquire this fault, and He therefore warns them that their punishment is indeed hell.

 Hypocrisy in simple dictionary meanings is pretence of virtue or simulation of virtue or goodness. It is the act or practice of simulating or feigning feelings or beliefs, especially the false appearance of piety or virtue. Hypocrisy is, in fact, concealment of true character or belief, a feigning to be what one is not. Hypocrite is a person who practices hypocrisy. Synonyms of hypocrisy are deceitfulness, dissembling, duplicity, imposture, pretence, deception, two – facedness; whereas synonyms of hypocrite are charlatan, deceiver, dissembler, fraud, imposter, pretender, Holy Willie, phoney.

 Allah says in Sura At-Tauba:

 “God hath promised the hypocrites, men and women, and the rejecters of Faith, the fire of Hell; therein shall they dwell; sufficient is it for them: for them is the curse of God, and an enduring punishment.” (9:68)

 Allah has promised the hypocrites a heavy penalty by saying in Sura Nisa:

 “To the hypocrites give the glad tidings that there is for them but a grievous penalty. Yea, to those who take the unbelievers as their leaders rather than the believers” (4:138-139)

 One may ask why a person should act as a hypocrite? Or why he should be a hypocrite? The answer could be any of the following:

 1. A person who has no faith in Allah, His Messenger, and the Day of Judgment may act as a hypocrite.

 2. A person who has a weak faith may be trapped in his daily life to play the role of a hypocrite.

 3. A person who lacks confidence in himself/herself may become a hypocrite.

 4. A person who lacks security, morally, psychologically, or financially, may be led to be a hypocrite.

 5. A person who is conceited, selfish, and who likes himself above all others, may play the game of hypocrisy so as to achieve his personal gains and to satisfy his ego.

 6. A person who is not a man unto himself, and whatever he does is seeking assurance of success and gain. Hence, he plays the dirty game of hypocrite.

 7. A person who seeks to please everybody even if it demands his cheating, lying or stealing.

Allah says in this regard in Sura Al-Munafiqun: “When the hypocrites come to thee, they say, ‘We bear witness that thou art indeed the Apostle of God.’ Yea, God knoweth that thou art indeed His Apostle, and God beareth witness that the hypocrites are indeed liars.” (63:1)

 The signs of a hypocrite are many among which are the following three signs:

 1. He lies whenever he talks.
2. He does not fulfill his commitment.
3. He betrays the trust that he takes.

 In this regard Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “The signs of a hypocrite are three: when he speaks, he lies; when he gives an agreement, he does not fulfill his commitment; and when he is entrusted, he betrays the trust.” (Reported by Abu Hurayrah – Agreed.)

 Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) says: “Don’t give the title of Sir or Mr. to a hypocrite if he becomes master, or you will displease your Lord the Almighty.” (From Abu Dawud and Al-Nisai.)

 According to the Qur’an, the revealed book of Islam, the hypocrites are those who say: We believe in Allah and the Last Day, when they believe not; they utter with their mouths a thing which is not in their hearts. When they stand up to worship they perform it languidly and to be seen of men, and remember Allah but little; swaying between this and that belonging neither to these nor to those. The likeness of a hypocrite in the view of Qur’an is that of one who worships Allah upon a narrow marge so that if good befalls him he is happy, but if a trial befalls him he falls away. Thus the tongue and the mind of a hypocrite or what he says and what he does is not one. A believer, on the other hand, is one in mind and tongue as he believes in Allah and His apostle in heart and utters the same from his tongue.

