Khayyam on hypocrisy

Religious hypocrisy is the most irritating aspect of Muslim culture in general and Afghan culture in particular. Some may believe that Muslim hypocrisy is a product of the totalitarian political orders ruling the Islamic east for the past few centuries. The truth, however, is that hypocrisy has been a widespread social norm in this region at least from the time people converted to Islam. In Islam, unlike other mainstream religions, there is a great amount of emphasis on the jurisprudence (Fiqh), in contrast to spirituality which is the basis of Buddhism and theological principles which define Christianity. Of course there is spirituality and theology in Islam as well, but they are overshadowed by jurisprudence. If the muslims want to be accepted in their communities, they have to observe the strict religious rituals and practices on a daily basis and obey the sharia law. In reality, being a good Muslim, as the book requires, is a very difficult task. Therefore the people have no other option but to live a double life: a life for themselves and a life for the eyes of the public.

There are two classical poets in Persian literature who are very vocal against the culture of hypocrisy in Muslim communities, Hafez and Khayyam.  Hafez was a sufi, a great rival of mullas who are considered the embodiment of hypocrisy. Khayyam was a philosopher and mathematician, who expressed his blasphemous ideas in poetry, which in Persian/Afghan culture is the only realm of immunity for intellectual production. Both these men have great influences in Persian literature; their critical poems on hypocrite practices are well-referred even in everyday conversations.

The following is one of Khayyam’s quatrains about hypocrisy. Two English translations follow:

شیخی به زنی فاحشه گفتا مستی

هرلحظه به دام دیگری پا بستی

گفتا شیخا هرآنچه گویی هستم

آیا تو چنان که می نمایی هستی؟

A religious man said to a whore, “You’re drunk,
Caught every moment in a different snare.”
She replied, “Oh Shaikh, I am what you say,
Are you what you seem?”

Translated by Peter Avery and John Health Stubbs


A Sheikh addressed a prostitute,
And said, ‘You tempt with your device
Man after man, whom you entice.
How can you be so dissolute?’
The woman then made this reply
‘I am, O Sheikh, what you relate,
But are you so immaculate,
As you assume and certify?’

Translation by Arthur J. Arberry.

I couldn’t find Edward FitzGerald’s translation of this quatrain.


2 thoughts on “Khayyam on hypocrisy

  1. Hypocrisy is not limited to any religion.They all have more than a “fair share”. Religion was invented as a way to control uneducated masses. Nothing more. Nothing less.

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