When we discuss morality and values, it is difficult to state what value is the most essential or the most important. Regardless of religious affiliation or lack of it, honesty is regarded by most people as an essential moral value. Even though children are born honest and truthful, as lying is an action which is gradually learned, the question remains as to how parents can raise an honest child.
The AhlulBayt(a) greatly emphasised keeping promises with children. Current psychological research shows that children primarily learn trust and honesty when their parents keep their promises. If a parent does not keep a promise, then that child learns dishonesty. Even a promise for something trivial like buying a sweet should not be broken, for it is at this early age that the child is developing values and morals.
Prophet Muhammad(s) said, “Love children. Treat them with kindness and if you make a promise to them, fulfil it without fail. Children think that you are the provider of sustenance for them.” Similarly, Imam ‘Ali(a) stated: “Whenever you make a promise to children, definitely keep it.”
The keeping of promises is related to trust; if we keep our promises, then we build trust. On the contrary, if we break a promise, then we destroy trust. Trust is an integral part of society, as well as families. When someone does not keep a promise, it implies that he does not value the person with whom the promise was made and that something else was more important than that commitment.
Those with whom promises are broken learn that they cannot count on the person and thus relationships begin to suffer. Moreover, a person who breaks his promise tells himself that he does not value his own word; in essence, he is disrespecting himself. The solution then is to evaluate the promises we make and only commit to those things which we know we can keep. Just like a child who has to be brave when admitting he did something wrong instead of lying, sometimes we need to be brave enough to say no and not make false promises.
Families should discuss the value of honesty, for it is the quality which nurtures trust between family members, especially parents and children. Furthermore, parents should always remember they need to role-model the values they would like to see reflected in their little ones. Another vital point is that we should always emphasise the act of being honest rather than punishment for dishonest behaviour. Parents need to help their children tell the truth by avoiding harsh punishment if they have made a mistake, for that is one of the reasons a child may lie. Of course, the behaviour may still require discipline; nevertheless, the fact that the child is honest should be appreciated.
Research suggests that fables which promote honesty make children more likely to be truthful. However, parents should be aware that this is only true if the stories promote the positive consequences of telling the truth, as stories like Pinocchio, with negative consequences of lying, are not as effective in promoting honesty. It is very likely then that hearing stories of the prophets and AhlulBayt(a) would also have the positive effects of instilling moral values in our children. It is not surprising to then find that the Holy Qur’an has narrated so many inspiring stories of the prophets and their people. The Prophet(s) said, “The most God-wary of people is he who speaks the truth, be it for or against him.”
Being honest is not limited to words spoken by the tongue; rather, it is an essential component of every Muslim’s character. Honesty includes being truthful to God by worshipping Him sincerely, being truthful to oneself by adhering to God’s laws, and being truthful with others. The latter may include honesty by speaking the truth as well as by being honest in dealings such as buying, selling and other interactions like marriage.
Once a person asked the Prophet(s) for advice as he had many problems. The Prophet(s) replied, “Do not lie.” Hence, whenever he was about to do something evil, he thought about what he would say to the Prophet if he asked about it. Therefore, he stayed away from evil. Consequently, another significant reason that truthfulness is so essential is that it is the foundation for all other moral values.
If someone is truthful, then he will eventually develop other good qualities. Perhaps the same cannot be said about other values, like generosity and bravery. If a person stays away from evil and sincerely tries to be honest, then he will inevitably be led to the right path. Indeed, haqq (truth) is connected to being honest and truthfulness, for God is the Absolute Truth. Thus, if we want to be truly honest, then we should seek and worship the Truth. God, Himself is worshipped for this very reason: that He is the Haqq. We do not worship Him for any other reason except that He is the Truth.
In Surah al-Asr (the Time), God states that one of the qualities of those who are not in loss is that they “enjoin one another to follow the truth” (103:3). In another instance, the Qur’an instructs us to “be with the truthful” (9:119). Prophet Muhammad was called al- Sadiq (the Truthful) and al-Amin (the Trustworthy) years before the advent of Islam. Even after he proclaimed the message of Islam, those who did not believe in him would leave their valuables with him. Consequently, a true Muslim is one who is known for his truthfulness and honesty. It would truly be a great achievement if every single Muslim were known as “truthful” by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.