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FAQ

 Tashih al Mafahim 19

 

Question:

Assalamualaikum ustaz. My question is, did Prophet Abraham A.S say lies? I once heard that Abraham A.S said lies to save his life. Is it true?

Answer:

Waalaikumussalam w.b.t,

Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his wives, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.

Abraham A.S is a prophet which is said by Allah SWT as who always precedes in obeying His command without having any doubt. Allah SWT says:

وَإِذِ ابْتَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ رَبُّهُ بِكَلِمَاتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَّ ۖ قَالَ إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا

And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham was tried by his Lord with commands and he fulfilled them. [Allah] said, "Indeed, I will make you a leader for the people."

Surah al-Baqarah (124)

Coming back to the presented question, indeed, there are hadiths which literally portray that it seems like Prophet Abraham was lying. It is narrated by Abu Hurairah that the Prophet PBUH said:

لَمْ يَكْذِبْ إِبْرَاهِيمُ إِلاَّ ثَلاَثًا

"Abraham did not tell a lie except on three occasions."

Sahih al-Bukhari (3357)

In another narration, Abu Hurairah RA, it is stated in detail on those three matters. He said:

لَمْ يَكْذِبْ إِبْرَاهِيمُ النَّبِيُّ عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ قَطُّ إِلاَّ ثَلاَثَ كَذَبَاتٍ ثِنْتَيْنِ فِي ذَاتِ اللَّهِ قَوْلُهُ ‏))إِنِّي سَقِيمٌ‏((‏.‏ وَقَوْلُهُ ))بَلْ فَعَلَهُ كَبِيرُهُمْ هَذَا‏((‏ وَوَاحِدَةً فِي شَأْنِ سَارَةَ فَإِنَّهُ قَدِمَ أَرْضَ جَبَّارٍ وَمَعَهُ سَارَةُ وَكَانَتْ أَحْسَنَ النَّاسِ فَقَالَ لَهَا إِنَّ هَذَا الْجَبَّارَ إِنْ يَعْلَمْ أَنَّكِ امْرَأَتِي يَغْلِبْنِي عَلَيْكِ فَإِنْ سَأَلَكِ فَأَخْبِرِيهِ أَنَّكِ أُخْتِي فَإِنَّكِ أُخْتِي فِي الإِسْلاَمِ فَإِنِّي لاَ أَعْلَمُ فِي الأَرْضِ مُسْلِمًا غَيْرِي وَغَيْرَكِ فَلَمَّا دَخَلَ أَرْضَهُ رَآهَا بَعْضُ أَهْلِ الْجَبَّارِ أَتَاهُ فَقَالَ لَهُ لَقَدْ قَدِمَ أَرْضَكَ امْرَأَةٌ لاَ يَنْبَغِي لَهَا أَنْ تَكُونَ إِلاَّ لَكَ ‏.‏ فَأَرْسَلَ إِلَيْهَا فَأُتِيَ بِهَا فَقَامَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ إِلَى الصَّلاَةِ فَلَمَّا دَخَلَتْ عَلَيْهِ لَمْ يَتَمَالَكْ أَنْ بَسَطَ يَدَهُ إِلَيْهَا فَقُبِضَتْ يَدُهُ قَبْضَةً شَدِيدَةً فَقَالَ لَهَا ادْعِي اللَّهَ أَنْ يُطْلِقَ يَدِي وَلاَ أَضُرُّكِ ‏.‏ فَفَعَلَتْ فَعَادَ فَقُبِضَتْ أَشَدَّ مِنَ الْقَبْضَةِ الأُولَى فَقَالَ لَهَا مِثْلَ ذَلِكَ فَفَعَلَتْ فَعَادَ فَقُبِضَتْ أَشَدَّ مِنَ الْقَبْضَتَيْنِ الأُولَيَيْنِ فَقَالَ ادْعِي اللَّهَ أَنْ يُطْلِقَ يَدِي فَلَكِ اللَّهَ أَنْ لاَ أَضُرَّكِ ‏.‏ فَفَعَلَتْ وَأُطْلِقَتْ يَدُهُ وَدَعَا الَّذِي جَاءَ بِهَا فَقَالَ لَهُ إِنَّكَ إِنَّمَا أَتَيْتَنِي بِشَيْطَانٍ وَلَمْ تَأْتِنِي بِإِنْسَانٍ فَأَخْرِجْهَا مِنْ أَرْضِي وَأَعْطِهَا هَاجَرَ ‏.‏ قَالَ فَأَقْبَلَتْ تَمْشِي فَلَمَّا رَآهَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ انْصَرَفَ فَقَالَ لَهَا مَهْيَمْ قَالَتْ خَيْرًا كَفَّ اللَّهُ يَدَ الْفَاجِرِ وَأَخْدَمَ خَادِمًا ‏.‏ قَالَ أَبُو هُرَيْرَةَ فَتِلْكَ أُمُّكُمْ يَا بَنِي مَاءِ السَّمَاءِ

Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) never told a lie but only thrice: two times for the sake of Allah (for example, his words): "I am sick," and his words: "But it was the big one amongst them which has done that" and because of Sara (his wife). He had come in a land inhabited by haughty and cruel men along with Sara. She was very good-looking amongst the people, so he said to her: If these people were to know that you are my wife they would snatch you away from me, so if they ask you tell them that you are my sister and in fact you are my sister in Islam, and I do not know of any other Muslim in this land besides I and you. And when they entered that land the tyrants came to see her and said to him (the king): 'There comes to your land a woman, whom you alone deserve to possess', so he (the king) sent someone (towards her) and she was brought to him, and Ibrahim (peace be upon him) stood in prayer. When she visited him (the tyrant king came) he could help but stretch his hand towards her and his hand was tied up. He said: 'Supplicate to Allah so that He may release my hand and I will do no harm to you.' She did that and the man repeated (the same highhandedness) and his hand was again tied up more tightly than on the first occasion. He said the same thing to her again, and she again did that (supplicated), but he repeated (the same highhandedness and his hands were tied up more tightly than on the previous occasion). He then again said: 'Supplicate your Lord so that He may set my hand free; by Allah I shall do no harm to you.' She did and his hand was freed. Then he called the person who had brought her and said to him: 'You have brought to me the satan and you have not brought to me a human being, so turn them out from my land,' and he gave Hajar as a gift to her. She returned (along with Hajar) and when Ibrahim (peace be upon him) saw her, he said: 'How have you returned?' She said: 'With full safety (have I returned). Allah held the hand of that debauch and he gave me a maid-servant.' Abu Huraira said: 'O sons of the rain of the sky, she is your mother.'

Sahih al-Bukhari (3358) and Sunan Abu Dawud (2214)

In another narration where the sanad is connected (marfu’) to the Prophet PBUH. The Prophet PBUH said:

"‏ لَمْ يَكْذِبْ إِبْرَاهِيمُ إِلاَّ ثَلاَثَ كَذَبَاتٍ بَيْنَمَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ مَرَّ بِجَبَّارٍ وَمَعَهُ سَارَةُ ـ فَذَكَرَ الْحَدِيثَ ـ فَأَعْطَاهَا هَاجَرَ قَالَتْ كَفَّ اللَّهُ يَدَ الْكَافِرِ وَأَخْدَمَنِي آجَرَ ‏"‏‏.‏ قَالَ أَبُو هُرَيْرَةَ فَتِلْكَ أُمُّكُمْ يَا بَنِي مَاءِ السَّمَاءِ

Abraham did not tell lies except three. (One of them was) when Abraham passed by a tyrant and (his wife) Sara was accompanying him (Abu Huraira then mentioned the whole narration and said:) (The tyrant) gave her Hajar. Sara said, "Allah saved me from the hands of the Kafir (i.e. infidel) and gave me Hajar to serve me." (Abu Huraira added:) That (Hajar) is your mother, O Banu Ma'-As-Sama' (i.e., the Arabs).

Sahih al-Bukhari (5084)

Coming back to the presented question, if we see through the literal meaning of these narrations, it shows that it is most likely that Prophet Abraham A.S said lies while in fact one of the mandatory attributes of the Prophets and Apostles is honesty. They are preserved from uttering words of lies and fabrication.

