Lesson Materials

When Lying is Permissible

There are a few circumstances when lying can prevent serious harm, in which case lying may be permissible, or even necessary.

Umm Kulthum: “I never heard the Prophet excuse any kind of lying except three: a man who speaks to bring two people together after there was enmity between them, a man who speaks when he is at war, and a husband and wife speaking to one another [to reconcile].” Muslim        only if it saves a marriage from being damaged

Ma’mūn ibn Mahrān: Lying may be better than telling the truth in some situations. Imagine if a man was chasing another intending to kill him with a sword. The one who is being chased may enter your house to hide. The man who is chasing him may ask you, “Have you seen that person?” What would you say? You will say, ‘No, I haven’t.’” [This type of lying is necessary]

Speech is a means to an end. Each praised end is attained through either lying or telling the truth, even though lying is essentially unlawful. If lying is the only means of attaining such an aim, it may be permissible as long as the end is also permissible, and may be necessary as long as the end is obligatory.

Ask a muslim where his money is kept so he can steal it, where a person is hiding so he can kill him

If you are asked about a sin that only you and Allah know about, permissible to lie; asked about a secret that will mar a person’s reputation, permissible to deny it

Use a manner of speaking to avoid lying outright

Umar: “Isn’t there enough in allusion and ambiguity to make lying unnecessary?”

Intentional ambiguity only allowed when there is a real need for it, otherwise disliked

Tell the visitor: look for him in the mosque, but don’t say I am not here, that would be a lie

Exceptions: if it causes direct necessary benefit or averts a clear harm

  • prevent bloodshed
    • oppressor intends to steal wealth
    • someone asks about a sin like adultery: Prophet: “He who committed a thing of such filthy affairs, let him screen himself with Allah’s screen.” [H]
  • When there is fighting, in order to reconcile people – allowed if there is no other way. Make sure to be as careful as possible because if you open the door to lying, you might get used to it. Umm Kulthum: I never heard the Messenger of Allah permitting lying except in three cases. One who reconciles people, one who says something during war, a husband speaking to his wife or a wife speaking to her husband. [M]
  • use literally true speech when possible: “Look for the person you are trying to kill outside.”
  • custom implies exaggeration: “I’ve told you a hundred times!”
    • If you said it only once, it is lying

Be careful of small/habitual lies - prohibited:

  • “Have some food” – “I’m not hungry”

Make a balance: If you know that telling the truth will result in worse consequences than if you lie, then it is permissible. Such a decision must be made very carefully and not by following your whims. If telling the truth and lying result in equal effects, then you must tell the truth, because it is unlawful in its essence. Since the gray areas and the ends are not always clear, it is best to avoid lying as much as possible, especially if it is about yourself. That is because most people lie in order to get some personal benefit through lying. If it is to benefit someone else, especially someone not close to you, then it is usually safer since there is no personal interest involved.

Lying about a hadith is one of the worst sins. No justification because Sunnah is sufficient.

Playing with Words Instead of Lying Directly: Only when it is necessary to lie, otherwise it is, at minimum, disliked, and likely prohibited.

Ibrahim: If someone told something bad about you and you didn’t want to lie about it, say ‘Allah knows I didn’t [mā] say anything about this [mā: what I said].

an-Nakhaʿī: When someone was looking for him but he did not want to be found, he had someone say “look for him in the mosque” since that is where he often was.

To avoid lying, avoid the question and change the subject. If that is not possible, then using literally true speech is allowed.

False impression is also prohibited: Someone visited Umar II and left with a brand new garment. People assumed that Umar II had given it to him. When they asked, he said “May Allah generously reward the commander of the faithful.” His own father rebuked him because it gave the impression of a lie without any need.

Slander and Gossip

Exposing anything that was intended to be kept private. The one who conveys what another person said with a malicious intention. Even if a person was digging something in his backyard but did not want people to find out, if this is conveyed to others with a malicious intention, it is gossip. This is what the news media does when demonizing people.

Example: if someone ripped off another person, telling another to prevent harm would be fine; but if someone hoarded wealth and didn’t donate, telling another that would be slanderous

In order to purposely stir up feelings of enmity

“Constantly slandering, ever-walking about with detraction” 68:11

104:1 “Woe to every faultfinding slanderer.”

“A slanderer will not enter Paradise.” [B]

A slanderer has the ability to ruin families as well as entire countries.

Sulaymān ibn ʿAbdul Malik told a man: “I have heard that you have insulted me by saying such and such.” The man responded, “I did not do that.” The Caliph retorted: “The one who told me is very honest.” The man responded, “A gossiper cannot be described as honest.” Sulaymān said, “You’re right. Go with peace.”[1]

Umar II: told that another man was backbiting him. “If you like, we can investigate what you have said. If it is untrue then you are the one whom this verse refers to “if a wicked person comes to you with any news…” If it is true, you are “a defamer, going about with slander.” On the other hand, if you prefer we can forgive you instead. The man asked for forgiveness and promised to never do it again.

