When Is Lying Permissible?

Answered by Shaykh Abdul Sami‘ al-Yakti


When is lying permissible?


All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. Blessings and peace be upon the Master of the Messengers, his Family, and all his Companions.

Lying is a major sin, a sign of hypocrisy, and a direct path that leads its practitioner to Hell, and we seek refuge with Allah (Most High). The texts prohibiting and criminalizing it are too numerous to count.

However, lying is permissible in certain situations mentioned by scholars and indicated by texts and Islamic legal principles. These include when lying is necessary to preserve or achieve legitimate Islamic objectives, whether for oneself or others, in times of war to maintain the strength of Muslims and to deceive their enemies, to preserve family stability and happiness in accordance with Sacred Law, and to maintain community stability and resolve conflicts among people, and Allah (Most High) knows best.

Detailed Answer

Lying is reporting something contrary to what it actually is. In his book al-Adhkar, Imam Nawawi, quoting Imam Ghazali, states: “Know that the position of Ahl al-Sunna is that lying is to report contrary to the reality of something, whether one does this intentionally or out of ignorance. However, one does not sin out of ignorance, only out of intention.” [Nawawi, Kitab al-Adhkar]

Lying is a major sin, a sign of hypocrisy, and a direct path that leads its practitioner to Hell, and it is characterized by severe threats in the texts that no sincere, rational believer would accept for themselves or wish for other believers. It is the trait and condition of disbelievers and a sign and hallmark of hypocrites. Allah (Most High) says:

“No one fabricates lies except those who disbelieve in Allah’s revelations, and it is they who are the (true) liars.” [Quran, 16:105]

He also says:

“Do not falsely declare with your tongues, ‘This is lawful, and that is unlawful,’ (only) fabricating lies against Allah. Indeed, those who fabricate lies against Allah will never succeed.” [Quran, 16:116]

Narrated by Ibn Mas‘ud (Allah be pleased with him), he said: The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “Verily, truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise. A man will keep speaking the truth until he is written with Allah (Most High) as a truthful person. Verily, lying leads to wickedness, and wickedness leads to the Fire. A man will keep lying until he is written with Allah (Most High) as a liar.” [Bukhari; Muslim]

Narrated by Abdullah Ibn ‘Amr Ibn al-‘As (Allah be pleased with them both): The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “There are four characteristics that if possessed by someone, he is a pure hypocrite, and if he has one of them, he has a trait of hypocrisy until he abandons it: When entrusted, he betrays; when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he breaks it; and when he disputes, he behaves in an insolent manner.” [Ibid.]

The Islamic texts on the prohibition and criminalization of lying are too numerous to count. However, there are exceptional circumstances where lying is allowed to preserve legitimate Islamic interests. Imam Nawawi has dedicated a special chapter in his book “Riyadh al-Salihin” titled “Clarification of Permissible Lying.” He (Allah have mercy on him) begins this chapter by stating: “Know that lying, although fundamentally prohibited, is permissible under certain conditions which I have clarified in the book of ‘al-Adhkar’….”

Here is a summary and modification of his (Nawawi’s) words:

Circumstances Where Lying Is Permissible

First Case

If lying is the only means to achieve legitimate Islamic objectives for oneself or others, Nawawi, quoting Ghazali, states: “Every praiseworthy goal that can be achieved without lying should not be pursued by lying, and if it cannot be achieved except through lying, then lying is permissible. If achieving that goal is permissible, then the lying is permissible; and if it is obligatory, then the lying is obligatory…”

In specific circumstances, lying is permitted to safeguard higher Islamic interests or to prevent harm, such as:

  • When a Muslim hides from an oppressor who seeks to kill him or take his property, and someone is questioned about his whereabouts, it is obligatory to lie about hiding him.
  • Similarly, if a person has a deposit belonging to someone else and an oppressor wants to take it, it is obligatory to lie about its whereabouts.
  • If a ruler, judge, or authority asks someone about a sin committed in private that does not affect the rights of others, such as fornication or drinking, which they committed alone and which are not related to anyone else’s rights, they may deny it and say, “I did not commit fornication,” or “I did not drink,” for example. It is well-known from hadiths that those who confess to punishable offenses are advised to retract their confessions.
  • Denying knowledge of a brother’s secret when asked about it.

In these cases, it is important to consider Islamic legal principles regarding the attainment of benefits and the prevention of harm, as well as matters concerning one’s own rights or the rights of others. Lying is permitted to protect one’s rights—for instance, one may be lenient and forgiving regarding their own rights. However, when it concerns the rights of others, one must not be lenient; lying is obligatory to protect the rights of others.

