I was recently asked by Jane’s Information Group to write an essay devoted to taqiyya for the subscription-only Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst, which appeared late last September. Below is the unedited version:
To better understand Islam, one must appreciate the thoroughly legalistic nature of the religion. According to sharia (Islamic law) every conceivable human act is categorized as being either forbidden, discouraged, permissible, recommended, or obligatory. “Common sense” or “universal opinion” have little to do with Islam’s notions of right and wrong. All that matters is what do Allah (via the Koran) and his prophet Muhammad (through the Hadith) have to say about any given thing; and how Islam’s greatest theologians and jurists–collectively known as the ulema, literally, the “ones who know”–have articulated it.
Consider the concept of lying. According to sharia, deception in general–based on the Koran’s terminology, also known as “taqiyya”–is not only permitted in certain situations but sometimes “obligatory.” For instance, and quite contrary to Christian tradition, not only are Muslims who must choose between either recanting Islam or being put to death permitted to lie by pretending to have apostatized; but some jurists have decreed that, according to Koran 4:29, Muslims are obligated to lie.
THE DOCTRINE OF TAQIYYA
According to the authoritative Arabic text, Al-Taqiyya fi Al-Islam, “Taqiyya [deception] is of fundamental importance in Islam. Practically every Islamic sect agrees to it and practices it. We can go so far as to say that the practice of taqiyya is mainstream in Islam, and that those few sects not practicing it diverge from the mainstream…. Taqiyya is very prevalent in Islamic politics, especially in the modern era.”
Some erroneously believe that taqiyya is an exclusively Shia doctrine. That is because the Shia have traditionally relied on it due to the fact that, as a minority group interspersed among their traditional enemies, the much more numerous Sunnis, they have historically had more “reason” to dissemble. However, Sunnis living in the West today find themselves in a similar situation, as they are now the minority surrounded by their historic enemies, non-Muslims.
The primary Koranic verse sanctioning deception vis-Ã -vis non-Muslims states: “Let believers not take for friends and allies infidels instead of believers. Whoever does this shall have no relationship left with Allah–unless you but guard yourselves against them, taking precautions” (3:28; other verses relied on by the ulema include 2:173; 2:185; 4:29; 16:106; 22:78; 40:28).
Al-Tabari’s (d. 923) famous Tafsir (exegesis of the Koran) is essentially a standard reference work in the entire Muslim world. Regarding 3:28, he writes: “If you [Muslim] are under their [infidels’] authority, fearing for yourselves, behave loyally to them, with your tongue, while harboring inner animosity for them…. Allah has forbidden believers from being friendly or on intimate terms with the infidels in place of believers–except when infidels are above them [in authority]. In such a scenario, let them act friendly towards them.”
Regarding 3:28,” Ibn Kathir (d. 1373, second only to Tabari) writes, “Whoever at any time or place fears their [infidels’] evil, may protect himself through outward show.” As proof of this, he quotes Muhammad’s companions: Abu Darda said “Let us smile to the face of some people while our hearts curse them”; while al-Hassan said, “Doing taqiyya is acceptable till the Day of Judgment [i.e., in perpetuity].”
Other prominent ulema, such as al-Qurtubi , al-Razi, and al-Arabi have extended taqiyya to cover deeds. In other words, Muslims can behave like infidels–including by bowing down and worshipping idols and crosses, false testimony, even exposing Muslims’ “weak spots” to the infidel enemy–anything short of actually killing a fellow Muslim.
Is this why the Muslim American soldier, Hasan Akbar, attacked his fellow soldiers in Iraq in 2003? Had his pretence of loyalty finally come up against a wall when he realized Muslims might die at his hands? He had written in his diary: “I may not have killed any Muslims, but being in the army is the same thing. I may have to make a choice very soon on who to kill.”
WAR IS DECEIT
None of this should be surprising considering that Muhammad himself–whose example as the “most perfect human” is to be tenaciously followed–took an expedient view to lying. It is well known, for instance, that Muhammad permitted lying in three situations: to reconcile two or more quarreling parties; to one’s wife; and in war.
