White lies, big fat lies and hypocrisy – How Islam views nifaq
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
‘There are three signs of a hypocrite; when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he breaks it; and when he is trusted, he betrays his trust.’ [Bukhari and Muslim]
In another narration as well, in Bukhari and Muslim but a different companion narrated it Abdullah bin ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), he added a fourth one:
‘and when he quarrels, he abuses.’
This means that the hypocrite crosses the boundaries of the Shariah and common decency. In this very short hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) educates us about the harmful phenomenon of hypocrisy, nifaq in our community.
The origin of hypocrisy in Islamic history
We know that nifaq began in Madinah; not Makkah. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) was in Makkah it was not an issue because no one pretended to be a believer when believers were being persecuted for their faith. There were either believers or disbelievers. No in-between camp. When the believers moved to Madinah, we saw the birth of the third camp- those who were in between belief and disbelief.
Those in the in-between camp, have been mentioned by Allah Almighty in the beginning of Surat al Baqarah, which was revealed in Madinah to make people aware of such people and to make believers aware of their attributes and the qualities which they had, which we should avoid.
Ibn Hajar al Asqalani in his collection of hadith, Bulugh Al-Maram, placed this hadith under the topic of Warning against Evil Conduct (Artarheeb min masawi al ikhlaq), which show the traits a believer should avoid.
Nifaq is therefore a quality we should root out and fight in ourselves.
In the seerah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), it breaks your heart the number of times those around the Prophet (peace be on him) plotted against him, betrayed him, and against his dawah, the believers, and his family. They caused him pain and kept damaging the spread of Islam as is the case til today in our Muslim community and will be until the Day of Judgement. Hypocrites cause a lot of damage and also do it in an underhand way, so you are not aware what they did.
The definition of nifaq is from the Arabic word ‘nafaqa’, which is a hole in the ground, which has one exit and another entrance; so two doors, as the hypocrite is the quality of duplicity and duality.
Ibn Faris the linguist
Ibn Faris (may Allah have mercy on him), the top Arabic linguist, who passed away in 495H, wrote more than one Mu’jam (dictionary). In his dictionary Mu’jam Maqayyis al Lughah, which is my favourite, he commented that nifaq is from nafaq, tunnel or a hole in the ground, as tunnel has a different inside from its outside. The inside is concealed from the outside, just as the hypocrite has a public face which is different from his private agenda.
He also mentioned that nifaq is related to exiting, khuruj, as the munafiq (hypocrite) is exiting imaan or imaan is leaving him, depending on his action. Here Ibn Faris was connecting the linguistic meaning with the Sharia definition. Thus the munafiq is doing something, which might cause him to leave his religion.
Two kinds of hypocrisy: belief and action
Scholars have divided nifaq into two kinds. The first is in belief. When somebody is acting with hypocrisy in his belief i.e. pretending that he believes in Allah and the Last Day, the angels, the Books etc. but deep down in his heart does not believe in them, this is kufr (disbelief). He is hiding his disbelief, like the tunnel, which you cannot see from the outside. He is a disbeliever pretending to be a believer.
The second kind is when somebody might be a very true believer, very deep in his imaan but acting hypocritically. There is no hypocrisy in his belief but his actions are not approved of; this is less dangerous than the first kind. It is still sinful, but not to the level of disbelief.
This can be rectified through istighfar, repentance and so on.
In the hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is referring to hypocrisy in action, not the hypocrisy in aqeedah. Hypocrisy in aqeedah leads to Jahannam.
Imam Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) in his commentary on Sahih Muslim mentioned that scholars disagreed on the meaning of this hadith, because if you do not divide hypocrisy into two kinds, there is confusion.
This is why Imam Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) says the scholar has disagreement here because they didn’t know which hypocrisy is meant – in action or in belief. The summary is that the one who is doing an action of nifaq is classified as munafiq metaphorically, because he has iman in his heart.
What’s the reason for hypocrisy?
The Prophet (peace be upon him) warned the Ummah, and every single one of us not to be one of these people. Not to act with hypocrisy. Why would somebody act with hypocrisy, and pretend to be someone they are not? Here are some reasons:0
1. Fear of the consequences
The mark of the hypocrite is that he lies. Lying is to portray the opposite of reality, to changing what is real to create your own story, which never happened. Why do people do this? The obvious reason is that they have a weak imaan.
