In recent years two new words – taqiyyah and dhimmi – have entered the English lexicon thanks to the efforts of a steadily growing coterie of anti-Islamic (apologies to those who were itching for me to use the term ‘Islamophobic’) writers and commentators. In this article I will be taking a look at the former and will leave the latter for a future article.
In brief the allegation is that the Muslim communities resident in the West routinely employ dissimulation in order to deceive the non-Muslim indigenous communities as to the true nature of the Islamic ideology and also as to their true political intentions (putatively held to be the undermining of western liberal democracy leading to its eventual supplanting with an Islamic theocracy).
Taqiyyah is an Arabic term literally meaning ‘caution’ or ‘prudence’. As a concept it refers to the act of concealing your true beliefs by publically declaring that which is contrary to them. According to the anti-Islamic narrative adopted by nationalist, right wing and pro-Zionist groups every time a Muslim makes a statement affirming his/her rejection of terrorism or his/her acceptance of the law of the land coupled with a desire for peaceful co-existence with the majority non-Muslim citizenry, it cannot be taken at face value and should be understood in the light of taqiyyah i.e. as religiously inspired deception.
The truth of the matter is that Sunni Islam (comprising some 85% of the global Muslim community) has no specific concept of taqiyyah per se. It is not a tenet of our belief and there are no dedicated chapters to it in any scholarly treatises that I am aware of. Certainly it is deemed permissible to lie when forced to do so to preserve one’s life but then I would suspect that this is a concept shared by just about every religious group in existence! For the Shia the situation is slightly different and taqiyyah does constitute a central tenet of their faith but historically its target was the Sunni majority amongst whom they resided.
The primary evidence for the permissibility of taqiyyah in cases of life and death comes from an ayah in the Qur’an:
Whoever disbelieved in Allah after his belief, except him who is forced thereto and whose heart is at rest with Faith but such as open their breasts to disbelief, on them is wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a great torment. [TMQ 16:106]
The context of this verse is that during the early days of Islam when the Prophet (saw) and his companions constituted only a small group of individuals in Makkah the polytheists of the ruling Quraysh tribe would abuse and oppress the lowlier members of this nascent Muslim community – those who were without the patronage of a tribal chief or the protection of powerful clansmen. In the case of one such family of Muslims -namely Yasir, his wife Summaiyah and their son Ammar – the oppression took the form of brutal physical torture resulting in Summaiyah eventually being murdered by having a spear thrust through her private parts (incidentally this resulted in her becoming the first martyr of Islam). Ammar, suffering under the effects of having hot iron chains wrapped around his body, uttered words of disbelief by inoking a pagan god, yet when this was reported to the Prophet (saw) he remarked that Ammar was full of Iman (belief in monotheism) from head to toe. Subsequently Ammar sought out the Prophet (saw) in order to clarify whether he had sinned by succumbing to torture and verbally recanting his faith; it was then that the above verse (‘ayah’ in Arabic) was revealed to the Prophet (saw) granting dispensation to those who were compelled by force to overtly disavow the faith whilst concealing the truth in their hearts.
There is another verse in the Qur’an (3:28) which talks of believers being forbidden from friendship with disbelievers except if they fear harm from them. The subject of friendship between believers and disbelievers is a complex one and outside of the scope of this article but here it suffices to say that the salient words are “…unless you indeed fear a danger from them”. So once again it is only permitted if one has a real fear that one’s life or honour will be placed in jeopardy by separating themselves from the disbelievers. Incidentally the exhortation to disassociate from the disbelievers also applies to those Muslims who lead openly sinful lifestyles –they are also expected to be kept at a distance.
Based upon the above verses the Sunni ulema [scholars] have affirmed the permissibility of deception and deceptive talk only if a Muslim is faced with a real risk to life or limb. Even in such circumstances it is deemed preferable to stand fast and ultimately to embrace martyrdom if necessary. However, if one finds oneself unable to do so then lying is permitted in order to ward off serious harm. Clearly this scenario does not apply in Britain in 2013. Today nobody is under any real threat of losing their life for expounding their beliefs, no matter how repugnant they may come across to the majority of people. One is free to manifest one’s faith and to associate or disassociate with whichever individual or groups one sees fit.
Other than the aforementioned verses there is no clear reference to the concept of dissimulation in the Qur’an that I am aware of. However, there is a famous hadith of the Prophet (saw) where he remarked “war is deceit”. Again this is an oft cited piece of scripture by anti-Islam polemicists; it is adduced as evidence to buttress their claims that Muslims are permitted by divine sanction to practise deception in their dealings with the non-Muslims. Again the context of the hadith is the key to understanding its import. Also as a general point, when dealing with the Islamic scriptures it is important to look at the totality of the Qur’anic verses and ahadith upon any given subject in order to derive the correct verdict and understanding. Presenting one verse or hadith in isolation from the others is both misleading and disingenuous.