As for war, during the Battle of the Trench, which pitted Muhammad and his followers against several non-Muslim tribes (collectively known as “the Confederates”), one Naim bin Masud went to the Muslim camp and converted to Islam. When Muhammad discovered that the Confederates were unaware of Masud’s conversion, he counseled him to return and try somehow to get the Confederates to abandon the siege–“For,” Muhammad assured him, “war is deceit.” Masud returned to the Confederates without their knowledge that he had “switched sides,” and began giving his former kin and allies bad advice. He also went to great lengths to instigate quarrels between the various tribes until, thoroughly distrusting each other, they disbanded, lifting the siege from the Muslims.
More demonstrative of the legitimacy of deception vis-Ã -vis infidels is the following anecdote. A poet, Kab bin al-Ashruf, had offended Muhammad by making derogatory verse concerning Muslim women. Muhammad exclaimed in front of his followers: “Who will kill this man who has hurt Allah and his prophet?” A young Muslim named Muhammad bin Maslama volunteered, but with the caveat that, in order to get close enough to Kab to assassinate him, he be allowed to lie to the poet. Muhammad agreed. Maslama traveled to Kab, began denigrating Islam and Muhammad, carrying on this way till his disaffection became convincing enough that Kab took him into his confidences. Soon thereafter, Maslama appeared with another Muslim and, while Kab’s guard was down, they assaulted and killed him. One version reports that they ran to Muhammad with Kab’s head, to which the latter cried “Allahu Akbar!” (God is great!)
It also bears mentioning that the entire sequence of Koranic revelations are a testimony to taqiyya; and since Allah is believed to be the revealer of these verses, he ultimately is seen as the perpetrator of deceit–which is not surprising since Allah himself is described in the Koran as the “best deceiver” (3:54). This phenomenon revolves around the fact that the Koran contains both peaceful and tolerant verses, as well as violent and intolerant ones. The ulema were baffled as to which verses to codify into sharia’s worldview–the one, for instance, that states there is no coercion in religion (2:256), or the ones that command believers to fight all non-Muslims till they either convert or at least submit to Islam (9:5, 9:29)? To get out of this quandary, they developed the doctrine of abrogation (naskh, supported by Koran 2:105) which essentially states that verses “revealed” later in Muhammad’s career take precedence over the earlier ones whenever there is a contradiction.
But why the contradiction in the first place? The standard answer has been that, since in the early years of Islam, Muhammad and his community were far outnumbered by the infidels, a message of peace and co-existence was in order. However, after he migrated to Medina and grew in military strength and numbers, the violent and intolerant verses were revealed, urging Muslims to go on the offensive. According to this standard view, one can only conclude that the peaceful Meccan verses were ultimately a ruse to buy Islam time till it became sufficiently strong enough to implement the “true” verses. Or, as traditionally understood and implemented, when Muslims are weak, they should preach and behave according to the Meccan verses; when strong, they should go on the offensive, according to the Medinan verses.
WAR IS ETERNAL
The fact that Islam legitimizes deceit during war cannot be all that surprising; after all, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and Hobbes all justified deceit in war. The problem, however, is that, according to all four recognized schools of Sunni jurisprudence, war against the infidel goes on in perpetuity–until “all chaos ceases, and all religion belongs to Allah” (Koran 8:38). The definitive Encyclopaedia of Islam simply states:
“The duty of the jihad exists as long as the universal domination of Islam has not been attained. Peace with non-Muslim nations is, therefore, a provisional state of affairs only; the chance of circumstances alone can justify it temporarily. Furthermore there can be no question of genuine peace treaties with these nations; only truces, whose duration ought not, in principle, to exceed ten years, are authorised. But even such truces are precarious, inasmuch as they can, before they expire, be repudiated unilaterally should it appear more profitable for Islam to resume the conflict.”
This latter concept of obligatory jihad is best expressed by Islam’s dichotomized worldview that pits Dar al Islam (the Islamic world), against Dar al Harb (the non-Islamic world) until the former subsumes the latter. Internationally renowned Muslim historian and philosopher, Ibn Khaldun (d.1406), articulates this division thusly:
“In the Muslim community, holy war [jihad] is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense… But Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.”
