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Essayons Truthfulness In Islam

Praise be to Allaah.

Being truthful means speaking the truth and also saying things that reflect reality.

Being truthful is one of the necessities of a human society, one of the virtues of human behaviour, and brings great benefits, whilst lying is one of the major elements of corruption in human society, and the cause of the destruction of social structure and ties, one of the most evil features of bad conduct, and causes widespread harm. Hence Islam commanded truthfulness and forbade lying.

Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

“O you who believe! Be afraid of Allaah, and be with those who are true (in word and deeds).” [al-Tawbah 9:119]

Ibn Katheer (may Allaah have mercy on him) said (2/414): “It means: be truthful and adhere to truthfulness, and you will be among its people and will be saved from calamity, and this will make a way out for you from your problems.”

Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

“… if they had been true to Allaah, it would have been better for them.” [Muhammad 47:21]

‘Abd-Allaah ibn Mas’ood (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: ‘You must be truthful, for truthfulness leads to righteousness and righteousness leads to Paradise. A man will keep speaking the truth and striving to speak the truth until he will be recorded with Allaah as a siddeeq (speaker of the truth). Beware of telling lies, for lying leads to immorality and immorality leads to Hellfire. A man will keep telling lies and striving to tell lies until he is recorded with Allaah as a liar.” (Reported by Muslim, 4721)

This hadeeth indicates that truthfulness leads to righteousness (al-birr), an all-embracing concept that includes all kinds of goodness and different kinds of righteous deeds. Immorality is basically an inclination towards deviation from the truth, and the immoral person (faajir) is one who is inclined to turn away from the path of guidance. Hence immorality and righteousness are diametrically opposed.

Al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali ibn Abi Taalib (may Allaah be pleased with them both) said: “I memorized from the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him): ‘Leave that which makes you doubt for that which does not make you doubt, for truthfulness is certainty and tranquillity, whilst lying is doubt and confusion.” (Reported by al-Tirmidhi, 2520; al-Nisaa'i, 8/327; and Ahmad, 1/200)

In the lengthy hadeeth of Abu Sufyaan describing his meeting with Heraclius, Abu Sufyaan (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “[Heraclius] said, ‘What does he [meaning the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him] command you to do?’ I said, ‘He says: worship Allaah alone and do not associate anything in worship with Him, and abandon that which your forefathers did. He commands us to pray, to be truthful, to be chaste and to uphold the ties of kinship.’” (Reported by al-Bukhaari, 1/30 and Muslim, 1773).

Hakeem ibn Hizaam (may Allaah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Two parties to a deal have the option of changing their minds until they part; if they are open and honest, their deal will be blessed, and if they conceal and tell lies, the blessing of their deal will be diminished.” (Reported by al-Bukhaari, 4/275 and Muslim, 1532.)

Truthfulness includes being truthful towards Allaah by worshipping Him sincerely; being truthful towards one’s own soul by making it adhere to the laws of Allaah; and being truthful with people in one's words and by keeping one's promises, and in dealings such as buying, selling and marriage, so there should be no deceiving, cheating, falsifying or withholding of information. Thus a person should be the same on the inside and the outside.

As regards lying, it is highly forbidden, and is of varying degrees of abhorrence and sin. The most obnoxious form of lying is falsely attributing things to Allaah and His Messenger, because this involves fabrication about the religion and is an act of outrage against Allaah. Hence one of the characteristics of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) is that he truthfully conveyed that which Allaah commanded him to convey. So Allaah said (interpretation of the meanings):

“… who does more wrong than one who invents a lie against Allaah, to lead mankind astray without knowledge. Certainly Allaah guides not the people whi are zaalimoon (polytheists and wrong-doers, etc.)” [al-An’am 6:144]

“And who does more wrong than he who invents a lie against Allaah? Such will be brought before their Lord, and the witnesses will say, ‘These are the ones who lied against their Lord!’ No doubt! The curse of Allaah is on the zaalimoon (polytheists, wrong-doers, oppressors, etc.).” [Hood 11:18]

Equally bad is lying about the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), as he is reported to have said in the mutawaatir hadeeth: “Whoever lies about me deliberately, let him take his place in Hell.” (Agreed upon).

The basic rule with regard to lying is that it is not permitted, but there are certain circumstances in which Islam permits lying to serve a greater purpose or to prevent harm.

One of these situations is when a person mediates between two disputing parties in order to reconcile between them, if reconciliation cannot be achieved in any other way. Um Kalthoom (may Allaah be pleased with her) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “He is not a liar who reconciles between people and conveys something good or says something good.” (Reported by al-Bukhaari, 2495).

Another example is a man’s speaking to his wife, or a woman speaking to her husband, with regard to matters that will strengthen the ties of love between them, even if that is accompanied by exaggeration. Asma’ bint Yazeed said: “The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: ‘Lying is not permitted except in three cases: a man’s speaking to his wife to make her happy; lying at times of war; and lying in order to reconcile between people.’” (Reported by al-Tirmidhi, 1862; he said: it is a hasan hadeeth. See also Saheeh Muslim, 4717).