They are not a strong person and are not willing to face reality, so they lie because they wasn’t to hide something and escape the consequences of their own action by creating a lie.
We know this for instance from our own children. They sometimes break something, or do something wrong, and deny it. ‘It wasn’t me. I didn’t do it.’ Even though you saw them do it with your own eyes. Even very little ones, who are just two years old, lie to your face, because they are afraid of the consequences, and that you will tell them off.
Similarly fear of the consequences leads people to admit their mistakes. A stronger person would own up and say, ‘Yes, I have done this, but accidentally.’ Children with strong personalities have the courage to say, ‘Yes, it was an accident. I’m sorry’ and it makes you laugh at how brave they are to admit it. This shows you the difference between somebody who is strong and somebody who is weak. This weakness, unfortunately, can snowball.
2. Showing off
One reason we lie is to make out that we are better than we are. If you are asked for instance, ‘Which University did you graduate from?’ And you say ‘Oxford’ when you didn’t, it is because you are insecure that you went to a lower ranked university and want people to perceive you as being clever than that.
It does not make you a better person if you graduated from Oxford or Cambridge. What makes you a better person is your character. What makes you a better person is your relationship with Allah, understanding His message to you, your character and your conduct.
Women are often reluctant to disclose their age or weight. Why do they feel the need to pretend they are younger or slimmer than they are? Remember that lying is an attribute of nifaq (In the sense of metaphorical nifaq, not nifaq in belief).
We need to reflect on our automatic replies, and look deeply at what is behind our answers, and what you say without thinking. If you are claiming to be someone you are not, it is time to address is and say; ‘I should not say I’m a graduate of this university if I’m not.’ This is just an example, there are many more.
Be as transparent as a clear bag
The Prophet (peace be upon him) warned the community against lying as the believer should be a transparent person. You can see what is inside a transparent bag, therefore a believer’s heart and actions should consistent with each other. The iman in their heart should reflect in their words and actions. They should not say something but do something else. The inward, outward has to match. This is the true iman.
Often we justify untrue comments we have made as ‘white lies’. There is no such as a thing as ‘white lie’; There are lies and there is truth. Do not convince yourself that a small lie or a white lie is OK, or that it is permissible because you are not harming anyone. No. You need to be true to your belief, and not be a liar.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was asked: “Can a believer be a coward?” The Prophet said: “Yes.” He was then asked: “Can a believer be a miser?” He replied: “Yes.” And finally, he was asked: ‘Can a believer be a liar?” The Prophet said: “No.” (Al Muwatta)
Why did the Prophet (peace be on him) say a believer could be a miser and a coward but never a liar?
It is because Islam is based on the truth – al haqqu mirrabbikum ‘the truth from your Lord’. Therefore if you are a liar, no one will believe you when tell them that Islam is the truth because there is a question mark over your statements.
Imagine if, God forbid the Prophet (peace be upon him) had not been as sadiqul al ameen, the truthful and trustworthy, before the message was revealed on him. The Quraysh would have said, ‘You are telling more lies, as you have been telling lies all your life’.
It is vital that believers are truthful and straightforward. This goes hand in hand with being trustworthy. These qualities are even more important when you are in the position of authority. Sadly our politicians are full of lies and cannot be trusted. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) emphasised that we must tell the truth at all times and not break our promises. And we have to you fulfil any trust placed on us.
Fulfil your promises
Some people break promises all the time. They say they will attend an event and then they back out, thinking it is no big deal, it is not harming anyone. For instance, they might say they will attend an aqiqah or walimah, just to please the host, when deep down you have no intention of going. Or they may say ‘I’ll be at yours at 3’ and then arrive late or not turn up. This is rude and also breaking a promise.
I attended a nikkah recently where the witness was 70 minutes late. This is not acceptable, unless something out of your control happened. If you left on time and then there was an accident which blocked the road, that is different from leaving at the time you were supposed to arrive. That is irresponsible and unacceptable. I have a friend who is like this, bless him and may Allah forgive him, who says, ‘Yes, I’m on my way’ when he has not yet left home.
