by Raymond Ibrahim
Instead of trying to be “bold” and tackling a “controversial” topic, innate apologists would do better to simply remain silent.
In “Secret Muslims: Are Muslims allowed to hide their faith?” in Slate, July 3, Juliet Lapidos wonders “whether there’s a history of Muslims who deny their faith publicly while maintaining it privately.” She concludes:
Yes, if you’re a Shiite; maybe, if you’re a Sunni. According to Chapter 16, Verse 106 of the Koran, “Any one who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters Unbelief — except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith — but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty.” Shiites cite this verse to justifytaqiyya, a religious dispensation by which persecuted Muslims may hide their beliefs. But Sunni scholars have a more equivocal take. Some reject taqiyya as unacceptable hypocrisy and evidence of cowardice: Muslims shouldn’t fear other humans, only Allah. Others argue that concealment is warranted under life-threatening circumstances.
This is inaccurate. For starters, the author quotes a secondary verse to justifytaqiyya; the primary verse (to say nothing of some very straightforwardhadiths) that all the ulema have relied on to articulate doctrines of deception states: “Let believers not take for friends and allies infidels rather than believers; whoever does so shall have no relationship left with Allah — unless you but guard yourselves against them, taking precautions” (3:28).
Note that this verse says nothing about forced conversions. So why does Lapidos evoke 16:106, the one that does? As the remainder of her article makes clear, she wants to portray Islam as justifying dissembling only when non-Muslims try to forcefully convert Muslims — that and nothing else.
She goes on to claim that “Sunni scholars have a more equivocal take” regarding the validity of taqiyya, as opposed to Shias. While it is true that, historically, Shia minorities living among Sunni majorities have had more need to dissemble (tells you something about residing with Sunnis, no?), that is simply a quirk of circumstance. In other words, now that Sunnis are minority groups living among infidel majority groups, such as in the West, they, like Shias surrounded by Sunnis, have developed perhaps an even greater need to hide their true beliefs.
As for the notion that “some [Sunnis] reject taqiyya as unacceptable hypocrisy and evidence of cowardice…. Others argue that concealment is warranted under life-threatening circumstances,” the very first lines of one of the few Arabic books wholly dedicated to treating the doctrine of taqiyya, called al-Taqiyya fi al-Islam (“Taqiyya in Islam”), by Islamic studies professor Sami Makarem, unequivocally states in its opening page:
Taqiyya is of fundamental importance in Islam. Nearly every Islamic sect has agreed to it and practices it….Indeed, we can go so far as to say that mainstream Islam practices taqiyya, and that those few sects that do not practice it are aberrant, diverging from the mainstream. (p.7)
Lapidos continues later on in her article:
Outside the Islamic world, there are two major historical examples of Muslims practicing taqiyya. During the 16th century, Catholic authorities in Spain gave the local (predominantly Sunni) Muslim population an ultimatum: Convert or leave the country. Some of the converts (called Moriscos by the Spanish) became sincere Catholics while others perpetuated their faith in private. Crypto-Muslims attended church services on Sundays but used Aljamiado — an Arabic alphabet for transcribing Romance languages — to secretly pass down Islamic traditions. In antebellum America, slaves from West Africa, many of whom were Muslim, were forced to convert to Christianity. As in medieval Spain, some slaves converted sincerely while others maintained their religion in secret.
Lapidos maintains that the “two major historical examples of Muslims practicing taqiyya” were when Christians tried to forcefully convert them — again, as if that’s the sole purpose of Muslim deceit. (Of course, subtly injecting the image of “intolerant,” “slave-driving” Christians goes a long way in justifying, or at least further clouding, the issue of taqiyya — especially for an audience such as Slate’s.) But aside from the fact that current events are full of Muslims engaging in taqiyya, and not because they fear for their faith — from “reneged” peace treatises with Israel and other infidel entities to terrorist-linked organizations and people like CAIR and Tariq Ramadan constantly proclaiming that “Islam means peace.” History in fact furnishes numerous anecdotes where Muslims deceived others, and not because anyone was trying to force them into another religion, starting with Islam’s prophet Muhammad himself:
Apart from his famous assertion that “War is deceit,” Muhammad allowed his followers to feign goodwill towards infidels, solely in order to treacherously strike them down, as in the following hadith:
“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 Kab). “The Prophet said, “You may say it.”
As for Islam’s ulema, taqiyya in Islam quotes from a number of the most prominent, the vast majority of whom agree that taqiyya is not just limited to preserving one’s faith. Here, for instance, is the premiere exegete al-Tabari: “Allah Almighty has forbidden the believers from being friendly with infidels or from taking them as confidants in place of other believers — except when they are clearly outnumbered by the infidels, in which case let them display outward friendliness, while holding onto their faith” (p.22).
After quoting from a number of other authoritative ulema, Makarem concludes that “There is no major difference between what al-Tabari, Ibn Kathir, al-Baydawi, and al-Jilalan all say in regards to taqiyya” (p.26).
Notice that Tabari recommends that Muslims feign goodwill towards infidels not when the latter are trying to forcefully convert them, but because they are natural enemies, at least from a Muslim perspective. So, far from being a question of preserving their faith, taqiyya is to be practiced when Muslims are in the minority and living among majority infidels — precisely the scenario we have today in the West.
The Slate article tries to pull a fast one: it admits to taqiyya, but then quickly portrays it as “controversial” and only used as a last resort from Muslims trying to escape (Christian) persecution. Depicting an incomplete picture is worse than no picture, and Slate would have been more objective to stay silent on the matter. At any rate, I am more inclined to heeding the words of Islamic scholar Sami Makarem, who has written an entire book on taqiyya — not to mention the plain words of al-Tabari, Ibn Kathir, al-Baydawi, indeed, Muhammad himself — as opposed to half truths coming from one Juliet Lapidos.
Raymond Ibrahim is the editor of the Al-Qaeda Reader, translations of religious texts and propaganda.