The Prophet (Pbuh) has said that a believer may be guilty of such forbidden things as theft, adultery, and drinking intoxicants, but a believer cannot tell a lie. Telling a lie is against the very concept of faith.
`Abdullah ibn Mas`ud quoted Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh)) as saying:
Maintain truthfulness, for truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to heaven. A man continues to maintain truthfulness until he is recorded in Allah’s book as truthful. Refrain from lying, for lying leads to blatant evil, and evil leads to hell. A man continues to lie until he is recorded in Allah’s book as a liar.” (Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, and At-Tirmidhi).
Certain virtues are highly valued in all societies, one of which is truthfulness. Islam recognizes that other religions and communities attach great importance to such virtues. Islam also endorses such virtues and lays strong emphasis on them. Indeed, the Prophet said, “I have been sent with my message in order to complement the best of virtues” (Ahmad and Al-Hakim). In this definition of his message, the Prophet emphasizes that virtues that are acceptable to common sense exist in all societies and are inevitably upheld by all communities. What Islam does is to complement and perfect them.
Indeed, Islam has a unique way of doing that. It imparts to its followers a sense of direction that remains present in their minds throughout their lives. The ultimate aim is to win admission into heaven. Every action we do can either bring us closer to that overall aim or move us away from it. Therefore, Muslims always weigh up their actions before embarking on them. If they are of strong faith, they have no hesitation in refraining from doing anything that diminishes the likelihood of them being admitted into heaven. They are always aware that they may die at any moment, and they know that they must be prepared for the hereafter. Any indulgence in anything forbidden moves them away from attaining their goal. Therefore, they are always on their guard.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Islam stresses the great importance of those virtues that affect people’s behavior and their standing in society. One of these is truthfulness. Islam views falsehood in any form as utterly repugnant. To tell a lie is something that is totally unacceptable in Islam. The Prophet was once asked about various actions that Islam forbids and whether a believer may commit any of these. He said that a believer may be guilty of such forbidden things as theft, adultery, and drinking intoxicants, but a believer cannot tell a lie. Telling a lie is against the very concept of faith.
The Prophet made use of every occasion to stress certain points, the importance of which he wanted to drive home to all Muslims. It is not surprising that we find in his guidance a large number of hadiths that speak about the importance of being truthful and emphasize the absolute importance of refraining from lying. In the hadith at hand, he depicts truthfulness and falsehood as opposite powers leading those who practise them in opposite directions.
We note how the Prophet describes each course of action as a graded one, leading from one stage to another. When people maintain honesty and truthfulness, these become characteristics of all their actions and they are righteous. If they maintain that stage, then they are certain to be admitted into heaven. This seems to be an easy way. Indeed, it is easy for people of consistency who turn away from falsehood whenever it presents itself to them, as tempting or beneficial.
Scholars have identified six aspects of truthfulness that Muslims must maintain. First, refraining from telling any lies. Second, sincerity of intention; this means that Muslims do not say anything verbally when they have something different in mind. Third, truthful resolve; this means that if Muslims intend to do something good, they strengthen their resolve to do it, especially when the chance to fulfill their intention presents itself. Fourth, acting on what has been resolved. Fifth, sincerity of action. Finally, sincerity of attitude. This means that if Muslims say that they rely on Allah, they actually mean it and it is endorsed by their actions. Muslims who combine all the six aspects of truthfulness are thorough believers. Moreover, they are bound to be good, because truthfulness encourages every aspect of righteousness, and that leads to heaven, as the Prophet explained.
Moreover, when Muslims maintain truthfulness, this becomes a characteristic of them and they earn the title of “truthful,” not merely among one another, but also with Allah. This is a verdict passed on them and publicized among angels and other creatures of Allah.
Conversely, falsehood leads to evil, since liars think that they can cover up any evil action they commit with a lie. If they are successful once in this, they are encouraged to do it again. Thus, evil practices become a habit of theirs and every time they commit one of their practices, they bear its burden. Their evil actions are certain to weigh down heavily on them, and they will find that Allah’s forgiveness is not forthcoming in this case. This way, they earn their place in Hell.
What this actually means is that we are all on a journey that lasts throughout our life. We are either moving towards heaven or towards hell. Every deed we do is a step in our journey. We choose our directions. When we die, we reach the position towards which we have moved progressively. We are not admitted into heaven or thrown into hell suddenly. This is what is meant by righteousness leading to heaven and evil leading to hell.
People who continue to lie are recorded in Allah’s books as liars. That becomes a characteristic of theirs. They will be known among human beings, angels, and other creatures.
It is important to realize that Islam abhors lying in all situations. It should be noted, however, that there are cases when telling a lie is acceptable. However, in normal situations, telling a lie is forbidden, whether it is said in earnest or in jest. Consider the following hadith in which `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud quotes the Prophet as saying,
Lying is improper whether in earnest or in jest. (All lying is unacceptable) even if anyone of you promises his child something and does not fulfill his promise. (Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad and Abu Dawud).
This hadith shows how repugnant lying is viewed in Islam. Most people do not find anything wrong with not fulfilling a certain promise given to a young child. The child is bound to forget or can be easily appeased with something else. But deliberate breaking of a promise given to a child is unacceptable. In order to emphasize this last point, let me quote this report by `Abdullah ibn `Amir, a young Companion of the Prophet. He said, My mother called me one day when Allah’s Messenger was in our house. She said, “Come and I will give you something.” Allah’s Messenger asked her, “What do you intend to give him?” She said, “I want to give him dates.” The Prophet said, “If you were not to give him something, your statement would be recorded against you as a lie.” (Abu Dawud).