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The following is a transcript from an interview with Dr. Jamal Badawi's "Teaching Series."
You can listen to the audio HERE
Can you explain the meaning of truthfulness as a moral virtue in Islam?
Dr. Jamal Badawi:
Alsidque is the word used for truthfulness. Alsidque and its derivatives are found in more than a hundred places in the Quran. In the Quran we find that alsidque appears as a command to the believers as found in (9:119) “O ye who believe! Fear Allah and be with those who are true (in word and deed).” A similar quote in the Quran which is widely quoted is found in (33:70) “O ye who believe! Fear Allah, and (always) say a word directed to the Right.” In the Quran one finds that it is one of the characteristics of true believers and particularly the prophets. In the chapter of Mary in the Quran in verses forty and on we find a great deal of praise of the previous prophets. One of the repeated descriptions of the prophets is that they were truthful. Some of the prophets that it refers to are Prophet Abraham, Ishmael, Idrees and Moses. In addition in chapter 12 the term alsidque is attributed to Prophet Joseph (PBUH) and in (39:33) it is attributed to last of the prophets, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) when it says “And he who brings the Truth (Muhammad) and he who confirms (and supports) it - such are the men who do right.”
Truthfulness in the Quran is not only mentioned to praise prophets (the best models of human conduct) but it also appears praising others. For example in (5:78) it says that “Christ the son of Mary was no more than an apostle; many were the apostles that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. Mary who is not regarded in Islam as a prophet but rather the mother of a holy prophet is described as a woman of truth. The Quran in (3:15-17) describes any sincere believer as having the quality of truthfulness.
Truthful manifested itself in the life and characteristics of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that people called him (even before he became a prophet) Al-Ameen meaning the truthful or trustworthy. Even his enemies, such as Abu Sufian (before he became Muslim) was asked by the ruler Hercules what Muhammad teaches them and Abu Sufian answered he teaches us to worship God, to pray, to be truthful, to be chaste and to be kind to our relatives.
What does the Quran and Tradition of the Prophet (PBUH) say about untruthfulness?
Dr. Jamal Badawi:
Untruthfulness and lying are both mentioned in the Quran and in the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as one of the worst vises. Sometimes lying is condemned and at times it used to contrast truthfulness. Examples of this are found in (40:28) it says that “Truly Allah guides not one who transgresses and lies!” and in (39:3) “But Allah guides not such as are false and ungrateful.” The sayings of the Prophet are plentiful on the subject of truthfulness verses lying. In the collection of Hadith by Ahmad the Prophet (PBUH) said “The worst betrayal is to tell a lie to a brother of yours while he trusts you and believes in you.” In the same collection it was narrated that there was no act that the Prophet hated more than the act of being untruthful. In one of the sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) he considered lying as one of the three major characteristics of a hypocrite. “Three are the signs of a hypocrite: When he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he breaks it; and when he is trusted, he betrays his trust.” In another famous saying of the Prophet he says “Be truthful because truthfulness leads to righteousness and righteousness leads to Paradise.” He also said “a person should tell the truth and keep trying to tell the truth until it is written with God that he is a person of truth.” And he said “Beware of lying because it leads to transgression and sinful excess and excess leads to the hell fire and the person who lies and tries deliberately to lie until it is written with God that he is a liar.”
We also find that the Prophet (PBUH) considered over praising others as a form of lying. In one of his sayings he said “Throw the dust in the face of those professional praises.” When he was on his death bed he insisted that people not over praise or over glorify him after his death and that he was only a servant and messenger of God. He also forbade people from having a mosque directly on his tomb. He said that “The main error of the people before you was that they used the graves of prophets as a place of worship or a place to glorify them.”
Are some lies regarded as being more serious than others?
Dr. Jamal Badawi:
First of all the most dangerous and highly condemned act of lying according to the Quran and Sunah is to lie about God and to attribute things to God that He did not reveal. An example is (6:93) “Who can be more wicked than one who inventeth a lie against Allah, or saith, "I have received inspiration," when he hath received none.” This is strongly condemned because the harm resulting from false claim of prophet-hood is perhaps the most misleading, as it could mislead hundreds of millions of people. In addition to this we find also that the Quran mentions in (69:44) about people who accused the Prophet of fabricating the Quran “And if the apostle were to invent any sayings in Our name, We should certainly seize him by his right hand, And We should certainly then cut off the artery of his heart: Nor could any of you withhold him (from Our wrath). But verily this is a Message for the Allah fearing.” Also, in (42:24) it repeats that it is impossible that this Quran would come from any other source than God and that the Prophet is simply telling the truth.
The second aspect of lying is that effects and misleads many people by claiming that the Prophet (PBUH) said something that in fact he did not say. The reason for this is that the worlds of the Prophet as regarded as being one form of revelation. The Prophet said “whoever lies about me deliberately, let him take his seat in the hell fire.” This factor contributed to a great extent to the preservation of the Prophetic tradition because the great majority of people were very careful to communicate the words of the Prophet as was uttered by him. These are the top acts which are condemned in terms of lies.
What are the implications of truthfulness or the lack of it on a social and political level?
Dr. Jamal Badawi:
The basic rule is that the lie is worst when it harms a greater number of people, which is why the Prophet (PBUH) says that a person who lies and his lies reach all the horizons (spread at a large scale) will be severally punished on the Day of Judgment. This for example applies to politicians or people who have access to the media. If people with this ability to reach large numbers of people spread lies then the harm would be great and as such their punishment will be greater.