If you hear an accusation:

  • Investigate the narrator to see whether they are worthy of being believed.
  • Admonish them if you find out that they are lying, or even if it was true but there was no need for them to say that and they are trying to stir up feelings of enmity
    1. Detest the act of slander in your heart and refuse to take pleasure in the gossip
  • Make sure to not think bad about the person who was mentioned because they have not had the opportunity to defend themselves, it may have been a misunderstanding or they already repented
  • Do not try to spy and investigate the issue based upon what you heard, unless it is necessary.

Revealing Secrets & Breaking Promises

“If someone says something [in secret] and then looks around [to see no one is listening], it is considered a trust.” [T, AD]

Al-Ḥasan: It is a form of treachery to reveal your brother’s secret conversations.

If revealing the secret will harm the person, or will provide neither harm nor benefit, then it is prohibited. However, if revealing the secret will benefit that person, or society as a whole, and there is no other way to achieve that end, then it is permissible. For example, if a person confides in you a secret addiction to drugs or that they were abused, it may be in their best interest to get them help from the right person. If someone intends to kill a someone then it is in the interest of that person to reveal the secret.

Fulfilling promises is an obligation, rewarded for doing, sinful for not. Guard your promises, don’t even let one slip by.

“Believers, fulfill your promises.” [5:1]

“There are three signs of a hypocrite: When he speaks, he lies. When he promises, he breaks it. When he is entrusted, he is treacherous.” [B]

Ibn ʿUmar was on his deathbed. He remembered that a man from Quraysh had proposed to his daughter and he had agreed, so there was a semi-promise between them. He said, “I swear by Allah, I will not meet Allah with one-third of hypocrisy. Bear witness that I have given my daughter in marriage to him.”

Making a false promise is a sign of hypocrisy. It is to make a promise with your tongue while you have no intention to fulfill it. A false promise refers to when one intended from the beginning to break the promise or not to fulfill it. However, whoever did intend to fulfill that promise but was unable to will not be a hypocrite. Although, if it happens often and one is not careful, it is at minimum a resemblance of hypocrisy, if not becoming an aspect of hypocrisy.

One who makes promises too quickly ends up breaking some or many of them, so be careful before you make a promise. Make you promises dependable, so that people know that they can count on you to fulfill your word. One should not make vain excuses and must learn from the mistakes and not commit them again. For example, someone who constantly makes two commitments at the same time must adopt a calendar/reminder system, otherwise they will be guilty of hypocrisy, since they are a person who is known to not fulfill their commitments. If a person is absent-minded and disorganized and ends up breaking commitments then they should reduce the commitments they make while working on fixing this bad habit.

It is good to say insha Allah [If Allah wills] before making a promise, but what does it really mean? If it was understood by the other party that it was a confirmed commitment, one must fulfill it unless it is beyond one’s capacity. If one intended not to fulfill the promise at the time it was made, it is a form of hypocrisy.

Remember that Islam is itself a promise to Allah: “Fulfill your covenant with me as I fulfill my covenant with you.” 2:40

Two Faced Rhetoric

“The most evil of all people are those who are two faced. They come to this group with one face and that group with another.” [B, M]

These are the people who go back and forth between two rival parties, conveying gossip back and forth, telling each one what pleases them, whether it is true or not. Often times they praise them in front of them then insult them in front of others. It is the mark of a true hypocrite. The cause of the illness is that they try to gain peoples trust through deception.

As for the one who is compelled to do so, otherwise harm would result, then this is similar to permissible lying, such as having to put on a smile in front of your enemy or an oppressor who might harm someone if you don’t.

Abū ad-Dardā’: “We grin in the faces of some people while our hearts curse them.”

Once a man asked Aishah to meet with the Prophet. He told her, “Allow him to enter, for he is one of the worst of people.” When the Prophet met with him, the words with him were restrained. When he left, she asked, “Messenger of Allah, you said such a thing about him but you spoke to him courteously.” He responded, “Aishah, the worst of people is the one whom you have no choice but to appease because you know he will abuse or insult you.” [B, M]

Backbiting

Islam teaches respect among all people, community and brotherhood

Any contempt or ridicule against these principles

Warning

49:12 “…and do not speak ill of one another behind their backs: would any of you like to eat the flesh of their dead brother? No, you would hate it.”

“The blood, property, and honor of a Muslim are sacred [and cannot be violated].”[2] [M]

Said it so loudly that the people in houses could hear: “O you who have believed with your tongues but faith hasn’t entered your hearts yet: Do not backbite Muslims and do not follow their private affairs. Whoever follows the private affairs of their brother, Allah will do that to them and he will be exposed in his own home.”[3] [B M T]

“Do not be envious of one another, do not outbid one another [only to raise the price], do not hate one another, do not hold a grudge with one another, and do not backbite one another. Be fellow brothers and servants of Allah.” [b,m]

ʿAlī ibn al-Ḥusayn: Beware of backbiting, for it is the dessert for the dogs among people.[4]

Ibn Abbas: If you want to mention your brother’s defects, remember your own.

