Straight talk on the Taqiyya myth

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.

Muslims, Islamists, Islamophobes and the doctrine of “taqiyya” | Ibishblog

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.

I guess Aeshylus and Sun Tzu–both of whom pointed this fact out millenia ago–were Islamists avant la lettre.  (And what’s with all these spies and their disinformation campaigns? I suspect that intelligence and security agencies around the world picked up a disturbing habit from Muslims of, gasp, dissembling and manipulating.)

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.


  • Flaeme

    Qur’an (2:225) – “Allah will not call you to account for thoughtlessness in your oaths, but for the intention in your hearts”
    Allah’s Apostle said, “Who is willing to kill Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?” Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, “O Allah’s Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?” The Prophet said, “Yes,” Muhammad bin Maslama said, “Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Ka’b). “The Prophet said, “You may say it.” (Bukhari 59:369)
    Allah’s Apostle said] “He who makes peace between the people by inventing good information or saying good things, is not a liar.” (Bukhari 49:857)
    yes, moslems do practise taqyiah – because their prophet did it and they are following his example.

  • svend

    Wow, you really got us on the ropes there, Flaeme. Too bad the verse you cut & pasted from some hate site is actually part of an extended Quranic discussion not of conspiring against the “kufar” but simply of ritual purity and sexual relations between husband and wife!
    As in Judaism, such things are regulated in Islam. During menstruation, sexual relations are forbidden in Islam, yet mistakes can obviously happen for various reasons. As I understand it, it’s simply saying that God understands that people sometimes promise in good faith to do (or, in this case, NOT do) a thing and then break their word because of some hardship or weakness. He judges us by our intention–what’s in our heart–not just by whether we’re strong enough to live up to our goals perfectly. (Sounds pretty “Christian” to me…)
    Quite a smoking gun, huh?
    re: Quote #2
    According to some hadiths, the Prophet had some of his wartime enemies–who were doing everything they could, including torture, to wipe out his people–assassinated. (The Old Testament has far worse violence, only with far less detailed historical records.) Not so long ago the US was in the leader assassination business, too (e.g., allegedly poisoning Patrice Lumumba’s toothpaste). It’s not pretty, but it’s part of war. To cite this as if Muhammad were just (God forbid) some predator as opposed to a leader of a persecuted community fighting a war is hopelessly ignorant. Yet very par for the course among Islamophobes.
    re: Quote #3
    First, this exception needs to be stated because honesty is the rule. Second, you are objecting to a hadith that permits people bend the truth in order to make peace. That says it all, about you as well as the religion you’re smearing. (Who’s the extremist here?)
    The Prophet’s honesty was legendary. Even his most die-hard opponents acknowledged his character and spotless reputation, in business dealings as well as politics. In fact, the Islamic calendar begins with perfect illustration of this. Muhammad and his early followers emigrated to Madina in 622 CE at the request of both its Jewish and Arab, who accepted him as an arbiter due to his unblemished reputation. He was Al-Amin (“The Trusthworthy”), and that is the ideal Muslims are supposed to strive for.
    All of these examples illustrate how seriously honesty is taken in Islam.

  • Flaeme

    :DDD Prophet honesty was legendary :DDD
    joke of the year.
    like sending Hafsah to see her father under false pretext and jumping to bed with Maryiah Kitbia, yeah? this was surely the bright example of honesty.
    as for exceptions – so assasinating the political opponent is the proof of good character. and if the others people are doing it too, it is automatically excuse for Mohamed.
    wow. really fitting for most perfect man on earth, Al insan al kamil.

  • Flaeme

    ah and some nice hadeeths how prophet valuated given word -
    Narrated ‘Aisha: Abu Bakr As-Siddiq had never broken his oaths till Allah revealed the expiation for the oaths. Then he said, “If I take an oath to do something and later on I find something else better than the first one, then I do what is better and make expiation for my oath.”
    Narrated ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Samura: The Prophet said, “O ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Samura! Do not seek to be a ruler, because if you are given authority for it, then you will be held responsible for it, but if you are given it without asking for it, then you will be helped in it (by Allah): and whenever you take an oath to do something and later you find that something else is better than the first, then do the better one and make expiation for your oath.”
    Narrated Abu Musa: I went to the Prophet along with a group of Al-Ash’ariyin in order to request him to provide us with mounts. He said, “By Allah, I will not provide you with mounts and I haven’t got anything to mount you on.” Then we stayed there as long as Allah wished us to stay, and then three very nice looking she-camels were brought to him and he made us ride them. When we left, we, or some of us, said, “By Allah, we will not be blessed, as we came to the Prophet asking him for mounts, and he swore that he would not give us any mounts but then he did give us. So let us go back to the Prophet and remind him (of his oath).” When we returned to him (and reminded him of the fact), he said, “I did not give you mounts, but it is Allah Who gave you. By Allah, Allah willing, if I ever take an oath to do something and then I find something else than the first, I will make expiation for my oath and do the thing which is better (or do something which is better and give the expiation for my oath).”
    so, moslems are taught – If I promise something and I do not want to do it and I find a good excuse – well, why not?

