Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said:
“On the authority of Abd-Allah ibn Amr (ra) that RasulAllah (saw) said: “Four traits whoever possesses them is a hypocrite and whoever possesses some of them has an element of hypocrisy until he leaves it: The one who when he speaks he lies; when he promises he breaks his promise; when he disputes he transgresses; and when he makes an agreement he violates it.” (Bukhari; Muslim)
1- Other wordings of this same hadith: “The signs of the hypocrite are three: When he speaks he lies; when he promises he breaks his promise; and when he is entrusted he betrays the trust.” (Bukhari; Muslim); “…even if he prays and fasts and imagines that he is a Muslim.” (Muslim); “Among the signs of the hypocrite are three…” (Muslim)
2- Nifaq (hypocrisy) in the Arabic language means the general category of deception, scheming and presenting an outward appearance of good while concealing its opposite.
3- In the Shari’ah, nifaq is of two types:
a- Greater (an-Nifaq al-Akbar): To present an outward appearance of belief in Allah, His Angels, His books, His messengers, the last day, etc. while concealing withing that which negates all or some of that. This is the hypocrisy which the RasulAllah (saw) confronted during his life and the ones who Allah said in the Qur’an that they are in “the lowest depth of hell-fire”.
b- Lesser (an-Nifaq al-Asghar) or hypocrisy of action: To present an outward appearance of good and good deeds while concealing within that which negates that. This form of hypocrisy is built on the 5 things mentioned in the hadith at hand.
4- The actions in this hadith are all part of lesser hypocrisy. One who has these character traits in interaction with other people is most likely to have them with regard to Allah and His Prophet (saw). That is why the existence of them is a ‘sign’ of the existence of greater nifaq.
5- Lying. Hasan al-Basri said: “Nifaq is the difference between the inner and the appearance, between statement and action and between entering and leaving and it used to be said that the foundation of nifaq upon which it is built is lying.”
6- Breaking Promises. This falls into two categories:
a- Making a promise with no intention of keeping it. Awza’i said that one who says: “I will do such-and-such inshaAllah!” without intending to do it has committed both lying and breaking a promise.
b- Making a promise intending to keep it and then later deciding to break it.
7- Transgression in Dispute. The main meaning of ‘transgression’ here is to intentionally speak other than truth making truth falsehood and vice versa. Lying ‘calls to’ this as in the hadith: “Beware of lying for lying guides to transgression and transgression leads to the fire.” (Bukhari; Muslim) Also RasulAllah (saw) said: “The most hated of men to Allah is the one given to fierce and violent disputation.” (Bukhari; Muslim) Also, RasulAllah (saw) said about the one who takes what is not his through clever speech has only been given a piece of the fire.
8- Breaking Agreements. Allah said: “And fulfill your agreements for verily agreements will be asked about.” (al-Isra 17/34) And: “And fulfill Allah’s agreement when you have made an agreement and don’t violate your oaths after they have been established and you have made Allah your guardian (therein).” (an-Nahl 16/91)
Also: “As for those who sell the faith they owe to Allah and their own plighted word for a small price, they shall have no portion in the Hereafter: Nor will Allah (Deign to) speak to them or look at them on the Day of Judgment, nor will He cleans them (of sin): They shall have a grievous penalty.” (Al-i Imran 3/77) This applies to Muslim and non-Muslim alike. RasulAllah (saw) said: “Whoever kills an individual protected by treaty without right will not even smell the scent of paradise and its scent can be found at a distance of forty years march.” The most serious oath to dishonor is the oath of allegiance to the khalifa of the Muslims.
9- Betraying of Trusts. When a Muslim is entrusted with something, he must do his best to protect it and to render it back to its owner when the time comes. Allah said: “Verily, Allah orders you to render trusts to their rightful owners…” (an-Nisa 4/58) Also: “O ye that believe! betray not the trust of Allah and the Messenger, nor misappropriate knowingly things entrusted to you.” (al-Anfal 8/27)
10- These issues have all been connected to hypocrisy in the Qur’an:
Lying, breaking oaths: “When the Hypocrites come to thee, they say: We bear witness that thou art indeed the Messenger of Allah! Yea, Allah knoweth that thou art indeed His Messenger, and Allah beareth witness that the Hypocrites are indeed liars. They have made their oaths a screen (for their misdeeds): thus they obstruct (men) from the Path of Allah: truly evil are their deeds.” (al-Munafiqun 63/1-2)
False oaths, breaking promises (to Allah), lying: “O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell, an evil refuge indeed. They swear by Allah that they said nothing (evil), but indeed they uttered blasphemy, and they did it after accepting Islam; and they meditated a plot which they were unable to carry out: this revenge of theirs was (their) only return for the bounty with which Allah and His Messenger had enriched them! If they repent, it will be best for them; but if they turn back (to their evil ways), Allah will punish them with a grievous penalty in this life and in the Hereafter: They shall have none on earth to protect or help them. Amongst them are men who made a covenant with Allah, that if He bestowed on them of His bounty, they would give (largely) in charity, and be truly amongst those who are righteous. But when He did bestow of His bounty, they became covetous, and turned back (from their covenant), averse (from its fulfillment). So He hath put as a consequence hypocrisy into their hearts, (to last) till the Day, whereon they shall meet Him: because they broke their covenant with Allah, and because they lied (again and again).” (at-Tawbah 9/73-77)
Betraying trusts: “We did indeed offer the Trust to the Heavens and the Earth and the Mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof: but man undertook it;-he was indeed unjust and foolish- (With the result) that Allah has to punish the Hypocrites, men and women, and the Unbelievers, men and women, and Allah turns in Mercy to the Believers, men and women: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (al-Ahzab 33/72-73)
11- Umar (ra) mentioned the hadith of RasulAllah (saw): “The thing from which I fear for you the most is the knowledgeable hypocrite. Umar (ra) was then asked: How can a hypocrite be knowledgeable? To which Umar answered: He speaks with wisdom but acts with injustice.”
12- Ibn Umar (ra) was told: “We enter the presence of the ruler we speak to him other than what we say after we leave. Ibn Umar said: We used to consider that hypocrisy.” (Bukhari)
13- Ibn Abi Mulayka said: “I encountered thirty Companions of RasulAllah (saw) every one of them fears hypocrisy for himself and Hasan al-Basri used to say about it: No one fears it but a believer and no one feels safe from it but a hypocrite.” (Bukhari)
14- Another aspect of hypocrisy is to do apparently good deeds with wicked intentions. Allah said: “They set up a masjid for the purpose of harm, kufr, creating division among the Muslims and as an outpost for those making war against Allah and His Prophet before this and they will swear: We only intended good. And Allah bears witness that they are liars.” (at-Tawbah 9/107)
15- Also: “Do not imagine that those who are joyful with what they have done and love to be praised for that which they did not do -do not imagine them to be safe from punishment- and theirs is a painful punishment.” (Al-i Imran 3/188)
16- Consciousness will vary and this is not hypocrisy. RasulAllah (saw) said to Handhala: “If you were to continue in the state which you achieved in my presence, the angels would greet you in your sittings and in the streets however, O Handhala, there are times and there are times.” (Jaami al-Ulum wa’l-Hikam, # 48)