Lying, Backbiting and Slander

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Part 1 Description:  This lesson explains the issue of lying in Islamic ethics. Objectives ·         To learn what is a lie and understand s...

Part 1

Description: This lesson explains the issue of lying in Islamic ethics.
Objectives
·       To learn what is a lie and understand some reasons why we lie.
·       To understand that there are degrees of lies.
·       To understand the severity of lying in the Quran and Sunnah.
·       To learn the circumstances in which lying is allowed.
Arabic Terms
·       Sunnah - The word Sunnah has several meanings depending on the area of study however the meaning is generally accepted to be, whatever was reported that the Prophet said, did, or approved.

What Is a Lie?

Backbiting1.jpgA lie is the opposite of truth.  Therefore, anything spoken or written that is untrue and deliberately meant to deceive is a lie.  A lie is something which is baseless, unreal, made-up, distorted or it can be an exaggeration.  Lying is forbidden in Islam and condemned by Allah and His Messenger.

Why Do We Lie?

·       To get what we want.
·       To keep a secret.
·       To hide the truth.
·       To protect our body or possessions.
·       To save ourselves from embarrassment.
·       To preserve our image.
·       To avoid further inquiry.
·       To justify our behavior.
·       To avoid a responsibility.
·       To avoid conflict.
·       To preserve the status quo.
·       To inflate our ego.
·       To hide our feelings.
·       To manipulate someone.
·       To make a fool of someone.
·       To get back at someone who has lied to us.

Degrees of Lying

All lies are not equal.  The worst lie is to falsely attribute something to Allah and His Messenger.  Allah says in the Quran:
“And if he (Prophet Muhammad) had made up about Us some sayings, We would have seized him by the right hand; then We would have cut his aorta.” (Quran 69:44-46)
Lying in a testimony is also very serious:
“...And do not conceal testimony, for whoever conceals it, his heart is indeed sinful...” (Quran 2:283)
Mixing truth with falsehood is a vile sin:
“And do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know it.” (Quran 2:42)
Hypocrites who conceal disbelief in their hearts, but pretend to have belief on their tongues are liars because they lie to themselves.  Allah tells us about them:
“In their hearts is disease, so Allah has increased their disease; and for them is a painful punishment because they used to lie.” (Quran 2:10)
“…Allah knows that you (Prophet Muhammad) are His Messenger, and Allah testifies that the hypocrites are liars.” (Quran 63:1)

The Quran on Telling the Truth

Allah commands us to be true and mentions it in over one hundred places in the Quran.  Truthfulness is the quality of a believer.  A few beautiful passages from the Quran on truthfulness:
“O you who believe! Fear Allah and speak the truth.” (Quran 33:70)
“O you who believe! Fear Allah and be with those who are true.” (Quran 9:119)
“That Allah may reward the truthful for their truth…” (Quran 33:24)
“The believers are only the ones who have believed in Allah and His Messenger and then doubt not but strive with their properties and their lives in the cause of Allah.  It is those who are the truthful.” (Quran 49:15)

The Quran Condemns Lying

“…the curse of Allah be upon him if he should be among the liars.” (Quran 24:7)
“…Indeed, Allah guides not him who is a liar, and a disbeliever.” (Quran 39:3)
“…Indeed, Allah does not guide one who is a transgressor and a liar.” (Quran 40:28)

Prophet Muhammad on Lying

Prophet Muhammad was well recognized to be a truthful person before Allah chose him to be His Prophet.  He was known as ‘al-Amin,’ ‘the Trustworthy.’ Even his enemies recognized him to be truthful and trustworthy.  The Prophet emphasized the value of truthfulness in numerous sayings:
“I urge you to be truthful, for truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise.  A man will continue to be truthful and seek to speak the truth until he is recorded with Allah as speaker of truth (siddeeq).  And beware of lying, for lying leads to immorality and immorality leads to Hell; a man will continue to tell lies until he is recorded with Allah as a liar.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim)
Someone asked Prophet Muhammad, “O Messenger of Allah! What do you think is the most dreadful thing for me?” The Messenger caught hold of his tongue and said: “This!”[1]
“Destruction is for the man who tells lies for the amusement of other people.  Destruction is for him.” (Tirmithi)
“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 Dawud)

Can Lying Be Justified?

