The practice of “taqiyya” (dissimulation or concealment) has been redefined as a religious obligation for Muslims to lie to non-Muslims in order to serve the expansionist agenda of their religious community.
This is a false understanding that has gained traction in the West, as I explained previously.
Islam only permits its adherents to dissimulate their faith if doing otherwise would cost them their lives, so long as they continue to be steadfast in their hearts.
Therefore, in practice “taqiyya” has been commonly used in Muslim history mostly among oppressed minority groups.
Though according to at-Tabari’s commentary on the Quran (followed by the majority Sunni exegetical tradition), “taqiyya” is a doctrine endorsed by mainstream Islam; in practice it has been used most frequently by minority Shiite communities persecuted under Sunni governments.
In an article found on al-islam.org, the Shiite author asserts that the practice of “taqiyya,” as I have elaborated above, is permitted only in cases where the life or limb of a Muslim is at stake, and that only when it is judged that the practice of dissimulation will not ultimately be more harmful to the Muslim community than the proclamation of the truth.
In the latter case, Muslims, whether Sunni or Shiite, would have to affirm their position in truth, even if it leads to their own demise.
The question that should be asked, therefore, is not when “taqiyya” is not permitted, as though it were an encouraged practice in all instances, but rather when is “taqiyya” permitted.
Accordingly, it is only permitted when it will not bring harm on the Muslim community, and when practicing it will not lead to some harm coming upon innocent people.
Imam Khomeini (1902-89), the most prominent Shiite authority of the 20th century, argued in a similar way that it “is not right to resort to dissimulation on every issue, small and big. Dissimulation was legislated to preserve one’s life or others from damage on subsidiary issues of the laws. But if Islam in its entirety is in danger, then there is no place for dissimulation and for silence.”
I hope to have shown clearly that we cannot confirm the impression widely held these days that, any time a Muslim speaks and behaves positively toward non-Muslims, they are being hypocritical and hiding a stealthy agenda.
You may ask what business I have in defending the doctrine of “taqiyya.” For indeed, communicating false information and deceit, whether with good or bad intensions, is not a familiar practice – nor is it sanctioned – from the perspective of a New Testament worldview.
My explanation of the concept of “taqiyya” in defense of Muslims is not done with the motivation of promoting this Muslim doctrine as an acceptable practice. My intention, however, is to guard us against bearing false witness.
Would it not represent “taqiyya” on our part to use a Muslim belief against Islam and Muslims by promoting a partial understanding of it?
Are not those who dissimulate the true meaning of “taqiyya” practicing the very doctrine that they claim to be exposing?
Judging Islam and all Muslims through a partial understanding of a Muslim doctrine for the purpose of inciting others against Islam is never justifiable for followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace and reconciler of our world.
For the church in Muslim lands, as well as for the church in countries where Muslims are in the minority, fear only gives rise to more suspicion and eventually to more conflict that leads to violence in our communities.
The church globally is called to bear witness to the mission of God, a mission of love, peacemaking and reconciliation. Christians everywhere need to get rid of their fears.
Do not fear your Muslim neighbors. Do not accuse them of hypocrisy, without doing full justice to their texts.
Invite them into your households and communities of faith by practicing biblical hospitality. Show them what good neighbors your Lord has made you into, both by inviting them to your homes and by responding positively and gratefully to their invitations to theirs, particularly during Ramadan.
Testify to them about the Living Word. Show them the redemptive power of a self-giving God who has redeemed us so that we would be willing to lay down our own lives for their sake.
Martin Accad is director of the Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES) at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. A longer version of this article first appeared on the IMES blog. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @marzaatar and IMES @IMESLebanon.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here.