The Quran frequently refers to issues relating to Truth and lies; distinguishing between them is critical, in many ways the defining point of guidance. In fact, faith itself is predicated on that distinction, the purpose of the Quran and other divine revelations being to guide us to the truth and, as a part of that guidance, to help us recognize and avoid falsehood.
From Al-Nisa’ 4:105:
إِنَّآ أَنزَلْنَآ إِلَيْكَ ٱلْكِتَٰبَ بِٱلْحَقِّ لِتَحْكُمَ بَيْنَ ٱلنَّاسِ بِمَآ أَرَىٰكَ ٱللَّهُ ۚ وَلَا تَكُن لِّلْخَآئِنِينَ خَصِيمًا
We have sent down to you the Book with the Truth that you may judge between the people by that which Allah has shown you, and do not be an advocate for the treacherous.
“The Book” here is the Quran, and the “you” is Prophet Mohammad. This aya clearly states that the Quran was sent down (the literal meaning of the word tanzeel which is often translated as “revealed”) with Truth, which is to be the criterion by which judgment, distinguishing right from wrong, is made. The “treacherous” are those who betray trust; they are in essence liars, betrayers (the literal meaning here) of the Truth, purveyors of falsehood. This is especially critical because the danger of being fooled by lies is always present. The Quran then “grounds” or provides a foundation for the faithful in Truth, from which they can be empowered by that knowledge to make good choices.
Truth in the Quran does not refer to “facts” in the statistical or superficial sense but rather meaningful truth, that which satisfies our deepest need to ground our lives, our very being, in something with deep abiding roots and incontrovertible Truth, integrity, a true north for our moral compass. Allah (“swt” which stands for the Arabic expression that means “glory to Him, the Highest”) named Himself—one of His many names— Al-Haqq, which means Truth (the Truth itself) or also sometimes translated “Reality”.
From Surat Al-Hajj 22:62:
ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّ ٱللَّهَ هُوَ ٱلْحَقُّ وَأَنَّ مَا يَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِهِۦ هُوَ ٱلْبَٰطِلُ وَأَنَّ ٱللَّهَ هُوَ ٱلْعَلِىُّ ٱلْكَبِيرُ
That is because Allah is the Truth, and what they call on besides Him is falsehood. And Allah is the Most High, the Greatest.
In a sense then, when one worships Allah, one is worshipping the Truth. And indeed, “lying” in the Quran often refers to a denial of Truth itself, indeed of Allah. The Quran frequently uses the word “lying” or “liars” interchangeably with “disbelieving ” or “disbelievers”.
But isn’t Truth an abstract concept, whereas Allah (swt) is a Being, the Supreme Being, alive and very real and dynamic? Yes, but there is nothing at all in existence like or in any way similar to Him. So what we think of as a “being” may not suffice for Him, insofar as we cannot “know” Him in the sense of finding something similar or familiar to us.
Surat Al-Ikhlass 112:4:
وَلَمْ يَكُن لَّهُ كُفُوًا أَحَدٌ
And none is like Him.
The word “none” is translated from the Arabic kufwan ahad, a far more emphatic and powerful expression meaning “absolutely no one.” It means “none” but with linguistic bold italics on it. It totally excludes there being anything or anyone like Allah in any way. That would make Allah accessible to our hearts only by cognition, by thinking, as an idea, not only abstract, but the ultimate abstraction. This is not to say God is an abstraction — far from that — but rather that we are only able to reach Him by thinking, using our intuition, with the truest idea or concept of Allah. One could say the purpose of His revelations is to bring us closer to truth of who is Allah and to bring that understanding into a more complete “realized” sense of His very real and direct presence.
Pause for a moment to notice that in a sense Allah’s names are formed from abstract ideas or attributes : The Eternal, The Just, The Greatest, The Forgiver, The Creator, The Powerful, The All-Merciful, etc. To have faith in Allah one must think, and thinking brings to mind abstract ideas—when one is thinking about things not in a practical or superficial way (“what will I eat today?” or “how do I open this container?”) but in a “larger” more abstract way (“what is the purpose of life?”). To imagine Allah, one must think and imagine in the highest way possible. The aim or direction of such thought should be towards finding higher Truth. To lie or deceive in matters of this nature, deeper, rooted ideas, is a much more serious and consequential act than lying in the practical sense. The distinction is significant, and the consequences are broader, more far-reaching in both space (nations and peoples farther away) and time (over generations). The worst lie then is to lie about Allah.
From Surat Al-An’aam 6:21:
وَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنِ ٱفْتَرَىٰ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ كَذِبًا أَوْ كَذَّبَ بِـَٔايَٰتِهِۦٓ ۗ إِنَّهُۥ لَا يُفْلِحُ ٱلظَّٰلِمُونَ
And who is more wicked than he who invents lies about Allah, or denies His revelations? The wicked will never succeed.
