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Massive Online Encyclopedia of Islam : LYING

The morality of lying is one of the most confusing aspects of Islamic thought and, as a result, creates the impression that whether a person is truthful, or deceitful, depends entirely on the ethics of the situation.

At first glance, Islam appears to place great importance on the truth:

And cover not Truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when ye know (what it is). (YA, al-Baqarah 2:42)

There are TWO categories of lies which are not tolerated in Islam:

1. A lie against Allah.

Who can be more wicked than one who inventeth a lie against Allah, or saith, "I have received inspiration," when he hath received none, or (again) who saith, "I can reveal the like of what Allah hath revealed"? If thou couldst but see how the wicked (do fare) in the flood of confusion at death! - the angels stretch forth their hands, (saying), "Yield up your souls: this day shall ye receive your reward,- a penalty of shame, for that ye used to tell lies against Allah, and scornfully to reject of His signs!" Sura 6:93

2. A Lie against Muhammad

Narrated Al-Mughira: I heard the Prophet saying, "Ascribing false things to me is not like ascribing false things to anyone else. Whosoever tells a lie against me intentionally then surely let him occupy his seat in Hell-Fire." ... (Sahih al-Bukhari 2.378, cf. 1.106-108)

Lying to, or about, fellow Muslims is also a sin according to the Traditions.

Cases in which lying IS permitted

One of the most interesting moral dilemmas for Islam are the cases in which lying is permitted

The Traditions tell us that there are three instances where deception can be used:

Humaid b. 'Abd al-Rahman b. 'Auf reported that his mother Umm Kulthum daughter of 'Uqba b. Abu Mu'ait, and she was one amongst the first emigrants who pledged allegiance to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him), as saying that she heard Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: A liar is not one who tries to bring reconciliation amongst people and speaks good (in order to avert dispute), or he conveys good. Ibn Shihab said he did not hear that exemption was granted in anything what the people speak as lie but in three cases: in battle, for bringing reconciliation amongst persons and the narration of the words of the husband to his wife, and the narration of the words of a wife to her husband (in a twisted form in order to bring reconciliation between them). (Sahih Muslim, Hadith number 6303-05; see also Sahih al-Bukhari 3.857)

More information is provided by William Muir's "Life of Mahomet", Volume I, footnote 88:

The common Moslem belief is that it is allowable to tell a falsehood on four occasions:

1st, to save one's life;
2nd, to effect a peace or reconciliation;
3rd, to persuade a woman;
4th, on the occasion of a journey or expedition.

To save one's life

The first is borne out by Mahomet's express sanction. Ammar ibn Yasir was sorely persecuted by the pagans of Mecca, and denied the faith for his deliverance. The Prophet approved of his conduct: - "If they do this again, then repeat the same recantation to them again." Katib al Wackidi; p. 227 . Another tradition preserved in the family of Yasir, is as follows: - "The idolators seized Ammar, and they let him not go until he had abused Mahomet and spoken well of their gods. He then repaired to the Prophet, who asked of him what had happened." - "Evil, oh Prophet of the Lord! I was not let go until I had abused thee, and spoken well or their gods." - "But how," replied Mahomet, "dost thou find thine own heart?" - "Secure and steadfast in the faith." - "Then," said Mahomet, "if they repeat the same, do thou too repeat the same." Ibid. Mahomet also said that Ammar's lie was better than Abu Jahl's truth.

To effect a peace or reconciliation

The second is directly sanctioned by the following tradition:- "That person is not a liar who makes peace between two people, and speaks good words to do away their quarrel, although they should be lies. Mishcat, vol ii. p.427.

To persuade a woman

As to the third, we have a melancholy instance that Mahomet did not think it wrong to make false promises to his wives, in the matter of Mary his Egyptian maid.

On the occasion of a journey or expedition

And regarding the fourth, it was his constant habit in projecting expeditions (excepting only that to Tabuk) to conceal his intentions, and to give out that he was about to proceed in another direction from the true one. Hishami, p. 392; Katib al Wackidi, p. 133 .

What was Muhammad's attitude towards lying?

Muhammad treated truth and deception according his own style of situational ethics. Muhammad condoned, and actually permitted, lying to further his goals:

For example,

Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah:

Allah's Apostle said, "Who is willing to kill Ka'b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?" Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, "O Allah's Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?" The Prophet said, "Yes," Muhammad bin Maslama said, "Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Kab). "The Prophet said, "You may say it." ... (Sahih al-Bukhari 5.369)

Muhammad clearly condoned dishonesty, as well as murder, when it suited his purposes.

Lying today

Imam Abu Hammid Ghazali says: "Speaking is a means to achieve objectives. If a praiseworthy aim is attainable through both telling the truth and lying, it is unlawful to accomplish through lying because there is no need for it. When it is possible to achieve such an aim by lying but not by telling the truth, it is permissible to lie if attaining the goal is permissible." (Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, The Reliance of the Traveller, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, amana publications, 1997, section r8.2, page 745)

Note that Al-Ghazali is one of the most famous and respected Muslim theologians of all time.

Sunni Muslims often criticize the Shi'a for their use of Taqiya, or not showing their faith openly. In other words, if a Shi'a Muslim's life is in danger, he may lie as long as he holds true to Ali in his heart.

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