Telling lies is haram; but what should we do when we are in a difficult situation?

The Details of the Question

- Are there any situations in which telling lies is not haram?
- Is telling lies in war not regarded as cheating?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Is there anyone who is not disturbed when he hears the word “lie” and the meaning it denotes? Yes, some bad attributes actually disturb everyone.

Lying, which is the opposite of truth, straightforwardness and loyalty, is a bad habit that almost everyone hates. However, is it permissible to lie and make false statements in some cases?

First of all, let us refer to the hadiths and narrations that allow making statements that sound like lies for some reasons, and the views of Islamic scholars on the issue:

The following hadith is mentioned in Sahihs of Bukhari and Muslim:

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

Muslim also includes a narration from Umm Kulthum (ra) in the continuation of the same hadith:

“I have never heard that exemption was granted in anything what the people speak as lie but in three cases: 1) in battle, 2) for bringing reconciliation amongst persons, 3) 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)” (Muslim, ibid)

We can summarize the explanation of those narrations in the light of the explanations of the hadith scholars made by Kamil Miras as follows:

The meaning of the phrase “it is not regarding as lying to tell lies to reconcile people” in the hadith means that there is no sin for such a lie because a lie is not declared to be not a lie in the hadith, but it is only stated that there is no sin associated with that kind of lie. There is no doubt that a lie is still a lie in its nature whether it is told to reconcile people or for any other purpose.

There are different opinions among the scholars regarding the permission to lie in three places, but the opinion of the majority of hadith scholars is as follows:

It is absolutely forbidden to tell a lie and to say that something happened though it did not happen. The permission in the hadith about lying is in the form of “tawriya” and “iham”. Tawriya means a person’s using a word that has several meanings, by referring to its least used meaning. Iham means using a word that has two meanings by referring to its meaning that is used less.

We can give the following examples to explain them:

When you say to the enemy soldier, “Your king died” during a war, you can mean one of the previous kings of the enemy.

When it is necessary to speak and express an opinion but you do not want Islam and Muslims to be harmed, you can make some indirect sentences without resorting to direct lies.

Similarly, if a person who wants to win the hearts of his wife and daughter uses an expression such as “InshaAllah - if Allah wills” when he promises them something and does not immediately give them what he has promised, he will not be regarded to have lied because this promise is related to the future.

Besides, when a person reconciles two people who are angry with each other says, “So-and-so prays for you” and he means that person said, “O Allah! Forgive all Muslims”, he is not regarded to have made a false statement. (Tecrid-i Sarih Tercemesi, VIII/111-112) Thus, he is relieved by getting rid of the responsibility of lying. The Prophet (pbuh) clarifies the issue by stating the following in a hadith narrated by Imam Bayhaqi:

“There is relief in ambiguous and allegorical expressions, making you get rid of lies.” (at -Taj, V/55)

However, since a lot of lies are told in every field today, Badiuzzaman Said Nursi wants people to be sensitive and careful in such matters to prevent lies:

“...However, sometimes in the past lying abrogated this if there were advantages to be gained. Some scholars issued ‘temporary’ fatwas in case of necessity or for benefit. But in this age, such fatwas may not be given. For it has been abused so much that there may be only one benefit among a hundred harms. The judgement cannot therefore be based on benefit”

“For example, the cause for shortening the ritual prayers while on a journey is hardship. But it cannot be the reason. For it has no determined limit and may be abused. The reason may only be “the journey”.

That is, the real reason for shortening four-rak’ah fard prayers and performing them as two rak’ahs is “journey”, being a traveler. Even if there is no hardship, it can be shortened. If hardship is seen as the real reason, everyone can change and apply this decree according to himself. People may abuse it by thinking, “I have not had any difficulties; so, I can pray them as four rak'ahs.”. In order to prevent this, the prayer is shortened whether there is hardship or not.

