DTT: Hadith scholar and a Hafiz of Quran Muhammed Zakaria Iqbal states in the following piece that Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) did not tell a lie, commenting a hadith report. Even though some have translated the report as Ibrahim (p) telling a “lie”, he states that the word has not been represented or used in its true sense.
Shaykh Muhammed Zakaria Iqbal
1. The Hadith says: Sayyidina Ibrahim did not tell a lie except on three occasions. What does the Arabic word kaziba (lie) mean here? It is obvious that the word is not used in its true sense because it is impossible that the Holy Prophets commit any kind of sin. The Ulama agree that the Prophets are innocent.
In fact, the word is used here in relation to the listener and one who is addressed. The listener understands another meaning in what the speaker says although he does not mean that. This is called … (Tawriyyah) and it is an allusion, hint double entendre or a pun (play upon words).
The responsibility that Allah has placed on the Prophets regarding the conveying of the message leaves no possibility for telling lies even to a very small degree.
As far as affairs of the world are concerned, the authorities, both earlier and subsequent, hold possibility in either way of telling lies by the Prophets but the more correct view is that they are innocent and have never told lies.
Qadi Ayyad Maliki has said about this subject:
“The correct point is that as far as conveying or propagation is concerned (what is necessary to be conveyed to the people), it is even beyond imagination (that they would lie) though we may or may not believe in the possibility of their lying for the inferior… because the office of prophethood is much above such things. If we leave open the possibility of Prophets telling lies then it would question their sayings, trustworthiness and reliability.”
Anyway, the word kazaba here, does not mean he lied. Whatever Sayyidna Ibrahim said was a fact and true and his saying could be interpreted in two ways. The addressee took the nearest and common meaning while the Prophet had the rare meaning in mind. His speech was figurative for Sayyidina Ibrahim, the friend of Allah, was far above speaking lies.
2. The last sentence spoken by Sayyidina Abu Hurayrah in the Hadith is:
“‘That (Hajrah) was your mother, O Bani Ma’ as-Sama (O, children of the water sky).”
Imam Nawawi has said about the meaning of this phrase:
“Many scholars believe the Bani Ma’ as-Sama refers to Arabs because their descent is direct and pure.”
When Ibrahim emigrated from his homeland, Sayyidah Sarah was with him. Earlier, his people had plunged him into the fire but it had turned into a cool resort for him at the command of Allah. After that, he emigrated from there and kept setting camps at distant places and, obviously, he found no one to help him in strange lands. In such conditions, cruel oppressing people often have a wicked eye on immigrants and travellers and Sayyidina Ibrahim also encountered a tyrant intoxicated with power and authority. He learnt that Ibrahim was in his territory with a beautiful woman. In those days, these tyrants arrested the husband of a woman whom they liked to enjoy but if she was accompanied with a father or brother or she was unmarried, they did not bother her.
This is why Ibrahim said that she was his sister. However, in spite of that the tyrant had evil designs on her. Ibrahim sent her to the tyrant because as a Prophet he was confident that Allah would not let her suffer. The Prophets are the most sacred and pure natured of all people and Allah chooses pure women for them. While it is possible that a Prophet’s wife may be a disbeliever but she cannot be an immoral woman. Wives of Prophets are always pure and modest.
Prophet Ibrahim had full faith in Allah and knew that Sayyidah Sarah would not come to harm at the hands of the evil king. So, he sent her to the king but informed her that he had told him that she was his sister-and this saying was a play upon words, tawriyah.
Tawriyah is a speech that may be interpreted in two ways. The addressee understands in a way that is contrary to what the speaker intends. It is proper to do so especially if one does it to preserve oneself from a tyrant or from his mischief. Such a course of action is not the same as telling lies.
The Messenger of Allah referred to it as a lie because it seemed such to the listeners. So, Sayyidina Ibrahim said to Sayyidah Sarah that he had told him that she was his sister. He added, “The fact is that there is no one besides you and I on earth who is a believer. So, you are my sister in religion.” Allah has said:
“The believers are but brethren” – Al-Hujurat, 49:11
The Prophet has said that Ibrahim lied three times. The Qur’an has referred to it at two places.
In one verse, Ibrahim is supposed to have said,
“I am unwell…” – As-Saffat, 37:89
Here, Ibrahim had resorted to tawriyah to save himself from joining in a sinful activity when his people invited him to participate in their festival where idols were worshipped. He meant,
“I am upset and sad because of your idol-worship.”
That is the word … (saqeem) also means. The second time, when he was all alone and had the opportunity, he smashed all the idols and placed the axe in the neck of the biggest of them whom he had spared. Later, when he was asked by his people about, he said:
“Nay he has done it – this, the big one one of them…” – Al-Anbiya, 21:63
Obviously, this thing was contrary to fact but Sayyidina Ibrahim spoke on this manner to present the people with an argument. In fact, they too conceded that the idol could not speak and Ibrahim was not talking sense. He took up the argument with their words and said that it was a pity that in spite of knowing all that they continued to worship the idols who neither spoke nor heard, neither benefited anyone nor harmed him. In short, all these three speeches were contrary to facts but they were not lies. There is a maxim:
“The piety of the pies are the evil of the near ones.”
