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Last Updated: 2012/01/30
Summary of question
There is a relatively famous tradition from the Holy Prophet (s) who allowed lying under a few circumstances. Please, elaborate on the validity and purport of the said tradition.
Salamun alaikum. There is a relatively famous tradition from the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, who allowed lying under a few circumstances including a husband's telling a lie to his wife. There are several questions in this connection: A) How far is the said tradition authentic? B) What about the purport and application of the hadith? Is it not opposed to the Quran? C) If this tradition is authentic and it is permissible to tell a lie, what kind of a lie can we tell? Where? Considering that most of the lies (be they small or big) are later exposed, don't you think that lying to wife will result in destabilization of the family foundation and in elimination of mutual love and trust?
Concise answer

Although lying is considered to be one of the big sins, it has been allowed under specific circumstances for the purpose of serving a greater and more important interest as determined in the religion of Islam. If we accept the narrations related in this regard, lying on the part of the husband becomes permissible only when it leads to peace and consolidation of the family foundation.  However, the jurisprudents have not accepted the said tradition about the permissibility of lying to wife due to some difficulties existing in its meaning and the chain of its transmission.

Detailed Answer

Lying is one of the great sins[1] which Islam has strongly and strictly opposed and dealt with.[2] Despite its prohibition, sometimes it becomes admissible to tell a lie under specific circumstances such as when there is a more important interest to be secured. Therefore, it is permissible for a person to tell a lie to protect his property or his life or those of a brother in Faith.[3]

When it comes to lying to wife, it is necessary to take a few points into consideration:

A) Although lying has a reporting aspect and a report is said to be false when it is not according to the reality, according to some religious scholars or perhaps in common view a promise which is made and not fulfilled is also considered to be a lie. Of course, there is a partially overlapping relationship between a lie and a promise in the sense that sometimes lying takes place but there is no breach of promise, and sometimes there is a breach of promise but it is not lying and some other times it is both lying and a breach of promise. For instance, if a man says to his wife that he will do a certain act the next day while he does not have the intention to do it, it is both a lie as well as a breach of promise.[4]

B) Late Shaykh Hurr Amili has narrated two traditions in regards to a man who tells a lie to his wife and promises her to do certain actions. In these two traditions, other instances of lying have been mentioned over and above to lying to wife. Those instances refer to making peace between two quarrelling persons and self-protection.[5] Hence, lying to a wife can be explained in such a context. That is to say whenever, due to some reasons, the relationship between a woman and her husband reaches a point where it needs to be reformed, the man may resort to such an action. Hence,[6] if an untrue statement on the part of a man destroys the trust and ruins the relationship between him and his wife, though in future, making such promises and lying would also become haram. That is why some scholars have said that the abomination of the prohibited things is sometimes inborn and sometimes accidental, and since prohibition of lying is of the second kind, it is because of this that it has been allowed when there is no ill motive and when it has a greater benefit. Perhaps, we can mention narrations[7] in confirmation of the same.[8]

C) Considering that there are many traditions and concrete arguments about the prohibition of lying, prominent Shia scholars are of the view that the traditions regarding a promise given to wife suffer from serious difficulties which shall be explained as under:

1. Weakness of the chain the transmission of the tradition[9]: Shaykh Hurr Amili has cited the first tradition from Shaykh Saduq's "Man La Yahzuruhu al-Faqih". In order for us to examine the chain of the transmission of this tradition, we need to mention the chain: "Muhammad bin Ali bin al-Hussain, he from Hammad bin 'Amr and Anas bin Muhammad, he from his father and they all from Ja'far bin Muhammad (a.s) and he from his fathers (a.s)." [10]

Hammad bin 'Amr: No where in any of the Rijal (biography of narrators) books, has anything been mentioned to authenticate or weaken him.

Anas bin Muhammad: He is also one of the unknown individuals about whom there is no information whether he is reliable or weak.

Anas bin Muhammad's father: He is also one of the narrators about whom there is no precise information.

