Is Falsehood And Deception Permitted In War?

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We have dealt with this before in the following article, scroll down to read it. Here, Bashir Ahmad presents new perspective on this to get a better understanding on the Hadith, ‘War is deceit’.

Bashir Ahmad M.A.

In various narrations, it has been related that the Holy Prophet would

Meaning, “War is but deception.”

The meaning which is inferred by this is that God-forbid, the Holy Prophet permitted the use of deception in war. Although, in the first place, the words do not mean that it is permissible to employ deception in war. Rather, the only meaning which is implied here is that “War is in itself a kind of deception.” In other words, with regards to the outcome of war, there can be no definitive statement as to what shall happen. That is to say, that there are so many varying factors which affect the outcome of war, that irrespective of the course of events, a statement cannot be passed with respect to its outcome. This meaning is supported by the fact that this narration has been related in a Hadith in two ways.

In one narration, the words are that the Holy
Prophet said:

“War is but deception.”

In the second narration the words are:

“The Holy Prophet has named war as being deceit.”

When both of these narrations are combined, the definitive outcome which is derived is that the Holy Prophet did not condone the use of deception in war, rather, he meant that war is in itself a thing which deceives a person. However, if one insists upon translating this to mean that deception is permitted in war, even still, most surely, at this instance, the word ‘deception’ infers strategies and tactics of war, and falsehood and betrayal are not implied at all. The reason being that in this instance, the word infers manoeuvres and strategies of war, not falsehood and deception. Hence, the meaning is that it is not prohibited to catch the enemy off-guard and apprehend or subdue them by means of some strategy or tactic; and there can be different forms of this manoeuvring. For example, it is established by authentic narrations that when the Holy Prophet would set out on a campaign, he would generally not disclose his final destination. At times, even if he intended to travel south, at the start of his journey, he would head towards the north, and would then divert towards the south. Then, if someone would inquire of him as to where he had come from, instead of mentioning Madinah, he would name a close or far off location where he had previously setup camp, or he would employ some other lawful strategy of war. To the same affect, as the Holy Qur’an has indicated, at times, in order to throw off their enemy, the Companions would begin to retreat from the field of battle; and when the enemy would least expect it, and when its ranks would become disarranged, they would launch a sudden attack. All of these are examples of which has been deemed lawful in a state of war, and is considered to be permissible even today. However, to deal with falsehood and treachery is something which Islam has very strictly forbidden. As such, the Holy Prophet would say,

“In Islam, after associating partners with God and usurping the rights of parents, the third greatest sin is speaking a lie.”1 – (Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim, Kitabul-Iman, Babu Bayanil-Kaba’iri Wa Akbariha, Ḥadith No. 259)

Furthermore, he would state that belief and cowardice can come together at one place; similarly, belief and miserliness can also come together at one place, but belief and falsehood can never come together at one place.

Then, with regards to deception and treachery, he remarked,

“A person who commits treachery shall be subjected to the severe wrath of Allah on the day of resurrection.”3 – (Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim, Kitabul-Jihadi Was-Siyar, Babu Taḥrimil-Ghadri, Ḥadith No. 4538)

Hence, the kind of which has been permitted in war is not actual deception or falsehood, rather, it infers the use of such tactics of war, which are employed to catch the enemy off-guard and defeat it. In some instances, this may seem to apparently resemble falsehood and deception, but in actuality it is not so. As such, the following Hadith confirms our stance:

“Ummi Kalthum bint ‘Aqabahra relates, ‘There are only three instances where I have found the Holy Prophet to permit the use of such statements, which do not actually constitute falsehood, but ordinary people may construe them as such. Firstly, war; secondly, when reconciling between two people who are at conflict with one another; thirdly, when a husband or wife say something, which is intended to please or gratify the other.’” – (Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim, Kitabul-Birri Waṣ-Ṣilati Wal-Adab, Babu Taḥrimil-Kidhbi….., Ḥadīth No. 6633)

This Ḥadith leaves no room for doubt in the fact that the kind of which is permitted in war, does not imply falsehood and deception. Rather, what is inferred are such things, which must be employed at times, as tactics of war, and which are considered to be lawful in every nation and in every Religion.[1]

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[1] The Life & Character of the Seal of Prophets – (Sirat Khatamun-Nabiyyin) By Bashir Aḥmad M.A., volume 2, page 307 – 309

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