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This thing I keep hearing all the time, and I'm not sure about it. I need to clarify this - "Did Prophet Ibrahim (AS) really lie?" If yes, then why? If no, then what was the reality and correct explanation of the event? Please give detailed answer according to the authentic references from Qur'an and Sunnah.

Sunni views of the answer preferable.

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Did Prophet Ibrahim (AS) really lie?

If we mean the current and common concept and practice of lying and its purposes as we do it, then the answer is No, Ibrahim (AS) didn't.

If no, then what was the reality and correct explanation of the event?

The whole thing is included in a Hadith that is mentioned in many Hadith Books, here it is:

حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ مَحْبُوبٍ، حَدَّثَنَا حَمَّادُ بْنُ زَيْدٍ، عَنْ أَيُّوبَ، عَنْ مُحَمَّدٍ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ قَالَ لَمْ يَكْذِبْ إِبْرَاهِيمُ ـ عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ ـ إِلاَّ ثَلاَثَ كَذَبَاتٍ ثِنْتَيْنِ مِنْهُنَّ فِي ذَاتِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ، قَوْلُهُ ‏{‏إِنِّي سَقِيمٌ ‏}‏ وَقَوْلُهُ ‏{‏بَلْ فَعَلَهُ كَبِيرُهُمْ هَذَا‏}‏، وَقَالَ بَيْنَا هُوَ ذَاتَ يَوْمٍ وَسَارَةُ إِذْ أَتَى عَلَى جَبَّارٍ مِنَ الْجَبَابِرَةِ فَقِيلَ لَهُ إِنَّ هَا هُنَا رَجُلاً مَعَهُ امْرَأَةٌ مِنْ أَحْسَنِ النَّاسِ، فَأَرْسَلَ إِلَيْهِ، فَسَأَلَهُ عَنْهَا‏.‏ فَقَالَ مَنْ هَذِهِ قَالَ أُخْتِي، فَأَتَى سَارَةَ قَالَ يَا سَارَةُ، لَيْسَ عَلَى وَجْهِ الأَرْضِ مُؤْمِنٌ غَيْرِي وَغَيْرُكِ، وَإِنَّ هَذَا سَأَلَنِي، فَأَخْبَرْتُهُ أَنَّكِ أُخْتِي فَلاَ تُكَذِّبِينِي‏.‏ فَأَرْسَلَ إِلَيْهَا، فَلَمَّا دَخَلَتْ عَلَيْهِ ذَهَبَ يَتَنَاوَلُهَا بِيَدِهِ، فَأُخِذَ فَقَالَ ادْعِي اللَّهَ لِي وَلاَ أَضُرُّكِ‏.‏ فَدَعَتِ اللَّهَ فَأُطْلِقَ، ثُمَّ تَنَاوَلَهَا الثَّانِيَةَ، فَأُخِذَ مِثْلَهَا أَوْ أَشَدَّ فَقَالَ ادْعِي اللَّهَ لِي وَلاَ أَضُرُّكِ‏.‏ فَدَعَتْ فَأُطْلِقَ‏.‏ فَدَعَا بَعْضَ حَجَبَتِهِ فَقَالَ إِنَّكُمْ لَمْ تَأْتُونِي بِإِنْسَانٍ، إِنَّمَا أَتَيْتُمُونِي بِشَيْطَانٍ‏.‏ فَأَخْدَمَهَا هَاجَرَ فَأَتَتْهُ، وَهُوَ قَائِمٌ يُصَلِّي، فَأَوْمَأَ بِيَدِهِ مَهْيَا قَالَتْ رَدَّ اللَّهُ كَيْدَ الْكَافِرِ ـ أَوِ الْفَاجِرِ ـ فِي نَحْرِهِ، وَأَخْدَمَ هَاجَرَ‏.‏ قَالَ أَبُو هُرَيْرَةَ تِلْكَ أُمُّكُمْ يَا بَنِي مَاءِ السَّمَاءِ‏.‏

