Lying is another sin which is classified among the Greater sins.
Lying is one of the greatest sins
There is a tradition from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) that he said,
“Beware I inform you regarding the greatest of the mortal sins: Associating anything with Allah, disobeying parents and lying!”
Imam Hasan al-Askari (a.s.) has similarly been quoted as saying,
“All the evils have been locked in a room and its key is lying.”
Angels curse the liars
The Prophet of Islam says in one of his utterances:
“When a believer utters a lie without a valid excuse, he is cursed by seventy thousand angels. Such a stench emanates from his heart that it reaches the sky and because of this single lie Allah writes for him a sin equivalent to that of committing seventy formications and such formications that the least of them is fornication with ones mother.”
Doubtlessly, lying is the worst of sins. It is obvious that the evils of lying are more dreadful than those of adultery. Some lies lead to war between two tribes or two communities. Some lies are such that they cause the destruction of life and honour of thousands of people. Or at least lead to economic disasters. One kind of falsehood is that which is attributed to Allah, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) or the Holy Imams (a.s.). Obviously this is the worst kind of falsehood. Due to certain lies some innocent people are sent to the gallows and their families destroyed. It is for this very reason that the traditions state:
“Lying is a greater evil than drinking wine.”
Sin of lying is worse than drinking wine
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) says:
“Certainly Allah has created the lock for every evil and the key to all these locks is drinking wine. But lying is worse that drinking.”
Although wine disables the reason and sense of the one who drinks it, lying is such a sin that it kills the reason and makes one so completely insensate that he becomes ready to commit any kind of satanic act. When the alcoholic is under the influence of wine and is not in his proper senses, it is not possible for him to act with cunning and treachery but the liar could cause untold mischief in the society through his cunning; much more than the drunkard can.
The Angels abhor the liars
The smell of the liar’s mouth would be so terrible that even the Angels will not go near them. They will keep away from the liars. This is not only for the day of judgement. Even in this world, the Angels could feel the foul odour of the mouths of the liars. In a prophetic traditions it is said,
“When a believer utters a lie, such a bad smell rises from his mouth that even the Angels move away.”
Falsehood deprives the liar from the taste of faith.
Imam Ali (a.s.) says:
“Every believer is deprived from the taste of faith till he gives up lying in jest and also seriously.”
Lying is a sign of a hypocrite. The following tradition of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) is present in the book of Mustadrakul Wasael:
“The three signs of the hypocrite are:
Lying, betraying trust and going back on his word (Not fulfilling a promise).”
Lying causes forgetfulness
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) is reported to have said,
“One of the divine punishments for too much lying is that Allah makes the liar afflicted with forgetfulness.”
Thus a man speaks a lie and then forgets that he has told a lie. Consequently people come to know that he has spoken a lie and his falsity is exposed to the people.
Now to save his face he speaks more and more lies and is more insulted because his forgetfulness does not enable him to hide his false statements.
Terrible punishment for the liars
Various kinds of punishment befall the one who has lied. Aqa Rawandi has quoted a lengthy tradition from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) in his book Dawaat. The Prophet (s.a.) is describing the spectacles of Meraj (Ascension), when he says:
“I saw a man, who laid flat on his back. Another person mounted upon his head. The one who was standing upon the head had a pointed iron rod. He repeatedly injured the person lying flat. The face of the victim is shattered upto the neck. But when the rod is lifted it returns to its original form. Again the rod strikes the face and he suffers the same retribution.”
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) says that he inquired,
“Why is this man punished?”
He was told, “This is a man who left home in the morning and uttered such a lie that it caused harm to the people. So he shall be punished in this manner (after death) till the day of Qiyamat.”
Another grade of falsehood is a false oath, false witness and intentional avoidance of testifying in an Islamic court. This type of falsehood is also a confirmed greater sin.
Lying in jest (jokingly) and pleasantry
Lying in jest is another kind of falsehood. For example to tell a simpleton that, “A certain lady wants to marry you,” or “that person has invited you for dinner tonight,” when actually there is no such thing. This type of falsehood is also haraam as proved conclusively from the traditions.
However, certain Mujtahids are of the opinion that if something untrue is said in a zestful manner and it is clearly understood to be a joke, then it is permitted. For example a bachelor is told, “See, there goes your wife!” It may be allowed because the listener could never misunderstand. In such a case it is not haraam. Certain Mujtahids regard even a falsehood in jest to be absolutely haraam. Whether it is an apparent joke or not. This is the precautionary method and the traditions also confirm that lying even in jest is not permitted.
Total abstinence from lying
Hazrat Imam Zainul Abedin (a.s.) says,
“Avoid falsehood, whether it is small or big, in solemnity or jest.”
Hazrat Amirul Momineen (a.s.) said,
“No man can taste faith, till the time he completely forgoes lying, in solemnity and in jest.”
It is also related from Amirul Momineen (a.s.) that he said:
“There is no merit in falsehood, whether serious or in jest. Do not even promise your child something if you do not intend to fulfill it. Certainly, falsehood leads man to sin (fearlessly) and (this) leads to the Fire.”
Circumstances when lying is permitted
Whenever there is a danger to life, honour and property and if the danger is removed by lying, one is allowed to lie. The danger could be to ones own life, honour and property or that of someone else’s. So much so that it is also permitted to take a false oath in this situation and in some cases it becomes wajib (obligatory) to speak a lie. For example like the risk to ones life. In this case it is wajib to save oneself by lying and taking a false oath. For example if an oppressor intends to kill a Muslim or to beat him up, dishonour him, seize his property or imprison him and if he enquires from you of his whereabouts, it is obligatory not to tell the truth. Even if one has to take a false oath and say that one does not know of his whereabouts.
In the same way if you have someone’s trust in your possession and if someone intends to seize it. It is your duty to protect the trust even if you have to take the help of falsehood or a false oath.
Reconciliation among people
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) has said,
“After the fulfillment of wajib acts, the best action is to bring about peace and reconciliation among people. This is such a goodness that spreads goodness in the world.”
Amirul Momineen Ali (a.s.) said that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) has said at the time of recording his will and testament.
“O Ali, Allah even likes a falsehood for the sake of peace and dislikes truth that spreads corruption.”
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) has also said,
“To make peace among the people and to think about reconciling the people, and removing discord is better than prayers and fasting.”
Reference: Greater Sins (Vol. 2 - English) by Ayatullah Dastghaib Shirazi (r.a.) - Chapter 17