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Letter 92 | American Values Religious Voices

Letter 92

Homayra Ziad

Scholar of Islam
Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies

April 21, 2017

Dear President Trump, Vice President Pence, Members of the Trump Administration and 115th Congress,

A group of disciples went to the Prophet Muhammad (upon him, peace) and complained about another disciple, who they thought indulged too often in laughter. “You may be surprised to know,” the Prophet replied, “that he will laugh all the way to heaven!” The message was clear: good humor is integral to a healthy sense of self, especially for those in leadership positions.

Today’s leaders can learn from the Prophet Muhammad, who was said to be among the most joyful of men, often laughing so hard that his back teeth could be seen. Muslims know well the story of the Prophet down on his hands and knees with his two precious grandsons, pretending to be a camel as they bounced on his back with glee. Disciples say they never encountered the Prophet without a smile on his face. Canonical hadith collections offer chapters that explicitly focus on the Prophet’s laughter and good cheer as a virtue to be emulated.

The Prophet understood humor as humility. He joked, bantered, and sat at ease with his disciples, drawing them close in love. He adored children, smearing their faces with food, splashing them with bathwater, kissing their tummies. He even enjoyed a good practical joke. Once a disciple secretly loosened the Prophet’s saddle. When the Prophet climbed on his camel, he slipped right off—and dissolved in appreciative laughter!

We single out people who “can’t take a joke” because we wonder: if they cannot laugh at themselves, can they show mercy to others? Humor helps us to not take ourselves so seriously, so we may face the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with a light heart. Humor honors the interplay of the comic and tragic that is the subtext of our lives, helping us live with dignity by embracing the undignified. When we learn to laugh at ourselves, and with others, we grow together in mercy and empathy.

This is what we need today: leaders who exhibit mercy, empathy, and a sense of humor, leaders who are not afraid to embrace their humanity—and in so doing, embrace humankind.

Sincerely,

Homayra Ziad

Homayra Ziad
Scholar of Islam
Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies

About the author

Homayra Ziad, Scholar of Islam at the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies in Baltimore, was formerly Assistant Professor of Religion at Trinity College. With a doctorate in Islamic Studies from Yale University, she is deeply involved in interreligious education and training, as well as local, national and international interfaith initiatives and educational outreach on Islam. Her academic research has focused on Islamic spiritual traditions, religion and the arts, religion and humor, and ideas of vocation. She has been published in both academic and popular venues, including The Huffington Post, WYPR, the Baltimore Sun, AltMuslimah, and other venues.