How Taqiyya Alters Islam's Rules of War

By Ibrahim, Raymond | Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

How Taqiyya Alters Islam's Rules of War


Ibrahim, Raymond, Middle East Quarterly


Defeating Jihadist Terrorism

Islam must seem a paradoxical religion to non-Muslims. On the one hand, it is constantly being portrayed as the religion of peace; on the other, its adherents are responsible for the majority of terror attacks around the world. Apologists for Islam emphasize that it is a faith built upon high ethical standards; others stress that it is a religion of the law. Islam's dual notions of truth and falsehood furtherreveal its paradoxical nature: While the Qur 'an is against believers deceiving other believers - for "surely God guides not him who is prodigal and a liar"1 - deception directed at non-Muslims, generally known in Arabic as taqiyya, also has Qur'anic support and falls within the legal category of things that are permissible for Muslims.

Taqiyya offers two basic uses. The better known revolves around dissembling over one's religious identity when in fear of persecution. Such has been the historical usage of taqiyya among Shi'i communities, whenever and wherever their Sunni rivals have outnumbered and thus threatened them. Conversely, Sunni Muslims, far from suffering persecution have, whenever capability allowed, waged jihad against the realm of unbelief; and it is here that they have deployed taqiyya - not as dissimulation but as active deceit. In fact, deceit, which is doctrinally grounded in Islam, is often depicted as being equal - sometimes superior - to other universal military virtues, such as courage, fortitude, or self-sacrifice.

Yet if Muslims are exhorted to be truthful, how can deceit not only be prevalent but have divine sanction? What exactly is taqiyya! How is it justified by scholars and those who make use of it? How does it fit into a broader conception of Islam's code of ethics, especially in relation to the non-Muslim? More to the point, what ramifications does the doctrine of taqiyya have for all interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims?

THE DOCTRINE OF TAQIYYA

According to Shari'a- the body of legal rulings that defines how a Muslim should behave in all circumstances- deception is not only permitted in certain situations but may be deemed obligatory in others. Contrary to early Christian tradition, for instance, Muslims who were forced t0 choose between recanting Islam or suffering persecution were permitted to lie m¿ ^gn apostasy Other jurists have decreed that Muslims are obligated to lie in order to preserve themselves,2 based on Qur'anic verses forbidding Muslims from being instrumental in their own deaths.3

This is the classic definition of the doctrine of taqiyya. Based on an Arabic word denoting fear, taqiyya has long been understood, especially by Western academics, as something to resort to in times of religious persecution and, for the most part, used in this sense by minority Shi'i groups living among hostile Sunni majorities.4 Taqiyya allowed the Shi 'a to dissemble their religious affiliation in front of the Sunnis on a regular basis, not merely by keeping clandestine about their own beliefs but by actively praying and behaving as if they were Sunnis.

However, one of the few books devoted to the subject, At-Taqiyyafi ?-ìslam (Dissimulation in Islam) makes it clear that taqiyya is not limited to Shi'a dissimulating in fear of persecution. Written by Sami Mukaram, a former Islamic studies professor at the American University of Beirut and author of some twenty-five books on Islam, the book clearly demonstrates the ubiquity and broad applicability of taqiyya:

Taqiyya 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.5

Taqiyya is, therefore, not, as is often supposed, an exclusively Shi'i phenomenon. Of course, as a minority group interspersed among their Sunni enemies, the Shi'a have historically had more reason to dissemble. …

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