 During the early period of a revolutionary or reform or religious movement, there emerges a class who joins hands with the revolutionaries and reformers and apparently acts and speaks like them. But actually it is a class of hypocrites who are in their heart of hearts, deadly opposed to the movement being agents of the old order. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers also faced such a class when they migrated to Mdinah and were trying to establish themselves there. A group of Madinites apparently embraced Islam, professed allegiance to the Prophet, performed acts of Islamic faith like Muslims, but secretly connived with the enemies of Islam and missed no opportunity to harm the Muslims and their cause. This group of people was led by Abdullah bin Ubbey, the chief of the tribe of Banu Khazrij. They joined hands with the Jews of Madinah and pagan Quraish of Makkah and left no stone unturned to ruin Islam and the Muslims. Therefore they were called hypocrites. The Prophet and the believers were warned to be vigilant about their activities. They were condemned by Allah as disbelievers and were threatened with a painful doom.

 Islam condemns hypocrisy in the severest possible terms. According to the Qur’an, the hypocrites will be in the lowest deep of the Hell. The Holy Prophet was exhorted to fight against the hypocrites as against the disbelievers. The Prophet was forbidden to seek forgiveness for the hypocrites as Allah would not forgive them even if the forgiveness for them is sought seventy times. The Prophet and the believers were also forbidden to offer the funeral prayer on the death of hypocrite. Thus the sin of hypocrisy, according to Islam, is bigger than that of disbelief.

 Following are the verses of the Holy Qur’an and Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which explain hypocrisy, highlight the traits of hypocrites and discuss the consequences of this evil of hypocrisy:


 1. And of mankind are some who say: We believe in Allah and the last Day when they believe not. They think to beguile Allah and those who believe, and they beguile none save themselves; but they perceive not. In their hearts is a disease, and Allah increaseth their disease. A painful doom is theirs because they lie. Al-Baqarah :8-10

 2. And that He might know the hypocrite unto whom it was said: Come, fight in the way of Allah, or defend yourselves. They answered: If we knew aught of fighting we would follow you. On that day they were nearer disbelief than faith. They utter with their mouths a thing which is not in their hearts. Allah is best aware of what they hide. Those who, while they sat at home, said of their brethren (who were fighting for the cause of Allah): If they had been guided by us they would not have been slain. Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Then avert death from yourselves if ye are truthful. Al-lmran:167-168

 3. Bear unto the hypocrites the tidings that for them there is a painful doom; Those who choose disbelievers for their friends instead of believers! Do they look for power at their hands? Lo! all power appertaineth to Allah. An-Nisa: 138-139

 4. Lo! the hypocrites seek to beguile Allah, but it is Allah Who beguileth them. When they stand up to worship they perform it languidly and to be seen of men, and are mindful of Allah but little; Swaying between this (and that), (belonging) neither to these nor to those. He whom Allah causeth to go astray thou (O Muhammad) will not find a way for him. An-Nisa: 142 – 143

 5. Lo! the hypocrites (will be) in the lowest deep of the fire, and thou wilt find no helper for them; An-Nisa: 145

 6. The hypocrites, both men and women proceed one from another. They enjoin the wrong and they forbid the right and they withhold their hands (from spending for the cause of Allah). They forget Allah, so He hath forgotten them. Lo! the hypocrites, they are the transgressors. Allah promiseth the hypocrites, both men and women, and the disbelievers fire of Hell for their abode. It will suffice them. Allah curseth them, and theirs is the lasting torment. At-Taubah:67-68

 7. O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey’s end. At-Taubah: 73

 8. Ask forgiveness for them (O Muhammad), or ask not forgiveness for them; though thou ask forgiveness for them seventy times, Allah will not forgive them. That is because they disbelieved in Allah and His messenger, and Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk. At-Taubah: 80

 9. And never (O Muhammad) pray for one of them who dieth, not stand by his grave, Lo! they disbelieved in Allah and His messenger, and they died while they were evil-doers. Let not their wealth nor their children astonish thee! Allah purposeth only to punish them thereby in the world, and that their souls shall pass away while they are disbelievers. At-Taubah: 84 – 85

 10. And among mankind is he who worshippeth Allah upon a narrow marge so that if good befalleth him he is content therewith, but if a trial befalleth him, he falleth away utterly. He loseth both the world and the Hereafter. That is the sheer loss. Al-Hajj: 11

