Islam must be seen as an oddly, inconsistent religion to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. While it is constantly being portrayed as the religion of peace; its believers are responsible for the majority of terrorist attacks in every locale around the globe. Defenders of Islam tell us that it is a faith built upon ethical standards, but others see it only as a religion of laws.
Islam’s twofold philosophies of truth and falsehood further reveal its contradictory nature, because the Qur’an is against believers deceiving another believer for “surely God guides not him who is prodigal and a liar,” but deception directed toward non-Muslims falls within the legalities of those things permissible for Muslims. It is a practice known in Arabic as taqiyya and sustained by the Qur’an.
Taqiyya occurs within the frame work of two ideologies. One permits the feigning of 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 them. Conversely, Sunni Muslims, while not suffering persecution have, whenever circumstance allowed, waged jihad against the dimension of unbelief; it is here that they have deployed taqiyya and not in concealment, but in vigorous treachery. In fact, deceitfulness, which is doctrinally grounded in Islam, is often depicted as being equal or sometimes superior to other military assets; such as courage, fortitude, or self-sacrifice. However, if Islam touts itself as maintaining ethical standards, how can deceit not only be prevalent, but also have divine sanction?
According to Shari’a law such deception is not only permitted in certain situations, but also reasoned as obligatory in others. Some Imams have decreed that Muslims are obligated to lie in order to preserve themselves, based on verses within the Qur’an that seem to indicate that Muslims are not to be contributory in their own deaths.
Based on an Arabic word meaning fear, taqiyya has long been understood 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. Taqiyya allowed the Shi’a to fake their religious affiliation, not merely by keeping secret about their own beliefs, but by actively praying and acting as if they were Sunnis.
In today’s world, Taqiyya has become a fundamental importance in Islam. Practically every Islamic sect approves of and practices it. Taqiyya is also commonplace in Islamic politics.
Taqiyya is not an exclusively Shi’i phenomenon. Ironically, Sunnis living in the West today find themselves in the place of the Shi’a as they are the minority surrounded by their perceived enemies; those being Christian infidels. In brief, Sunnis are currently experiencing the general circumstances that made taqiyya integral to Shi’i life although without the physical threat that had so necessitated it.
Qur’anic verse 3:28 is seen as the main verse that supports deception: “Let believers [Muslims] not take infidels [non-Muslims] for friends and allies instead of believers. Whoever does this shall have no relationship left with God—unless you but guard yourselves against them, taking precautions.”
Muhammad ibn Jarir at-Tabari, author of Qur’an commentary, clarifies verse 3:28 as follows: If you [Muslims] are under their [non-Muslims’] authority, fearing for yourselves, behave loyally to them with your tongue while harboring inner animosity for them … [know that] God has forbidden believers from being friendly or on intimate terms with the infidels rather than other believers—except when infidels are above them [in authority]. Should that be the case, let them act friendly towards them while preserving their religion.
Regarding Qur’an 3:28, Ibn Kathir, another prime authority on the Qur’an, writes, “Whoever at any time or place fears … evil [from non-Muslims] may protect himself through outward show.” As proof of this, he quotes Muhammad’s close companion Abu Darda, who said, “Let us grin in the face of some people while our hearts curse them.” Another companion, simply known as Al-Hasan, said, “Doing taqiyya is acceptable till the Day of Judgment [i.e., in perpetuity].”
Other prominent scholars, such as Abu ‘Abdullah al-Qurtubi and Muhyi ‘d-Din ibn al-Arabi, have included taqiyya to cover deeds. In other words, Muslims can behave like infidels and worse by bowing down and worshiping idols and crosses, offering false testimony, and even exposing the weaknesses of their fellow Muslims to the infidel enemy. Basically, they can do anything short of actually killing a Muslim. The belief is that, “Taqiyya, even if committed without duress, does not lead to a state of infidelity, even if it leads to sin deserving of hellfire.”
Muhammad, who is held up by Muslims as the “most perfect human” and is to be followed in every detail, takes a convenient, or ‘worldly’, view in regard to lying; for it is well documented that he permitted lying in three situations: to reconcile two or more disagreeing parties, to appease one’s wife and in war. According to an Arabic legal manual devoted to jihad as defined by the four schools of law, “The ulema agree that deception during warfare is legitimate … deception is a form of art in war.” Moreover, according to Mukaram, this deception is classified as taqiyya: “Taqiyya in order to dupe the enemy is permissible.”
