Muslims and Academic Deception

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Unfortunately, many among us have no qualms falsifying excuses to our professors and teachers about why we missed class or didn’t do our homework. This is lying and definitely not allowed Islamically and ethically. Got integrity? Believe it or not, an increasing number of students across the educational spectrum are consciously choosing to disregard academic honesty in favor of cheating their way to a degree or diploma. Then again, we live in the age of cheating and lying politicians, bestselling authors, and writers who are able to emerge practically unscathed amid their occasionally blatant infringement on established ethical policies. Ethics? What’s that? We’re in the year 2010.

In an ideal world, not a single Muslim student would ever engage in such blatant transgressions against himself, his peers, and most importantly, Islam’s rulings. However, the amount of academic misconduct found among Muslim students is startling and it alludes to an increasingly selective application of Islam. This symptom is not exclusive to academia as our community continues to pick and choose what aspects of our religion we will employ in our daily lives, and it is not uncommon to see otherwise religiously observant peers turning in their best friend’s midterm paper from last semester as their own.

There are several factors that lead to such fraud-like activities among our youth. One cannot discount the impact of culture; many of us come from cultures and societies where (ignorantly) cheating is not perceived as a sin, but rather as a display of wit, innovation, and an ability to beat the system. Secondly, Muslims are not immune to society’s ills, and the pressure to achieve high grades has led many of us to engage in activities that would cause our Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) to disown such a generation well versed in how to sneak questions into the exam hall but unaware of Islam’s disdain for deception.

Islam demands an honest society, because it instills in us the values that dignify the character of a human. Therefore, lying and cheating are in direct contradiction with the notion that human beings are brought into this world free of fraud and deception, and as such, this precedent must be maintained throughout their lives. The scholarly rulings on cheating in school are fairly clear and in the interest of brevity, the following ruling by Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani on the subject is provided:

“232. Question: Is it permissible to cheat [in the exams] at public schools in Europe? Is it permissible to cheat [in the exams] at the private Islamic and non-Islamic schools? Answer: Cheating is not allowed in any of these [schools].” (A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West)

“Truly Allah guides not one who transgresses and lies” (40:28)

Cheating and academic dishonesty are a profound manifestation of our inability as human beings to remember God and respect our own religion. A degree or diploma is intended as a display of our knowledge and skills set, yet when we obtain this degree through cheating, copying, plagiarizing, and so on, we are merely demonstrating our ability to lie and fraudulently earn a degree which will provide us with income and sustenance.

Lying and cheating are considered among the Greater Sins that can be committed by a Muslim and Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon him) warns from associating and committing falsehood, “Falsehood is absolutely an evil and a sin.” (Greater Sins) Indeed, deception, fraud, and lying are vices known only to those individuals who do not concern themselves with the Hereafter and the true examination we will be accountable to.

What is Academic Dishonesty?

The consequences of deception, lying, cheating, and falsifying one’s path through academia have been thoroughly examined, and this lead us to acquainting ourselves with academic dishonesty and striving to avoid it:

Plagiarism: According to Indiana University, plagiarism can be defined “as presenting someone else’s work, including the work of other students, as one’s own. Any ideas or materials taken from another source for either written or oral use must be fully acknowledged, unless the information is common knowledge.” Students are required to give due credit to others for their ideas, words, illustrations, and statistics. Otherwise, it is blatant deception.

Bribery/Purchasing or Selling Answers: In recent years, there has been an influx of websites that sell term papers and exam answers. Although you may mean well when your stressed out friend emails you at 3 AM asking to use your midterm paper as his/her own, this is forbidden in Islam, as the general consensus is that you are aiding your friend in lying and deceiving others. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) warns of deception and cheating and the punishment promised for such actions: “Those who deceive, cheat and break covenants; all of them belong to Hell.” (Mustadrak al-Wasa’il)

Cheating on Exams: The unmitigated advent of technology has only made cheating on exams easier and more enticing. In general, cheating on an examination would include but is not limited to: obtaining information and answers from other students during the exam, utilizing prohibited materials in completing your exam, and giving information to other students that is disallowed during the exam.

Deception: Unfortunately, many among us have no qualms falsifying excuses to our professors and teachers about why we missed class or didn’t do our homework. This is lying and, as already discussed, is not allowed Islamically and ethically. Another example of deceiving others would be to claim we submitted an assignment that we didn’t or work with a partner on an assignment intended to be completed alone.

Ignorance is not an excuse to continue defrauding ourselves and others, and every higher education institution has a handbook on academic misconduct. The impetus is on each and every one of us to become aware of what constitutes as cheating and deception and do our utmost to avoid it. Consider that these exams given in college are nothing compared to the final examination our souls will face on the Day of Judgement, and as the Holy Qur’an states, “And be with the Truthful Ones!” (9:119)

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