Shaykh Hurr Amili has cites the second tradition from Shaykh Saduq's "Al-Khisal" with the following chain of narrators:

"In Al-Khisal, he narrates the tradition from his father, he from Sa'd, from Ahmad bin Al-Hussain bin Sa'eid, from Abil Hussain al-Hazrami from Musa bin Al-Qasim from Jamil bin Darraj from Muhammad bin Sa'eid from Al-Muharebey from Ja'far bin Muammad from his fathers…"[11]

Ahmad bin Hussain bin Sa'eid: He has been considered to be weak and one of the Ghalis.[12]

Abul Hussain Al-Hazrami: He is one of unknown figures and there is no information about him.

Muhammad bin Sa'eid: He is also not known.

Al-Muharebey: He is also among the unknown people in the chain of this tradition.

The conclusion is that this tradition is not acceptable.

2. Ambiguity in the purport of the narration[13]: Does it mean the permissibility of breaking promises? If so, it is not a new thing to know because breaking a promise given to a wife or other people is not haram.[14] Does giving a promise to a wife mean that it is an untrue report or does it mean that it is a promise (the outward meaning of the term) which in fact is not a report but an insha (creation). Is permissible to tell a lie under any circumstances or is it permissible to tell a lie only when it is intended to make peace between two people. All these and other questions which you have raised in your message have led the grand jurists to consider these traditions as ambiguous.

Conclusion: Considering that the jurisprudents have not accepted the said tradition about the permissibility of lying to wife due to some difficulties in its meaning and chain of its transmission.[15] They allow lying only when it serves a greater interest in which case, this kind of lying is not restricted to reconciling between a man and his wife. It includes all areas of the permissibility of lying.

[1] - Imam Khomeini, Rohullah, Al-Makasib al-Muharramah, vol.2, pg. 60, chap. (The Prohibition of Lying is Evident), Center for Preparation and Publication of Imam Khomeini's Works, Qom, 1415.

[2] - For further information about some relevant traditions, refer to question 2194 (site: 2498) (Cases where Lying is Allowed) on this site.

[3] - Tabrizi, Abu Talib Tajlil, Al-Ta'liqah al-Istidlaliyah Alaa Tahrir al-Wasilah, pg. 424, Urooj Institute.

[4] - Khoei, Sayyid Abul Qasim Musavi, Mesbah al-Faqahah (al-Makasib), vol.1, pg. 391.

[5] - The tradition says: It has been narrated from Ali (a.s.) that the Messenger of Allah said: Lying is good in three instances: a lie which is used as a war technique of strategy, a promise given to ones family and a lie which is resorted to make peace between two quarrelling persons." Wasail al-Shi'ah, vol.12, pg. 252, Aalulbayt (a.s) Institute, Qom, 1409.

[6] - Such a deduction can be made from the foregoing explanation.

[7] - See: Wasail al-Shi'ah, vol.12, pg. 252 یا علیّ، إنّ اللّه أحبّ الکذب فی الصلاح، و أبغض الصدق فی الفساد

[8] - Ses: Al-Makasib al-Muharramah (by Imam Khomeini), vol.2, pg. 140.

[9] - Al-Makasib al-Muharramah (by Imam Khomeini) vol.2, pg.140; Sadr, Shahid Sayyid Muhammad, Ma War'ul Fiqh, vol.10, pg. 323, Dar al-Azwaa Printing, Publication and Distribution House, Beirut, 1420.

[10] - Wasail al-Shi'ah, vol.12, pg. 252.

[11] - Ibid.

[12] - Najashi, Abul Hasan Ahmad bin Ali bin Ahmad, Rejal al-Najashi, pg. 77, Islamic Publications Office affiliated to Jame'ah Mudarresin (Society of Teachers) of the Islamic Seminary of Qom, 1407.

[13] - Al-Makasib al-Muharramah by Imam Khomeini, vol.2, pg. 140.

[14] - Ma Wara'ul Fiqh, vol.10, pg. 324.

[15] - However, the precaution, though not strong, is the impermissibility of lying; See: Al-Makasib al-Muharramah by Imam Khomeini, vol.2, pg. 140; Tabtabai Hakim, Sayyid Mohsen, Minhaaj al-Saleheen (with annotations by Hakim), vol.2, pg. 15, Dar al-Ta'aruf Publications, Beirut, 1410; Khoei, Abul Qasim Madinatul Ilm Publications, Qom, 1410.

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