To “invent lies” is an act that requires thinking, cunning. To deny the truth of the Quran is an intellectual act/ decision. These examples of abstract thinking are pointed out in the Quran to show us how acts of the intellect or mind are more consequential than physical acts with a wider-ranging impact. Whole nations have been paralyzed by leaders with bad attitudes. In particular, leaders who lie in substance to their people can bring catastrophes to their country. Often a bad attitude is cloaked (concealed) by an apparent good attitude. Propaganda is lying to entire societies, often to give people the impression that the leaders are beneficial to the people, while in fact they are destroying lives, as in the example of dictators.
In the early Muslim community, and the nation it grew to become, other religions were tolerated; freedom of religion and belief was maintained. All that was required of those living under Islamic rule was to adhere to basic laws, to uphold the public trust (to be honest in business/ trade, to act in a civilized manner) for the common good, and to pay a charity-tax all of which was disbursed to the poor and needy. The only time when adherents of other religions were fought was when those adherents attacked the Muslim community and tried to drive them out of their homes. At least until power struggles within the community itself began some time after Prophet Mohammad’s death. Non-Muslims could not become leaders, but their freedom of thought was never threatened.
From Surat Al-Baqara 2:42:
وَلَا تَلْبِسُوا۟ ٱلْحَقَّ بِٱلْبَٰطِلِ وَتَكْتُمُوا۟ ٱلْحَقَّ وَأَنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
And do not cover the truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth while you know it.
Here we have the critical definition: lies are used to conceal and to deceive by declaring one thing and concealing another. This is also the meaning of the Arabic word for disbelief, kufr, which literally means “to cover” (notice the similarity in sound between “kuf-r” and “cover”), or “cover up.” Disbelief then is associated with deception—the opposite of the modern concept of denial of God, of disbelief as a sort of enlightenment. Note also that the Quran is also called “the Clear (and in a sense completely evident) Book” or mubeen. And also called a “revelation”—the opposite in meaning to a covering-up. Allah reveals, does not obfuscate. Much of what modern, especially Western, ideas associate with religion generally is the antithesis of this Quranic truth — that is, religion is associated with illogic, ignoring facts, and even ignorance, an ignoring of modern knowledge in favor of arbitrary religious “belief”, which is in turn a leap over reason into a kind of absurdity as dogma. The Quran completely disputes and dispels this notion, by making the intellect (in the Quran not limited to “empirical” evidence) an important contributing factor in faith rather than at odds with it. It posits God as Reality itself, and a “reality” without God or with idols associated with God, having their own powers, is falsehood, based on a lie. In a sense, modern logic posits nothing as real or true until proven empirically to be so. That is absurd because the concept of reality and there being a truth is essential to our nature, intuitively hard-wired. So to posit there being nothing necessarily true is just another way to cover up truth, or kufr.
There is another sense of covering expressed in the Arabic word sitra whose verb form is yastur, which means to cover in the sense of “protect” or shelter; as in a shady tree protecting (covering) a person from the sun, or circumstances protecting a person from meeting an enemy, circumstances one attributes to Allah. This is a positive sense and an entirely different word in Arabic. There is a du’a for protection (sitra) from Allah in various situations: “May Allah yastorna (cover/ shelter/ protect) us and not expose us (to ridicule/ danger).” The difference between these two Arabic words — kufr and sitra — shows us the difference between coverup, a deception, and shelter, or protection from harm.
In the Quran we are often reminded that Allah sees and knows all, rendering our attempts at covering up our misdeeds useless. Knowledge and revelation expose all forms of deception. Thus knowledge is aligned with truth. Truth is also, in the same vein, associated with light. “Bringing to light” is an expression that refers to exposing what has been “covered up”, a “coverup” being a deception. One of Allah’s names is The Light, Al-Nur. Further, light is associated with knowledge, as those attributes join forces, united in the idea and Truth of Allah.
It is also important to point out that the word kafir, the noun derived from kufr, is usually translated “disbeliever” and as such is often taken to mean “non-Muslim,” someone who does not believe in the religion of Islam. This line of thinking leads to misunderstandings because it does not accurately derive its logic from the Quranic source. A kafir is literally “one who covers up” or denies (denial being the essence of coverup) the truth. Since Allah is Truth, the kafir is both a denier/ liar and a disbeliever, but the important distinction is that this refers to denial of truth rather than refusal to believe.