Giving false witness is one of the highly condemned act of lying. For example in the Quran in (2:283) it says “Conceal not evidence; for whoever conceals it,- His heart is tainted with sin. And Allah Knoweth all that ye do.” One of the worst lies is to give false witness about something that did not happen which may result in a penulty being applied to someone who is innocent.
This also applies to economic life. The Prophet (PBUH) said that if people who buy and sell are truthful God will bless their sale. In the collection of Bukhari the Prophet (PBUH) said it is not legitimate for a believer to sell an item while knowing that it has a defect without telling buyers about it.
What about white lies or lies to children?
Dr. Jamal Badawi:
We have to make a distinction between two situations: one is when a small child asks an embarrassing question and the other is when a person lies to the child in order to appease him or her.
In respect to the first situation one might encounter a question from a young child asking where their newborn siblings came from. In a case like this instead of lying and saying that the stork brought him one could say that God put him in the tummy of his mother and when the baby was big enough he came out. This should be explained in a simple enough manner that a child can understand it.
The aspect of lying to appease a child is frowned upon. One time the Prophet (PBUH) was visiting some people, the narrator of this Hadith was a child at the time, and he said “My mother called me over and said “Come here I want to give you something.” and before I went the Prophet (PBUH) asked her “What are you going to give him?” She replied “Truly, I want to give him some dates, for him to eat.” The Prophet replied “If you did not actually want to give him the dates it would have been written as a lie against you.””
In the collection of Hadith by Ahmad the Prophet says “If a person calls his child over in order to give him something and doesn’t it will be written against him as a lie.” This is a very important aspect because many people undermine the inelegance and understanding of a child but I think psychologically and morally it is very important to be truthful with them. Even if parents make mistakes they should admit it in order to build trust and confidence between with the children.
Is it permissible to tell stories that are not real in order to make a point?
Dr. Jamal Badawi:
Recreation is not frowned upon and there some stories which carry symbolical meanings. When telling stories to kids one can tell a fictitious story which has a moral lesson. It is preferable (this doesn’t mean fictitious stories are not allowed) to refer to actual stories whenever one has access to them. If one tells stories to show moral behavior there are lots of stories with actions on the part of the Prophets (the sacrifice of Prophet Abraham, gentleness of Prophet Jesus, strength of Prophet Moses and the justness and kindness of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). One can refer to acts and stories about pious people throughout history. If a symbolic story is told then usually everyone knows that it is not true.
However, one should be careful when attributing false things to other people. This is frowned upon because even though it may be entertaining it may hurt the feelings of the person it is being said about. In the collection of Tirmithi the Prophet (PBUH) said “Woe to he who lies just to make people laugh.” In another Hadith in Ahamad he says “I am in charge of a mansion in the midst of Paradise for those who refrain from lying even if they are joking.”
Are there any exceptions to this honorable obligation to be truthful?
Dr. Jamal Badawi:
The purpose of Islamic law is to safeguard faith, life, honor and property and many times the rules are not just there for the sake of having rules but are there under a frame of moral teaching and attitude. There are some cases that have exceptions but these are not of convenience but are based on legitimate legislative law. For example, if someone is threatened with his life he could be a martyr but in some cases it may not be worth telling the truth especially if the person is oppressed by higher powers. Even then we find that the Prophet (PBUH) said that in a situation that it may be dangerous for one to tell the truth, still tell the truth and maybe it would be a way of getting one out of that difficulty. A person would thus have to evaluate it very carefully before deciding to lie.
For example, if there is a situation where the wife is upset with her husband and he asks her if she loves him it is ok for her to say she does even though she may be upset. This applies for him as well. There is no purpose served if one tells the other all the (momentary) negative feelings. Of course this does not apply if they really hate one another.
In some cases if someone is trying to make peace with two people who are fighting and really angry with each other. One might use some methods to convince each of the angry parties that one or the other likes the other and that there is no reason to be angry. In the collection of Bukhari Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said “He is not a lie he who tries to bring peace and reconcile people to each other by communicating only good things to the two parties.” There is also a special case that we find addressed in the Quran in (21:62) when prophet Abraham (PBUH) went into the temple where his people had their idols and broke them all with an axe and put the axe in the hand of their biggest idol. Then the people came and asked him if he destroyed their idols and he replied “No, the biggest idol did it, don’t you see the axe in his hand?” Of course this was a way of taunting them by implying that they worship something that can not help itself or prevent itself from being destroyed.
What are the benefits of being truthful?
Dr. Jamal Badawi:
Truthfulness has been mentioned in the Quran as related to iman (faith in God). It is mentioned as an attribute which enhances the moral character of the believer. Truthfulness is one of the divine attributes, one of the attributes of God. For example in the Quran in (4:87) “Whose word can be truer than Allah’s.” As the Prophet (PBUH) said we should as believers try to immolate some of the attributes of God. Of course God is the Creator and we can no be creators but we can try to emulate the moral characteristics.
One fruit of truthfulness is revelation which is found in the Quran (17:105) “We sent down the (Qur'an) in Truth, and in Truth has it descended: and We sent thee but to give Glad Tidings and to warn (sinners).” As we mentioned before it is also a characteristics of prophets are pious people. On the Day of Judgment the Quran says (33:24) “That Allah may reward the men of Truth for their Truth.” Forgiveness, which is something that a believer aspires to as it is connected with truthfulness, is mention in (33:35) as it describes the characteristics of the believers and says in the end “for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.” Finally, in (4:69) “All who obey Allah and the apostle are in the company of those on whom is the Grace of Allah,- of the prophets (who teach), the sincere (lovers of Truth), the witnesses (who testify), and the Righteous (who do good): Ah! what a beautiful fellowship.”