Scholars debate April Fools' Day

Some consider April Fool's day haram because it involves a sin: lying.

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ABU DHABI // As April Fools' Day prompts a wave of practical jokes and trickery around the world, scholars are considering the question: whether lying for fun is permissible under Islam.

A scholar at the UAE's official fatwa centre said April Fools' pranks were "haram", or forbidden.

"It is haram," the scholar said, "considering some jokes make many troubles."

He indicated some jokes might be cruel, such as those that involve potential deaths in the family.

"The Prophet used to joke with his friends, but while saying the truth," he said.

But another prominent scholar said pranks were permissible as long as they did not go too far.

"It is not haram, because people consider it a joke and it's a tradition that people have passed down," said Ahmed al Kubaissi, a professor of Sharia Studies at UAE University. "As long as it is not harmful."

Rani al Sharaa, a 30-year-old Syrian information technology manager, was firm in his dislike of the tradition.

"Why should we imitate the West and celebrate a day for lying?" Mr al Sharaa said.

Mr al Sharaa related the story of a friend who got divorced over an April Fools' joke.

An acquaintance called the friend at work to tell him his wife had suffered a major car accident and summoned him to their home. When the friend arrived, his wife and some of her family were waiting for him, laughing. He divorced her.

"What's the use of it?" Mr al Sharaa asked. "It's definitely haram."

Mr al Sharaa's mother-in-law, an Arabic teacher, saw things a little differently. She said she often left fake termination letters for her colleagues on April 1.

"Our generation used to take it more seriously because we waited specifically for this day to plan pranks," said Fadia al Chami, from Lebanon.

"Nowadays they have Facebook and the internet to distract them all the time."

The jokes also reflected a simpler understanding of technology. Mrs al Chami said her favourite prank involved pretending to be a telecom operator and calling a friend to tell her the company was "greasing" the telephone lines to get them to work better.

Her friend held a tray under her home's telephone cord to stop the grease from leaking on to the carpet.

Omar Marri, 30, an Emirati police officer, said April Fools' Day has been a tradition for him since he was 18.

But even he agreed sometimes pranks went too far.

He revealed the worst joke played on him: he was told a friend had been involved in a car accident in Dubai.

But when he arrived at Rashid Hospital after driving from Abu Dhabi at 3am, where his friend was supposedly being treated, he was told it was a joke.

"April Fools' pranks should be light, without causing a lot of trouble for the person," he said.