Nawawi, quoting Ghazali, states: “One should weigh the harm of lying against the harm that would result from telling the truth. If the harm of telling the truth is greater, then lying is permissible. If the opposite is true, or if there is doubt, lying is forbidden. Whenever lying is permissible, if the reason relates to oneself, it is preferable not to lie. If it involves someone else’s rights, being lenient with another’s rights is not permissible, and caution—avoiding lying—is preferred in all places where it is allowed, unless it is obligatory.”

Second Case

In the context of war, deception is sometimes necessary to protect the well-being of the Muslim community and secure victory over their enemies:

  • An example from the Battle of Badr, when the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) encountered an old man from the Arabs named Sufyan al-Damri, he (Allah bless him and give him peace) questioned him about Quraysh and about Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his companions, and what he had heard about them. The old man said, “I will not tell you until you tell me who you are.” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) responded, “If you inform us, we will inform you.” The man agreed, “Is that so?” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Yes.” The old man shared, “I have heard that Muhammad and his companions set out on such and such day, and if the one who informed me was truthful, they are today in such and such place, where the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) is, and I have also heard that Quraysh set out on such and such day, and if my informer told me the truth, they are today in such and such place, where Quraysh are.” When he finished his report, he asked, “Who are you?” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) replied, “We are from water,” and then he turned away from him. The old man asked, “From water? From the water of Iraq?” Then the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) returned to his companions. [Ibn Hisham, Sira; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya]
  • Similarly, during the Battle of the Trench, the esteemed Companion Nu‘aym Ibn Mas‘ud al-Ghatafani played a critical role in disheartening the polytheists and Jews against the Muslims. He came to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, I have embraced Islam, and my people do not know of my Islam. Command me whatever you wish.” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “You are but one man among us, so dishearten our enemies if you can, for war is deceit.” [Ibn Hisham, Sira]

These instances illustrate the strategic use of deception in warfare as a necessary tactic under specific circumstances to protect the Muslim community and ensure their safety and success. This is aligned with the broader Islamic principles of prioritizing the greater good and mitigating harm.

Third Case 

To maintain the stability, continuity, and happiness of family life in a manner that conforms to Sacred Law:

As exemplified between spouses, Imam Nawawi states: “As for lying to one’s spouse and her lying to him, what is meant is in showing affection and promising what is not obligatory and the like. However, deceit in denying what is due to him or her or taking what does not belong to him or her is unanimously haram by the consensus of the Muslims, and Allah knows best.” [Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim]

Fourth Case 

To reconcile people and resolve social conflicts:

Scholars justify lying in these cases by the hadith reported by Umm Kulthum (Allah be pleased with her), who heard the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) say: “He who makes peace between people by inventing good information or saying good things, is not a liar.”  [Bukhari; Muslim]

Muslim added in a narration: Umm Kulthum said, “And I did not hear him permit anything regarding what people say except in three cases, meaning: in war, reconciliation between people, and the conversation of a man with his wife and a wife with her husband.” [Muslim]

In all these situations, it is safest to practice equivocation. The meaning of equivocation (tawriya) is: “To intend with one’s expression a correct meaning, which is not a lie relative to him, although it may be a lie in the apparent expression and relative to what the addressee understands. If one leaves equivocation and states outright falsehood, it is not haram in this case.” [Nawawi, Kitab al-Adhkar]


I urge you to always strive for truthfulness. However, if you find yourself needing to lie in the cases we mentioned, first attempt equivocation if possible. If not, there is no harm in lying while considering the Sacred Law rules in preventing harm, securing benefits, avoiding corruption, respecting the rights of others, and other relevant principles.

Allah knows best.

[Shaykh] Abdul Sami‘ al-Yakti

Shaykh Abdul Sami‘ al-Yaqti is a Syrian scholar born in Aleppo in 1977. He obtained his degree in Shari‘a from the Shari‘a Faculty of Damascus University, a Diploma in Educational Qualification from the Faculty of Education at Aleppo University, and a Diploma in Shari‘a and a Master’s in Shari‘a from the Faculty of Sharia, and Law at Omdurman University in Sudan. He is currently writing his doctoral thesis.

He studied under esteemed scholars such as Shaykh Abdul Rahman al-Shaghouri, Shaykh Mustafa al-Turkmani, and Shaykh Dr. Nur al-Din Itr, among others. Shaykh al-Yakti has worked in teaching and cultural guidance in orphanages and high schools in Aleppo. He served as an Imam, Khatib, and reciter at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and as a certified trainer for Khatibs in Abu Dhabi’s Khatib Qualification Program.

He is involved in developing and teaching a youth education program at Seekers Arabic for Islamic Sciences.

Among Shaykh al-Yaqti’s significant works are “Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni: Bayna Ilm al-Kalam Wa Usul al-Fiqh” and the program “The Messenger of Allah Among Us (Allah bless him and give him peace).”