Is Deliberate Ambiguity Permissible? If It Is In Cases Of
Necessity, How Do We Define Necessity?
Islamic Rulings -
Living Shariah Verdicts
Islamic Questions & Answers
When is deliberate ambiguity valid? If that is
in cases of necessity only, then what is the
definition of necessity in this case?.
Praise be to Allaah.
The Arabic word tawriyah [translated here as
deliberate ambiguity] means to conceal something.
Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
"Then Allaah 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)"
With regard to the meaning in sharee'ah 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 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.
The 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, but is not haraam. If it is
a means of taking something wrongfully or depriving
someone of their rights, then it is haraam in that
case. This is the guideline in this matter.
Al-Adhkaar, p. 380
Some scholars were of the view that it is haraam 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 Allaah have mercy on him).
See al-Ikhtiyaaraat, p. 563.
There are situations in which the Prophet (peace and
blessings of Allaah be upon him) taught that we may
use deliberate ambiguity, for example:
If a man loses his wudoo' whilst praying in
congregation, what should he do in this embarrassing
The answer is that he should place his hand over his
nose and leave.
The evidence for that is the report narrated from
‘Aa'ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) who said:
The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah
be upon him) said: "If anyone of you breaks his wudoo'
whilst praying, let him hold his nose and leave."
Sunan Abi Dawood, 1114. See also Saheeh Sunan Abi
Al-Teebi 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 Shaytaan will not trick him
into staying put because of feeling embarrassed in
front of people.
Mirqaah al-Mafaateeh Sharh Mishkaat al-Masaabeeh, 3/18
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. Imaam al-Bukhaari
(may Allaah have mercy on him) entitled a chapter of
his Saheeh: "Indirect speech is a safe way to avoid a
lie". (Saheeh al-Bukhaari, Kitaab al-Adab (Book of
Manners), chapter 116).
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 and early imaams,
and collected by Imaam Ibn al-Qayyim in his book
It was reported about Hammaad (may Allaah 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.
Imaam Sufyaan 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 shoes.
Imaam 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 Imaam 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 and is told to deny Allaah, 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 Allaah."]
(Ighaathat al-Lahfaan by Ibn al-Qayyim, 1/381 ff.,
2/106-107. See also the section on equivocation (ma'aareed)
in Al-Adaab al-Shar'iyyah by Ibn Muflih, 1/14).
However, one should be cautious that the use of such
statements is restricted only to situations of great
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 one's integrity..
The person who uses such a technique frequently may
become proud of his ability to take advantage of
End quote. From Madha taf'al fi'l-haalaat al-aatiyah
(What to do in the following situations)?
And Allaah knows best.