Several ulema believe deceit is integral to the waging of war: Ibn al-‘Arabi declares that “in the Hadith [sayings and actions of Muhammad], practicing deceit in war is well demonstrated. Indeed, its need is more stressed than the need for courage.” Ibn al-Munir writes, “War is deceit, i.e., the most complete and perfect war waged by a holy warrior is a war of deception, not confrontation, due to the latter’s inherent danger, and the fact that one can attain victory through treachery without harm [to oneself].” And Ibn Hajar counsels Muslims “to take great caution in war, while [publicly] lamenting and mourning in order to dupe the infidels.”
Most recently, 9/11 collaborators, such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, rationalized their conspiratorial role in their defendant response by evoking their prophet’s assertion that “war is deceit.”
Muhammad said other things that depicts deception in a positive manner, such as “God has commanded me to equivocate among the people just as he has commanded me to establish [religious] obligations”; and “I have been sent with obfuscation”; and “whoever lives his life in dissimulation dies a martyr.”
The earliest historical records of Islam clearly attest to the prevalence of taqiyya as a form of Islamic warfare. Furthermore, early Muslims are often depicted as resorting to lying as a means to avoid personal harm; usually by denying or insulting Islam or Muhammad. Muhammad sanctions such deception; his only criterion being that their intentions (niya) be pure.
The Qur’an itself is further testimony to taqiyya. Since God is believed by Muslims to be the author of these verses, he is by default seen as the ultimate perpetrator of deceit; which is not surprising since he is described in the Qur’an as the best makar, that is, the best deceiver or schemer.
While some religious writings contain contradictions, the Qur’an is the only holy book whose commentators have evolved a doctrine to account for the very visible shifts which occur from one injunction to another. No careful reader will remain unaware of the many contradictory verses in the Qur’an, most specifically the way in which peaceful and tolerant verses lie almost side by side with violent and intolerant ones. The ulema were initially baffled as to which verses to categorize into the Shari’a worldview; the one that states there is no coercion in religion, or the ones that command believers to fight all non-Muslims till they either convert, or at least submit, to Islam. To forego this quandary, the commentators developed the doctrine of abrogation, which essentially maintains that verses revealed later in Muhammad’s career take precedence over earlier ones whenever there is a discrepancy. In order to document which verses abrogated which, a religious science devoted to the chronology of the Qur’an’s verses evolved (known as an-Nasikh wa’l Mansukh, the abrogater and the abrogated).
But why the contradiction in the first place? The accepted view is that in the early years of Islam, since Muhammad and his community were far outnumbered by their infidel competitors while living next to them in Mecca, a message of peace and coexistence was in order. However, after the Muslims migrated to Medina in 622 and grew in military strength, verses inciting them to go on the offensive were slowly “revealed in principle, sent down from God and always commensurate with Islam’s growing capabilities. In juridical texts, these are categorized in stages: passivity vis-á-vis aggression; permission to fight back against aggressors; commands to fight aggressors; commands to fight all non-Muslims, whether the infidels begin aggressions or not. Growing Muslim military power and capacity are the only variables that explain this progressive change in doctrine.
The standard view on Qur’anic abrogation concerning war and peace verses is that when Muslims are weak and in a minority position, they should preach and behave according to the character of the Meccan verses (peace and tolerance); when strong, however, they should go on the offensive on the basis of what is commanded in the Medinan verses (war and conquest). The deviations of Islamic history are a testimony to this dichotomy, best captured by the popular Muslim notion, based on a hadith, that, if possible, jihad should be performed by the hand (force), if not, then by the tongue (through preaching); and, if that is not possible, then with the heart or one’s intentions.
Deception of the enemy during war is only common strategy. The crucial difference in Islam is that war against the infidel is a perpetual affair; until, in the words of the Qur’an, “all chaos ceases, and all religion belongs to God.” In his entry on jihad from the Encyclopaedia of Islam, Emile Tyan 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.”
Moreover, going back to the doctrine of abrogation, Muslim scholars such as Ibn Salama agree that Qur’an 9:5, known as ayat as-sayf or the sword verse, has abrogated some the one hundred and twenty-four of the less violent Meccan verses, including “every other verse in the Qur’an, which commands or implies anything less than a total offensive against the nonbelievers.” In fact, all four schools of Sunni jurisprudence agree that “jihad is when Muslims wage war on infidels, after having called on them to embrace Islam or at least pay tribute [jizya] and live in submission, and the infidels refuse.” Based upon that belief…is it any wonder why ISIS members demand huge ransoms for those they have kidnapped?
Obligatory jihad is best expressed by Islam’s dichotomized worldview that pits the realm of Islam against the realm of war. The first, dar al-Islam, is the “realm of submission,” the world where Shari’a governs; the second, dar al-Harb (the realm of war), is the non-Islamic world. A struggle continues until the realm of Islam incorporates the non-Islamic world; a perpetual situation that continues to the present day.