A “belief” can be true or false; the sense of “belief” requiring a “leap of faith” pervades Christianity (in its modern form with the dogma of Jesus’ alleged divinity) due to the intuitively sensed falsehood of conflating an almighty and eternal God with a mortal and fallible human. So a “disbeliever” in Christianity could be one who refuses to believe what they intuitively sense as a patent falsehood in the dogma associated with that faith. On the other hand, a “disbeliever” in the Quranic usage is one who denies or covers up the truth, the truth being that one God created and sustains all that exists and continuously creates and sustains. And God—for whom I prefer the Arabic name Allah (for reasons explained in this blog)—is Truth itself, the infinitive of all truth, and as one progresses through the Quran to understand more deeply, one finds the defining characteristics of Allah more and more expansive, all-encompassing, and increasingly impossible to define any other. It is the totality of these characteristics or attributes, revealed in His names and in examples or parables relating His relationship to humankind, from interaction with prophets to all creatures.
To understand the idea of God requires…abstract thinking! In the rarefied world of abstract thinking, it is paramount to think straight. To use logic and reason, not to pervert it. Thinking straight and reasonably about Allah is certainly one way to look at the meaning of al-siratt al-mustaqeem, usually translated as “the straight path.” Except that siratt is not used as a synonym for “path” so much as a trajectory, which would make sense if applied to thinking and the subsequent the trajectory of the heart.
The word often translated as “to believe” in Arabic is aamanu which is closer to “put trust in” which in turn informs “faith.” The noun form, amaan, means “trust” and also “security.” Something one holds “in trust” is an amana. The faithful are called mu’mineen, “those who put their trust (in Allah.” The Quran refers to free will as an amana. We have been given the right to choose freely between right and wrong, a choice involving free thinking. It is a weighty responsibility, because so much harm comes from making the wrong choices, yet with that responsibility comes greater reward should we choose what is right. It is a privilege to have the ability to think freely and independently, to carry that weight of responsibility, another meaning of amana. The Quran illustrates that weight in Surat Al-Ahzaab 33:71:
إِنَّا عَرَضْنَا ٱلْأَمَانَةَ عَلَى ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ وَٱلْجِبَالِ فَأَبَيْنَ أَن يَحْمِلْنَهَا وَأَشْفَقْنَ مِنْهَا وَحَمَلَهَا ٱلْإِنسَٰنُ ۖ إِنَّهُۥ كَانَ ظَلُومًا جَهُولًا
We have offered the Trust (amaana) to the heavens and the earth, and the mountains, but they refused to bear it, and were fearful of it. But man accepted it; he was transgressing, ignorant.
The “Trust” is sometimes interpreted to mean the Quran or revelation itself. Receiving revelations from Allah indeed makes humans responsible for their deeds because now they have been informed and cannot claim ignorance. But in the first place humans must have free will to be able to read/ hear such messages and understand them; the basis of understanding is the mind, the ability to think abstractly, about concepts, not merely physical or perceived things, but those things one cannot perceive but only conceive of by more complex thought processes. One of the more problematic abilities to come with free thinking is the ability to lie. After all, one cannot distinguish lies from truth without knowing both, being aware of and experiencing both. A lie is a purely mental construct. The universe, in a sense, does not lie. We just cannot grasp or understand all its complexities. When we run into things we can’t understand, we either doubt them or think of them as miracles…or consider them as possible but needing further evidence or understanding. Or we can believe them on the basis of trust, using our intuition, knowing that our knowledge is limited but that some things are worth believing in without fully grasping them. In fact, humans are inspired and moved by such things, things beyond our scope of understanding; “higher” thinking/ ideas and a sense of the miraculous is essential to us.
Faith in God/ Allah is an example of such an idea, being in fact the most abstract and most complex of all ideas, the most powerful and yet impossible to prove or disprove. All evidence points to Him. And yet it is entirely possible to cover up all this evidence because it is not the sort of knowledge we can hold in our hands and say “here it is.” God will never be known in such a way because He cannot be encompassed by our knowledge alone. At that point we must have trust or faith in Him. A priori. After that trust is established the evidence will all come flooding into the believer’s mind and heart with its overwhelming power and truth that surpasses yet becomes understanding.
But to reach that point is not instantaneous. We must satisfy our heart-mind’s need for logic and reason, for verification, even if unconventional. An example of this is in the story of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) asking for a miracle to satisfy that need.
