In continuing the core social rules in Islam, this article discussing the mortal sin of lying that unfortunately afflicts many people and yet is often justified away or ignored. We learn that children especially must be trained to be truthful even before they learn speech! Being truthful is one of the foundations of being a good Muslim.
- The Holy Qur’an commands us to be ‘with the truthful’ in multiple places. Furthermore the Prophet (pbuh) says:“the nearest of you to me tomorrow and those most worthy of my intercession are those who are the most truthful in speech, the most trustworthy, the best in manners and the closest to people” [Wasa’lu-Shi’a 12:163]
- Imam al-Sadiq (as) advises us in the following narration that before we speak, we need to learn to be truthful at all times: “learn truthfulness before speech”[al-Kaafi 2:85]
- Allamah Noori has written a book called ‘al-Lu’lu wal Marjan (Pearl & Coral) in which he says there are two steps to the pulpit of Islam: truthfulness and sincerity.
وَاجْتَنِبُوا قَوْلَ الزُّورِ
“..and shun lying speech”(22:30)
The more important the subject of truth the more virtuous the truth teller is, therefore Imam Ali (a.s) is the great truth-teller because he never disbelieved in God even on a blink of an eye. Similarly, atheists are the biggest liars for they belie the most obvious truth; i.e. God.
The Holy Qur’an does not only urge us to not lie, but it tells us to shun or avoid lying completely, whether when talking, writing or in any way form or shape of communication. The Holy Qur’an uses the same wording that it uses for alcohol, by saying ‘avoid’ lying. This means that just like we cannot come close to alcohol or have any sort of connection to it, we should also not come close to lying or have any connection with it.
In fact, in the above ayah, the Holy Qur’an associates lying with worshiping idols and this shows just how evil it is and just how much we should avoid it.
- Allah the Almighty says in Surah an-Nahl, verse 105: “Only they forge the lie who do not believe in Allah’s communications, and these are the liars.”
- And in Surah az-Zumar it is mentioned:“Surely Allah does not guide him aright who is a liar, ungrateful.” (Surah az-Zumar 39:3)
- It can be understood from the verses of the Qur’an that a liar calls for divine curse and invites the anger of Allah (S.W.T). For example: “… and pray for the curse of Allah on the liars.” (Surah Āli- Imrān 3:61)
- And also:“… the curse of Allah be on him if he is one of the liars.” (Surah an-Nūr 24:8)
A large number of Qur’anic verses and traditions condemn the sin of lying and describe its evil consequences. Therefore, just as we are so careful about alcohol and idol worship and would never come near it, we should have the same attitude towards lying and false speech.
Reasons for Lying
There are perhaps three major reasons why people lie:
It has become so common that it is no longer seen as something wrong or detestable. Once a sin becomes public and commonplace, people become less sensitive to it. This is why in Islam, while it is bad to commit a sin, it is far worse to publicise that sin.
People may think that by lying they can reach their goal faster and so they lie in order to get ahead in life. For example, he lies about his goods to increase his profits.
- In this regard Imam Ali (as) give us a true test for how faithful we are, saying: “Faith is when you prefer truth, when it would harm you, over lying, when it would benefit you”. [Nahjul-Balagha, Wisdom No. 458]
- “When someone tries to achieve a goal by disobeying Allah, this will cause him to miss out on what he hopes to gain and to face what he feared even quicker”
- Wealth which is gained through illegal means such as lying has no blessing, and it often dissipates from the person’s possession. Somehow, that wealth will be lost to that person through one calamity or another.
The third reason people may lie is because of fear of the consequences or because they do not feel secure from the consequences of lying. However, the lifestyle of the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt was such that they did not worry about these consequences and kept the pleasure of Allah (swt) as their priority. For example, one day a man wanted to speak to Imam al-Sadiq (as) but the Imam was in a state of Janabah. Rather than making any excuses, the Imam (as) told the man directly that he was in a state of Janabah and asked him to come back later. In another example, the Imam (as) is walking home with his son Ismail and a friend. When they reached the Imam’s house, he did not invite the man inside. When Ismail (as) asked why the Imam (as) had not invited the man at least as a formality, the Imam (as) said that Allah (swt) does not like people who pretend. On this note, we should make sure that we do not miss our prayers because we are too shy to perform Ghusl. Even though this may be awkward, we must learn to overcome this awkwardness and perform our obligations on time.