Abu Hurayrah: One sees the speck in his brothers eye and overlooks the stick in his own.

Al-Hasan: Son of Adam, You will not attain true faith until you stop defaming people about a defect you possess as well and until you begin reforming that defect in yourself. If you did so, you become busy about yourself. Such a servant is most beloved to Allah.”

Definition

“It is to mention something about another in his absence that he would dislike.” “What if I speak the truth about him?” “If you speak the truth then you are backbiting and if you lie then you are slandering.” [Muslim]

Categories:

  • Body/clothes – he’s short, fat, illness, dark – nerdy clothes, not color coded
  • Lineage – his dad is, he’s black, she’s from the village
  • Action – he steals, drinks, doesn’t pray, doesn’t respect parents/elders
  • Character – he’s a miser, arrogant, dim-witted

Implicit backbiting

  • Aishah: A woman left and I gestured with my hand, hinting that she is short. The Messenger of Allah said, “You have backbitten her.” [IH]
  • Even if his name is not mentioned –If the hint to the person is traceable - “May Allah protect us from hypocrisy”
  • By gesture – imitating, rolling eyes
  • When the Messenger of Allah disliked something in a person he would say, “What is wrong with such and such people.” [AD]

Listening to backbiting is backbiting

  • Accepting the act implicitly through silence
  • Like not helping your brother in need, when he is attacked
  • “Whoever defends the reputation of his brother, Allah will defend him from the Fire on the Day of Judgment.” T
  • At minimum hate it in heart, leave, change subject, object and defend [superior][5]

Causes of backbiting:

  • Venting hatred and anger on another – turns into a grudge about something that happened
  • Peer pressure – agreeing with your friends to be popular and get attention, part of socializing – afraid of being ostracized by group if you object, supporting them makes you more popular
  • To degrade someone who you think might degrade you. You want to get them first so people are immune from their degradation of you.
  • Elevate yourself by lowering another – to make yourself look good - “he’s ignorant” / “out of fashion”
    1. Do you know she talks back to her parents everyday, let’s make dua for her
  • Envy – backbite to lower status so people stop loving/respecting him
  • Joking – in order to make others laugh
  • Forming bad opinions in your heart – like bad speech - try to interpret it in another way or say the reality is unknown
    1. Hujurat 6, 12
    2. Only if it is clear and there can be no excusing it. Don’t have to trick yourself or disbelieve an honest, reliable friend who informed you for a good reason, that would be having a bad opinion about the one who gave you the information. Check if there is any animosity between them, etc.
    3. Whenever you have a bad thought about that person, make dua for them or try to help them, it will help the thought go away as well
    4. It will lead to spying because the heart is not content with uncertain knowledge, but spying is forbidden because it uncovers the veil Allah has protected people with

Cures for Backbiting:

General cure:

Know that you earn the anger of Allah

  • Your good deeds taken by that person because you violated his honor - If you have none, then you take their bad deeds
  • Think of your own bad deeds: full attention to your self improvement – if you find none:
    • Think about how ignorant you are of yourself, if you are confident then thank Allah
    • Saying good things or praising Allah is a better use of time
      • “And tell My servants to say that which is best.” 17:53
    • Think of the pain you feel when you hear of people backbiting you, their pain is not less
    • Excuse – the same thing that prevents you from fixing your problems is the same thing that prevents them
    • If you criticize him to put him down: you have actually put yourself down in the sight of Allah and raised his status; you are so foolish you did the opposite of what you intended, like bargaining for a higher price when buying something
    • If you backbite a physical trait: criticizing the creator

When Backbiting is Allowed

When there is no other way to achieve the goal without mentioning something in the person’s absence.

  • Tyranny- the oppressed can speak out so someone can help
    1. Cooperating to correct a fault of another person
    2. “my brother has a problem and he will respect your opinion more, can you advise him?” – intentions must be pure: not to discuss his fault but to correct, if you can’t correct don’t discuss
  • Consultation – fatwa – specifying is ok: abu sufyan is a miser [shaḥīḥ] [B M] – better to be general and allude to the situation: “someone’s father did…”
  • Warning others – you see a good Muslim attending the lectures of an innovator or fool – or someone getting married or someone borrowing money, going into business, etc.
    1. Do it confidentially, with intention of giving advice, not to humiliate person
  • If the person is not bothered by what you are saying
    1. Known publicly by a nickname that is not offensive to them
    2. Open sinner – whoever throws the veil of modesty, backbiting doesn’t apply
      1. Not allowed to speak about the sins they try to hide, are ashamed of, or have repented for

 

[1] Mukhtaṣar Minhāj al-Qāṣidīn, 180.

[2] Mukhtaṣar Minhāj al-Qāṣidīn, 174

[3] Mukhtaṣar Minhāj al-Qāṣidīn, 174

[4] Mukhtaṣar Minhāj al-Qāṣidīn, 175

[5] Mukhtaṣar Minhāj al-Qāṣidīn, 175