One hadith states: ‘Do not laugh too much; for too much laughter deadens the heart.’

[Bukhari, Adab al-Mufrad; Sunan Tirmidhi; Sunan Ibn Maja; Musnad Ahmad]

And in some narrations, there is an addition, “For verily excessive laughter kills the heart and removes the light of one’s face,” or in another version, “For verily excessive laughter corrupts the heart.” [Bayhaqi, Shu’ab]

This latter version helps explain what is meant by the version of “killing the heart,” namely, that the death of the heart refers to its spiritual corruption.

“If you knew that which I know, you would laugh little and weep much.” (Bukhari)

This is not to say that laughter or humour must be avoided altogether; for laughter and light-hearted humour, in moderation, are prophetic Sunnahs that bring about joy and relief to oneself, and to others. There is little virtue in always being grave and solemn:

And that He it is that makes to laugh and makes to weep.[53:43]

Yet to ove-indulge in laughter is a lethal poison that kills the heart spiritually and, as Imam Munawi points out:

‘Making a habit of laughing diverts one from deliberating over matters of importance.’

(Fayd al-Qadir Sharh al-Jami‘ al-Saghir,2:157)

When life becomes little more than “a bundle of laughs,” then the heart’s spiritual death has well and truly set in.

Imam Munawi gives a more detailed explanation of the spiritual death of one’s heart as he states, citing various Imams, “Excessive laughter leads to a hardening of the heart, which in turn leads to heedlessness [of the Divine], and the death of the heart occurs not except by heedlessness.”

He further comments, “Getting accustomed to laughter distracts one from reflecting on matters of significance…one who laughs excessively does not have a respectful demeanor [hayba]; he does not command respect at all. One who is characterized by it has no meaningful thought nor worth.”

He adds, “Excessive laughter and excitement regarding worldly affairs is a lethal poison that flows in one’s veins and removes from the heart fear [of divine punishment], sadness [over one’s sins], and remembrance of death and the terrors of the Day of Arising; this, then, is the death of the heart.
‘And they rejoice over the life of this world, yet the life of this world with respect to the afterlife is nothing but temporary, paltry amusement’ (Qur’an 13:26).”

Elsewhere in his masterful commentary, Imam Munawi states, “Laughter that kills the heart is that which occurs due to rejoicing over this life and being prideful in one’s joy thereof. The heart has [spiritual] life and death—its life is by continuous obedience, while its death is by responding to the call of other than Allah, such as of one’s ego, stubborn whims, or Satan.”

Finally, Imam Munawi states that the reasonwhy excessive laughter kills the heart is because the root of excessive laughter is love of this world, which is the cause of every sin; and once the heart is dead, it does not respond to Allah when He calls him [to obedience]. (Fayd al-Qadir Sharh Jami’ al-Saghir)

Tragically we are now a culturally obese society, continuously feeding on an excessive diet of trivial amusement and entertainment. This over-consumption of laughter and frivolity, as noted before, diverts most of us from more serious considerations: war, famine, disease, environment, economy, disintegration of society and social cohesion and the breakdown of family; as well as those existential issues more serious still that relate to our Maker, the Afterlife and our purpose of being. Our continued addiction to all this joviality and diversion has made us a society wherein we are, in the words of Neil Postman’s deftly entitled book, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

May Allah protect us from these fitnahs of Modern age. Aameen.