If you have an appointment, be on time. This is one part of keeping promises and it is also your identity. Everyone knows whether you are a late person or a punctual person, or an organised person or a messy person. That’s why you should fulfil the promises you make and if you cannot keep them, then do not make them in the first place.
When you say Insha’Allah and mean it!
Sometimes to avoid an argument you say, ‘OK, I will do this, insha’Allah’ when you do not intend to do it. When you use insha’Allah as a get-out clause, you are effectively associating Allah’s name with breaking promises. Only in some exceptional scenarios, in order not to escalate an argument, you can say, ‘Insha’Allah, if Allah wills I will do this’ or ‘I can’t do it 100% but I will do my best, insha’Allah.’
You should really mean it. It might not be under your control now, but it might be that Allah Almighty will facilitate it for you. Therefore mean what say. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.
Of course you only fulfil promises to fulfil what is halal and permissible and within the parameters of the Shariah. If it is outside the Shariah, then even if you said ‘insha’Allah’, you should not do it.
Do not betray any trust
The third attribute of a hypocrite is that they break the trust placed on them. If somebody trusted you, don’t betray their trust, in big things or little things.
For instance, do not reveal what they said in a private conversation; the Prophet (peace be upon him) he said if someone comes to you and discusses something they do not want others to overhear, this is amanah, a trust, even if they did not say, ‘Don’t tell anyone.’ You are not allowed to reveal your private conversation.
In the commercial and business world, we have the NDA, (Non-Disclosure Agreement) which is a legally binding contract that establishes a confidential relationship. It means that you cannot disclose any sensitive information that you discuss. This is, by default, what you are entering whenever you have a private conversation. You are not permitted to reveal it.
Allah Almighty made us a trustee for what He provided us – our family, money, health, life, time etc. are all trusts He placed in our hands. Do not betray the amanah between you and Allah Almighty, your family, your friends and brothers etc.
The one who breaks an amanah is acting like a munafiq.’ And Allah promised that the munafiqeen would be thrown into the lowest part of Jahannam, which is dedicated for al them ‘Innal-Munafiqeena fiddarkil asfali minan-nar:
‘Indeed the munafiqeen are in the lowest part of Jahannam.’ [4:145].
This is a warning to humanity, not just the Muslim community alone, that these are bad qualities and they destroy any relationships.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was teaching us to become better people. He said in the hadith, reported by Imam Malik:
“I have been sent to perfect good character.” (Al Muwatta)
You perfect human character by fighting bad qualities in your character.
Quarrelling without restraint
The fourth quality of the munafiq is that when he quarrels, goes beyond all bounds. This means that his rage is out of control. I have come across people like this. They appear very calm, and very nice and patient but when they are angry, during a conflict, you see a totally different side to them. They are like a wild beast. It makes you wonder where all that anger came from.
Again this is not a good quality. If you are like that you have to fix it. Work on it, strive to change it or at least to tame it, because this is not the attribute of the believer.
Abdullah bin ‘Amr narrated that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
“Whoever has the following four (characteristics) will be a pure hypocrite and whoever has one of the following four characteristics will have one characteristic of hypocrisy unless and until he gives it up.
1. Whenever he is entrusted, he betrays.
2. Whenever he speaks, he tells a lie.
3. Whenever he makes a covenant, he proves treacherous.
4. Whenever he quarrels, he behaves in a very imprudent, evil and insulting manner.”’ (Bukhari)
Check yourself. Do you have any of these qualities? Some people have all four of these qualities. If you have one of these, it is a sign of hypocrisy, and you need to remove it by doing the opposite of hypocrite. Allah Almighty said in the Quran wafudh aymanakum ‘Keep your promises’.
Breaking the promise is not a small thing. If you break your promises repeatedly, you will tarnish your reputation and no one will trust you. Your promises will be meaningless. Even if you said, ‘Believe me’, no one will believe you. It destroys your relationships with our family at and work, with customers, clients, colleagues etc.
You have to be a good role model and these are basic qualities which every human must have in order to have good relationship among humanity.
Reputation with Allah
If we don’t, this is very serious. The one who keeps telling lies will be written down as a liar on the Day Judgement. Whereas the one who keeps telling the truth will be called the truthful, as sadiq, on the Day of Judgement. Choose the title you want to have next to your name.