The renowned Muslim historian and philosopher Ibn Khaldun clearly articulates this division: “In the Muslim community, 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 jihad was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense. But Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.”
All evidence aside, lest it still appear unreasonable for a faith with over one billion adherents to obligate unprovoked warfare in its name, it is worth noting that the expansionist jihad is seen by Muslims as a noble endeavor. The logic is that the world, whether under democracy, socialism, communism, or any other system of governance, is inevitably living in bondage; a great sin, since the good of all humanity is found in living in accordance to God’s law. In this context, Muslim deception can be viewed as a slightly less than noble means to a glorious end; that being, Islamic authority under Shari’a rule, which is seen as good for both Muslims and non-Muslims.
That view has an ancient lineage: Soon after the death of Muhammad, as the jihad fighters spewed forth from the Arabian Peninsula, a soon-to-be conquered Persian commander asked the invading Muslims what they wanted. They replied as follows: “God has sent us and brought us here so that we may free those who desire from servitude to earthly rulers and make them servants of God, which we may change their poverty into wealth and free them from the tyranny and chaos of [false] religions and bring them to the justice of Islam. He has sent us to bring his religion to all his creatures and call them to Islam. Whoever accepts it from us will be safe, and we shall leave him alone; but whoever refuses, we shall fight until we fulfill the promise of God.”
Fourteen hundred years later, in March 2009, Saudi legal expert Basem Alem publicly echoed that belief: “As a member of the true religion, I have a greater right to invade [others] in order to impose a certain way of life [according to Shari’a], which history has proven to be the best and most just of all civilizations. This is the true meaning of offensive jihad. When we wage jihad, it is not in order to convert people to Islam, but in order to liberate them from the dark slavery in which they live.”
And it should go without saying that taqiyya in the service of self-sacrifice is permissible. For example, only recently, after publicly recounting a story where a Muslim tricked a Jew into converting to Islam—warning him that if he tried to abandon Islam, Muslims would kill him as an apostate—Muslim cleric Mahmoud al-Masri called it a “beautiful trick.” After all, from an Islamic point of view, it was the Jew who, in the end, benefitted from the deception, which brought him to Islam.
The perpetual nature of jihad is highlighted by the fact that, based on the 10-year treaty of Hudaybiya, ratified between Muhammad and his Quraysh opponents in Mecca, most jurists are agreed that ten years is the maximum amount of time Muslims can be at peace with infidels; once the treaty has expired, the situation needs to be reappraised. Based on Muhammad’s example of breaking the treaty after two years (by claiming a Quraysh infraction), the sole function of the truce is to buy weakened Muslims time to regroup before renewing the offensive: “By their very nature, treaties must be of temporary duration, for in Muslim legal theory, the normal relations between Muslim and non-Muslim territories are not peaceful, but warlike.” Hence “the fuqaha [jurists] are agreed that open-ended truces are illegitimate if Muslims have the strength to renew the war against them [non-Muslims].”
Even though Shari’a mandates Muslims to abide by treaties, they have a way out, one open to abuse: If Muslims believe, even without solid evidence, that their opponents are about to break the treaty, they can preempt by breaking it first. Moreover, some Islamic schools of law, such as the Hanafi, assert that Muslim leaders may abrogate treaties merely if it seems advantageous for Islam. This is reminiscent of the following canonical hadith: “If you ever take an oath to do something and later on you find that something else is better, then you should expiate your oath and do what is better.”
And what is better, what is more altruistic, than to make God’s word supreme by launching the jihad anew whenever possible? Traditionally, Muslim rulers held to a commitment to launch a jihad at least once every year. This ritual is most noted with the Ottoman sultans, who spent half their lives in the field. So important was the duty of jihad that the sultans were not permitted to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca, an individual duty for each Muslim. Their leadership of the jihad allowed this communal duty to continue; without them, it would have fallen into abandonment.
For those leaders who advocate cooperation with Islamists, Yasser Arafat, soon after negotiating a peace treaty criticized as conceding too much to Israel, addressed an assembly of Muslims in a mosque in Johannesburg where he justified his actions: “I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh in Mecca.” In other words, like Muhammad, Arafat gave his word only to annul it once “something better” came along—that is, once the Palestinians became strong enough to renew the offensive and continue on the road to Jerusalem. Elsewhere, Hudaybiya has appeared as a keyword for radical Islamists. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front had three training camps within the Camp Abu Bakar complex in the Philippines, one of which was named Camp Hudaybiya. Are you listening President Aquino?
In their statements directed toward Western audiences, Islamists maintain that the terrorism they direct against the West is merely reciprocal treatment for decades of Western and Israeli oppression. Yet in writings directed to their fellow Muslims, this hostility is presented, not as a reaction to military or political provocation, but as a necessity of religious obligation.
