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!"
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,
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
(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 ½. 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 ½.
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:
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.
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
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