We all know someone who wherever he goes is known as a liar. Imagine if you are that person, God forbid.
You can change. As long as you are breathing you can change. Have the determination, ‘I want to be a better person’. Ask yourself why you are lying, and is making you afraid of telling the truth. You don’t need to lie about your degree or your title.
People will respect you more for who you are, than whom you pretend you are. They will respect you more, the more you fulfil your promises.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to have a partner in business, before Islam, in jahiliyah times, Al-Saib bin Abi Al-Saib, who was not a believer, but the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to say, ‘Welcome, good partner who never betrays.’ The quality is not exclusive to believers but it is necessary for believers.
Allah Almighty puts barakah in your business when you tell the truth. Don’t cheat your customers, your clients with fake claims. You may think it is smart person, but you are destroying your rizq. Barakah is an invisible quality which cannot measured by numbers. Allah Almighty puts in your business, money, time and health when you obey Him.
Sales persons beware
Do not think that by creating lies and fooling people and deceiving people you are outsmarting them. Allah Almighty will ask you about it on the Day of Judgement.
Sales people must be particularly careful. If you’re in sales, don’t lie. If your job involves telling lies, don’t do this job.
There are some scenarios, where you can’t tell the whole of the truth. You can tell some of it. For instance, if someone is suffering from an illness and telling him the extent of his illness will make him worse, tell him part of it first and the rest later. Or someone is traveling for treatment but does not want to worry others, they may say they are going but not say why. That is not a lie, or a white lie, It is a half truth. These are exceptional scenarios. Don’t make the exception the norm.
Can you bend the truth when reconciling people?
A liar is not one who tries to bring reconciliation amongst people and speaks good (in order to avert dispute), or he conveys good.” (Muslim)
Ibn Shihab (rahimahullah) said: “I did not hear that concession/exemption was granted in any lies that the people speak except in three cases: [in] war, reconciling between people, and the dialogue of a husband with his wife, and a wife with her husband [i.e vice versa]. (Muslim)
You can choose to pass on what brings people back together, and leave out the things that will increase enmity and cause explosions. That’s fine, this is not lying, this is just picking and choosing things from their words things that will encourage both to come back together.
Regarding the three scenarios Ibn Shihab Az-Zuhri (may Allah be pleased with him) mentioned, ‘Allamah Munawi (rahimahullah) has further elaborated as follows:
- War – It is permissible to give the impression you are more powerfulthan you are, or motivate one’s comrades, and trick your enemy.
- Reconciling between others – you may convey good words or statements on behalf of both parties to soften hearts and bring about reconciliation.
- Between spouses – a spouse can keep their other half happy and maintain a healthy relationship by complimenting something that they did not actually like that much.
Determination to do better
We need to review our records and recognise, ‘I do this sometimes, may Allah forgive me’. Let’s monitor ourselves. Be careful not to fall into the traps of the shaytan. Repent and ask for forgiveness and then move on.
Have determination to change yourself. Sometimes in order to change yourself you need to change your location. Often you repeat scenes by being in the same place with the same crowd. You need to start fresh.
This allows you to start a clean slate, and stick to the principles – telling the truth, fulfilling your promises, deliver your amanah and being a person in full control of his emotions and who does not breaks all bounds when he is angry. This makes you a better person, people can relate to you, people can trust you, and people can get along with you. Otherwise if they discovered that you are lying to them, they will avoid you.
Remember your relationship with Allah is the most important. What will you say to Allah? I did not fulfil any promise; I kept breaking my promises.
Train yourself to keep the amanah. People who are working in people’s houses e.g. plumbers, carpenters, builders etc. are not permitted to reveal what they see inside these houses. It is an Amanah.
When we fulfil these trusts and work on ourselves, insha’Allah Allah will help us to become better. Let’s be more careful to inculcate the attributes that comply with the Sharia, which are loved by Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him).
How do we instil good qualities in our children?
The best way is leading by example. You instil patterns of behaviour in your children through your actions and through your words. Keep reminding them about the importance of telling the truth, of being a trusted person, and of having good qualities. Give examples from the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him), what he used to do, what he used to say and through story telling. They will be impressed by the truthfulness of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Let’s do our best to do that and insha’Allah Allah Almighty will support us.
Transcribed by Rose Roslan
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May 20, 2022