What is the place of truthfulness in Prophethood?
The Prophets were truthful in everything they said
Truthfulness is the pivot or cornerstone of Prophethood. The Prophets,
upon them be peace, always spoke the truth. No lies, explicit or implicit,
were ever heard from them; they never deceived anyone. With this regard,
praising the Prophets, the holy Qur’an declares:
Mention in the Book Abraham: Surely he was a most truthful
Prophet. (Maryam, 19.41)
Mention in the Book Ishmael; surely, he was a man of his
word, and he was a Messenger, a Prophet. (Maryam, 19.54)
Mention in the Book Enoch; surely he was a most truthful
Prophet. We elevated him to an exalted place. (Maryam, 19.56–7)
We also read in the Qur’an that a fellow prisoner addressed
the Prophet Joseph, saying, Joseph, O most truthful one! (Yusuf, 12.46)
The Prophets had to be endowed with truthfulness as God wants everybody
to be truthful and extols the truthful:
O you who believe, fear God and be with the company of the
truthful! (al-Tawba, 9.119)
The believers are but those people who believed in God and
His Messenger without ever feeling doubt thereafter, and strove with their
souls and possessions in the way of God; those are the ones who are the
truthful. (al-Hujurat, 49.15)
In another verse, the Qur’an praises the believers who, without
faltering, carry out their promises:
Among the believers are the valiants who have kept their promise which
they gave to God: Some of them carried out their word [and were martyred]
and the others are expecting (their turn); they have never thought of going
back on their word. (al-Ahzab, 33.23)
This verse was revealed to extol the heroes of the Battle of Uhud. Uhud
was a turning point in the early history of Islam. After the unbelievers of
the Quraysh had suffered a decisive defeat at the Battle of Badr, they
prepared for a whole year to strike a deadly retaliatory blow at the
Muslims. The two sides then met at the foot of mount Uhud, a few miles from
Madina. At the beginning of the war, the believers won a great victory and
the polytheists of the Quraysh started to flee the battlefield. Just at this
crucial point, the archers whom God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and
blessings, had positioned at the pass of ‘Aynayn, left their positions,
against the Prophet’s command and pur-sued the enemy. Khalid ibn Walid, then
commander of the cavalry division of the enemy, took this opportunity to
surround the Muslims from behind, and as a consequence, the Muslims
experienced a reverse. Many leading figures, like Hamza, Mus’ab ibn ‘Umayr,
‘Adbullah ibn Jahsh and Anas ibn Nadr, were martyred, and the holy Prophet
himself was wounded. Let us note here that during the battle, God’s noble
Messenger, the Prophet of forgiveness and mercy, who was sent as a mercy for
creation, upon him be peace and blessings, held his hands towards God and,
with his body bleeding profusely, prayed for the forgiveness of the enemy,
saying: O God, forgive my people, for they do not know. 1
Anas ibn Nadr, the uncle of Anas ibn Malik, the servant of God’s
Messenger, took the oath of allegiance with God’s Messenger in ‘Aqabah,
prior to his emigration to Madina. He was not able, for some reason, to take
part in the Battle of Badr. Anas was extremely regretful about his absence
and explained to God’s Messenger how he felt: ‘O Messenger of God, if God
allows us to confront them once more, they will see what sufferings I will
inflict on them!’
At Uhud, he fought self-sacrificingly especially when the Muslims
suffered the reverse. In his last moments, smiling, he said to Mu‘adh ibn
Jabal: ‘By God! I sense the scent of Paradise behind Uhud.’
The Qur’an exalts in the above verse those martyrs who had fulfilled
their promise to God through His Messenger, as well as the others expecting
martyrdom to show that they were men of their word. It should not, however,
be held that this verse sings their praises exclusively, rather it extols
every truthful person who keeps his promise and fulfils his covenant.
God’s Messenger was known as a truthful person even in the time of
jahiliyya. All the Makkans, including the unbelievers, called him the
Trustworthy One, or the Truthful. His truthfulness was so well known that
even after he proclaimed his Prophethood, his enemies would still not accuse
him of lying.
After the Treaty of Hudaybiya, in the sixth year of the Hijra, God’s
Messenger sent letters to the rulers of the neighboring countries. When the
letter sent to the Emperor of Byzantium reached him in Syria, a Makkan trade
caravan headed by Abu Sufyan, was also in the area of Damascus. The Em-peror
summoned Abu Sufyan and the following conversation took place between them.
– Do the elite or the weak mostly follow him?
– The weak do.
– Has any apostatized after conversion to his religion?
– So far, nobody has.
– Do his followers increase or decrease?
– They are increasing day by day.
– Have you ever heard him tell a lie?
– No, never.
Having been struck by the answers of Abu Sufyan, who was then the most
bitter enemy of Is-lam, the Emperor acknowledged Muhammad’s position,
saying: ‘It is inconceivable for one who has never told a lie during his
whole life, to invent lies against God!’2
The Emperor was right. It is impossible to think that a believing man who
did not tell a single lie, even for a joke, up to the age of forty, would
begin to lie, particularly against God, at a time when he is getting closer
to the grave.