Islam is the religion of truth that recognizes the human condition and it’s frailty.  There are a some situations in which lying is justified.  One can lie in some exceptional circumstances such as:
·       To save an innocent life.  Our scholars tell a story of an ancient tyrant who ordered an innocent man to be executed due to his perceived lack to manners! Hearing this, the man began cursing the king in his native language.  Baffled, the tyrant inquired what the man was saying from his advisor who understood him.  The advisor was a man of wisdom.  Instead of telling the truth, he told the tyrant that the man was apologizing for his behavior and was pleading for the king’s mercy! The impulsive despot thus spared his life.
·       To maintain harmony in a marriage.  These are known as “sweet little lies,” or “kind lies,” like “Your food is the best ever!”
·       To make peace between two parties.  The mediator can convey a partial truth of what one side said about the other in order to bring peace between them.



Footnotes:
[1] Tirmidhi

Lying, Backbiting and Slander (part 2 of 2)

Objectives
·       To learn the definition of backbiting and slander and the difference between them.
·       To understand why we gossip.
·       To understand the Islamic prohibition of backbiting.
·       To learn when backbiting is allowed.
Islam is a religion of peace, love and compassion which teaches us that we should respect the honor, reputation and privacy of others.  Lies, suspicion, backbiting, slander, and gossip are destructive, major sins that go against what Islam stands for and sow enmity and discord among Muslims.  They cause hostilities between family members, neighbors, and friends.  Therefore, Islam clearly defines and prohibits them in the severest of terms.

What exactly is Backbiting & Slander?

Our Prophet has clearly explained them.  One time he asked his companions:
“Do you know what is backbiting?”  They said, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He said, “Saying something about your brother that he dislikes.” It was said, “What if what I say about my brother is true?” He said, “If what you say is true then you have backbitten about him, and if it is not true, then you have slandered him.“ (Saheeh Muslim)
‘Backbiting means that a man mentions about a person something which is true behind his back.’ (Silsilah as-Sahihah)
Making fun of people by making negative facial expressions or by hand gestures while they are unaware is also a form of backbiting.

Why Do We Gossip And Backbite?

·       To get things off one’s  chest especially in case of hatred.
·       To join in with a group of friends.
·       To show our superiority and put others down.
·       To act funny and joke.
·       Out of jealousy or anger.
·       Out of pity for someone.
·       To relieve boredom.
·       To impress others.
·       Out of arrogance.

Strict Prohibition of Backbiting

Allah prohibits backbiting in the Quran by comparing to the disgusting act of cannibalism: “O you who believe! Avoid much (negative) assumption.  Indeed, some assumption is sin.  And do not spy or backbite each other.  Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it (so hate backbiting).  And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.” (Quran 49:12)
Often times we backbite and gossip about others without thinking much of it.  We treat it lightly,  however, Allah reminds us that in fact it may be a serious sin in the sight of Allah! The Quran says: “When you were propagating it with your tongues, and uttering with your mouths that whereof you had no knowledge, you counted it a little thing, while with Allah it was very great.” (Quran 24:15)
Many people are so busy spreading slander they hear that they do not stop for a minute to ponder whether it is true or not.  Allah says: “And why, when you heard it, did you not say: ‘It is not for us to speak of this.  Exalted are You, [O Allah]; this is a great slander’?” (Quran 24:16)
We need to be careful of letting our tongues slip.  Prophet Muhammad said: “When man wakes up in the morning each day, all his body parts warn his tongue saying: ‘Fear Allah with regards to us, for we are under your mercy; if you are upright, we will be upright and if you are corrupt, we will be corrupt.’” (Tirmidhi)
The reward of controlling our tongue is Paradise.  Prophet Muhammad said: “He who protects his tongue from unlawful utterances and his private parts from illegal sexual intercourse, I shall guarantee him entrance into Paradise.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim)

Prohibition of Listening to Gossip

We should not pay attention to gossip that is criticizing a fellow Muslim or listen to it with enjoyment and hope to hear more.  Allah says, “And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge.  Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – about all those [one] will be questioned.” (Quran 17:36) The Prophet said, “Whoever defends the honor of his brother, Allah will protect his face from the Fire on the Day of Resurrection.” (Silsilah as-Sahihah)
We should remember the qualities of the best Muslim as defined for us by our  Prophet.  He said, “He is the one from whom Muslims are safe from the evil of his tongue and hands.” (Saheeh Muslim)

When is Backbiting Allowed?

Islam teaches us that if people are being ridiculed or backbitten in our presence, we should defend their honor.  If we neglect doing so, we risk depriving ourselves of the ever-needed help and mercy from Allah.  Yet, some situations allow us to inform others of what someone has done.
1.     Complaint to someone in authority who can address the wrong when an injustice has been done.
2.     Seeking religious guidance from a Muslim scholar.
3.     To get help in changing a wrong or to prevent a disaster.
4.     Consultation in matters of marriage, business, asking about a neighbor before moving, etc.
In these cases we are allowed reveal only as much as necessary about the person.  All these forms of ‘backbiting’ are allowed.

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