The context for the above hadith is that it was said during a state of active war between the fledgling Islamic state of Madinah and a coalition of Arabian tribes led by the Qur’aysh who were in alliance with the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayzah who resided within Madinah. A man from one of the coalition tribes who had surrounded Madinah and laid siege to it, converted to Islam and presented himself to the Prophet (saw) who then asked him to keep his conversion secret and to return to the enemy camp in order to spread false rumours so as to create dissension within their ranks. Specifically the purpose was to create discord between the besieging Arab tribes (whose avowed intent was to massacre the Muslims of Madinah) and their Jewish allies, Banu Qurayzah. It is in this context that Muhammad (saw) told Na’im bin Masud that “war is deceit” and granted him permission to tell lies. Given that this was a specific order to a specific man during a period of active warfare it is not a general evidence for the permissibility of lying and deceit. To give an analogy it would be akin to Churchill instructing a British spy to infiltrate Nazi Germany during world war two in order to spread lies and false rumours. This practise is a known and accepted stratagem of war and therein lies the answer to the accusation – the hadith applies only in the case of open, declared warfare between clearly demarcated belligerent parties and acting upon it is the preserve of those who are entitled to wage war. A Muslim citizen of Britain has no dispensation to wage war in Britain or to lie to anyone whomsoever – regardless of Britain’s foreign policy actions. You cannot accept the peace, protections, benefits and amenities of the British state whilst simultaneously claiming to be at war with it.
Furthermore, Muslims are bound by the terms of their treaties and cannot break them even as a strategy of war. Commenting on the “war is deceit” hadith the renowned scholar of Imam Nawawi said:
“The scholars are agreed that it is permissible to deceive the kuffaar [non-Muslims/infidels] in war in any way possible, except if that would mean breaking the terms of a treaty or trust, in which case it is not permitted.”
The acceptance of citizenship or entering a nation state under a visa creates an implicit contract between the state and the citizen/visitor. It is not permitted to violate that covenant.
As further evidence of how Islam views deceit and treachery one can look to the example of the second Caliph of Islam, Umar bin al-Khattab who once sent the following advice to the commander of one of his armies:
“By the One in Whose hand is my soul, if any one of you were to point to the sky [i.e., a gesture to imply that he will not harm him] to make a mushrik [polytheist] come down to him and then kill him, I would kill him for that.”
Islam’s prohibition of lying and deception is clear and is best summed up in the follow hadith of the Prophet (saw):
It was narrated that Asma’ Bint Yazeed said: “The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: ‘It is not permissible to tell lies except in three (cases): when a man speaks to his wife in a way to please her; lying in war; and lying in order to reconcile between people.’” (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi).
Having now debunked the arguments of the Islam haters I feel it only fair to point out that as a minority group living in a predominantly non-Muslim society that is becoming increasingly hostile towards them, some Muslims might indeed feel compelled to refrain from making their true views public or adopting an ambivalent stance. Take for example the issue of homosexuality. The Quran and hadith texts are very clear on the absolute prohibition of homosexual relations even specifying a judicial punishment for anyone caught or admitting to, engaging in penetrative homosexual sex. However, given that voicing opposition to homosexuality in such strident terms as contained in the Islamic scriptures, has the potential to cause a severe response from employers, gay rights activists and in certain instances from the police, many Muslims deem it prudent to refrain from proffering an opinion on the matter or if pressed to simply say that it is a matter of individual conscience. Does this constitute taqiyyah? I would argue that there is a clear distinction between lying and reticence and that this behaviour falls into the latter category. Moreover, it would be remiss not to point out that it isn’t just Muslims that feel this way but also many devout Christians some of whom feel thoroughly intimidated by the vitriol being spewed at them from humanist/atheist and LGBT groups. Due to the fear of being branded a bigot or a homophobe and the resultant opprobrium that inevitably accompanies it, many Muslims and Christians would rather avoid a discussion on the topic.
Lastly there is an important point to be made regarding those Muslims who advance claims about Islam that are demonstrably false according to Islamic scripture as per the understanding of orthodox classical Islamic scholarship. I suppose the most obvious examples of this are the claims made by some Muslims that Islam believes in freedom of speech and belief or that Islam makes no distinction at all between Muslim and non-Muslim. Now that’s not to say that Islam forbids all debate and discourse but claims that Islamic law defines personal freedoms ( speech, belief etc.) in the same vein as western secular democracy does is fallacious and demonstrably so. So why do some Muslims advance such claims? Is it taqiyyah in action? Simply put, no. Either the Muslim concerned genuinely believes in the veracity of their assertions and is ignorant of the relevant scriptures or they are aware of them but deem them to be “out dated”, “not relevant” or in need of “reform”.
I realise that some may think this was a somewhat strange topic to dedicate an article to but in light of the increasing use of the T word by anti-Islam writers and commentators I felt that it was one worth addressing. This article has also touched on several other controversial topics but please keep any comments here germane to the topic of taqiyyah. The subject of my next article will be the call by some to reform or reinterpret Islamic texts, what that entails and whether it can happen.
Till next time…and remember that Da Masked Avenger can strike at any place and at any time…
NB: The abbreviation (saw) is used for the English phrase “peace and blessings be upon him”. It is part of Islamic etiquette to invoke God’s peace and blessings upon the Prophet (saw) whenever he is mentioned.