Telling Lies and Its Consequences According to Islam
From an Islamic perspective, lying is regarded as a sin of the tongue, and it might even qualify as a major sin. Major sins are those which are specifically warned against in the Qur'an and Hadith.
Prohibition of Lying in the Qur'an and Hadith
In general, Islam prohibits lying and related acts such as deception, fraud, hypocrisy and providing false testimony. Some verses from the Qur'an which prohibit lying are:
• “It is only those who believe not in the Ayah (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) of Allah, who fabricate falsehood, and it is they who are liars.” (16:105)
• “O you who believe! Fear Allah, and be with those who are true (in words and deeds)” (9:119)
• “And cover not Truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when ye know (what it is)." ( 2:42)
• “Woe to each sinful dealer in Falsehood." (45:7)
Accordingly, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him*) also advised Muslims to be honest and truthful. Some examples of hadith which address lying include:
• "Four traits, whoever possesses them is a hypocrite and whoever possesses some of them has an element of hypocrisy until he leaves it: the one who when he speaks he lies, when he promises he breaks his promise, when he disputes he transgresses and when he makes an agreement he violates it." (Muslim and Bukhari)
• “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, because lying leads to blatant evil, and evil leads to the fire. A man continues to lie until he is recorded in Allah’s book as a liar,” (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood and Al-Tirmithi).
Consequences and Punishment for Telling Lies in Islam
The second hadith clearly states that lying can lead to the hell fire, but there may be other punishments as well. In another hadith, for example, the Prophet (peace be upon him) narrated that he he saw a liar being punished in the Hereafter by having his mouth, nose and eyes torn with an iron hook. (Bukhari 5745)
Such severe consequences for telling lies is reinforced by stern warnings in the Qur'an: "Truly Allah guides not one who transgresses and lies." (40:28); and “And on the Day of Resurrection you will see those who lied against Allah (i.e. attributed to Him sons, partners) their faces will be black." (39:60)
Types of Lies According to Islam
Despite such warnings, many people do tell lies. Lying may be out of habit, out of conceit or pride, to protect one's interests, to avoid uncomfortable situations, to exaggerate or make jokes, to avoid being hurtful, or to outright deceive and commit wrong. Even "white lies," such as empty promises to bribe a child or lies used in jest, are considered sinful in Islam.
The most serious lies in Islam, however, are those which concern Allah, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Islam in general. In the Qur'an, Allah says, "Who does more wrong than such as forge a lie against Allah, or deny His Signs?"(10:17)
When It's Okay to Lie in Islam
Under a few circumstances, lying may be considered acceptable, according to Islamic beliefs. This ruling is supported by a hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "Lies are not appropriate except in three cases: when a man speaks to his wife to please her, telling lies at times of war, and lying in order to bring about reconciliation between people.” (Reported Hasan by Shaykh al-Albaani).
Another hadith indicates there are times when being vague or ambiguous may be more beneficial than being totally truthful: “He is not a liar who reconciles between people and narrates something good or says something good.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Despite those exceptions, Muslims should do their best to avoid telling lies. They need to remember that in most circumstances, Islam condemns lies and that on the Day of Judgment people may be held accountable for them: "Today We seal up their mouths, and their hands speak to us and their feet bear witness to what they have earned." (Qur'an 36:65)