The Prophet, peace be upon him, is quoted by his cousin, Abdullah Ibn Abbas, as saying: “ Do not be too argumentative with your brother, and do not joke with him, and do not promise him something without fulfilling your promises.” Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al Mufrad and Al-Tirmidhi).
When Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, sought to emphasise the importance of a particular value, he mentioned it in a variety of ways, making use of every chance that might have presented itself to remind his companions, and his followers in every generation, of its importance. Furthermore, he utilised all methods of emphasis in order to make its importance clear to all people. Sometimes, he would issue a straightforward and specific order. At other times, he would include it among similar qualities or values which he would either encourage his followers to adopt or forbid them to practice. He may also describe its effect in society either by using a parable or stating a rule. The Prophet, peace be upon him, described truthfulness as a sure way leading to heaven and telling lies and being false as a sure way leading to hell. The Prophet often spoke to his companions of a person who maintains either quality as being entered in Allah’s book under the classification of truthful or liar. This was a very effective way of bringing home to Muslims the importance of maintaining truthfulness in all situations.
All aspects of lying whether in earnest or in jest are forbidden. The Prophet is quoted by his cousin, Abdullah Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, as saying: “ Do not be too argumentative with your brother, and do not joke with him, and do not promise him something without fulfilling your promises.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al Mufrad and Al-Tirmithi).
This is a Hadeeth which gives a general instruction to believers to refrain from certain practices which are bound to have adverse effects on relationships within the community. On different occasions, the Prophet has spoken against being too argumentative. Indeed, such an attitude does not bring about any proper understanding of the opposite view. What the Prophet is warning against is argument for argument’s sake. He does not tell us not to have different views on matters which admit such differences, but he does tell us not to try to defend our views as if proving ourselves to be right, as an end in itself. The goal should always be to try to arrive at the proper view through enlightened discussion. This is what Muslim scholars have understood and practised. One of the most eminent of our scholars, Imam Abu Hanifa (RA) is reported to have said: “To us, our view is right, but we do not exclude the possibility of being mistaken, and the opposing view is wrong, but we do not exclude the possibility of its being right.” This is indeed the attitude of a truth seeker.
What the Prophet is warning against is argument for argument’s sake. He does not tell us not to have different views on matters which admit such differences, but he does tell us not to try to defend our views as if proving ourselves to be right, as an end in itself. The goal should always be to try to arrive at the proper view through enlightened discussion.
As for the instruction against joking with one’s brother, it does not apply to ordinary jokes which bring about a relaxed atmosphere and a good relationship. What the Prophet was against is what people may sometimes do, that is carrying matters to excess, trying to play jokes on others in order to make those who are present have a good laugh. This may be at the expense of another person among the group who may take it hard that he is being treated as a source of laughter. Indeed, any type of joking which generates ill-feelings is shunned by the Prophet. To establish good and close relationships within the community is a paramount consideration to which the Prophet attaches great importance, hence, his instruction that we should not carry our jokes with others to excess.
To fulfill one’s promises and to be true to one’s word is a characteristic of every good Muslim. Hence, the Prophet emphasizes it in this Hadeeth as well as in many others. It should be noted that the last two types of actions which the Prophet shuns are closely related to lying, since they involve falsehood which may be deliberate or accidental.
In another Hadeeth, the Prophet describes one aspect of falsehood as particularly repugnant. The Prophet is quoted as saying: “ It is a grave treachery indeed that you should say something to your brother and he believes you while you are lying to him.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al Mufrad and Abu Dawood).
This Hadeeth applies to a situation which is quite frequent. Some people do not hesitate to make use of the trust of others who tell them something which they know to be false. They realise that their interlocuters believe them and take what they say on trust. Nevertheless, they show no indication whatsoever to suggest that the truth is different from what they say. They may have reason for that, but generally speaking, their reason is a very selfish one. They may stand to gain by the result of this talk or they may lead the person who believes them to do certain actions which will serve a particular interest of their own. But this is extremely selfish. The Prophet describes it as a grave treason. That is an apt description indeed. Perhaps, nothing in social relations is worse than to exploit the trust of others in order to tell them a falsehood. Whatever the reason for that, it is totally unacceptable. Furthermore, it destroys mutual respect within the Muslim community.
It is well known that most lies are discovered after sometime. When a person who believes another in what he says to him discovers after sometime that his trust was misplaced and that the person was telling him lies, he feels very much aggrieved. When the speaker is aware that what he is saying is a plain lie, his action is indeed much worse than lying, because it involves fooling a brother or playing a trick on him. No one does this in idle jest, if he has any shred of faith. People do it in order to achieve something. When they do it deliberately, the dignity of their Muslim brothers seems not to be of any importance to them. They are indeed treacherous to them. Hence the Prophet denounces such an action in the clearest of terms.
But this practice which the Prophet denounces is quite common in all societies which do not implement a proper code of moral values. Hence, the Prophet has seen it fit to warn his companions against it. Relations within the Muslim community are built on a totally different basis. Truthfulness and mutual respect to others are among the important elements in the foundation of the Muslim community.