One of the most important forms of both being truthful and lying is in the area of promises and covenants. Being truthful in promises and covenants is one of the characteristics by which the believers are known. Both promises and covenants involve saying something about an issue to confirm that you will do it, especially with regard to one's duties towards Allaah. Allaah says, praising some of His slaves (interpretation of the meanings):

“Those who are faithfully true to their amaanaat (all the duties which Allaah has ordained, honesty, moral responsibility and trusts, etc.) and to their covenants.” [al-Mu’minoon 23:8]

“… and who fulfil their covenant when they make it…” [al-Baqarah 2:177]

“Among the believers are men who have been true to their covenant with Allaah [i.e., they have gone out for jihad (holy fighting), and showed not their backs to the disbelievers], of them some have fulfilled their obligations (i.e., have been martyred), and some of them are still waiting, but they have never changed [i.e., they never proved treacherous to their covenant which they concluded with Allaah] in the least.” [al-Ahzaab 33:23]

We ask Allaah to make us sincere and truthful in word and deed. And Allaah knows best.

In the last five years the world’s two-decade–long decline in political violence has stalled and been decisively reversed. Worldwide death tolls have risen at an astonishing rate—up more than 600 percent from 2010 to the end of 2014, according to Uppsala University’s authoritative Conflict Data Program. The primary drivers of this startling change have been wars in which radical Islamist insurgents are one of the warring parties—Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Nigeria being the deadliest.

As the slaughter has increased and spread internationally, so too have claims in the West that Islam—perceived as an inherentlyviolent religion—has been its primary driver. Pushed by right-wing partisans, as well as some liberal critics, these claims have fanned a wave of strident, and sometimes violent, anti-Muslim sentiment across Europe and North America.

A 2014 study by Pew Research found that in seven countries in Europe more than half of those polled held negative views of Muslims. A YouGov survey in the spring of 2015, following the Charlie Hebdo killings in France, found that 40 percent of those polled had negative opinions of Muslims.

The savagery of the terror assaults perpetrated by ISIS and its franchise groups has helped build support for claims in the West that Islam is a religion of violence. But the faith of 1.8 billionMuslims, almost a quarter of the world’s population, is far too complex and open to far too many competing interpretations, to be reduced to simplistic slogans like a “religion of violence”—or indeed a “religion of peace.” Islam is both.

What is striking about the current debate is how extraordinarily little its participants appear to know about the extent of Muslim—and non-Muslim—violence. It appears, for example, that none of the anti-Muslim critics are aware that, with respect to the single greatest source of deadly intentional violence worldwide, Muslim societies are among the least violent in the world.

This is not to deny the incontestable fact that campaigns of political violence in which Islamist radical groups—like ISIS—are one of the warring parties are now the world’s deadliest—and by a huge margin.

It appears that none of the anti-Muslim critics are aware that Muslim societies are among the least violent in the world.

This reality might seem to lend credence to claims that Islam is indeed an inherently violent religion, but this is to confuse the ultra-violent ideology of a very small minority of Muslims at a particular point in time with the Islamic religion as it is understood and practiced today by the overwhelming majority of a billion-plus Muslims worldwide. This majority, of course, despises the gross brutality of ISIS, al-Qaida, and the other ultra-violent Islamist groups. The animus of mainstream Islam is hardly surprising—ISIS has mostly killed fellow Muslims.

Given today’s headlines, it may come as a surprise to learn that in the 1970s there were no major conflicts involving Islamist radicals being waged around the world. This raises an obvious question. If Islam is in fact an inherently violent religion, how do we account for these—and many other—long periods of peacefulness within Muslim societies?  

The reality is that Islam—like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and other major world religions—is neither inherently violent nor inherently peaceful. Like every other great religion, the history of Islam is darkened by periods of violent bloodletting. And the holy texts of all religions can be mined for quotes to legitimize terrorism—or indeed principled nonviolence.

Thus ISIS and other extreme Islamist radicals have no difficulty finding justification in medieval Islamic texts for their ultra-violent ideology and barbaric practices. But these extreme interpretations have minimal support among Muslims around the world and tell us nothing about the propensity for violence in mainstream Islam. 

In October 2014, the first opinion polls on public attitudes toward ISIS were published in three Arab countries for the Fikra Forum. The findings were instructive. Just 3 percent of Egyptians held favorable views of ISIS. The figure for Saudi Arabia was 5 percent and for Lebanon less than 1 percent. A year later Pew Research found that just 1 percent of Lebanese held “favorable opinions” of ISIS, 3 percent in predominantly Sunni Jordan, and 1 percent in Israel. In the Palestinian territories the figure was 6 percent, but even here a massive 84 percent held unfavorable opinions of ISIS. Previous polls revealed very similar trends about Muslim opinions toward al-Qaida.

Discussions about the violence of contemporary Islam focus overwhelmingly on armed conflict and terrorism. But a more appropriate metric for determining the propensity for violence of a particular society, culture, or religion is the incidence of intentional homicide.

