a short course, part 4

True Lies –
the Paradox of Debating Shariah


The Quran makes it difficult for non-Muslims to have sincere discussions with shariah-compliant Muslims because of a theological rationalization for lying.

Under shariah, lying is not only permissible, but obligatory for Muslims in some situations. This complicates efforts to understand the true nature of the threat – and to have confidence in those Muslims at home and abroad with whom the government hopes to make common cause.

Shariah has two standards of truth and falsehood. In general, the Quran disapproves of Muslims deceiving other Muslims. It declares, “Surely God guides not him who is prodigal and a liar.” Yet Quranic passages and statements attributed to Mohammed in reliable hadiths provide exceptions even to the usual prohibitions on lying to fellow Muslims.

Authoritative classical Islamic texts such as the 14th century Reliance of the Traveler provide practical examples of where lying even to Muslims can be appropriate. Reliance also shows further examples in quotes from Mohammed, one of which is, “I did not hear him permit untruth in anything people say, except for three things: war, settling disagreements, and a man talking with his wife or she with him (in smoothing over differences).”

These exceptions are sufficiently broad to cover most cases in which lying would be expedient.

Shariah demands, moreover, that its adherents lie where it will be advantageous in dealings with infidels whose submission is a Quranic obligation. Consider the legal guidance provided in Reliance. In the Reliance sub-book titled “Holding One’s Tongue,” one finds sections on “Lying” and “Permissible Lying.” These cite the iconic Islamic legal jurist Imam Abu Hamid Ghazali:

“This is an explicit statement that lying is sometimes permissible for a given interest. . . . When it is possible to achieve such an aim by lying but not by telling the truth, it is permissible to lie if attaining the goal is permissible (N: i.e., when the purpose of lying is to circumvent someone who is prevent one from doing something permissible) and obligatory to lie if the goal is obligatory.”

An example of the Quranic basis for the shariah standard of lying is: “Allah has already sanctioned for you the dissolution of your vows.” Indeed, in some places, it is Allah himself who is described approvingly as a capricious deceiver: “Say, ‘God leads whosoever He wills astray.’”

Team B notes that the authoritative Sahih Al-Bukhari wrote that Mohammed personally authorized a permissive attitude toward telling the truth: “The Prophet said, ‘If I take an oath and later find something else better than that, then I do what is better and expiate my oath.’”

Besides lying, there is also guidance in Reliance about giving a misleading impression: “Scholars say that there is no harm in giving a misleading impression if required by an interest countenanced by Sacred Law.”

The issue of lying as a morally justified obligation under shariah leads us to another deceptive concept, known in Arabic as taqiyya, that national security professionals must understand in order to combat the enemy more effectively.

We will discuss taqiyya in Part 5 of this series.