All the Makkans unanimously agreed upon the truthfulness of God’s
Messenger, as another ex-ample illustrates. Once before his conversion,
Yasir asked his son, ‘Ammar: ‘Where are you going?‘
‘To Muhammad!’ he replied.
The answer was enough for Yasir to be satisfied about the safety and
company of his son. He remarked:
Muhammad is a trustworthy person. The Makkans recognize him so. If he
claims Prophethood, he must be telling the truth since no one has ever heard
him tell a lie.
As himself a truthful person, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and
blessings, always en-couraged truthfulness. For example, he once declared:
Promise me the following six things and I will promise you Paradise: When
you speak, speak the truth; when you give a promise, carry it out; when
something is entrusted to you, do not breach the trust; al-ways keep chaste
without being involved in any illicit intercourse; keep your eyes away from
what is unlawful and hold your hands back from the forbidden. 3
God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, rose, because of his
truthfulness, to the rank that his nearness to God is expressed
metaphorically in the Qur’an as follows:
Then he approached and came nearer, till he was [distant] two
bow-lengths, or even nearer. (al-Najm, 53.8-9)
Abandon what arouses in you suspicion and follow what is certain. For
truthfulness gives satisfaction but lying causes suspicion, the Prophet
Seek truthfulness even if it might bring you to ruin; in it lies real
salvation, he told us. 5
In another Tradition he said:
It is incumbent upon you to be always truthful for truthfulness leads to
righteousness and righteous-ness leads to Paradise. If a man is always
truthful and seeks truthfulness, he is recorded by God as a truthful one.
Always avoid lying for lying leads to shamefulness and shamefulness leads to
Hell. If a man insists on lying and seeks deceit, he is recorded by God as a
The story of Ka‘b ibn Malik
Truthfulness always brings salvation even if it causes one‘s death, for
man tastes death through truthfulness only once, whereas in each and every
lie is a different kind of death. One of the most striking examples is the
case of Ka’b ibn Malik.
Ka’b was one of the Helpers, Ansar, who took the oath of allegiance with
God’s Messenger at ‘Aqabah. He was a famous poet. Although he took part in
almost all the battles, he missed the cam-paign of Tabuk and had no
The campaign of Tabuk was a very difficult one. It was in the mid summer
and, what is more, against the Roman Empire. Although God’s Messenger, upon
him be peace and blessings, used to keep secret the destination of his
military campaigns, on this occasion he disclosed it and wanted every
believer to take part in it.
Although Ka’b completed his preparations for the campaign, at the last
minute, uncharacteristic negligence kept him from joining the Muslim army.
When God’s Messenger returned from the campaign, he questioned those who
had remained behind about their absence. Among them were some hypocrites,
who lied and made up excuses. But for Ka‘b it was impossible to tell a lie,
so he told the truth. God’s Messenger told him to go. Thereafter, Ka‘b and
the two other believers in the same situation, were boycotted upon the order
of God’s Messenger. This meant that no Muslim met with them or spoke to
them. They openly showed repentance and asked God for forgiveness. This
continued for fifty days. In the end, a verse was revealed, stating that
their repentance was accepted and that they were forgiven:
As for those three, the acceptance of their repentance was delayed until,
for them, the earth, vast as it is, was straitened and their own souls were
straitened to them, and they perceived that there is no fleeing from God and
no refuge but with Him. Then He accepted their repentance so that they could
re-cover their former state. Verily, God is the One who accepts repentance,
Most Merciful. (al-Tawba, 9.118)
After the revelation of this verse, Ka’b ibn Malik told God’s Messenger,
upon him be peace and blessings: ‘I promise that I will always speak the
truth as long as I live.’ 7
As mentioned at the beginning of this section, truthfulness is the pivot
of Prophethood. If, God forbid, a Prophet had told even a single lie,
everything to do with the Divine religion would have been upset. For even a
single lie is enough to raise doubts about his mission. Regarding this, God
declares in the Qur’an:
If he [Muhammad] had invented false sayings concerning Us,
We would surely have grasped him firmly, and then cut off the artery of his
heart, and none of you could have withheld Us from doing this. (al-Haqqa,
The Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, never lied or broke his
promise, either prior to his Prophethood or during it. A Companion
Prior to his Prophethood, we made an appointment to meet somewhere. It
was, however, three days after the appointed time that I remembered it. When
I hastened to the appointed place, I found the future Prophet waiting for
me. He was neither angry nor offended. His reaction was only to say: O young
man, you have given me some trouble. I have been waiting for you here for
three days. 8
1. Muslim, Jihad, 101; Bukhari, Anbiya’, 54.
2. Bukhari, Bad’u l-Wahy, 6.
3. I. Hanbal, 5.323.
4. Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 60; I. Hanbal, 1.200.
5. Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 3.344.
6. Bukhari, Adab, 69; Muslim, Birr, 105; Abu Dawud, Adab, 80.
7. Bukhari, Maghazi, 79; Muslim, Tawba, 53.
8. Abu Dawud, Adab, 82.