In almost all societies it is murder, not war, that accounts for the large majority of intentional killings. And perpetrating homicide, unlike embarking on wars or terror campaigns, does not require long preparation, intensive organization, a huge range of weaponry, complex logistics, political mobilization, intensive training, or a great deal of money—which is one reason why war and terrorism death tolls around the world are far smaller than the number of homicides. It is far more difficult to mount an armed campaign against a state than to kill an individual.

And even today, wars directly affect only a relatively small minority of countries. All countries suffer from homicides, however. In 2015, the Global Burden of Armed Violence published by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, found that between 2007 and 2012, for every individual killed in war or terror campaigns around the world, seven individuals were murdered. Worldwide, for most people, in most countries, most of the time, murder is a far greater threat to human security than organized political violence.

So if there really is an inherent—Islam-driven—propensity for deadly violence in Muslim societies, we should expect to find that the greater the percentage of Muslims in society, the greater would be the numbers of homicides. In fact, the reverse is the case: The higher the percentage of Muslims in a society, the lower the homicide rate.

In 2011, a major study by University of California, Berkeley, political scientist M. Steven Fish presented cross-national statistical data showing that between 1994 and 2007, annual homicide rates in the Muslim world averaged just 2.4 per 100,000 of the population. That was approximately a third of the rate for the non-Muslim world and less than the average rate in Europe. It is also approximately half the homicide rate in the United States.

In comparing individual countries, the difference is even greater. The latest homicide statistics from the U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime reveal that for every murder perpetrated in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim state, seven people are murdered in the United States. This reality should give American Islamophobes pause. 

It is possible in principle, as some critics have argued, that the lower murder rates in Muslim countries could be due not to a generally low propensity for homicide but to authoritarian governments whose harsh anti–violent crime policies are more effective in reducing the incidence of murder than those of democracies like the United States. But Fish’s careful statistical analyses controlled for this possibility and found no evidence to support it.

When it comes to war, Fish found no statistical evidence to support Samuel Huntington’s controversial “clash of civilizations” thesis that Muslim societies are inherently more war-prone than non-Muslim states.

The higher the percentage of Muslims in a society, the lower the homicide rate.

Moreover, a lot depends on what type of war is being counted. A 2011 analysis by the Human Security Report looked at which states had fought most international wars—including colonial wars—since the end of World War II. The top four were France, Britain, Russia/Soviet Union, and the United States—in that order. No Muslim-majority country was in the top eight.

Yet another metric for determining the violence-proneness of countries is the “conflict year,” the number of armed conflicts—civil as well as international—that a country experiences in a calendar year. Some particularly conflict-prone countries—Burma is the prime example—have frequently found themselves fighting several different wars in a single calendar year for decades. Here the Human Security Report found that the countries that had experienced most “conflict years” since the World War II were—in this order—Burma, India, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Britain, France, Israel, and Vietnam. Again no Muslim-majority country was in the top eight.

Fish does not, however, claim that Muslim societies are less violent than those in the non-Muslim world with respect to all forms of deadly violence. Indeed, he points out that when it comes to terrorism, Islamist radicals were responsible for 70 percent of deaths from “high-casualty terrorist bombings” around the world between 1994 and 2008. This means, he suggests, that while terrorism is very far from being a uniquely Muslim phenomenon, “… its perpetrators in recent times are disproportionately Islamists.” Since 2010, the incidence of Islamist terrorism has increased sharply.

But in this context it is instructive to note that approximately 600 million of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims live in Southeast Asia and China, while a little more than half that number—317 million—live in the Middle East and North Africa.Yet the rate of deadly political violence associated with radical Islamist groups in Southeast Asian and China today is only a tiny fraction of that of the less populous Muslim states of the Middle East and North Africa region.

Why should the level of political violence in the populations of these two regions differ so dramatically even though they share the same allegedly violence-prone religion? One possible answer is thatreligion is not the primary driver of conflict in these regions. In Southeast Asia, national governments in Muslim-majority countries have what political scientists call “performance legitimacy”—meaning they deliver the goods and services that their citizens want. With few exceptions, the governments of their co-religionists in the Middle East and North Africa do not.

In the radical Islamist conflicts that are tearing apart Syria, Iraq, and other parts of the region, the exclusionary politics, state repression, rights abuses, corruption, and incompetence of the regimes that the radicals have sought to overthrow provide more compelling insights into what drives the abhorrent violence of ISIS than does the extreme Islamist ideology that seeks to legitimize the killing.

ISIS’s narrow, extreme interpretation of medieval Islam has certainly influenced the gruesome forms that its violence takes—the gory beheadings, choreographed mass executions, immolations, crucifixions, the stoning of adulterers, and sexual slavery. But claims that the savagery of this tiny minority of the world’s Muslims demonstrate that Islam itself is an inherently violent religion are supported by neither logic, history, nor any compelling contemporary evidence. But Islam is not an inherently peaceful religion either. 

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