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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Taqiyya (Raymond Ibrahim)

An important article about the Muslim religious doctrine of deceit in wartime, by Raymond Ibrahim, was published in Middle East Quarterly. Excerpts:
Islam must seem a paradoxical religion to non-Muslims. On the one hand, it is constantly being portrayed as the religion of peace; on the other, its adherents are responsible for the majority of terror attacks around the world. Apologists for Islam emphasize that it is a faith built upon high ethical standards; others stress that it is a religion of the law. Islam's dual notions of truth and falsehood further reveal its paradoxical nature: While the Qur'an is against believers deceiving other believers—for "surely God guides not him who is prodigal and a liar"[1]—deception directed at non-Muslims, generally known in Arabic as taqiyya, also has Qur'anic support and falls within the legal category of things that are permissible for Muslims.

Taqiyya offers two basic uses. The better known revolves around dissembling over one's 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 and thus threatened them. Conversely, Sunni Muslims, far from suffering persecution have, whenever capability allowed, waged jihad against the realm of unbelief; and it is here that they have deployed taqiyya—not as dissimulation but as active deceit. In fact, deceit, which is doctrinally grounded in Islam, is often depicted as being equal—sometimes superior—to other universal military virtues, such as courage, fortitude, or self-sacrifice.

Muhammad said other things that cast deception in a positive light, 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."[17]

In short, 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 lying their way out of binds—usually by denying or insulting Islam or Muhammad—often to the approval of the latter, his only criterion being that their intentions (niya) be pure.[18] During wars with Christians, whenever the latter were in authority, the practice of taqiyya became even more integral. Mukaram states, "Taqiyya was used as a way to fend off danger from the Muslims, especially in critical times and when their borders were exposed to wars with the Byzantines and, afterwards, to the raids [crusades] of the Franks and others."[19]

That Islam legitimizes deceit during war is, of course, not all that astonishing; after all, as the Elizabethan writer John Lyly put it, "All's fair in love and war."[24] Other non-Muslim philosophers and strategists—such as Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and Thomas Hobbes—justified deceit in warfare. Deception of the enemy during war is only common sense. The crucial difference in Islam, however, 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."[25] 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."[26]

Moreover, going back to the doctrine of abrogation, Muslim scholars such as Ibn Salama (d. 1020) agree that Qur'an 9:5, known as ayat as-sayf or the sword verse, has abrogated some 124 of the more peaceful Meccan verses, including "every other verse in the Qur'an, which commands or implies anything less than a total offensive against the nonbelievers."[27] 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."[28]

The perpetual nature of jihad is highlighted by the fact that, based on the 10-year treaty of Hudaybiya (628), 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:[33] "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."[34] 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]."[35]

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.[36] 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."[37] 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.[38] 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 desuetude.[39]

This, then, 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 subsume 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."[49] Such deception will further be seen as a means to an altruistic 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."[50]

In closing, whereas it may be more appropriate to talk of "war and peace" as natural corollaries in a Western context, when discussing Islam, it is more accurate to talk of "war and deceit." For, from an Islamic point of view, times of peace—that is, whenever Islam is significantly weaker than its infidel rivals—are times of feigned peace and pretense, in a word, taqiyya.

Read the whole thing.

h/t Joseph E