White Lie, Red Lie


Saudi Gazette

I arrive at my appointment ten minutes late and the meek excuse I give the receptionist is, “Sorry I’m late, I was stuck in traffic.” I lied. It wasn’t traffic that delayed me. What delayed me was the cup of coffee I wanted to finish before leaving my house because I feared that if I didn’t have my morning coffee, I would have to deal with a headache all day.

No big deal, right? It’s only a little white lie.

My sixteen year old daughter is on an infuriatingly rigid health diet. She sends me on shopping trips that are more like a wild goose chase, searching for items like quinoa, apple butter, ground flaxseeds, organic kale chips, Greek yogurt and a dozen other almost impossible items to find, not to mention how pricey that all is. It can’t be regular yogurt; it has to be Greek yogurt. I want to be the cool and supportive mom so I’m cooking the recipes that she found from a health food blogger. I made this delicious vegetable, curry dish that called for exactly one teaspoon and a half olive oil, but I was in such a rush to get everything done before the girls came home from school that I may have used more than the exact amount of oil.

So, when my daughter uncovered the pot and said, “Wow! This smells great! Did you measure exactly one teaspoon and a half olive oil when you made it?”

After working in the kitchen for an hour and a half, I couldn’t bear the thought that she would not eat my vegetable curry if I used too much oil, so I assured her,

“Yes, I measured exactly one teaspoon and a half olive oil.”

I lied. No big deal, right? It’s only a little white lie.

We all do it. Sometimes we don’t even think twice about it afterwards and we don’t even feel a small pinch of remorse for lying. We fail to realize the gravity of the matter, the emphasis in Islam on telling the truth, and we have blindly overlooked the literature in Islam that shows how much Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) abhor lying.

I have read the following saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him) many times before. I had been mindful not to lie in major and important life situations, but I fell short when it came to really applying it in the small or trivial situations in my life.

Abdullah ibn Mas’ud reported that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “You must be truthful. Verily, truthfulness leads to righteousness and righteousness leads to Paradise. A man continues to be truthful and encourages honesty until he is recorded with Allah as truthful. And beware of falsehood. Verily, falsehood leads to wickedness and wickedness leads to the Hellfire. A man continues to tell lies and encourages falsehood until he is recorded with Allah as a liar.”

I never considered that by lying over simple things over and over again, which in my eyes were not that weighty, I could risk having my name written with Allah as a liar.

I used to fool myself into thinking that there’s no harm in telling a little white lie, until one day when I was reading the story of one of my favorite prophets, Prophet Ibrahim. The book stated that in his entire life (the lifespan then was far longer than it is in our time), Prophet Ibrahim only lied three times, and in each case, it was for a very specific reason, and there was a true and noble justification.

Wait a minute. I started counting the number of lies I lied in one day, and it was already way over the number of times Prophet Ibrahim lied in his lifetime. How could I count myself as a good believer, a good Muslim woman, a good mother, and still lie, even if it was over unimportant matters? I had no excuse. There is no white or red or blue lie, a lie is a lie.

I was intrigued, so I read more about Prophet Ibrahim, and how he never gave up calling his people to the belief in one God, Allah. Prophet Ibrahim wanted to demonstrate to the people that the idols they worshiped were actually inanimate stones, incapable of bringing benefit or harm. Prophet Ibrahim planned to take the opportunity when all the villagers would gather in one place for a ceremony, to go to the idols and destroy them, as none would be around to see who did it.

When the people were preparing for the ceremony, Prophet Ibrahim slipped away from the people and he said he that he was weak or ill. The verse in the Qur’an shows that Prophet Ibrahim said to the people, {And said, “Indeed, I am (about to be) ill.} (Chapter 37, verse 89) Figuratively speaking, Prophet Ibrahim was indeed sick of his people’s disbelief.

After Prophet Ibrahim smashed the idols, he left the largest idol intact and kept his stick by that idol. When the people saw the destruction and questioned him, he replied as is stated in the Qur’an in the following verse: {He said, “Rather this – the largest of them – did it, so ask them, if they should (be able to) to speak.”} (Chapter 21, verse 63) And in this case, it was more of sarcasm than actually telling a lie.

In the third situation, Prophet Ibrahim and his wife, Sarah, were migrating to Palestine. On the way, they were stopped by a tyrant who was known to take a woman if she appealed to his liking, and kill her husband. Prophet Ibrahim said that Sarah was his sister. What is important to note is that Prophet Ibrahim was not concerned about saving his own life. At that time, the only two people on the face of the Earth who believed in the oneness of Allah were Prophet Ibrahim and Sarah, and if he were to be killed, there would be no hopes of having a progeny that would worship Allah. So, Prophet Ibrahim was not killed, and also, Allah miraculously protected Sarah from being harmed by the tyrant. The cruel king amazingly gave Sarah, a slave girl, Hajar, who Prophet Ibrahim later married. After that, Prophet Ibrahim had a son from Hajar, and a son from Sarah, and they had righteous offspring, calling to Allah’s way.

Reading Prophet Ibrahim’s story humbled me and taught me not to take telling a lie as a light matter.

Although I would not consider myself a bad person, I acknowledged that lying is a very bad habit, and I decided to stop, and so can you. Not a big lie or a small lie, not a white lie or a red lie.

As I was typing away at my laptop caught up in my thoughts, in the right words to use, in the story of Prophet Ibrahim and his beautiful wife, Sarah, my husband calls.

“What’s for lunch?” he asks.

What? It’s lunch time already? I look at my watch; I hadn’t been aware of the time and I did not cook any lunch for my family. I stammer on the phone. I could say that I was sick or that I had a headache or that I got held back in the classes I’m taking. I didn’t want to hear my husband complain about my time management skills, or lack thereof.

But I stopped myself;

I didn’t lie.

“I was doing some research and I couldn’t take myself away from my reading and writing,” I said, in all honesty.

I waited anxiously to hear a negative remark or a grumble, but instead I hear him say, “No problem! Tell me all about your research when I get home. I’ll pick something up on my way. I was in the mood for grilled chicken and rice anyway!”