3 Practical Lessons on Honesty in Quran

O you who believe, honor all your obligations.

This is how the Quran begins Chapter 5 (Surah Al-Ma’idah), one of the longer chapters of the Quran.

The rest of the chapter is filled with rules that we as Muslims tend to focus on as some of the core parts of our identity, especially in non-Muslim majority societies such as food, the slaughter of animals, and the consumption of alcohol.

However, God leaves all these important rulings for later and chooses to start out the chapter by telling us that being honest with others in our daily lives and keeping the promises that we make, is a divine obligation.

Today, we are going to look at some of the advice that the Quran gives us about being honest. Holding true to the moral standards of Islam is quite an undertaking, and sometimes it can be much harder than fulfilling some of the more physical obligations of the religion like prayer and fasting.

As a result, we as Muslims often fall short of the morals that are demanded of us. The following are just a few general lessons to help remind us all of the importance of being honest, truthful, and just in everything that we do.

The Gravity of Honesty

For the first lesson about honesty, we must define honesty and think about its importance in relation to other morals within the Quran.

The word “honesty” doesn’t exist in a single form in Arabic, and there are several terms that could encompass this meaning.

(Sidq and Amana), which mean to be trustworthy, (Qist and ‘Adl) which both mean to be just, are just some of the terms that go into the larger category of what we think about when we say the word “honest.”

In short, being honest means to be fair in your everyday dealings. Not hiding important details from others or holding back, as well as giving each person their fair due according to their performance, are all parts of this concept.

In applying this over-arching meaning of honesty, we discover that being honest is one of the most important virtues presented in the Quran, mentioned far more often than any other legal proclamation.

The punishment for dishonesty is likewise one of the strongest. There is even an entire chapter dedicated to those who do not run their businesses honestly.

Woe unto those who give short measure, those who, when they are to receive their due from people, demand that it be given in full but when they have to measure or weigh whatever they owe to others, give less then what is due (83:1-3). 

Honesty is the Best Policy for All

The second lesson about honesty from the Quran is that treating someone fairly and honestly is not a transaction, and even if someone else treats you terribly, you should never compromise in your own morals and stoop to their level.

O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice; and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do (5:8).

When someone cheats you, steals an idea that you had and claims it as their own, or simply has treated you like dirt your entire life, you should never let the thought cross your mind that “they should get a taste of their own medicine.”

That doesn’t mean that you should allow people to get away with dishonest acts, and you should always stand up for what is right no matter what the costs.

However, if you end up on the losing end, don’t make it worse through revenge. Provide the better example and show them how a person should be treated.

Leave the Judgment to God

The next lesson from the Quran comes from the life of Prophet Muhammad, when he oversaw the division of the spoils of war amongst his companions. Some might have considered that, as a fallible human being, that the Prophet might distribute unjustly, preferring some of his companions over others.

The following verse dealt with this issue by stating:

It is not attributable to any Prophet that he would act unfaithfully. And whoever betrays, taking unlawfully, will come with what he took on the Day of Resurrection. Then every soul will be fully compensated for what it earned, and they will not be wronged (3:161).

The lesson behind this verse is that, when dealing with others, make sure that you leave the judgement of people’s true intentions to God.

Don’t just assume that, because in a situation you didn’t get what you felt was “fair,” that you automatically have been cheated. You don’t know all the other elements of the equation and could be wrong.

It is better, therefore, to approach people with a positive mindset – what we call Husn al-Dhann in Arabic – and treat them as though they are acting correctly unless you have serious evidence to the contrary.

Also, when you are the one doing the distribution – whether it is delegating responsibilities or rewards at work, school, or in the family – make sure that you clarify your intentions as much as possible to preempt any misunderstanding or belief from others that you are not being fair and honest.

Conclusion

In conclusion, being truly honest as the Quran requires us to be is much harder than it sounds. It requires constantly re-evaluating our decisions and questioning our own actions, demanding that we become better people.

As you go on through life, think about the importance that the Quran places on honesty, strive to treat others as best you can no matter how you are treated, and remember that God is the only true judge.

About Brian Wright
Brian Wright is an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi. He holds a PhD from the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University. His dissertation was on Islamic criminal law in Egypt, India, and Ottoman Turkey during the 19th century. He has studied fiqh with a number of traditional scholars in Egypt and India.