Psychological studies have shown different reasons for lying and many if not most of these forms of lying are forbidden in ISLAM. For example, your kids lie to you because they don’t want to disappoint you, or they want to impress you about their school results. A man may lie to his wife because he feels by telling the truth he is giving up control or she gets hurt unnecessarily. Their justification is “what you don’t know won’t hurt you”.
Consequences of lying
- Lying is a mortal sin and mortal sins lead to the Hell-fire unless a person truly repents from such sins.
- Lying leads to a person being lied to. Parents cannot expect children to be truthful when they themselves lie at work or lie to their spouse or lie to get a better business deal. Giving advice to others without practising it ourselves does not work. This is why the Prophet (pbuh) would not even advise a young boy not to eat dates until he himself had practiced it for a while. When it comes to business, it is permissible to not tell the truth by saying for example: ‘this is my car, you can check it for yourself and see if it has any faults’ without telling the person all its faults. However, it is not permissible to lie to the person by decorating the car or lying about its features or condition.
- Lying is the key to the house of sins. If you can imagine all sins being locked in a warehouse, the key to that warehouse would be lying. This is one of the major dangers of lying: it leads to multiple other sins.
- One of the properties of lying is that the lying person is exposed later on. It is a natural consequence of a lie that the truth will later show up. Therefore, whenever a person lies they are taking the risk of the truth being disclosed which always occurs, one way or another.
A liar develops a foul smell in the Hereafter انّ المؤمن اذا کذب بغیر عذر لعنه سبعون الف ملک و خرج من قلبه نتن حتی یبلغ العرش“When a believer lies without a valid excuse, seventy-thousand angels curse him and a foul smell emanates from his heart, such that it reaches The Throne” (Mustadrakul Wasail, 9:86)
- God has curses the liars:(فنجعل لعنة الله علی الکاذبین (3:61) “and invoke the Curse of Allâh upon those who lie” (3:61)
Exceptions or White Lies
Lying is forbidden in Islam due to its evil consequences. Therefore, if lying has no evil consequences rather may repel an evil then lying is no longer impermissible:
- If it is an obvious lie that does not lead to anyone being deceived, such as an obvious humour.
- If by lying one can stop an oppressor from oppressing a person, then lying is obligatory. One day, the Prophet (pbuh) was sitting on the side of a road when he saw someone fleeing from some evil people. After the man passed, the Prophet went and sat on the other side of the street. When those people chasing the man saw the Prophet (pbuh) and asked him whether he had seen anyone, he (pbuh) said: ‘since I have been sitting here, I have not seen anyone’. Imam al-Sadiq (as): “If a Muslim is asked about a Muslim and he harms that other Muslim by telling the truth, he is written as a liar. However, if a Muslim is asked about a Muslim and he benefits that other Muslim by lying, he is written as a truthful person in the eyes of Allah”.
[Mostadrakul-Wasa’el vol.9 p.95] Of course, here we do not mean personal benefit or loss, but a real benefit or loss such as protecting an innocent life, family, honour etc…
- If one can make reconciliation between two people by lying then it is permissible or even recommended. Imam Sadiq (a.s) said: إنّ المصلحَ لیس بِکذّاب. “Surely, the reconciler is not (regarded) liar.” (al-Kaafi, vol.2 p.210)
It is haram to go and tell a person that someone has said something bad about them. Instead, a person should try to make peace between two people even if it means lying about what they said about each other.
“Allah, the Exalted, loves lying with the purpose of reconciliation, and detests truth if it leads to mischief”. [Wasa’elu-Shi’a vol12 p.252] Holy Prophet (pbuh) to Imam Ali (AS)
One of the best chapters for this topic is in the book ‘Greater Sins’ as Authored by Ayatollah Dastaghaib Shirazi. Its available online here.