If a common man does anything against the recommended then he is not taken to task or blamed but the Prophet are slaves of Allah who are near to Him so if they do anything against a better course then they are cautioned and reprimanded. Accordingly we find in a Hadith that on the Day of Resurrection all the creatures will be worried and distressed because of the severity of the occasion. So, they will go to different Prophets imploring them to recommend to Allah that He ease the severity and commence the reckoning. But, all the Prophets will recall that they had gone against the better sometimes or other and will repent and seek forgiveness for that, and they will regret their inability to recommend. Sayyidina Ibrahim, too, will express helplessness in the matter and recall these three occasions which he will count as grave sins and seek forgiveness for that.
Returning to the episode, Sayyidina Ibrahim sent Sayyidah Sarah to the tyrant and himself stood up in prayer before Allah – a meeting with, and a petition to, his Lord. Allah accepted his supplication and helped Sayyidah Sarah although there was no visible means of help. She took had made supplications to Allah in her helpless situation, and He protected her and she maintained her chastity. Her supplication was,
“O Allah, if I am a believer in You and Your Messenger, and have preserved my chastity, then let not the disbeliever harm me.”
When she was there, he extended his hand towards her with evil designs. The secret, unseen powers of nature seized him and made him a cripple. Sayyidiah Sarah worried that if the cruel man died then she would be blamed for killing him and he too pleaded with her that he would cause her to harm if she beseeched Allah to restore him to health.
She prayed to Allah accordingly and he was cured, but he reverted to his devilish designs. Once again, unseen forces of nature seized him and he was seized more severely than before. Once again he implored Sayyidah Sarah to pray to Allah, and she did, and he was restored to health.
This cruel man then summoned his couriers and guards and complained that they had brought a devil to him (for he thought that only a devil has secret powers). He ordered them to take her away and deliver her safely to Ibrahim and he gave her Hajirah (Hagar) as a slave-girl. She is the very Sayyidah Hajirah (Hagar) who is the mother of Sayyidina Isma’il (Ishmael) for Sayyidah Sarah had gifted her to her husband, Ibrahim who married her. (we have spoken of this earlier.) Imam Muslim has transmitted a Hadith of the Messenger of Allah:
“you would soon conquer Egypt and that is the land of al-qirat (the Egyptian currency was so-called). So, when you conquer it, treat its inhabitants well for they had blood ties with you or have a relationship of marriage.” (Muslim 6174, reported by Abi Zarr.)
This means that the Prophet was among the descendants of Sayyidna Isma’il, the son of Sayyidah Hajirah (Hagar). She was of Egyptian. She was the mother of the Prophet and the Arabs and he spoke in this vein.
LESSONS AND MESSAGES
1. The most important thing this Hadith tells us is that the wives of Allah’s Prophets and Messengers are honourable and chaste and they are protected from evil. If any evil person should try to harm them or harbours evil designs against them, Allah will not only fail him in his mischief but also punish him. The wives of the Prophets and Messengers remain unharmed because these people are the most sacred and pure section of mankind. So, their wives too are pure and chaste in conformity with Divine law:
“Good women are for good men” – An-Nur, 24:26
We have seen how Sayyidah Sarah was protected by the unseen Hand of Allah. The sinning tyrant, on the other hand was punished.
2. We also learn from this Hadith that a believer must turn to Allah immediately when he is faced with trial. He must seek His help through prayer (As-Salah) as, indeed, Sayyidina Ibrahim and Sayyidah Sarah immediately stood up in prayer and made imploring supplications to Allah when they were seized with trial. As a result Allah helped them preserve their honour and chastity.
3. The story brings out a reality that in his practical life man is sometimes faced with a situation where he cannot do what he wishes to do. Rather, he has to submit to a great opposition and if he does not submit then he cannot protect himself or subdue the opposition. In such cases, rather than fight the opposition, he must place trust in the Powers of Allah and let matters be left to His will and it is not against Shari’ah to bow down to opposition for the moment. Sayyidina Ibrahim did not consider it reasonable to oppose the tyrant for he could not have, by himself, caused him any harm but he would have suffered himself. So, he put the affairs in the Hands of Allah. Lord of the worlds and made a heart-felt supplication to Him for He is the Most Superior Power Who prevents tyrants from being cruel and oppressive. And, He did, in fact, help them. 
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(1) – “Response To ‘Taqiyya’ Deception – Lying”
(2) – “‘Holy Bible’ Allows Lying – Deception?”
(3) – “Question Of Prophets Committing A Sin?”
 Stories From The Hadith (Qassas al-Hadith) [English Translation Rafique Abdur Rahman, Darul – Ishaat, Urdu Bazar Karachi-1, Pakistan – First edition., 2000] by Muhammad Zakaria Iqbal
page 59 – 66