After this example, Nursi finally mentions the following issue:

“Similarly, benefit may not be the reason for telling a lie. Because it has no specified limit and is a swamp breeding abuse. The judgement for a fatwa may not be based on it. In which case, ‘Either truthfulness or silence.’ That is, there are two ways, not three; that is, not either the truth, or lies, or silence.”

“Indeed, everything you say must be true, but it is not right to say everything true. If on occasion it is damaging, then be silent. But there is no fatwa for lying.” (see Hutbe-i Şamiye, Üçüncü Kelime)

Question: Why did our Prophet (pbuh) give permission to lie in war even though it is very bad to lie; does it not mean deception? In addition; it means winning a war with a trick; it does not fit humanity; no one who fights will believe Muslims because of it.

a. According to Islam, lying is a great sin.

“Shun the abomination of idols, and shun the word that is false.” (al-Hajj, 22/30)

It is remarkable that lying is mentioned after polytheism in the verse above.

b. The religion of Islam is based on trueness. It is pointed out in many places in the Quran that the Quran is a book that tells the truth and that the Prophet (pbuh) is a truthful prophet; besides, it is emphasized that the revelation and our Lord, who is the owner of religion, are truthful.

“And whose word can be truer than Allah’s?” (an-Nisa, 4/122)

The issue is preferred to be expressed in a question form in order to awaken the most heedless minds in the verse above.

c. Belief is based on truth, and unbelief is based on lies. Can it be thought that Islam allows “telling a lie, which is a word of unbelief” without a necessity?

That the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) had been known as “Muhammadul-Amin = reliable and trustworthy Muhammad with his words and deeds” since his childhood by the people around him tells us a lot of things. If such a person gave permission to lie related to some issues, it is necessary to try to understand the wisdom behind it.

d. The judgment “winning a war with a trick; it does not fit humanity; no one who fights will believe Muslims” is really interesting. That heroic statement meaning “War is fought bravely...” has no place in war.

All wars fought in the history of humanity since the beginning of wars are aimed at killing the enemy, the other party. You come out to kill the enemy, but when you find the opportunity to kill your enemy, you stop killing because you think, “it does not fit chivalry”. It is called stupidity. Such an attitude can even lead to your execution due to treason.

e. All war tactics, expressed with words such as “war strategy, war tactics, war maneuver, war scenario” used by all countries today, are tricks, deceptions, de facto lies aimed at deceiving the other side and diverting the target. In war, phrases such as “not stabbing in the back, fighting chivalrously” are heard only in movies.

As a matter of fact, the Prophet (pbuh) said,

“War is khud’a: War is a tactic to mislead the other side.” (Bukhari, Jihad, 157; Muslim, Jihad, 18-19)

Although this statement of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is evident in the soundest hadith sources, it is a very serious religious risk for a believer to try to show that it is wrong of instead of learning the wisdom behind it.

f. “Indeed, righteousness leads man to goodness and beauty, and goodness leads man to Paradise. As a person keeps speaking truthfully, he is recorded as siddiq/very honest - in the eye of Allah. Indeed, lying leads to bad deeds and evil, and evil leads to fire/Hell. As a person keeps telling lies, he is recorded as a liar - in the eye of Allah.” (Muslim, Birr, 103-105).

Now let us think justly: If the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who shows lying as “the key to evil, the road to Hell”, makes some exceptions from this rule, the duty of a believer is to show respect. (Besides, this is the last detail that should be discussed with an unbeliever.)

g. The following verse below should be our guide in such issues. Our attitude, intention and style should be shaped within the framework of the following divine message:

“No no! By your Lord, they will not be believers until they make you their judge in the matters in which they differ, and then they feel no distress in their hearts because of the judgment you have given and they are completely surrendered to you.” (an-Nisa, 4/65)

h. Unfortunately, this permission (which is only an act of tolerance, not a command) has been abused a lot throughout history. People have exceeded the limits of this prophetic permission. They have acted based on their desires. The permission has been used outside its intended purpose. It is almost as if the expected benefit from the permission began to seem as a loss as a result of the abuses. Therefore, it would be useful to suspend the use of this permission today.

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