Lying is forbidden. However, what should we do if we are in a difficult situation? Are there circumstances under which lying is not forbidden? Is it not deceiving to lie at war?

Details of the Question
Lying is forbidden. However, what should we do if we are in a difficult situation? Are there circumstances under which lying is not forbidden? Is it not deceiving to lie at war?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Is there anyone who is not disturbed when hearing the word “lie” and its meaning? Yes, some disgusting attributions really disturb everyone indeed.

Lie which is the opposite of truth, straightness and loyalty to promise is a bad habit hated by almost everyone. However, is it possible that there are some circumstances under which lying would be permissible?

Firstly, let’s appeal to the hadiths, narrations and views of Islamic scholars on this issue, which give permission for statements close to lying for some certain reasons:

Bukhari and Muslim state the following hadith in their hadith books:

He who makes peace between the people by inventing good information or saying good things, is not a liar.” (Bukhari, Peace 2; Muslim, Goodness 101).

Again, Muslim narrates a hadith from Ummu Gulsum, following the hadith above, which is translated as its follows:

I did not hear him permit untruth in anything people say, except for three things: war, settling disagreements, and a man talking with his wife or she with him (in smoothing over differences).” (Muslim, ibid)

We can sum up late Kamil Miras’ interpretations and explanations of the narrations which he uttered in the light of hadith interpretation scholars’ explanations as in the following:

The saying in the hadith as “settling disagreements” between people is not lying means that this kind of a lie is not sinful. In fact, the lying mentioned in the hadith is not excluded from the concept of lying but just it is indicated that there is not a sin given to such kind of lying. Doubtlessly, lie is still lie regardless of what it is uttered for; whether to settle disagreements or for other reasons.

Although there are ones who have different views on permission of lying under three certain circumstances, the view of the majority of the hadith interpretation scholars is as follows:

It is certainly forbidden to lie or say something unreal. The permission to lie mentioned in the hadith is for “tavriyah” and “ikham”. Tavriyah in Arabic is a figure of speech that the speaker speaks a word which has three or more meanings and he/she means the furthest meaning of the word. Ikham is equivocation in English. It is a figure of speech that the speaker speaks a word with two meanings and he/she means the furthest meaning of the word.

As for these two figures of speeches on the issue, we can exemplify them as follows:

For instance, a soldier says to enemy soldiers “your king is dead” during a battle, but with this he means another king of theirs who died before.

When one is obliged to declare his/her thoughts on an issue which may harm Islam and Muslims, he/she can do periphrasis instead of lying directly and this is permissible as well.

Similarly, someone who does not want to hurt his wife or daughter when they ask of something from him, he says “inshallah- Allah willing” and if he cannot buy what he promised to buy right away, this is not considered lying because his promise is about future.

Moreover, when trying to settle disagreement between two people, one says “that man prays for your good” and if he/she means with this expression that the man said indeed “My Lord, forgive all Muslims”, this is not lying because the other man is also included in all muslims. (Tajrid-i Sarih, 8/111-112). In this sense, he/she is freed from the responsibility of lying. In a hadith narrated by Imam-i Beykhaki, our Prophet (pbuh) says: “It is permissible to refrain from lying with periphrasis and equivocation” and clarifies this issue. (at-Taj, 5/55).

However, for there is too much lying in all situations in our day, Bediuzzaman, who advises us to be careful and attentive in such issues in order not to pave the way to lying, says:

Permission to lie for a good reason is abolished by time. Some scholars declared fatwa saying that lying for a good reason or obligation is temporarily permissible. This fatwa is not valid in our day, because it has been abused so much that only one benefit can exist amongst a hundred harms of it. For this reason, judgment cannot be made according to good reasons.”

“For instance, the reason for omitting sunnah parts of prayers during travel is its difficulty. However, this cannot be the main reason, because it does not have certain criteria. The main reason may be just the travel itself.”

That’s to say; the main reason of performing prayers which have four fard parts like prayers with two fards is travel. If there is no difficulty, one still may not bear the travel and shorten prayer. If difficulty is considered the main reason, everyone can adapt this judgment according to themselves and change it. One can abuse this judgment by saying “I have no difficulties at all, so I can perform the prayers as four parts”. Sunnah parts of prayers should be omitted, whether there is difficulty or not, to prevent this abuse.