In truth, Prophet Abraham A.S was not lying. On the other hand, he said something which carries a meaning otherwise. This is explained by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani. He said:

وأما إطلاقه الكذب على الأمور الثلاثة فلكونه قال قولا يعتقده السامع كذبا لكنه إذا حقق لم يكن كذبا لأنه من باب المعاريض المحتملة للأمرين فليس بكذب محض

“Whereas what is said by the Prophet PBUH that Prophet Abraham A.S was likely to lie is in fact said something regarded as lying, but in careful consideration, is not a lie because it is among al-Mu’aridh (uttering words with multiple meaning) which highly possible to carry two meanings. Therefore, it is definitely not a lie”. (Refer Fath Al-Bari Syarh Sahih Al-Bukhari, 6/391)

Imam al-Nawawi said:

فمعناه ان الكذبات المذكورة انما هي بالنسبة إلى فهم المخاطب والسامع واما في نفس الامر فليست كذبا مذموما

“It means that telling lies mentioned in the hadith is to address the listeners’ understanding. While the utterances themselves are not a reprehensible act.” (Refer Al-Minhaj Syarh Sahih Muslim, 15/124).

Basically, what was uttered by Prophet Abraham A.S is regarded as lies by the listeners, but the words themselves are not the words of lie. Prophet Abraham A.S meant something else.

The scholars explained in detail what is meant by Prophet Abraham A.S utterance which was taken falsely as a lie.

  • إني سقيم which means I am sick when his people asked him to go to the idol worship ceremony together. What is meant by Prophet Abraham A.S from that utterance is he was sick or fail to provide reason to permit him going out with his tribe and could not stand the sight of their deviance. (Refer Fath Al-Bari Syarh Sahih Al-Bukhari, 6/391; Al-Minhaj Syarh Sahih Muslim, 15/126). Sheikh Dr Solah al-Khalidi said sickness meant here is a ma’nawi (non-physical) sickness. In which he protested over his nation who love to worship idols. (Refer Al-Qasas Al-Qur’ani ‘Ard Waqa’i Wa Tahlil Ahdath, 1/354).
  • بَلْ فَعَلَهُ كَبِيرُهُمْ هَذَا which means ‘the one who destroys those idols is the biggest idol among those’ while in fact Prophet Abraham A.S was the one who destroyed it. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani cited the opinion of al-Qurtubi. He said:

تمهيدا للاستدلال على أن الأصنام ليست بآلهة وقطعا لقومه في قولهم إنها تضر وتنفع، وهذا الاستدلال يتجوز فيه في الشرط المتصل، ولهذا أردف قوله: {بَلْ فَعَلَهُ كَبِيرُهُمْ} بقوله: {فَاسْأَلُوهُمْ إِنْ كَانُوا يَنْطِقُونَ} قال ابن قتيبة معناه إن كانوا ينطقون فقد فعله كبيرهم هذا

“This is the introduction of the argument that those idols are not God. It is also a protest towards his people who claim that those idols able to give harm or benefit. This kind of argument is permissible with the condition that it is closely followed by the main point. This is because, after he said that the one who destroys all other idols is the biggest among those, Prophet Abraham quickly said ‘go ask the biggest idol if it can speak’. Ibn Qutaibah said: It was done by the biggest idol if those (the idols) can talk. If they cannot talk, then the biggest idol was not the culprit.” (Refer Fath Al-Bari Syarh Sahih Al-Bukhari, 6/392)

It is an argumentative utterance to deny whatever done by his people. This is a logical reasoning which directly rejects all idols worshipped by his people.

  • هذه أختي which means Sarah is my sister whereas Sarah is Prophet Abraham A.S’s wife. What meant by him is Sarah is also his sister of the same religion. Imam al-Nawawi said that it is also an utterance to avoid being oppressed by the oppressive disbelievers during suppressing situations. (Refer Al-Minhaj Syarh Sahih Muslim, 15/126).

These are the interpretations and real meaning of the utterance which are considered as lying by the people if it is literally understood. However, what is meant is different from what is understood. This is what we say as al-Mu’aridh (المعاريض). Therefore, a companion of the Prophet PBUH named Imran bin Hussain said:

إن في المعاريض لَمَنْدوحةً عن الكذب

“Indeed, in the utterance of al-Mu’aridh (indirect utterance), it is far from lying”

Narrated by al-Bukhari (857) in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad

In conclusion, what is said by Prophet Abraham A.S as mentioned by the Prophet PBUH is not the words of lies, but refers to dual meanings which understood by the listeners as lying. However, those utterances are said with different intended meaning. Even in al-Quran, Allah SWT says that Prophet Abraham A.S is a prophet of true utterance and actions. Allah SWT says:

وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ ۚ إِنَّهُ كَانَ صِدِّيقًا نَّبِيًّا

“And mention in the Book [the story of] Abraham. Indeed, he was a man of truth and a prophet.”

Surah Maryam (41)

May Allah give understanding to us all. Wallahu a’lam.