From Surat Al-Baqara 2:60:
وَإِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَٰهِۦمُ رَبِّ أَرِنِى كَيْفَ تُحْىِ ٱلْمَوْتَىٰ ۖ قَالَ أَوَلَمْ تُؤْمِن ۖ قَالَ بَلَىٰ وَلَٰكِن لِّيَطْمَئِنَّ قَلْبِى ۖ قَالَ فَخُذْ أَرْبَعَةً مِّنَ ٱلطَّيْرِ فَصُرْهُنَّ إِلَيْكَ ثُمَّ ٱجْعَلْ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ جَبَلٍ مِّنْهُنَّ جُزْءًا ثُمَّ ٱدْعُهُنَّ يَأْتِينَكَ سَعْيًا ۚ وَٱعْلَمْ أَنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
When Abraham said: “Show me, Lord, how You will raise the dead, ” He replied: “Have you no faith?” He said “Yes, but just to reassure my heart.” Allah said, “Take four birds, draw them to you, and cut their bodies to pieces. Scatter them over the mountain-tops, then call them back. They will come swiftly to you. Know that Allah is Mighty, Wise.”
The word for faith here is emaan which is derived from the same root of amaan or “trust” as described above. Here Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) is asking for evidence of Allah’s power over death, to raise the dead. This specific aspect of His power speaks to the belief in the Hereafter, al-akhira, the Day of Resurrection, the ultimate life after death—a crucial article of faith in Islam and an idea which cannot be proved but which must be accepted on faith, in trust. Disbelief in the resurrection is tantamount to disbelief in Allah, for it is a denial of Allah’s power over death. Faith in Allah means complete acceptance of all aspects of His power and mercy and truth. There is no partial truth here, only the whole truth.
The Quran emphasizes free will strenuously, urging great care be given to maintain that freedom of mind and heart. This is further developed in the Quran to mean that deen al-Islam, the religion (sometimes described as a “system” of law and faith) of Islam, is not a club into which one enters and becomes a member, nor does it mean that non-members are all hell-bound, nor that one can tell members by their dress code. Rather it is an attitude of faith and reverence toward Allah, a surrendering (a word I prefer to “submission” which can be forced, whereas surrender is voluntary) of one’s will to the Almighty, All-Merciful.
In Surat Al-Baqara 2:112:
بَلَىٰ مَنْ أَسْلَمَ وَجْهَهُۥ لِلَّهِ وَهُوَ مُحْسِنٌ فَلَهُۥٓ أَجْرُهُۥ عِندَ رَبِّهِۦ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ
No — whoever surrenders his face to Allah and is a doer of good will get his reward with his Lord; on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
Note the word “face” is the literal meaning of the word used, which is a figure of speech expressing a surrender of direction/ attitude, a turning of one’s face to God being a profound expression of this attitude of worship. Notice also how Islamic salat, the physical worship commonly translated as “prayer” or sometimes “contact prayer”, involves a symbolically physical direction, facing Makkah (Mecca). This does not mean Muslims believe Allah is in Makkah (and by inference not somewhere else), far from such an ignorant and rude idea, but rather that the “center” of the religion of Islam is the location of the Ka’aba, the house of worship built by the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), the father of the prophets, and further, that facing a direction symbolically unites Muslims as facing one direction, that of Allah’s will. Muslims form by their very faith a community of which Makkah is the center, and this common center is expressed as the direction of worship. Also note that attitude alone is not enough; one must also “do good” or have a good heart expressed in one’s actions. The guide to help us distinguish good from bad, right from wrong, and Truth from falsehood, and then act on that understanding, is the Quran.
Instead of calling one another kafir or disbeliever/ liar, we should work at attaining a better understanding of what distinguishes truth from falsehood for ourselves and apply it first to ourselves. The basic truth of this matter of who is or is not a faithful Muslim is with the Judge of Judges, the All-Knowing, the Justice, the All-Wise, the Truth; and we are only responsible for ourselves. Is it not enough to take our own responsibility seriously that free will, the choice, was refused by the heavens and the earth and the mountains? Yet people casually and spuriously accuse one another of kufr for infractions of lesser rules such as dress codes, apparently oblivious of their own hubris and rudeness toward others — for example, one of so many. On the other hand, sick-hearted oppressors such as the dictators and mass murderers that repress whole societies of Muslims, are able to find apologists — one only needs to hear and see what they are doing to be overwhelmed with the magnitude of their lies and coverups, their enmity to the truth. Putting people in prison for speaking out against oppression is a crime in Islam. It promotes falsehood and lying and is the enemy of truth. Thus even now we can tell who deserves our trust and who are the most treacherous and criminal, evil people. Islam is not a club, and Muslims are not defined by having an Islamic name. Actions, trustworthiness, basic human decency, and rightly guided thinking about what is higher, guided by the Quran using one’s mind rather than a vague synopsis, all this exemplifies Islam, far, far from oppression, cruelty, theft, and murder. These are sad times that one even needs to say this. On this day we pray that guidance and common decency will prevail and that Muslims will fight oppression, not other religions per se.