This concept is highlighted by the fact that, based on the ten year treaty of Hudaibiya, ratified between Muhammad and his Quraish opponents in Mecca, ten years is, theoretically, the maximum amount of time Muslims can be at peace with infidels. Based on Muhammad’s example of breaking the treaty after two years, (by citing a Quraish infraction), the sole function of the “peace-treaty” (hudna) is to buy weakened Muslims time to regroup before going on the offensive once more. Incidentally, Muhammad is quoted in the Hadith saying, “If I take an oath and later find something else better, I do what is better and break my oath.”
Is this what former PLO leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Yasser Arafat meant when, after negotiating a peace treaty criticized by Muslims as conceding too much to Israel, said in a mosque, “I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraish in Mecca”? What of Hamas, who on several occasions has made it clear that its ultimate aspiration is to see Israel destroyed. Under what context would it want to initiate a “temporary” peace with the Jewish state? When Osama bin Laden offered the U.S. a truce, stressing that “We [Muslims] are a people that Allah has forbidden from double-crossing and lying,” what was his ultimate intention? These are all clear instances of Muslims feigning friendliness simply in order to buy time to strengthen.
Most recently, a new Islamic group associated with Hamas called Jaysh al-Umma (Islam’s army), stated clearly, “Muslims all over the world are obliged to fight the Israelis and the infidels until only Islam rules the earth.” Realizing their slip, they quickly “clarified”: “We say that the world will not live in peace as long as the blood of Muslims continues to be shed.” Which is it–until Muslim blood stops being shed in Israel or “until only Islam rules the earth”?
Here, then, is the problem. If a) Islam must be in a constant state of war with the non-Muslim world–which need not be physical, as the ulema have classified several non-literal forms of jihad, such as “jihad-of-the-pen” (propaganda), and “money-jihad” (economic)–and b) If Muslims are permitted to lie and feign loyalty to the infidel, simply to further their war efforts–what does one make of any Muslim overtures of peace, tolerance, or dialogue?
RECIPROCAL TREATMENT OR RELIGIOUS OBLIGATION?
Why did Osama bin Laden, who firmly believes in the division of the world into two entities–Islam and the rest–which must war until the former dominates the globe, attack the U.S.? The following anecdote sheds some light: after a group of prominent Muslims wrote a letter to Americans saying that Islam is a peaceful religion that wishes to co-exist with others, seeking only to “live and let live,” Bin Laden castigated them as follows:
“As to the relationship between Muslims and infidels, this is summarized by the Most High’s Word: ‘We renounce you. Enmity and hate shall forever reign between us — till you believe in Allah alone’ [Koran 60:4]. So there is an enmity, evidenced by fierce hostility from the heart. And this fierce hostility — that is, battle — ceases only if the infidel submits to the authority of Islam, or if his blood is forbidden from being shed [i.e., a dhimmi], or if Muslims are at that point in time weak and incapable [i.e., taqiyya]. But if the hate at any time extinguishes from the heart, this is great apostasy! … Such, then, is the basis and foundation of the relationship between the infidel and the Muslim. Battle, animosity, and hatred — directed from the Muslim to the infidel — is the foundation of our religion. And we consider this a justice and kindness to them” (from The Al Qaeda Reader).
It bears repeating that this hostile world view is well supported by all of Islam’s schools of jurisprudence. When addressing Western audiences, however, bin Laden’s tone drastically changes; he lists any number of “grievances” for fighting the West–from Palestinian oppression, to the Western exploitation of women and U.S. failure to sign the Kyoto protocol–never once alluding to fighting the U.S. simply because it is an infidel entity that must be subjugated. Indeed, he often initiates his messages to the West by saying “Reciprocal treatment is part of justice.”
This is of course a clear instance of taqiyya, as bin Laden is not only waging a physical jihad, but one of propaganda. Convincing a naÃ¯ve West that the current conflict is entirely its fault only garners him and his cause more sympathy; conversely, he also knows that if Americans were to realize that, all political grievances aside–real or imagined–according to Islam’s worldview, nothing short of their submission to Islam can ever bring peace, his propaganda campaign would be quickly compromised. Hence the constant lying: “war is deceit.”
It should be added that, though the vast majority of the world’s Muslims are not terrorists, bin Laden’s list of grievances against the West is paradigmatic of the average Muslim’s grievances. However, if they are unaware that, according to Islam–not bin Laden–animosity towards infidels transcends time, space, and grievances, and that religious obligation commands the war continue till “all religion belongs to Allah,” they are either ignorant of their own faith (which is common) or–taqiyya?
