Do not lie! From a religious perspective, lying is wrong. From an ethical perspective, lying is wrong. We continue to be warned against lying.
While there are many who never lie, there are many of us who find it very hard to not lie. Even worse, there are people who think a 'white lie' is no problem. And of course, there are some who consider lying as second nature. As Muslims and followers of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them), we need to effectively avoid lying. In order to do that, we need to consider:
The Drive to Lie
In order to stop lying, we need to extract the seeds that push someone to lie. That is, we need to understand why people lie!
A very influential factor that drives many people to lie, especially children, is fear. It can be fear of punishment. It can be fear due to peer pressure. It can be fear of loss of social credibility. If something that is very dear to a person is put in jeopardy, lying will be the instant relief. If a child knows that he will be punished for stealing a toy, and if he knows that lying will save him, he or she is more likely to lie in order to gain the instant relief for the fear.
Another important fact is greed and personal benefit. Those who adapt the philosophy of "the end justifies the means" are more open to lying for their own benefit. If they are poor or in need of money, they might be open to lying and conning people in order to sort their problems. Even if they were rich, greed can push them to lying in order to make more money.
There are other factors, and they include hatred towards someone or trying to sabotage the relationships of others. Understanding these factors that drive a person towards lying is an important first step. But the main problem lies in the fact that these drives stem from our human nature. For example, fear from punishment is a normal feeling for someone to have. Fear of being ridiculed is a very strong emotion that can take over a person. It is not easy to avoid these emotions, let alone overpower them. But lying can give the instant gratification or relief that we (desperately) seek.
So we need to be armed with yet another piece of the puzzle, and that is:
The Truth of a Lie
A lie can give instant gratification but that is only the outer 'cloak' it wears. The reality has not changed, and the lie remains false and against the facts. Even the slightest slip-up will put the liar in that same position again he started at if not worse. In essence, the person who lies out of fear will be in fear of the lie being exposed. That is no gratification! But it is the reality of the lie. In fact, fear of the lie being exposed is a common endpoint no matter what initially drove the person to lie.
The Consequences of Lying
Now that the true face of a lie has been exposed, what remains is knowing where lying will lead the individuals and society.
First and foremost, from a religious standpoint, Allah warns us against lying. The Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) says, "If the believer lies without excuse, he will be cursed by seventy-thousand angels, [...], and he will be as the one who committed adultery seventy times, the least of which is adultery with his mother." (Mustadrak al-Wasa'il)
This is but a taste of the divine consequences of lying. But there is more!
As soon as people know a specific person is a liar, they will no longer trust him or her. This will destroy the liar's relationship with everyone. The famous story about the boy who cried wolf (for fun) demonstrates this fact. Even when the boy told the truth, no one believed him. Why? Because he was a liar. Also, this story warns against the danger of lying for fun or as part of a joke. The label 'liar' does not distinguish between serious and fun; a liar is a liar.
Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) stressed this point when he said, "Be careful of lies, the small ones and the big ones in seriousness and fun for the man who lies about the small things will lie about the big things." (Al-Kafi)
The above narration brings us to the next consequence of lying: the lead-in to more lying. If a person lies once and gets away, they will be tempted to lie again, since the gratification is there, and no one caught onto the lie. When faced with more serious situations, they will be tempted to lie. This can cause the person to be desensitized to lying and will therefore be a poison in society.
But the liar will not only tell more lies. A liar will be tempted to steal. A liar will be tempted to blackmail. A liar will be tempted to rape, kill, abduct, or any of the big sins. Imam Al-Askari (peace be upon him) says, "All sins are in one house, and its key is lying." (Bihar Al-Anwar)
Now, consider a society where every person lies. Not only will each individual suffer Divine punishment, but all the relationships will also be sabotaged. No business can be conducted, because there is lack of trust. In short, the entire social fabric will crumble.
Lying should be avoided at all costs. But there are exceptions. One scenario narrations point at is in war, a prisoner can lie about information he possesses. It is harmful for the religion, country, and the innocent if a prisoner discloses all of the military secrets to the enemy. Another scenario that the narrations point towards is when trying to mend a broken relationship. (Al-Kafi) This will only strengthen society and trust between people.
The Most Dangerous Lie
So lying is very dangerous, but the most destructive of all lies is the one that Allah mentions in the Quran when He says, "Look how they invent about Allah untruth, and sufficient is that as a manifest sin." (4:50)
Indeed, it is these people who spread lies and falsehood in the name of Allah, the Prophet, and Ahlul Bayt that are the real poison in our community. This can affect people's beliefs. It can shake the society's code of practice. It will infiltrate the minds of our youth and lead them astray from the righteous path.
Allah promised these people an ultimate downfall when He says, "And who is more unjust than one who invents about Allah a lie or denies His verses? Indeed, the wrongdoers will not succeed." (6:21)
So, as Muslims and followers of Ahlul Bayt, we need to be strong and honest: strong to face these oppressors and liars, and honest so we can lead by example!