Lies: Situations where lies are acceptable

Q328 :It is stated that telling lies cannot be sanctioned whether in earnest or in jest. Yet there may be situations where one is motivated to tell a lie in order to avoid an unpleasant situation or to obtain a collective benefit without causing harm to others. Please comment.

A328 : It is important to have an overall view of what the Prophet may have said about a particular subject before arriving at a final judgment on what may be sanctioned by Islam and what may not be, in connection with that particular subject. In order to answer the point which may be raised about situations where a lie seems to serve a more important purpose than what may be served by telling the truth, we need to find out whether the Prophet has made any relevant statement. Umm Kulsoom bint Uqbah reports that she heard Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) saying: "A person who tries to bring about reconciliation between people and says or reports something good is not a liar." Umm Kulsoom states: "I have never heard him (meaning the Prophet) allowing any concession with regard to what lies people may tell, except in three situations: to achieve reconciliation between two people, and in a man's conversation with his wife and in a wife's conversation with her husband." (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim and others). The points are perhaps best explained by Imam Al Ghazali who says that words are only a means leading to certain objectives. When either telling the truth or telling a lie may result in the achievement of a particular good objective, then resorting to lies in order to achieve it is forbidden. If that good objective can only be attained by lying, then to tell a lie is not sinful provided the attainment of that particular objective is permissible If that objective is essential, then lying in order to achieve it is required, particularly when failing to secure it will cause certain harm. Take for example the case of a Muslim who goes in hiding in order to avoid the soldiers of a tyrant. If one knows his hiding place and happens to be asked about it, he must lie in order not to give that man away. Similarly, if he has been given something by a neighbor for safekeeping and someone who wrongfully wants to take it away asks him about it, he should tell a lie in order to prevent its confiscation. If he is asked to swear that he does not know where it is, he should do so. Again, if one tells a lie in order to prevent a quarrel or to achieve peace between two quarreling families or to persuade someone to forgo his right of retaliation, that sort of lie is not forbidden, especially when the purpose cannot be achieved otherwise. Another case in which lying is permissible is when a governor asks a person whether he may have committed a grave sin which is unknown except to himself and to Allah, and no one is harmed by it, then he should deny having committed it. The point here is that if it is left to Allah, he may forgive him. If the ruler knows of it, he must punish him for that. Islam does not like to exact punishment. It prefers that people repent of their sins and be forgiven by Allah. All these are good examples of situations in which telling a lie is acceptable, because it ensures that a worse situation is avoided. In other words, [it is acceptable in situations when] telling a lie is the lesser of two evils.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )