Question: People often accuse Islam of permitting taqiyya, or deliberately lying about being Muslim, for whatever reason. How do we respond to this, and where did the idea come from?
Answer: Assalamu alaykum,
The first thing that must be said about this is that Muslims don’t lie about their religion. Our religion has always been one that Muslims exalt, honor, and propagate. It is by the sheer courage and fearlessness of the Companions (sahaba) and the early Muslims that Islam has the numbers that it has today. Their bravery in war, their open and public worship, and trust in Allah, their firmness of faith, and their readiness and eagerness to teach others have been instrumental in the last 1400 years in the spread of Islam. A famous example of this bravery is the conversion of `Umar ibn -Khattab.
The story of `Umar ibn al-Khattab is well-known. With his sword, he went out to kill the Prophet, but instead, he converted to Islam. What did he do straight after?
Following his conversion, `Umar went to inform the chief of Quraysh about his acceptance of Islam. According to one account, `Umar thereafter openly prayed at the Ka`bah as the Quraysh chiefs, `Amr ibn Hisham and Abu Sufyan Ibn Harb, reportedly watched in anger. This further helped the Muslims to gain confidence in practicing Islam openly. At this stage `Umar even challenged anyone who dared to stop the Muslims from praying, although no one dared to interfere with `Umar when he was openly praying.
`Umar’s conversion to Islam granted the power to the Muslims in Mecca. It was after this event that Muslims offered prayers openly at the Kaaba for the first time. `Abdullah bin Mas`ud said,
“`Umar’s embracing Islam was our victory, his migration to Medina was our success, and his reign a blessing from Allah. We didn’t offer prayers in Al-Haram Mosque until `Umar had accepted Islam. When he accepted Islam, the Quraysh were compelled to let us pray in the Mosque ” [Serat-i-Hazrat Umar-i-Farooq].
His migration to Medina was even more admirable. When all of the Muslims were leaving in secret, he did the contrary. “In 622 CE, due to the safety offered by Yathrib (later renamed Medinah al-Nabi), Muhammad ordered his followers to migrate to Medina. Most Muslims migrated at night fearing resistance from Quraysh at their migration, but `Umar is reported to have left open during the day saying: ‘Anyone who wants to make his wife a widow and his children orphans should come and meet me there behind that cliff.‘ [Serat-i-Hazrat Umar-i-Farooq] Umar migrated to Medina accompanied by his cousin and brother-in-law Saeed bin Zaid.“ [Al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya]
This shining example of `Umar is what Muslims have strived to emulate throughout history. Any thought of hiding or lying about one’s religion has been looked down upon, because of the rank given to those who die for Islam as martyrs. This has always been the default.
You ask where the idea of taqiyya comes from. When the family of `Ammar bin Yasir converted to Islam, they were among the victims who were tortured in Mecca to make them recant their beliefs. He and his parents were taken out in the heat and tortured with fire. `Ammar’s scars lasted for the rest of his life. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and give him peace, used to pass by them and say, “Patience, O family of Yasir! Your meeting-place will be Paradise.”
His mother Sumayya was killed for being Muslim by Abu Jahl. When the grieving `Ammar was tortured after that, he recanted his Islam, in order to be released from his torture. Many new Muslims criticized `Ammar and called him a disbeliever but the Prophet, may Allah bless him and give him peace, corrected them. He said, “No (he is not a disbeliever), indeed `Ammar is full of faith from head to toe” [Ibn Majah].
This is an example of taqiyya (guarding against danger by lying). This event led to the revelation of the verse from Allah, Most High, about `Ammar: “With the exception of those who are forced to say they do not believe, although their hearts remain firm in the faith, those who reject God after believing in Him and open their hearts to disbelief will have the wrath of God upon them and a grievous punishment awaiting them” [Qur`an, 16:106].
The principle of taqiyya was very important for Muslims during the Inquisition in sixteenth-century Spain, as it allowed them to outwardly convert to Christianity while practicing Islam in secret. Muslims were forced to eat pork and drink wine, after being baptized, and all forms of religious dress and expression were forbidden. Many paid with their lives, may Allah have mercy on them.
It is mentioned in Fath al-Bari, (a commentary on Bukhari), “There is consensus that whomsoever is forced into apostasy and chooses death has a greater reward than a person who takes the license [to deny one’s faith under duress], but if a person is being forced to eat pork or drink wine, then they should do that [instead of choosing death]”
Taqiyya is a permissible practice though not obligatory. It is meant for safety when being persecuted by non-Muslims, but not when persecuted by Muslims, contrary to Shi`a Muslim belief. Imam al-Tabari explains, “If anyone is compelled and professes unbelief with his tongue, while his heart contradicts him, in order to escape his enemies, no blame falls on him, because God takes his servants as their hearts believe.”
Do people still apply taqiyya today? I think not. Muslims now, all over the world, stand in the face of danger, whether it is concentration camps in China, land occupation in Palestine, the war in Syria, civil strife in Yemen, or just criticism and prejudice in the West.
May Allah protect all Muslims from all harm, inwardly and outwardly.
[Ustadha] Shazia Ahmad
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadha Shazia Ahmad lived in Damascus, Syria for two years where she studied aqidah, fiqh, tajweed, tafseer, and Arabic. She then attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she completed her Masters in Arabic. Afterward, she moved to Amman, Jordan where she studied fiqh, Arabic, and other sciences. She recently moved back to Mississauga, Canada, where she lives with her family.