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Abraham did not tell a lie except on three occasion. Twice for the Sake of Allah when he said, "I am sick," and he said, "(I have not done this but) the big idol has done it." The (third was) that while Abraham and Sarah (his wife) were going (on a journey) they passed by (the territory of) a tyrant. Someone said to the tyrant, "This man (i.e. Abraham) is accompanied by a very charming lady." So, he sent for Abraham and asked him about Sarah saying, "Who is this lady?" Abraham said, "She is my sister." Abraham went to Sarah and said, "O Sarah! There are no believers on the surface of the earth except you and I. This man asked me about you and I have told him that you are my sister, so don't contradict my statement." The tyrant then called Sarah and when she went to him, he tried to take hold of her with his hand, but (his hand got stiff and) he was confounded. He asked Sarah. "Pray to Allah for me, and I shall not harm you." So Sarah asked Allah to cure him and he got cured. He tried to take hold of her for the second time, but (his hand got as stiff as or stiffer than before and) was more confounded. He again requested Sarah, "Pray to Allah for me, and I will not harm you." Sarah asked Allah again and he became alright. He then called one of his guards (who had brought her) and said, "You have not brought me a human being but have brought me a devil." The tyrant then gave Hajar as a girl-servant to Sarah. Sarah came back (to Abraham) while he was praying. Abraham, gesturing with his hand, asked, "What has happened?" She replied, "Allah has spoiled the evil plot of the infidel (or immoral person) and gave me Hajar for service." (Abu Huraira then addressed his listeners saying, "That (Hajar) was your mother, O Bani Ma-is-Sama (i.e. the Arabs, the descendants of Ishmael, Hajar's son).

[Sahih Bukhari], also in other forms in [Sahih Muslim], [Jami' At-Tarmithi] and [Sunan Abu Dawud]

So here we are:

  • The first lie was saying "إني سقيم I am sick": The story of this is that his people, who worshiped idols, were going out of the city to celebrate a special day. Ibrahim didn't believe in idol worship at all and wanted to prove that these idols are not to be worshiped. Therefore, he wanted to take advantage of the city being empty and everybody leaving it so that he can destroy these idols. When people came to him and asked him to come with them, he wanted to find himself a reason for not going with them, so he said "I'm sick". Eventually he was left alone and... I will continue the story when I speak about the second lie :)

    Please note that there is more context to be considered about this. Let's get a better context for it:

    وَإِنَّ مِن شِيعَتِهِ لَإِبْرَاهِيمَ * إِذْ جَاءَ رَبَّهُ بِقَلْبٍ سَلِيمٍ * إِذْ قَالَ لِأَبِيهِ وَقَوْمِهِ مَاذَا تَعْبُدُونَ * أَئِفْكًا آلِهَةً دُونَ اللَّهِ تُرِيدُونَ * فَمَا ظَنُّكُم بِرَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ * فَنَظَرَ نَظْرَةً فِي النُّجُومِ * فَقَالَ إِنِّي سَقِيمٌ * فَتَوَلَّوْا عَنْهُ مُدْبِرِينَ * فَرَاغَ إِلَىٰ آلِهَتِهِمْ فَقَالَ أَلَا تَأْكُلُونَ * مَا لَكُمْ لَا تَنطِقُونَ * فَرَاغَ عَلَيْهِمْ ضَرْبًا بِالْيَمِينِ * فَأَقْبَلُوا إِلَيْهِ يَزِفُّونَ

    Sahih International Translation

    And indeed, among his kind was Abraham, * When he came to his Lord with a sound heart * [And] when he said to his father and his people, "What do you worship? * Is it falsehood [as] gods other than Allah you desire? * Then what is your thought about the Lord of the worlds?" * And he cast a look at the stars * And said, "Indeed, I am [about to be] ill." * So they turned away from him, departing. * Then he turned to their gods and said, "Do you not eat? * What is [wrong] with you that you do not speak?" * And he turned upon them a blow with [his] right hand. * Then the people came toward him, hastening.