 11. Of mankind is he who saith: we believe in Allah, but, if he be made to suffer for the sake of Allah, he mistaketh the persecution of mankind for Allah’s punishment; and then, if victory cometh from Lord, will say: Lo! we were with you (all the while). Is not Allah best aware of what is in the bosoms of (His) creatures? Verily Allah knoweth those who believe, and verily He knoweth the hypocrites. Al-Ankabut: 10-11

 12. When the hypocrites come unto thee (O Muhammad), they say: we bear witness that thou art indeed Allah’s Messenger. And Allah knowth that thou art indeed His messenger and Allah beareth witness that the Hypocrites are speaking falsely. They make their faith a pretext so that they may turn (men) from the way of Allah. Verily evil is that which they are wont to do. That is because they believed, then disbelieved, therefore, their hearts are sealed so that they understand not. Al-Munafiqun: 1-3


 1. Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: The signs of a hypocrite are three. When he talks, he speaks falsehood; and when he promises, he breaks and when he is entrusted, commits treachery. (Bukhari and Muslim)

 (And Muslim add: Even though he keeps fasts, prays and thinks that he is a Muslim).

 2. Abdullah-b-Amr reported: That the Messenger of Allah said: Whoso has got four things in him is a true hypocrite, and whoso has got a habit therefrom in him has got in him a habit of hypocrisy till he gives it up; when he is trusted, he is unfaithful; and when he speaks, he speaks falsehood; and when he makes promise, he proves treacherous, and when he quarrels, he commits sin. (Bukhari and Muslim)

 3. Ibn Omar reported that the Messenger of Allah said: The parable of a hypocrite is as a goat roaming between two goats going once unto this and once unto that. (Muslim)

 4. Huzaifa reported: Hypocrisy existed at the time of the Messenger of Allah. As for now, it is either infidelity or faith. (Bukhari)

 5. Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Two traits cannot unite in a hypocrite-good conduct and knowledge of religion. (Tirmizi) __________________

Aristotle writes that the function of tragedy is to arouse the emotions of pity and fear, and to affect the Catharsis of these emotions. Aristotle has used the term Catharsis only once, but no phrase has been handled so frequently by critics, and poets. Aristotle has not explained what exactly he meant by the word, nor do we get any help from the Poetics. For this reason, help and guidance has to be taken from his other works. Further, Catharsis has three meaning. It means ‘purgation’, ‘purification’, and ‘clarification’, and each critic has used the word in one or the other senses. All agree that Tragedy arouses fear and pity, but there are sharp differences as to the process, the way by which the rousing of these emotions gives pleasure.

 Catharsis has been taken as a medical metaphor, ‘purgation’, denoting a pathological effect on the soul similar to the effect of medicine on the body. This view is borne out by a passage in the Politics where Aristotle refers to religious frenzy being cured by certain tunes which excite religious frenzy. In Tragedy:

 “…pity and fear, artificially stirred the latent pity and fear which we bring with us from real life.”

 In the Neo-Classical era, Catharsis was taken to be an allopathic treatment with the unlike curing unlike. The arousing of pity and fear was supposed to bring about the purgation or ‘evacuation’ of other emotions, like anger, pride etc. As Thomas Taylor holds:

 “We learn from the terrible fates of evil men to avoid the vices they manifest.”

 F. L. Lucas rejects the idea that Catharsis is a medical metaphor, and says that:

 “The theatre is not a hospital.”

 Both Lucas and Herbert Reed regard it as a kind of safety valve. Pity and fear are aroused, we give free play to these emotions which is followed by emotional relief. I. A. Richards’ approach to the process is also psychological. Fear is the impulse to withdraw and pity is the impulse to approach. Both these impulses are harmonized and blended in tragedy and this balance brings relief and repose.

