The Importance Of Keeping Secrets In Islam, By Murtadha Gusau
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all creation. May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon the Messenger, his family, his Companions and those who follow him till the Hour is established.
My dear brothers and sisters, know that a secret is a kind of trust (Amanah), and thus a kind of contract or covenant which must be kept. It is necessary to be harsh with those who disclose them, because they are betraying a trust and breaking their promise; and those who deserve a ta’azir punishment should be punished.
Respected servants of Allah, secrets vary. There are those for which the person who discloses them must be dealt with harshly, because disclosing them causes widespread harm, such as disclosing secrets to the enemies and enabling them to defeat the ummah or gain victory over them. This is what is known in modern parlance as high treason. And there are secrets that are less serious, such as those in which disclosure causes harm to individuals. But in all cases disclosure is a betrayal of the trust and breaking of the covenant. Allah the Almighty says:
“And fulfil (every) covenant. Verily, the covenant will be questioned about.” [Qur’an, 17:34]
And He the Most High says:
“Verily, Allah commands that you should render back the trusts to those, to whom they are due.” [Qur’an, 4:58]
So if keeping secrets is obligatory, then disclosing them is prohibited (haram).
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) told a secret to Aisha and Hafsah and entrusted them with it, but they disclosed the secret, and Allah rebuked them for that. Allah the Almighty says:
“And (remember) when the Prophet disclosed a matter in confidence to one of his wives (Hafsah), then she told it (to another i.e. Aisha). And Allah made it known to him; he informed part thereof and left a part. Then when he told her (Hafsah) thereof, she said: ‘Who told you this?’ He said: ‘The All-Knower, the All-Aware (Allah) has told me.’” [Qur’an, 66:3]
Then Allah the Most High says:
“If you two (wives of the Prophet: Aisha and Hafsah) turn in repentance to Allah, (it will be better for you), your hearts are indeed so inclined (to oppose what the Prophet likes); but if you help one another against him (Prophet Muhammad), then verily, Allah is his Maulah (Lord, or Master, or Protector), and Jibril (Gabriel), and the righteous among the believers; and furthermore, the angels are his helpers.” [Qur’an, 66:4]
Then the Prophet (Peace be upon him) withdrew from his wives for a month because of the secret that Hafsah had disclosed to Aisha. [Al-Bukhari]
Imam Ibn Hajar (may Allah have mercy on him) said concerning this Hadith:
“This indicates that the one who discloses a secret may be punished in a fitting manner.”
In the Sunnah we find a warning against seeking out the secrets of others, and spreading secrets that should not be spread.
For example, it is strongly discouraged to seek out the faults of others. According to a Hadith narrated from Abu Hurairah, the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:
“If a man were to look into your private affairs without your permission, and you were to throw a pebble at him and put out his eye, there would be no sin on you.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Imam Ibn Hajar said, commenting on this Hadith:
“It is narrated by Muslim with a different isnad from Abu Hurairah that: “Whoever looks into some people’s house without their permission, it is permissible for them to put out his eye.”
And it was narrated with yet another isnad from Abu Hurairah in a version that states it even more clearly; this is narrated by Ahmad, Ibn Abi Asim and Al-Nasa’i, and classed as Sahih by Ibn Hibban and Al-Baihaqi. This version says:
“Whoever looks into some people’s house without their permission, and they put his eye out, there is no diyah (blood money) and no qisas (retaliatory punishment).” And according to one report through this isnad, “… and it is worthless.”
Similarly there is the warning against the one who eavesdrops on the secrets of others. It was narrated from Ibn Abbas that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“Whoever eavesdrops on the conversation of other people when they do not want him (to listen), or they move away from him, molten lead will be poured into his ears on the Day of Resurrection.” [Al-Bukhari]
The warning against spreading things not permissible to spread includes condemnation of the one who spreads marital secrets. He is regarded as being among the most evil of people before Allah. It was narrated that Abu Sa’id (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“Among the most evil of people before Allah on the Day of Resurrection will be a man who is intimate with a woman (his wife) and she with him, then he spreads her secret.” [Muslim]
According to another report narrated by Muslim:
“One of the greatest trusts before Allah on the Day of Resurrection will be a man who was intimate with his wife and she with him, then he spreads her secret.” What is meant by “one of the greatest trusts” is one of the greatest betrayals of trust.
Among the advice given by the Arabs to new brides is:
“Do not disclose his secret, for if you disclose his secret, you will make him hate you.”