    [Surat Aş-Şāffāt:83-94]

    In this original full context, the highlighted part "فنظر نظرة إلى النجوم * قال إني سقيم" can have many possible understandings, most of which conclude that Ibrahim didn't actually lie. More on that in Tafsir Al-Razi. However, even if that was a lie, it was for the sake of Allah, as his ultimate goal was to stop idol worship and destroy them.

  • The second lie was saying "بل فعله كبيرهم هذا (I have not done this but) the big idol has done it.": So continuing the story, Ibrahim was left alone in the city and everybody leaved to celebrate that special day outside it. Ibrahim destroyed all of the idols except the biggest one (aka the elder one). When people returned they were shocked to see their idols (gods) destroyed. They remembered that Ibrahim impended to harm the idols before, so they brought him and asked him "Have you done this to our gods?" he replied "Rather, this - the largest of them - did it, so ask them, if they should [be able to] speak." This is where he lied. But again, he did that for the sake of Allah, only to make them see that they are wrong to worship stones that don't benefit or harm and can't even speak or defend themselves. You can get a better understanding by reading the following ayat which tell the story:

    وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا إِبْرَاهِيمَ رُشْدَهُ مِن قَبْلُ وَكُنَّا بِهِ عَالِمِينَ * إِذْ قَالَ لِأَبِيهِ وَقَوْمِهِ مَا هَٰذِهِ التَّمَاثِيلُ الَّتِي أَنتُمْ لَهَا عَاكِفُونَ * قَالُوا وَجَدْنَا آبَاءَنَا لَهَا عَابِدِينَ * قَالَ لَقَدْ كُنتُمْ أَنتُمْ وَآبَاؤُكُمْ فِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ * قَالُوا أَجِئْتَنَا بِالْحَقِّ أَمْ أَنتَ مِنَ اللَّاعِبِينَ * قَالَ بَل رَّبُّكُمْ رَبُّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ الَّذِي فَطَرَهُنَّ وَأَنَا عَلَىٰ ذَٰلِكُم مِّنَ الشَّاهِدِينَ * وَتَاللَّهِ لَأَكِيدَنَّ أَصْنَامَكُم بَعْدَ أَن تُوَلُّوا مُدْبِرِينَ * فَجَعَلَهُمْ جُذَاذًا إِلَّا كَبِيرًا لَّهُمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ إِلَيْهِ يَرْجِعُونَ * قَالُوا مَن فَعَلَ هَٰذَا بِآلِهَتِنَا إِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ * قَالُوا سَمِعْنَا فَتًى يَذْكُرُهُمْ يُقَالُ لَهُ إِبْرَاهِيمُ * قَالُوا فَأْتُوا بِهِ عَلَىٰ أَعْيُنِ النَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَشْهَدُونَ * قَالُوا أَأَنتَ فَعَلْتَ هَٰذَا بِآلِهَتِنَا يَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ * قَالَ بَلْ فَعَلَهُ كَبِيرُهُمْ هَٰذَا فَاسْأَلُوهُمْ إِن كَانُوا يَنطِقُونَ * فَرَجَعُوا إِلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ فَقَالُوا إِنَّكُمْ أَنتُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ * ثُمَّ نُكِسُوا عَلَىٰ رُءُوسِهِمْ لَقَدْ عَلِمْتَ مَا هَٰؤُلَاءِ يَنطِقُونَ * قَالَ أَفَتَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ مَا لَا يَنفَعُكُمْ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَضُرُّكُمْ * أُفٍّ لَّكُمْ وَلِمَا تَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ ۖ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ * قَالُوا حَرِّقُوهُ وَانصُرُوا آلِهَتَكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ فَاعِلِينَ * قُلْنَا يَا نَارُ كُونِي بَرْدًا وَسَلَامًا عَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ * وَأَرَادُوا بِهِ كَيْدًا فَجَعَلْنَاهُمُ الْأَخْسَرِينَ * وَنَجَّيْنَاهُ وَلُوطًا إِلَى الْأَرْضِ الَّتِي بَارَكْنَا فِيهَا لِلْعَالَمِينَ * وَوَهَبْنَا لَهُ إِسْحَاقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ نَافِلَةً ۖ وَكُلًّا جَعَلْنَا صَالِحِينَ * وَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْهِمْ فِعْلَ الْخَيْرَاتِ وَإِقَامَ الصَّلَاةِ وَإِيتَاءَ الزَّكَاةِ ۖ وَكَانُوا لَنَا عَابِدِينَ

