Haven’t had a chance to examine it closely yet, but I should share a valuable essay from 2009 by Hussein Ibish on the agonizingly cliched yet ubiquitous invocation of the doctrine of Taqiyya by Islamophobes and all manner of ignoramuses these days.
As Wikipedia puts it, paraphrasing the Oxford Enclyclopedia of Islam, “Taqiyya is the Islamic practice of precautionary dissimulation whereby believers may conceal their Muslim faith when under threat, persecution or compulsion.” (Emphasis added.) So, it’s a coping mechanism–and a rather self-evident one that most people would instinctively resort to, I suspect–for self-preservation in conflicts. It’s certainly not a license to lie at will to people from other religious communities.
Islam is supposed to the “middle way” between extremes, not a burden, after all. Alcohol is forbidden, but if you dying of thirst it is allowed. Likewise for pork. A high premium is put on honesty, but contrary to the image of fanatical devotion often seen in the media, God does not expect us to throw away our lives in senseless conflicts over dogma and sectarianism.
Given how Islamophobes trot out this concept–which, as Ibish points out, is actually fairly esoteric–ad nauseam as an all-purpose explanation for any instance of a Muslim being dishonest in dealing with other people, you’d never guess that war everywhere, irrespective of creed, has been characterized by deception since time immemorial.
In short, the charge is not merely hackneyed but frequently downright moronic, as in this farcical case where counter-terror officials are given a sober warning that Muslim extremists might not be up front about their beliefs when plying their sinister trade. (The humanity! How can terrorists sink so low?!? Have these would-be murderers no shame? I mean, that’s just dishonest.) The fact that it’s cited at every turn by opponents of the Park51 project tells you volumes about the intellectual level of this “movement”.
Update: Don’t miss Sheila Musaji’s excellent examination of the taqiyya slur/misconception, “The Taqiyya Libel Against Muslims”, either.
And then there’s the question of the Quran’s very strong emphasis on honesty (e.g., this article on honesty in business dealings).
Update (2010-10-12): Added paragraph with Wiki definition.