Lying: an Islamic perspective
what is lying?
lying is the complete opposite of truth. so, anything that is untrue and deliberately intended to mislead another person is a lie. a lie, therefore, can be anything spoken or written that is totally or partially baseless, unreal, made-up, distorted or exaggerated; for example, if someone were to deliberately state that a five foot pole was a ten foot pole, then this would be a lie. similarly praising someone out of proportion is a form of a lie.
lying: a disease of the heart
lying and falsehood are widespread problems and are roots of other problems that occur on an individual and public level. lies are spoken and written in the media and in politics, in business and in personal dealings, by muslims and non-muslims alike, although the degree, magnitude and frequency may vary.
lying is against human nature and physiology, and like any other disease, it has its own unique signs and symptoms. the act of lying produces inner conflicts between various control centres of the brain. the moment one begins to lie, his body sends out contradictory signals to cause facial muscle twitching, expansion and contraction of pupils, perspiration, flushing of cheeks, increased blinking of the eye, tremors of the hand, and an increased heart rate. these constitute the basis of lie detector instruments. in addition, certain unconsciously made movements are noticeable in those who lie, like the constant covering of the mouth, touching of the nose, rubbing of the eye, scratching the side of the neck, rubbing the ear, etc. one of the clearest signs is that the liar keeps his palms closed and his eyes in another direction to the person he is lying to, in an attempt to avoid eye to eye contact. a liar is aware of his body’s signals and finds lying easier when nobody can see him, such as when he is on the phone or writing.
what are the motives of a liar?
a liar tells a lie for the purpose of:
a) concealing the truth, as he may be afraid of the truth or its punitive consequences by the law or certain individuals.
b) cheating and deceiving others and enjoying their misery, as satan did with aadam.
c) short-term worldly gains, such as gaining the favours of others or monetary gains.
forms of lying
the worst form of lying is to do so upon allaah and his messenger which is to falsely attribute things to them. allaah almighty says in the quran (what means): "and if he [i.e., muhammad] had made up about us some [false] sayings, we would have seized by the right hand; then we would have cut from him the aorta " [quran 69:44-46]
and (what means): "…and do not conceal testimony, for whoever conceals it – his heart is indeed sinful…." [quran 2:283]
and (what means): "and do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know [it]." [quran 2:42]
hypocrites are liars too, because they lie to themselves. allaah says about them (what means): "in their hearts is disease, so allaah has increased their disease; and for them is a painful punishment because they [habitually] used to lie." [quran 2:10] allaah also addressed his messenger muhammad saying (what means): "…allaah knows that you are his messenger, and allaah testifies that the hypocrites are liars." [quran 63: 1]
the quran on liars
allaah says (what means): "…indeed allaah does not guide one who is a transgressor and a liar." [quran 40:28]
and (what means):"…indeed, allaah does not guide he who is a liar and [confirmed] disbeliever." [quran 39:3]
almighty allaah also says (what means):"…the curse of allaah be upon him if he should be among the liars." [quran 24:7]
the messenger on lying and liars
prophet muhammad said:
“indeed, truth leads to virtue and virtue leads to paradise, and a truthful person continues to speak the truth until he becomes the most truthful person. lies lead to evil and evil leads to hell, and a liar continues to lie until he is listed as a high ranking liar before allaah." [al-bukhaari]
yoosuf ibn 'abdullaah said that he asked prophet muhammad :"o messenger of allaah! what do you think is the most dreadful thing for me?" yoosuf continued: "the messenger caught hold of his tongue and said: "this." [at-tirmithi]
bahz ibn hakeem related that the messenger said: "destruction is for the man who tells lies for the amusement of other people. destruction is for him." [at-tirmithi]
sufyaan ibn usayd reported that the messenger said: "the biggest breach of trust is that you tell a thing to your brother who believes it to be true, whereas you have lied to him." [abu daawood]
is lying ever justified
there are very few justifications for lying in islam. the prophet directed us to tell the truth, even under the harshest circumstances of oppression. however, one may choose not to tell the truth when:
* he is being oppressed and there is a real danger to his life if he speaks the truth. shaykh as-sa'di narrated the following story: "a cruel king ordered an innocent villager present in his court to be executed due to the villager's lack of manners. hearing this, the villager began cursing the king in his native language. the king asked his minister, who understood the man's language, to tell him what the man was saying. the wise minister, instead of telling the truth, told the king that the man was sorry for his conduct and was praising his greatness and pleading for his mercy. the king was affected and therefore spared the life of the innocent villager." shaykh as-sa'di called this: "a lie with wisdom."
* to promote harmony between spouses. for example, if one's wife asks him if she is beautiful or if he loves her, there is no harm in answering in the affirmative, even if this is not the case.
* while making peace between two quarrelling parties, so that the ordeal would not ignite into something worse. the mediator in such a case may falsely tell one party that the other is speaking highly of them.
* to make the unbelievers realise the truth. when prophet ibraaheem broke all the idols except the largest of them, the unbelievers entered the temple and saw the smashed idols. ibraaheem had placed the axe in the hand of the chief idol. the disbelievers asked: "who broke our gods?" he said: "ask the chief idol, he has the axe." they replied: "do you not know that he cannot speak or act?" ibraaheem replied: "this is what i have been telling you, so worship allaah rather than these stones that cannot harm or profit you."
virtues of telling the truth
truthfulness is commanded by allaah as a part of faith and is an indispensable quality of the believers. it is mentioned in over one hundred places in the quran. some examples are when allaah almighty says (what means): "that allaah may reward the truthful for their truth…" [quran 33:24]
"o you who have believed! fear allaah and be with those who are true." [quran 9:119]
"o you who have believed! fear allaah and speak words of appropriate justice." [quran 33:70]
"the patient, the true, the obedient, those who spend [in the way of allaah], and those who seek forgiveness before dawn." [quran 3:17]
"the believers are only the ones who have believed in allaah and his messenger and then doubt not but strive with their properties and their lives in the cause of allaah. it is those who are the truthful." [quran 49:15]
it is not necessary to relate any prophetic traditions about the truthfulness of prophet muhammad as his whole life was nothing but the epitome of truth. prophet muhammad was confirmed as a truthful person even before he became a prophet. during his prophethood, even his enemies confirmed that he was truthful and trustworthy. some of the disbelievers would deposit their belongings with him as an indication of their trust in him.