After this example, Master (Bediuzzaman) relates to this issue:

Similarly, a good reason cannot be the main reason for lying, because there is not a certain criterion of this, therefore it paves the way to abuse. One cannot make a judgment according to reasons. In this sense, it is necessary either to tell the truth or to keep silent. There are two ways; not three. It is not either truth or lie or silence.”

Yes, everything you say must be true, but you should not say every truth everywhere. If truth will harm, keep silent. Otherwise, lying is not permissible at all costs.” (see: Hutbe-i Şamiye/Üçüncü Kelime).

Question: Why did our Prophet permit to lie at war though lying is an evil deed? Is it not deceiving? Moreover, this means victory via trick, this does not comply with human dignity and even those who will fight against Muslims next will not believe in them.

a) According to Islam, lying is a major sin. It is a significant point that the verse the translation of which is “shun the abomination of idols, and shun the word that is false” (al-Hajj, 22/30) mentions lying after attributing partners to Allah.
b) Religion of Islam is based on straightness. It is stated many times in Quran that Quran is a book that tells truth, Prophet Mohammad is an honest, trustworthy prophet and Our Lord who is the owner of the revelation and religion is honest. An interrogative form is preferred in Quran, such as in the verse the translation of which is “whose word can be truer than Allah's?” (al-Nisa, 4/122) in order to awaken the most unaware minds.
c) Belief is based on truth and infidelity is based on lie. Is it possible to think that “lie, which is a word of infidels’” can be permissible?

The prophet of the religion of Islam was known as “Mohammad-al-Amin (i.e. Mohammad the trustworthy) and this implies a lot of things for us. It is necessary to try to comprehend the reasons if such a trustworthy person permitted to lie under some circumstances.

d) The expression of “Moreover, this means victory via trick, this does not comply with human dignity and even those who will fight against Muslims next will not believe in them” is really interesting. The heroic sayings such as “war is fought honestly” do never take place in the dictionaries of wars.

All the wars fought throughout the history of humankind are each an art of killing enemies, the members of other side. You will walk into the battle field in order to kill the enemy, but when you have got the opportunity, you will change your mind and will not kill saying “this does not comply with honesty”. How can such foolishness be? This act can even lead to sentence of death according to the law of high treason.

e) today, the military tactics used by every government and which are expressed with phrases such as “war strategy, military tactic, war game” are indeed tricks, shifts and operational lies for deceiving the counterside. Nonsense such as “not stabbing someone in the back and fighting honestly” are words which can only be found in movies.

In fact, our Prophet stated that “war is a tactic of deceiving the counterside” (Bukhari, Jihad, 157; Muslim, Jihad, 18-19). While this statement of the Prophet’s is available in the most trustful hadith books, it is very risky in terms of belief for a believer to try to prove that wrong instead of trying to find out its reason.

f) “Verily truth will lead to goodness and goodness will lead to Heaven. A person who develops a habit of honesty will be accepted by Allah as an honest person. But lying leads to evil, and evil leads to the Hellfire. A person who lies until dishonesty becomes habitual will be written off by Allah as a most liar.” (Muslim, Birr, 103-104-105)

Now, let’s think reasonably. If the Prophet (pbuh), who considers lying “the key to evil and the guide to Hell”, made some exceptions to this judgment, what should a believer do is to accept it respectfully. (Already, this is the latest detail that should be discussed with an unbeliever).

g) The following verse must be our guide in such issues. Our attitude, aim and style must be shaped according to this divine message.
But no, by the Lord, they can have no (real) Faith, until they make thee judge in all disputes between them, and find in their souls no resistance against Thy decisions, but accept them with the fullest conviction.” (al-Nisa, 4/65).

h) Throughout history, this permission (not an order, just permission) has been abused a lot of times, unfortunately. The limits of the permission given by the Prophet have been exceeded. Meaningless desires of the lower self mixed with it. The permission has been misused. The benefit expected from the permission has started to be written amongst deficits because of abuse. For this reason, it would be better to suspend the right of benefitting from this permission.

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