By Katherine Bullock
Do Muslims lie? Like all of humanity there are those who do, and those who don’t.
Should Muslims lie? That is an altogether different question.
I grew up in a typical white, middle-class, and nominally Christian family in Australia.
I attended a private, all-girls, Presbyterian high school.
We were taught the value of hard work, patience and honesty.
Popular culture, friends and family also taught us that if we were to tell a little lie and cross our fingers behind our backs it wouldn’t count as a real lie.
And that it was ok to tell a ‘white’ lie if it was to protect the feelings of someone or prevent us from getting into trouble.
These contradictions were held in a delicate balance as we tried to learn the difference between when ‘honesty was the best policy’ and when a ‘white’ lie was ok.
Encountering the French existentialists in my second-year University French literature course settled the issue for me, as we were taught the importance of ‘authenticity’ and adhering to one’s own truth.
I developed a reputation for being straightforward to the point of tactlessness.
It was in this state that I encountered the teachings of the Qur’an and the biography of Muhammad.
Amongst the many things that drew me, a few years later, to embrace the faith – quite unexpectedly as I was an atheist at the time – was the teaching on truth telling.
Muhammad was known to be a man of honesty and uprightness before he became (according to Muslim faith) a Prophet. In fact his nickname was “Al-Ameen,” the trustworthy.
I remember being captivated by a story about a time he stood in a public place and called to a large crowd that was gathering, “O people! Will you believe me if I say there is an army marching behind this mountain which is about to attack you?”
“Of course we would,” they answered, “we have not heard a lie from you throughout your life.”
Muhammad proceeded to tell them that he had been sent to warn them about God’s punishment if they continued to worship idols.
This wasn’t the kind of truth they were interested in hearing, so they interrupted, booed and left him.
It turned out, though, that he had gotten my attention, so when I eventually became Muslim I found myself continuing to practice my existentialist commitment to ‘truth-telling,’ pretty delighted at how well that idea fit with my new religion.
The Qur’an taught me that truth-telling was part of piety and justice, and we were to give true testimony, even if it was “against your own selves or (your) parents or near relatives; if he be rich or poor (4:135).”
I learned that Muslims were allowed to lie on only three occasions: as a stratagem of war; in order to bring peace between two people; and between a wife and husband who lie to reconcile after a fight with each other.
These were very special circumstances, to be compared to teachings that one of the signs of a hypocrite is that “whenever s/he speaks, s/he tells a lie.”
I tried hard over the years to make sure my tongue told only truth, and never a ‘white lie,’ nor to cross my fingers behind my back.
It turns out to be easier said than done, representing a continuing struggle for living a pious life.
So I was completely taken aback a few years ago, watching a television debate between supporters and protestors of the mosque idea that was proposed to be built at “Ground Zero” near the site of the tragic attacks of 9/11 in New York, to hear one of the protestors claim that Muslims in the US are taught they are allowed to lie, and we can’t believe anything any one of them says.
He mentioned some Arabic name that I’d never ever, in sixteen years of being Muslim, heard before.
Even now I have to look it up on the internet: taqiya.
This word is meant to be a teaching of Muslims in the West, as subterfuge against our fellow citizens, so that any kind of positive statement we make about being proud to be Canadian, or seeking to integrate and make positive contributions to Canada, all the while being a proud Muslim, is simply false.
Hoodwink. Pull the wool over their eyes.
And yet, the only time I have ever, ever, ever heard someone say this is what Muslims believe, is from a non-Muslim whose aim seems to be discrediting their fellow Muslim citizens and blocking Muslim attempts at civic engagement and integration.
I prefer to take my teachings on truth-telling from the Qur’an:
“O you who believe! stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that you do. (5:8).”