 The ethical interpretation is that the tragic process is a kind of lustration of the soul, an inner illumination resulting in a more balanced attitude to life and its suffering. Thus John Gassner says that a clear understanding of what was involved in the struggle, of cause and effect, a judgment on what we have witnessed, can result in a state of mental equilibrium and rest, and can ensure complete aesthetic pleasure. Tragedy makes us realize that divine law operates in the universe, shaping everything for the best.

 During the Renaissance, another set of critics suggested that Tragedy helped to harden or ‘temper’ the emotions. Spectators are hardened to the pitiable and fearful events of life by witnessing them in tragedies.

 Humphrey House rejects the idea of ‘purgation’ and forcefully advocates the ‘purification’ theory which involves moral instruction and learning. It is a kind of ‘moral conditioning’. He points out that, ‘purgation means cleansing’.

 According to ‘the purification’ theory, Catharsis implies that our emotions are purified of excess and defect, are reduced to intermediate state, trained and directed towards the right objects at the right time. The spectator learns the proper use of pity, fear and similar emotions by witnessing tragedy. Butcher writes:

 “The tragic Katharsis involves not only the idea of emotional relief, but the further idea of purifying the emotions so relieved.”

 The basic defect of ‘purgation’ theory and ‘purification’ theory is that they are too much occupied with the psychology of the audience. Aristotle was writing a treatise not on psychology but on the art of poetry. He relates ‘Catharsis’ not to the emotions of the spectators but to the incidents which form the plot of the tragedy. And the result is the “clarification” theory.

 The paradox of pleasure being aroused by the ugly and the repellent is also the paradox involved in tragedy. Tragic incidents are pitiable and fearful.

 They include horrible events as a man blinding himself, a wife murdering her husband or a mother slaying her children and instead of repelling us produce pleasure. Aristotle clearly tells us that we should not seek for every pleasure from tragedy, “but only the pleasure proper to it”. ‘Catharsis’ refers to the tragic variety of pleasure. The Catharsis clause is thus a definition of the function of tragedy, and not of its emotional effects on the audience.

 Imitation does not produce pleasure in general, but only the pleasure that comes from learning, and so also the peculiar pleasure of tragedy. Learning comes from discovering the relation between the action and the universal elements embodied in it. The poet might take his material from history or tradition, but he selects and orders it in terms of probability and necessity, and represents what, “might be”. He rises from the particular to the general and so is more universal and more philosophical. The events are presented free of chance and accidents which obscure their real meaning. Tragedy enhances understanding and leaves the spectator ‘face to face with the universal law’.

 Thus according to this interpretation, ‘Catharsis’ means clarification of the essential and universal significance of the incidents depicted, leading to an enhanced understanding of the universal law which governs human life and destiny, and such an understating leads to pleasure of tragedy. In this view, Catharsis is neither a medical, nor a religious or moral term, but an intellectual term. The term refers to the incidents depicted in the tragedy and the way in which the poet reveals their universal significance.

 The clarification theory has many merits. Firstly, it is a technique of the tragedy and not to the psychology of the audience. Secondly, the theory is based on what Aristotle says in the Poetics, and needs no help and support of what Aristotle has said in Politics and Ethics. Thirdly, it relates Catharsis both to the theory of imitation and to the discussion of probability and necessity. Fourthly, the theory is perfectly in accord with current aesthetic theories.

 According to Aristotle the basic tragic emotions are pity and fear and are painful. If tragedy is to give pleasure, the pity and fear must somehow be eliminated. Fear is aroused when we see someone suffering and think that similar fate might befall us. Pity is a feeling of pain caused by the sight of undeserved suffering of others. The spectator sees that it is the tragic error or Hamartia of the hero which results in suffering and so he learns something about the universal relation between character and destiny.

 To conclude, Aristotle’s conception of Catharsis is mainly intellectual. It is neither didactic nor theoretical, though it may have a residual theological element. Aristotle’s Catharsis is not a moral doctrine requiring the tragic poet to show that bad men come to bad ends, nor a kind of theological relief arising from discovery that God’s laws operate invisibly to make all things work out for the best.

Blog Stats

  • 266,296 hits