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE…
Associated with Hamas, denounced by American politicians for “pursuing an extreme Islamist political agenda,” its members arrested for terrorism-related charges–CAIR is another Muslim group which appears to be less than sincere to its non-Muslim audience; situated in the U.S. it is also much closer to home. When it comes to the issue of jihad, perpetual warfare, even doctrines such as taqiyya–indeed, all that has been delineated in this essay–CAIR has been at the forefront of, not only denying their existence, but accusing anyone alluding to them as an “Islamophobe,” thereby censoring any critical talk of Islam.
Could CAIR be taking lessons from the Muslim convert Masud who Muhammad urged to go and live among the Confederate infidels, solely in order to mislead and betray them, that Islam might triumph?
The most obvious example of taqiyya, however, comes ironically from an entire nation: Saudi Arabia. If any nation closely follows sharia–including the division of the world into two warring camps, Islam and Infidelity–it is Saudi Arabia, AKA, America’s “friend.” According to sharia, for instance, the Saudis will not allow the construction of a single church or synagogue on their land; Bibles are banned and burned. Christians engaged in any kind of missionary activity are arrested, tortured, and sometimes killed. Muslim converts to Christianity are put to death. A Filipino migrant worker named Lorenzo was imprisoned and tortured for six years. His crime? Wearing a cross.
Yet for all that, the Saudis have been pushing for more “dialogue” between Muslims and non-Muslims, trying to portray Islam as a tolerant religion that, once again, merely seeks to “coexist” with others. Rather tellingly, Saudi Arabia has not offered to host any of these conferences. Do they fear that a real “debate” might take place, once the non-Muslim participants discover that they are not free to practice their faiths on Saudi soil? The most recent inter-faith conference was held in Madrid, where King Abdullah, despite all the aforementioned, asserted, “Islam is a religion of moderation and tolerance, a message that calls for constructive dialogue among followers of all religions.”
Mere days later, it was revealed that Saudi children textbooks still call Christians and Jews “infidels,” the “hated enemies,” and “pigs and swine.” A multiple choice test in a fourth-grade book asks Muslim children, “Who is a ‘true’ Muslim?” The correct answer is not merely a man who prays, fasts, etc., but rather, “A man worships God alone, loves the believers, and hates the infidels”–that is, those same people the Saudis want to “dialogue” with.
Clearly, then, when Saudis–or other Muslims adhering to sharia–call for “dialogue” they are merely following Abu Darda’s advice: “Let us smile to the face of some people while our hearts curse them.”
There is also a philosophical – more particularly, epistemological – problem with taqiyya. Anyone who truly believes that no less an authority than God justifies and, through his prophet’s example, sometimes even encourages deception, will not experience any ethical qualms or dilemmas about lying. This is especially true if the human mind is indeed a tabula rasa shaped by environment and education. Deception becomes second nature.
Consider the case of former Al-Qaeda operative, Ali Mohammad. Despite being entrenched in the highest echelons of the terrorism network, Mohammed’s confidence at dissembling enabled him to become a CIA agent and FBI informant for years. People who knew him regarded him “with fear and awe for his incredible self-confidence, his inability to be intimidated, absolute ruthless determination to destroy the enemies of Islam, and his zealous belief in the tenets of militant Islamic fundamentalism”, according to Steven Emerson.
Indeed, this sentiment sums it all up: for a zealous belief in Islam’s tenets, which, as has been described above, legitimizes deception, will certainly go a long way in creating incredible self-confidence when deceiving one’s enemies.
All of the above is an exposition on doctrine and its various manifestations, not an assertion on the actual practices of the average Muslim.The deciding question is how literally any given Muslim follows sharia and its worldview.
So-called “moderate” Muslims – or, more specifically, secularised Muslims- do not closely adhere to sharia, and therefore have little to dissemble about. On the other hand, “radical” Muslims who closely observe sharia law, which splits the world into two perpetually warring halves, will always have a “divinely sanctioned” right to deceive, until “all chaos ceases, and all religion belongs to Allah” (Koran 8:39).