Praise be to Allah.
The Arabic word tawriyah [translated here
as deliberate ambiguity] means to conceal something.
Allah says (interpretation of the
“Then Allah sent a crow who scratched the
ground to show him how to hide [yuwaari] the dead body of his brother. He
(the murderer) said: “Woe to me! Am I not even able to be as this crow and
to hide the dead body of my brother?” Then he became one of those who
“O Children of Adam! We have bestowed
raiment upon you to cover yourselves (screen your private parts – yuwaari
saw’aatikum) and as an adornment; and the raiment of righteousness, that is
better. Such are among the Ayaat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs,
revelations, etc.) of Allaah, that they may remember (i.e. leave falsehood
and follow truth)”
regard to the meaning in sharee’ah (religious) terminology, it refers to
someone who says something that may appear to have one meaning to the
listener but the speaker intends something different that may be understood
from these words. For example, he says, “I do not have a dirham in my
pocket,” and that is understood to mean that he does not have any money at
all, when what he means is that he does not have a dirham but he may have a
dinar, for example. This is called ambiguity or dissembling.
Deliberate ambiguity is regarded as a
legitimate solution for avoiding difficult situations that a person may find
himself in when someone asks him about something, and he does not want to
tell the truth on the one hand, and does not want to lie, on the other.
Deliberate ambiguity is permissible if it
is necessary or if it serves a shar’i (religious) interest, but it is not
appropriate to do it a great deal so that it becomes a habit, or to use it
to gain something wrongfully or to deprive someone of his rights.
scholars said: If that is needed to serve some legitimate shar’i interest
that outweighs the concern about misleading the person to whom you are
speaking, or it is needed for a reason that cannot be achieved without
lying, then there is nothing wrong with using deliberate ambiguity as an
acceptable alternative. But if there is no interest to be served and no
pressing need, then it is makrooh (disliked), but is not haram
(impermissible). If it is a means of taking something wrongfully or
depriving someone of their rights, then it is haram in that case. This is
the guideline in this matter. Al-Adhkaar.
Some scholars were of the view that it is
haram to resort to deliberate ambiguity if there is no reason or need to do
so. This was the view favoured by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah
have mercy on him). See al-Ikhtiyaaraat.
There are situations in which the Prophet
(peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) taught that we may use deliberate
ambiguity, for example:
If a man loses his wudoo (ablution) whilst
praying in congregation, what should he do in this embarrassing situation?
The answer is that he should place his
hand over his nose and leave.
The evidence for that is the report
narrated from ‘Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) who said: The
Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “If
anyone of you breaks his wudoo whilst praying, let him hold his nose and
leave.” Sunan Abi Dawood.
said: The command to hold his nose is so that it will look as if he has a
nosebleed. This is not a lie, rather it is a kind of ambiguity. This
concession is granted so that the Shaytan will not trick him into staying
put because of feeling embarrassed in front of people.
al-Mafaateeh Sharh Mishkaat al-Masaabeeh.
This is a kind of ambiguity that is
permitted, so as to avoid any embarrassment and so that whoever sees him
leaving will think that he has a nosebleed.
Similarly If a Muslim faces a difficult
situation where he needs to say what is against the truth in order to
protect himself or someone who is innocent, or to save himself from serious
trouble, is there a way for him to escape the situation without lying or
falling into sin?
Yes, there is a legal way and a
permissible escape that one can make use of if necessary. It is equivocation
or indirectness in speech. Imam al-Bukhaari (may Allah have mercy on him)
entitled a chapter of his Saheeh: “Indirect speech is a safe way to avoid a
lie”. (Saheeh al-Bukhari, Kitaab al-Adab (Book of Manners)).
Equivocation means saying something which
has a closer meaning that the hearer will understand, but it also has a
remote meaning which what is actually meant and is linguistically correct.
The condition for this is that whatever is said should not present a truth
as falsity and vice versa. The following are examples of such statements
used by the salaf (pious predecessors) and early imams (religious leaders),
and collected by Imam Ibn al-Qayyim in his book Ighaathat al-Lahfaan:
It was reported about Hammad (may Allah
have mercy on him), if someone came that he did not want to sit with, he
would say as if in pain: “My tooth, my tooth!” Then the boring person whom
he did not like would leave him alone.
Imam Sufyan Al-Thawri was brought to the
khaleefah al-Mahdi, who liked him, but when he wanted to leave, the
khaleefah told him he had to stay. Al-Thawri swore that he would come back.
He then went out, leaving his shoes at the door. After some time he came
back, took his shoes and went away. The khaleefah asked about him, and was
told that he had sworn to come back, so he had come back and taken his
Imam Ahmad was in his house, and some of
his students, including al-Mirwadhi, were with him. Someone came along,
asking for al-Mirwadhi from outside the house, but Imam Ahmad did not want
him to go out, so he said: “Al-Mirwadhi is not here, what would he be doing
here?” whilst putting his finger in the palm of his other hand, and the
person outside could not see what he was doing.
Other examples of equivocation or
indirectness in speech include the following:
If someone asks you whether you have seen
so-and-so, and you are afraid that if you tell the questioner about him this
would lead to harm, you can say “ma ra aytuhu”, meaning that you have not
cut his lung, because this is a correct meaning in Arabic [“ma ra aytuhu”
usually means “I have not seen him,” but can also mean “I have not cut his
lung”]; or you could deny having seen him, referring in your heart to a
specific time and place where you have not seen him. If someone asks you to
swear an oath that you will never speak to so-and-so, you could say,
“Wallaahi lan ukallumahu”, meaning that you will not wound him, because
“kalam” can also mean “wound” in Arabic [as well as “speech”]. Similarly, if
a person is forced to utter words of kufr (disbelief) and is told to deny
Allah, it is permissible for him to say “Kafartu bi’l-laahi”, meaning “I
denounce the playboy” [which sounds the same as the phrase meaning “I deny
(Ighaathat al-Lahfaan by Ibn al-Qayyim.
See also the section on equivocation (ma’aareed) in Al-Adaab al-Shar’iyyah
by Ibn Muflih).
However, one should be cautious that the
use of such statements is restricted only to situations of great difficulty,
Excessive use of it may lead to lying.
One may lose good friends, because they
would always be in doubt as to what is meant.
If the person to whom such a statement is
given comes to know that the reality was different from what he was told,
and he was not aware that the person was engaging in deliberate ambiguity or
equivocation, he would consider that person to be a liar. This goes against
the principle of protecting one’s honour by not giving people cause to doubt
The person who uses such a technique
frequently may become proud of his ability to take advantage of people.
End quote. From Madha taf’al fi’l-haalaat
al-aatiyah (What to do in the following situations)?
And Allah knows best.