  • svend

    Slavery (in various forms) was no less a fact of life in the Arabian Peninsula in Muhammad’s time in the 6th Century CE than in Abraham’s day 2 1/2 millenia earlier. In fact, the idea that people can’t be “owned” is a very modern one, as American history certainly shows.
    Likewise, for a man to have sexual relations with a female servant that he “owned” was not considered improper in many (perhaps most) cultures until the modern period. Abraham did it with Hagar, and God blessed the child born of that union (Ishmael) in the Book of Genesis.
    Slavery was a ubiquitious institution in premodern human history. Today, people are “employed”, but in the past they were often owned, often temporarily. The Americas were built by a mix of permanent slaves and temporary ones (indentured servants, who worked off debt to gain their freedom). It’s all over the Old Testament and the New Testament took it for granted, as the Epistle to Philemon shows when Paul counsels a runway slave to return to his master. It took over a millenium for Christians to develop any misgivings about the institution whatsoever.
    Islam provides comprehensive and detailed guidance to its followers in their daily lives, so it’s really quite strange to expect Islamic texts written in the Middle East a millenium or more *not* to address slavery in a detailed, matter-of-fact manner.
    You try to pass these other passages off as proof that Islam gives men carte blanche to take advantage of women, but with the above context in mind, the passages to the contrary show that Islam puts strict *limits* on men’s treatment of women. It regulated sexual relations–and in a time when promiscuity was widespread–permitting men only to allow themselves to have sex in the context of a formal, religiously sanctioned relationship. There were rules governing a master’s use of his slave.
    Finally, slavery has no place in the modern world, so those rules are in abeyance. Like many rulings in Islamic law, they apply to specific historical circumstances.
    War is war. People are killed in war, and I’m not sure it’s worse to kill a leader than a foot soldier. In fact, it’s probably the more humane thing to do, since it’ll save lives if it ends the conflict early.
    Your kneejerk, historically-illiterate carping has no relevance to Muhammad, but it says volumes about your prejudice and animousity towards Muslims.
    Get back to me when you experience an original thought and learn a little about history.

  • Aasem Bakhshi

    @ Flaeme
    I seriously believe you haven’t had a look at Hussien Ibish’s article on Taqiyya which was originally linked by Svend. It points towards some of the doubts you are raising.
    Secondly, a cursory understanding of sources of Islamic law would suggest you not to confuse the alleged practice of dissimulation with Quranic teaching on oaths; both among people and in the name of Allah. Just to give you a starter, a basic Islamic teaching within which the injunctions regarding oaths work is “action are but intentions”. The hadith you are quoting in your second remark are related to oaths and not dissimulation.

  • Ayman Hossam Fadel

    This is a link to a chapter in al-Ghazali’s Ihya uluum al-din discussing when lying is permissible:
    My loose translation of some of the most important passages is available at

  • Ayman Hossam Fadel

    According to Anouar Majid (, the grand mufti of Oran ( in contemporary Algeria authored an opinion permitting Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula to fail to observe religious obligations and hide one’s belief during the persecutions of the Catholic Kingdoms and the Inquisitions. He cited Henry Charles Lea, pp. 21-3.
    Needless to say, this example hardly supports the implications of contemporary Islamophobes.

  • svend

    I suspect you’re rigth, Aasem. Not that there aren’t things that reasonable people can disagree about within Islamic tradition, but I think that myopic ignorance is at the heart of the whole worldview (such that it is) of Islamophobes.
    Thanks for that fascinating example, Ayman. Majid has produced some groundbreaking historical studies that imposed much needed nuance to all these essentializing black & white discourses of Western/Islamic differences. He turns the tables in all sorts of interesting ways.

  • Sever

    Just a quick note here:
    The accounts of the Hadith and the Sira were written down between 100-200 years of the Prophet’s death. They are often full of conflicting reports and discrepancies. The Qur’an is the ultimate criterion by which Islam, and Islamic texts, should be measured. To judge the Prophet, one must use the Qur’an and look at the ENTIRETY of the historical sources, not isolated reports.
    Not to mention the notion of the Prophet being the ‘perfect man’ is a doctrine that developed AFTER he died. The Qur’an does actually criticize him on a few occasions.

  • Khawla

    Is not it shocking to read a comment that making peace between two fighting parties by lying is believed to be wrong? Then, what is better than that? And please, open your mind to understand Islam better. We are tired of random discussions that serve no purpose other than agitating hate.