The secrets of the home should not be disclosed, and wise men and those who are religiously committed advise the one who knows a secret not to disclose it.
It was narrated from Thabit that Anas said: The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) came to me when I was playing with some other boys, and greeted us with salam, then he sent me on an errand. I was late going home to my mother, and when I came she asked, ‘What kept you?’ I said, ‘The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) sent me on an errand.’ She said, ‘What did he need?’ I said, ‘It is a secret.’ She said, ‘Never disclose the secret of the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) to anyone.’ Anas said: ‘By Allah if I were to disclose it to anyone I would have disclosed it to you, O Thabit.’ [Muslim]
Disclosing secrets is one of the signs of hypocrisy, because it comes under the heading of betraying a trust.
It was narrated from Abdullahi Ibn Amr that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“There are four qualities, whoever has all of them is a pure hypocrite, and whoever has some of them has a characteristic of hypocrisy until he gives it up: when he is entrusted with something he betrays that trust; when he speaks he lies; when he makes a promise he breaks it, and when he disputes he resorts to lies and falsehood.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
It is not a condition of a trust that the one who speaks these words must tell his listener that it is a secret that he should not tell anyone, rather it is sufficient for his manner to indicate that, such as if he takes him away from others to tell him, or when he tells him he looks around to see if anyone is listening, etc.
Al-Tirmidhi narrated from Jabir Ibn Abdullah that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“If a man tells you something then looks around, it is a trust.”
And it says in Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi:
“Then looks around” means looking to the right and the left out of caution. “It is a trust” means it is entrusted to the one to whom he spoke, i.e., it comes under the same rulings as a trust, so he must conceal it. Ibn Raslan said: Because his looking around is the signal to the one to whom he is speaking that he is afraid that someone may overhear him, and that he has chosen him to tell his secret to. His looking around takes the place of his saying, ‘Listen to this and keep quiet about it because it is a trust (or a secret).’”
My dear brothers and sisters, guarding a secret is the same as guarding one’s chastity. Those who keep a secret, whether personal or a friend’s, keep themselves chaste. Conversely, those who spread secrets damage their honour and reputation by leaving them unguarded.
If you want to tell someone a secret, be sure that you could trust him or her with your honour. He or she must be as meticulous about keeping your secret as he or she would be about his or her own honour. An unreliable person, one who is ignorant of the value of chastity, should not be entrusted with keeping your secret.
Keeping a secret and respecting the secrets of others, as opposed to prying into them, is a virtue related to self-discipline and sensitivity. Those who lack understanding cannot guard a secret, and those who do not care about the consequences of words and actions cannot be considered discreet.
It is usually wiser not to relate your private concerns to others, especially if they are unattractive, offensive, or lacking in merit. To do so can embarrass loved ones and delight enemies, and have other unpleasant consequences as well.
Hearts are created as safes for keeping secrets. Intelligence is their lock; will-power is their key. No one can break into the safe and steal its valuables if the lock or key are not faulty.
Bear in mind that those who carry other’s secrets to you might bear yours to others. Do not give such tactless people any chance to learn even the smallest details of your private concerns.
If you entrust another secret to someone who previously disclosed one, your lack of perception and poor judgment in choosing a confidant is plain for all to see. One whose own heart is firm on this matter and who is vigilant cannot be deceived and seduced repeatedly in this way.
There are secrets related to the person, the family, and the nation. By disclosing a personal secret, you are interfering with a person’s honour; by disclosing a family secret, you are interfering with the family’s honour; and by disclosing a national secret, you are interfering with the nation’s honour. A secret is a power only as long as it stays with its owner, but is a weapon that may be used against its owner if it passes into the hands of others. This is the meaning of one of our traditional sayings:
“The secret is your slave, but you become its slave if you disclose it.”
The details of many important affairs can be protected only if they are kept secret. Often enough, when the involved parties do not keep certain matters secret, no progress is achieved. In addition, serious risks might confront those who are involved, particularly if the matter concerns delicate issues of national life and its continuation.
If a country cannot protect its secrets from its enemies, it cannot develop. If an army reveals its strategy to its antagonists, it cannot attain victory. If key workers are won over by the competitors, their employers cannot succeed.
Explain what you must, but never give away all of your secrets. Those who freely publicise the secrets of their hearts drag themselves and their nation toward an inevitable downfall.
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true followers.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org or +2348038289761.
This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday Sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Friday, Jumadah Ath-Thani 26, 1441 A. H. (February 21, 2020).