Islam orders the Muslim to be honest to himself and others. This order repeatedly comes in the Noble Qur'an and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS). Islam orders the Muslim to tell the truth even if it is against the teller's interest. Orders him not to cheat or deceive other people. A Muslim is ordered by Allah to be honest in his words and deeds, privately and publicly alike.
Implication of Honesty
Honesty in words implies telling the truth in all cases and under all conditions. Honesty also implies fulfilling the promise, whether written or given orally, in text and spirit. Honesty also implies giving the right advice to the one who asks for it.
Honesty also implies doing one's work as sincerely and as perfectly as possible. Honesty also implies carrying out duties as fully as possible whether the person is supervised or not. Honesty means giving every person his due rights without his asking for these rights.
Honesty means doing the right thing in the right way at the right time. Honesty means objectivity in judgment, objectivity in evaluation, and objectivity in decisions of all types. Honesty implies the right selection of personnel and the right promotion of personnel, i.e., selection by merit and promotion by merit, not by temper or favouritism or personal relations.
Honesty is a blanket term that covers a wide range of traits. It covers telling the truth, sincerity in work, carrying out duties, fulfilling one's word, objective judgments, and objective decisions. Honesty is the opposite of lying, the opposite of bluffing, the opposite of hypocrisy, the opposite of favouritism, and the opposite of deceit.
External and Internal Honesty
By external honesty, I mean honesty, which is judged by other people. By internal honesty, I mean honesty which is judged by the person himself alone.
The reward of external honesty comes from Allah, from people, and from the psychological satisfaction the honest person feels. When you are honest, you are liked by God and people whom you deal with. Your honesty gives you the social approval you need and here comes the social value of honesty.
Further, when everybody is honest, a great deal of human problems disappear including lying, cheating, bluffing, stealing, forgery, and many other social diseases. In other words, honesty is something you give and something you take: others enjoy your honesty and you enjoy their honesty.
In the absence of honesty, many social diseases appear. If a person is dishonest, he is ready to tell lies, to bribe, to be bribed, to distort the truth, to cheat, to forge, to deceive others, and to break his promises. A dishonest person is a totality of diseases. He is ready to misbehave at any time. Each time he misbehaves, he causes a great disturbance or harm to one person or to a group of persons or to the whole nation, in some cases.
Internal Honesty: Thus honesty is a factor in the psychological health of the honest person himself and the health of other persons whom he deals with. However, Islam emphasises internal honesty, i.e., honesty which is judged by the person himself and cannot be seen by other people.
It often happens that a person acts privately. Sometimes we act with nobody seeing us. A believer in Allah feels that although no person is watching him, Allah is watching. This continuous watch of Allah develops the concept of internal honesty or conscience in the believer. This means that internal honesty becomes an overall strategy of the believer.
The Muslim is to be honest, internally and externally, privately and publicly, whether observed by other people or not, whether he acts or speaks. This overall honesty makes the Muslim confident of himself, of his behaviour, and of his words and deeds. Honesty makes the person feel that he trusts others and is trusted by others.
This mutual confidence makes the believer feel self-satisfied and socially secure.
Honesty implies unity of behaviour, unity of standards, and integrity of personality. Honesty implies being away from internal conflicts, social conflicts and self-contradiction.
The important question, however, is this: how does Islam build honesty in the Muslim? Islam builds ethical qualities in general and honesty in particular in several ways:
1. Instructions. Allah orders the Muslim to be honest in all cases, in all deeds and words, to himself and others.
2. Reason. Allah shows the Muslim rationally that honesty is the best policy, even on utilitarian bases.
3. Reward. Allah promises the honest person generous rewards in the first life and in the second life.
4. Punishment. Allah threatens the dishonest person with severe punishment for his dishonest behaviour.
5. Practice. Allah develops the habit of honesty in the Muslim through actual practice, i.e., through fasting and prayer.
Thus Islam builds the habit of honesty in the Muslim through direct instructions, through rational arguments, through the reward and punishment principles, and through practice.
The Practice of Honesty
Taking fasting as an example, when a Muslim fasts, he should abstain from any kind of food or drink from dawn until sunset. This means that a fasting Muslim should not eat or drink for several continuous hours, including not engaging in sexual intercourse with his wife or her husband.
The important thing here is that a fasting Muslim does not allow a drop of water to go into his mouth from dawn until sunset in spite of his thirst, because he has learned to be honest, i.e., internally honest. The only observer of a fasting person is Allah and the person himself. Here is an actual and real practice of honesty exercised during the whole month of Ramadan.
Of course, one of the components of honesty is refusing to submit to temptations and impulses. In Ramadan, the Muslim is thirsty, but he does not drink; he is hungry, but he does not eat. In Ramadan, water is spatially near but psychologically far from the Muslim; water is near to the Muslim but far from his desire. This is a practical exercise of self-control and internal honesty.
So, Islam instructs the Muslim to be honest and trains him to be so. The outcome is a healthy self and a healthy social atmosphere that leads to the happiness of both the individual and the group.