Reflections of an American Muslim

Written by Dr. Shahid Athar   

Lying and falsehood are universal problems and a root of many other problems on an individual and public level, in spoken and written words, in the media and in politics, in business and personal dealings, by believers and non-believers alike, although the degree, magnitude and frequency may vary.

Lying is against human nature, against physiology, and like a disease, has its own signs and symptoms. The act of lying produces inner conflicts between various control centers of the brain. The moment one begins to lie, the body sends out contradictory signals to cause facial muscle twitching, expansion and contraction of pupils, perspiration, flushing of cheeks, increased eye blinking, tremor of hand and rapid heart rate. These constitute the basis of lie detector instruments. In addition, you will notice the liar is unconsciously doing some movements, like covering his mouth, nose touching, eye rubbing, scratching the side of the neck, rubbing his ear, etc. One of the most clear signs is that the liar keeps his palms closed and eyes pointed to another direction than facing the person eye to eye when he is lying. A liar is aware of his body signals, therefore he finds lying easier when no one can see him, i.e., on the phone or writing.


Lying is opposite of the truth. So anything which is not truth for sure is a lie. A lie, therefore, could be something said or written, which could be totally or partially baseless, unreal, made-up, distorted or exaggerated, i.e., if a 5 foot pole is described as a 10 foot pole. Similarly giving praise out of proportion to someone is a form of lie.


A liar tells a lie for the purpose of: a) concealing the truth, since he is afraid of truth or punitive actions by law or individuals once the truth is established, b) for cheating and deceiving others and enjoying their misery like Satan did to Adam, and c) short-term worldly gains, i.e., gaining their favors or monetary gains until the lies are not exposed as a lie.


The worst lying form is lying upon the God and the Messenger, i.e., attributing things to God or the Prophet without it actually being the case, "And if he had invented false saying concerning Us, We assuredly had taken him by the right hand and then severed his life artery" (67:44- 46). Concealing the witness is a form of lying. "Hide not the testimony he who hides it, verily his heart is sinful. (2:283). God is aware of what you do." Concealing the truth is a crime in itself. "Confound not truth with falsehood, nor knowingly conceal the truth " (2:42).

Hypocrites are liars, too, because they lie to themselves. "In their heart, there is a disease and God increases their disease, a painful doom is theirs because they lie"(2: 10). "God knows that you are His Messenger while God testifies that hypocrites are liars" (63: 1).


"God guides not one who is a prodigal, a liar" (40:28). "God guides not him who is a liar, an ingrate" (39:3). "God's curse will rest on him if he is a liar" (24:7).


a. "Verily, truth leads to virtue and virtue leads to paradise and a true man continues to speak truth until he becomes the most truthful person. Lies lead to evil and evil leads to hell and a liar continues to lie till he is listed as a highest ranking liar before God" (Bukhari).

b. The use of tongue for lying, backbiting, speaking ill, etc. Yusuf ibn Abdullah states that he asked Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), " 0 Messenger of God, what do you think most dreadful thing for me?" Yusuf said, the Messenger caught hold of his tongue and said "This." (Tirmidhi).

c. Bahz Ibn Hakim related that the Messenger said "Destruction is for the man who speaks lies for the amusement of other people. Destruction for him." (Tirmidhi).

d. Sufyan Ibn Usaid reported that the Messenger said "The biggest breach of trust is that you tell a thing to your brother who believes it to be true, whereas you have lied to him" (Abu Daud).


There are no absolute justifications in Islam and the Prophet has asked us to tell truth even under the harshest circumstances of oppression. However, one may choose not to tell the truth when:

a. He is under oppression and there is danger of losing his life if he told the truth. Shaykh Saadi narrates a story, "A cruel king ordered an innocent man present in his court to be killed because of his lack of manners. Hearing this, the villager started to curse the king in his native language. The king asked the prime minister, who understood that man's language, to tell him what that man was saying The wise minister, instead of telling the truth, told the king this man is sorry for his conduct, praising his greatness and asking for his mercy The king was affected and he spared the life of that innocent man." Shaykh Saadi calls this a "lie with wisdom."

b. To promote mutual relationship between spouse, i.e., if wife asks you, "Am I beautiful?" or "Do you love me?" there is nothing wrong with saying "Yes," even if this is not the case.

c. While making peace between two quarreling parties, instead of igniting them against each other, i.e., "He said such and such bad thing about you," just say,"He says such and such good thing about you." Tradition: He is not a liar who tries to bring peace between two people by trying to tell the truth only as described in Surah al-Anbiya (21:62).

d. To make unbelievers realize the truth (21:62-65) When Prophet Abraham broke all the idols except the biggest one, the unbelievers entered the temple. Abraham hid and put his ax in the hand of the chief idol. They asked, "Who broke our gods?" He said, "Ask the chief idol, he has the ax." They said, "Don't you know he can't speak or do anything?" Abraham said, "That's what I have been telling you, so worship God, rather than these stones who cannot harm or profit you."


Truthfulness is a command of God, part of faith, and a quality of must for all prophets and is mentioned in 100 places in the Quran. To name a few:
"So God may reward the truthfulfor their truthfulness" (33:24). "You who believe, heed God and stand by those who are truthful" (9:119). "You who believe, guard your duty to God, and speak words straight to the point" (33:70). "The steadfast and the truthful and the obedient and those who spend, those who pray for pardons in the watches of the night" (3:17). "Believers are merely the ones who believe in God and His Messenger They never doubt, and strive for God's sake with their property and persons. Those are the Truthful' (49:15).

It is not necessary for me to relate the Traditions about truthfulness since the life of Muhammad ibn Abdullah (PBUH) was nothing but truth. He was confirmed as a truthful person even before he became Prophet and during his prophethood, even his enemies confirmed that he was truthful as described by Abu Sufyan in the court of the emperor of Rome.