A popular right-wing myth is that Muslims are allowed to lie to non-Muslims. They use this canard to deride any peaceful Muslim politician or leader, dismissing everything said as a lie. It conveniently feeds into the narrative that Muslims are dangerous and just waiting for the chance to be terrorists etc.
This is just plain false. Muslims are commanded to tell the truth in almost every circumstance. Lying is considered a big sin in Islam; one that the Quran specifically condemns. “..the curse of Allah is on him if he is of those who lie.” (Quran 24:7) Intentionally saying something you know to be false is considered so serious that many Muslims even think lying as a joke is a sin.
However, with every law there’s an exception. In cases of great danger, such as when your life is threatened for being a Muslim, a Muslim is allowed to hide their beliefs. The earliest Muslims were routinely harassed for their beliefs, and many killed. In such extreme situations, a Muslim is allowed to hide their beliefs and pretend to be of another religion.
One of the early sahabas, Ammar ibn Yasir, (may God be pleased with him), was frequently tortured by his slaveowner, Abu Jahl. One day, Abu Jahl killed Ammar’s mother and father in front of him, for refusing to go back to the polytheist religion of Mecca (she became the first martyr of Islam). After witnessing her die, Abu Jahl tortured Ammar until he forced him to curse the Prophet Muhammad and deny his faith in Islam. Full of regret, he ran to Muhammad crying, telling him of what had happened and what he had said under duress. Muhammad asked him if in his heart he meant anything they made him say. He said never, that in his heart he still believed in Allah even though they forced him to say otherwise. Muhammad comforted Ammar, and not only told him that God forgave him, but he told Ammar that if the disbelievers were to torture him again, he should again deny his faith in public. It is said that another verse from the Quran was immediately revealed in response to this:
Any one who, after accepting faith in God, utters Unbelief,- except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith – but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from God, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty.(16:106)
The concept of hiding your faith is known as Taqiyya, and it is used as a form of self-preservation as a last resort. While martyrdom is seen as one of the highest honors, Muslims are not required to die for their faith.
Some Muslim scholars say that Muslims are allowed to lie in only three circumstances.
Humaid b. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Auf reported that his mother Umm Kulthum daughter of ‘Uqba b. Abu Mu’ait, and she was one amongst the first emigrants who pledged allegiance to Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him), as saying that she heard Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: A liar is not one who tries to bring reconciliation amongst people and speaks good (in order to avert dispute), or he conveys good. Ibn Shihab said he did not hear that exemption was granted in anything what the people speak as lie but in three cases: in battle, for bringing reconciliation amongst persons and the narration of the words of the husband to his wife, and the narration of the words of a wife to her husband (in a twisted form in order to bring reconciliation between them).
(Sahih Muslim:Book 032, Number 6303)
This hadith only specifies three cases where lying is not a sin. The first is during a battle, such as you can lie during war. The other two relate to trying to bring people together for peace and harmony with good intentions. The last one involves spousal relations; telling your wife she looks beautiful when you don’t really mean it, etc. (This does not mean you can lie to your spouse anytime, but only when used for the intention of repairing a relationship.) These are narrow exceptions to the general prohibition on lying, and are aimed at avoiding a greater calamity or sin.
The Islamophobic canard that Muslims can lie about anything is quite pernicious, and it’s been used for decades to undermine many good-hearted attempts at mutual understanding. When mainstream Muslim leaders condemn terrorism, often someone on the far-Right claims that they’re doing a form of taqiyya and secretly love the violence. It’s offensive and wrong.