For instance, when addressing Western audiences, Osama bin Laden listed a number of grievances as motivating his war on the West. Never once did he justify Al-Qaeda’s attacks on Western targets simply because non-Muslim countries are infidel entities that must be subjugated. Indeed, he often initiates his messages to the West by saying, “Reciprocal treatment is part of justice” or “Peace to whoever follows guidance” though he means something entirely different than what his Western listeners understand by words such as “peace,” “justice,” or “guidance.”
It is when bin Laden spoke to fellow Muslims that the truth comes out. When a group of prominent Muslims wrote an open letter to the American people soon after the strikes of 9/11, saying that Islam seeks to peacefully coexist, bin Laden wrote to rebuke them: As to the relationship between Muslims and infidels, this is summarized by the Most High’s Word: “We [Muslims] renounce you [non-Muslims]. Enmity and hate shall forever reign between us till you believe in God alone” [Qur’an 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 protected minority], or if Muslims are at that point in time weak and incapable. 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 are the foundation of our religion. And we consider this a justice and kindness to them.
Bin Laden’s addresses to the West with his talk of justice and peace are clear instances of taqiyya. He was not only waging a physical jihad but a propaganda war, that is, a war of deceit. If he could convince the West that the current conflict is entirely its fault, he garnered greater sympathy for his cause. At the same time, he knew that if Americans were to realize that nothing short of their submission could ever bring peace; his propaganda campaign would have been quickly compromised. Hence the constant need to dissemble and to cite grievances, for, as bin Laden’s prophet asserted, “War is deceit.”
Taqiyya presents a range of ethical dilemmas. Anyone who truly believes that God justifies and, through his prophet’s example, even encourages deception will not experience any ethical qualms over lying. Consider the case of ‘Ali Mohammad, bin Laden’s first “trainer” and long-time Al-Qaeda operative. An Egyptian, he was initially a member of Islamic Jihad and had served in the Egyptian army’s military intelligence unit. After 1984, he worked for a time with the CIA in Germany. Though considered untrustworthy, he managed to get to California where he enlisted in the U.S. Army. It seems likely that he continued to work in some capacity for the CIA. He later trained jihadists in the United States and Afghanistan and was behind several terror attacks in Africa. 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. Indeed, this sentence sums it all up: For a zealous belief in Islam’s tenets, which legitimize deception in order to make God’s word supreme, will certainly go a long way in creating “incredible self-confidence” when lying.
Most Westerners continue to think that Muslim mores, laws, and ethical constraints are near identical to those of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Naively, or arrogantly, today’s multiculturalist leaders project their own worldview onto Islamists, thinking a handshake and smiles across a cup of coffee, as well as numerous concessions, are enough to dismantle the power of God’s word and centuries of unchanging tradition. The fact remains: Right and wrong in Islam have little to do with accepted standards, but only to do with what Islam teaches; which is antithetical to Western norms.
It must, therefore, be accepted that, contrary to long-held academic assumptions, the doctrine of taqiyya goes far beyond Muslims engaging in religious dissimulation in the interest of self-preservation and encompasses deception of the infidel enemy in general. This phenomenon should provide a context for Shi’i Iran’s zeal; taqiyya being especially second nature to Shi’ism to acquire nuclear power while insisting that its motives are entirely peaceful.
Nor is taqiyya confined to overseas affairs. Walid Phares of the National Defense University has lamented that homegrown Islamists are operating unfettered on American soil due to their use of taqiyya: “Does our government know what this doctrine is all about and, more importantly, are authorities educating the body of our defense apparatus regarding this stealthy threat dormant among us?” After the Fort Hood massacre, when Nidal Malik Hasan, an American-Muslim who exhibited numerous Islamist signs which were ignored, killed thirteen fellow servicemen and women, one is compelled to respond in the negative.
This is the dilemma: Islamic law unambiguously splits the world into two perpetually warring halves; the Islamic world versus the non-Islamic and holds it to be God’s will for the former to incorporate the latter. Yet if war with the infidel is a perpetual affair, if war is deceit, and if deeds are justified by intentions—any number of Muslims will naturally conclude that they have a divinely sanctioned right to deceive, so long as they believe their deception serves to aid Islam “until all chaos ceases, and all religion belongs to God.” Such deception will further be seen as a means to a self-sacrificing end. Muslim overtures for peace, dialogue, or even temporary truces must be seen in this light, evoking the practical observations of philosopher James Lorimer, uttered over a century ago: “So long as Islam endures, the reconciliation of its adherents, even with Jews and Christians, and still more with the rest of mankind, must continue to be an insoluble problem.”