    Sahih International Translation

    And We had certainly given Abraham his sound judgement before, and We were of him well-Knowing * When he said to his father and his people, "What are these statues to which you are devoted?" * They said, "We found our fathers worshippers of them." * He said, "You were certainly, you and your fathers, in manifest error." * They said, "Have you come to us with truth, or are you of those who jest?" * He said, "[No], rather, your Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth who created them, and I, to that, am of those who testify. * And [I swear] by Allah , I will surely plan against your idols after you have turned and gone away." * So he made them into fragments, except a large one among them, that they might return to it [and question]. * They said, "Who has done this to our gods? Indeed, he is of the wrongdoers." * They said, "We heard a young man mention them who is called Abraham." * They said, "Then bring him before the eyes of the people that they may testify." * They said, "Have you done this to our gods, O Abraham?" * He said, "Rather, this - the largest of them - did it, so ask them, if they should [be able to] speak." * So they returned to [blaming] themselves and said [to each other], "Indeed, you are the wrongdoers." * Then they reversed themselves, [saying], "You have already known that these do not speak!" * He said, "Then do you worship instead of Allah that which does not benefit you at all or harm you? * Uff to you and to what you worship instead of Allah . Then will you not use reason?" * They said, "Burn him and support your gods - if you are to act." * Allah said, "O fire, be coolness and safety upon Abraham." * And they intended for him harm, but We made them the greatest losers. * And We delivered him and Lot to the land which We had blessed for the worlds. * And We gave him Isaac and Jacob in addition, and all [of them] We made righteous. * And We made them leaders guiding by Our command. And We inspired to them the doing of good deeds, establishment of prayer, and giving of zakah; and they were worshippers of Us.

    [Surat Al-'Anbyā':51-73]

  • The third lie is, I think, explained obviously in the Hadith.

And Allah knows best.

  • Ma Shaa Allah, excellent answer, concise and perfectly explained. Jazakallah Khair Akhi. – Choudhury Saadmaan Mahmid May 25 '14 at 9:50
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He Abrahim never lied. Just asked to use common sense. Ask the big Idol who did it.? The other story about his wife : we do not know if that is true.

  • Sister, the story about Ibrahim(A.S.)'s wife is indeed true. The reference of this incident is the hadith quoted by Brother Tamer in his answer, which is a well famous hadith from Sahih Bukhari. Unless you have some problems or issues with Sahih Bukhari, I don't see any reason for doubting the truthfulness and authenticity of this story. – Choudhury Saadmaan Mahmid Jan 5 '15 at 4:42
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Not lies but 'Toriah', if you search or ask a scholar what it is you ill know.

1- He looked up in stars and then said I am sick. It is to give his people an impression that he is seeking some knowledge from stars, while what he would mean is that he is sick because of their evil practices of star-worshipping etc.

2- He never said that the big idol had broken the others, he rather said بل فعله كبيرهم هذا, which mean 'but the bigger of them has done it.' This again is a metaphorical mention of himself because he is the one ho broke all the idols so he was the bigger of all of the idols in power.

3- Again as even mentioned in the narration, Ibrahim and Sarah were the only two believers on the whole land at that time, so what he said was correct that she was his sister in faith but the king understood the superficial meanings of his words.

On all three occasions he gave a statement which he intentionally worded that way that he did not lie, but left it for the listeners to give it their own meanings. Always remember that a true prophet of Allah would never lie as that would cast a dark shadow on every single word he would ever utter, if only once he is proved to have lied under any circumstances.

Wa Allah hu Aalam...

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