Honesty is an essential characteristic of a Muslim. It includes being truthful toward Allah by worshiping Him sincerely, being truthful to oneself by adhering to Allah's laws, and being truthful with others by speaking the truth and being honest in all dealings.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, provided the best example of being truthful and honest. Even before receiving revelation, he was known in Makkah as Sadiq (the truthful) and Al-Amin (the faithful). The Seerah or life and actions of the Prophet contains a famous story about this important character trait.
It was 605 CE and Muhammad was 35-years-old, five years before the first revelation. At the time, there were several prominent tribes in Makkah. A fire had damaged the Kabbah and after it was reconstructed, a conflict arose over who would get the honor of setting the famous Black Stone into place. The elders decided that the next person to come through the main gate would get to choose. That person was the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. But rather than choosing one person, he took a garment, positioned the Black Stone in the center, and asked each of the tribal leaders to hold a piece of the cloth to carry it to the Kabbah. From there, he positioned the stone in its proper place.
Not only was the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, an amazing role model but he often spoke about the importance of honesty. Abu Hudhaifa, may Allay be pleased with him, narrated that the Prophet Muhammad said:
“Honesty descended from the Heavens and settled in the roots of the hearts of men (faithful believers), and then the Quran was revealed, and the people read the Quran (and learned it from it) and also learned from the sayings and traditions. Both the Quran and the traditions strengthened their honesty.”
(Sahih Al-Bukhari, 7276)
Abdullah, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that the Prophet said:
“Truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise. And a man keeps telling the truth until he becomes truthful. Falsehood leads to al-fajur (i.e., wickedness, evil-doing), and al-fajur leads to the Hellfire, and a man may keep on telling lies till he is written before Allah, a liar.”
(Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 8:116)
Teaching Children to Be Honest
Here are five practices that parents can engage in regularly to encourage children to be honest.
1. Be a good role model yourself.
Parents will always be their children’s first teachers. And children learn lessons from us by listening to what we say and also by watching what we do. By talking about the importance of truth-telling, parents emphasize it’s value. Muslim parents should incorporate the guidance of the Quran and also the example of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, in these lessons. Along with the dialogue, it is important to demonstrate how to apply this Islamic guidance to everyday life.
2. Praise children when they tell the truth.
There are times when telling the truth is not easy. Parents need to positively reinforce instances when children are telling the truth and provide incentives for children to be honest, especially when what they are telling may admit wrongdoing. There are many ways to praise without using words. A smile or hug may send the important message that mistakes happen to everyone. It is also necessary for parents to admit when they make mistakes. This shows that none of us are perfect and by extension that it is ok for all of us to make mistakes. The key is to figure out what to do in response.
3. When kids lie, don’t get angry.
Child development experts and psychologists suggest that when children lie, parents should focus on talking and listening rather than inflicting punishment. It is important to resist the immediate urge to get angry and to get to the bottom of why the lie happened in the first place. This will require good listening skills rather than an interrogation. The discussion will help children build sound reasoning skills that can last a lifetime.
4. Create opportunities to be truthful.
Parents may be very aware that their child is telling a lie. Rather than immediately correct, it can be beneficial to give the child a chance to self-correct and tell the truth on his/her own. There may also be times when you ask your child for his/her opinion. Allowing them to share their likes and dislikes honestly will help them understand that their perspectives and preferences are important. These behaviors build trust and honesty and trust are intertwined.
5. Encourage your child to feel comfortable telling the truth.
Communication is the key to healthy parent and child relationships. When you talk openly and honestly with your children you are emphasizing the importance of honesty in your family. These conversations can be set up or spontaneous, creating “teachable moments.” The more you invite dialogue the more often and more meaningful it is likely to be. Reading books with your child is also a great way to open the door to meaningful conversation. There are wonderful books by Muslim and non-Muslim authors that could be helpful. Consult your local librarian or conduct a Google search for resources.
Teaching our children to be honest is an ongoing process. Particularly in a world where falsehood is far more prevalent than truth, it is important to establish an environment that embraces honesty in your home. By creating habits and practices together, your family can build skills that will be beneficial for a lifetime.
Zahirah Lynn Eppard is the managing editor of the Muslim Home parenting newsletter project. As Sound Vision’s Director of Religious Education, she has also spearheaded the production of more than 500 online classes serving children ages 3-12 in the Adam’s World and Colors of Islam Clubs. Eppard has also worked in the field of education as a teacher, homeschooler, and Islamic school principal, as a marriage and crisis intervention counselor, and as a lobbyist and social justice activist. She lives with her husband, children, and grandchildren in Maryland.