Friday, February 27, 2009

Raymond Ibrahim: A Response to the Critics: Taqiyya Revisited (Part I)

Having written at length on various aspects of Islam, it is always my writings concerning doctrinal deceit that elicit (sometimes irate) responses. As such, the purpose of this article is to revisit the issue of deceit and taqiyya in Islam, and address the many ostensibly plausible rebuttals made by both Muslims and non-Muslims. The earliest rebuttal I received appeared last year, days after I wrote an essay called “Islam’s doctrines of deception” for the subscription-based Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst. Due to the controversy it initiated among the intelligence community and abroad, the editors were quick to publish an apologetic counter-article by one Michael Ryan called “Interpreting Taqiyya.”

For starters, Ryan is not a careful reader: he says I fail to mention ijma (consensus) among the ulema, even though I repeatedly cite and delineate the ulema’s (quite consensual) verdicts supporting taqiyya; he sardonically suggests that, of course all people, not just Muslims, engage in deception during war—a point I stressed; and he evinces shock that I say Islam has no “common sense” and is “legalistic,” when I simply wrote that sharia law is not based on common sense but rather the 7th century words of Muhammad, which may or may not rely on what we would today call “common sense.” (I had in mind anecdotes of Muhammad saying camel urine heals, people should cover their mouths when yawning (lest Satan dive down their throat), men cannot wear gold, only silver, and in order to be in each other’s company, women should “breast-feed” strange men ).

Next, Ryan makes the usual (and ultimately superficial) arguments without any backing: that I “cherry-picked citations from the Quran”; that I focused on a “very narrow use of the term taqiyya”; and that there are “other respected jurists who disagree” with the notion of taqiyya I stressed.

Unfortunately, he overlooks the fact that, right or wrong, none of this denies that there are Koranic references that do permit deception; that, even if there are “broader” definitions for taqiyya, the “narrow” one I delineated is still valid; and that if there are “respected jurists who disagree,” there are still more who agree.

As expected, whereas I listed and quoted several authoritative jurists justifying taqiyya, Ryan makes only flat counter-assertions whose plausibility rests solely in the fact that they comport with the epistemology of the Western, secular reader, who cannot comprehend that a religion would actually mandate temporal conquests and permit deceit in their furtherance.

For instance, he makes comforting assertions such as “[I]t is manifestly not true that Muslims as a whole desire eternal warfare with non-Muslims,” even though I never argue that Muslims desire eternal war but rather that sharia mandates it. Regarding a verse I cited as being relied on by the ulema in support of taqiyya (2:73), he writes, “To this reader, the verse inspires admiration rather than any other emotion.” Odd that an article in a publication geared to the intelligence community and dedicated to analyzing Islam would bother evoking “emotions” in the first place—further revealing that Ryan’s rebuttal relies more on “shared feelings,” not facts.

Moreover, like most of Islam’s apologists who are obsessed with portraying the “true-peaceful-and-tolerant” face of Islam, Ryan overlooks the pivotal fact that it matters very little if the entire Muslim world believes in jihad and deception. What matters is that some Muslims have, do, and always will. If 19 surreptitious jihadists managed to cause horrific deaths and destruction on 9/11, insisting that not all Muslims accept these doctrines is neither relevant nor reassuring.

Ryan next spends time making the argument that the word taqiyya “never appears in the Quran. The root in other forms appears in various contexts, but it never means dissimulation.” As for taqiyya’s cornerstone verse (3:28), Ryan, presuming the mantle of mufasir (exegete), and after quoting an English translation, writes: “The English ‘guard against’ is a translation of a verb that is taken from the same root as the word taqiyya but it has nothing to do linguistically with lying or deception [emphasis added].”

Absolutely true. But of course, all this overlooks the fact that the Koran is not the all-in-all in Islam; more important in determining right and wrong (i.e., in articulating sharia) are the hadith-derived sunna, and the indispensable tafsirs and ijma (exegeses and consensus) of the ulema. And these do use the word “taqiyya” and do define it as lying and deception.

Moreover, there is widespread consensus among the ulema. According to Imam Tabari, whose multi-volume exegesis is a standard reference work in the Islamic world, 3:28 means: “If you [Muslims] are under their [infidels’] authority, fearing for yourselves, behave loyally to them, with your tongue, while harboring inner animosity for them.” Regarding 3:28, Ibn Kathir recommends the advice of Muhammad’s companion: “Let us smile to the face of some people while our hearts curse them.”

Perhaps Ryan thinks his non-Muslim, that is, infidel, exegesis of 3:28 will be more acceptable to the average Muslim than the exegeses of the pious Tabari, Ibn Kathir, and other ulema? And what “consensus” does he have in mind when the Muslim author of the authoritative Al Taqiyya Fi Al Islam asserts, “Practically every Islamic sect agrees to it [taqiyya] and practices it. We can go so far as to say that the practice of taqiyya is mainstream in Islam, and that those few sects not practicing it diverge from the mainstream”?

Ironically, and despite all the above, Ryan closes his article by saying

It would be fundamentally incorrect to suggest that the strained positions of Osama bin Laden and other extremists somehow grow out of normal or mainstream Muslim thought: Al-Qaeda's deception does not grow out of valid religious duty. [Yet Muhammad said, "War is deceit."] If we fail to make the distinction between radical Islamists and valid, thoughtful and authoritative views of expert Muslim jurists, [apparently the many I delineated in my original essay don't count] we risk undermining one of the most promising tools to defeat radical thought. I am referring to recent successful programmes by the Saudis and Egyptians to persuade what the West might call radical jihadists that their extremist activities are actually against the canons of Islam as interpreted by mainstream jurists [emphasis added].

What “successful programmes” have been initiated by the Saudis and Egyptians to de-radicalize Muslims? Is he referring to Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation through tennis, finger-paints, and GameBoys—which has by and large not been successful? And again, which “expert” and “mainstream” jurists is he talking about?

In short, Ryan’s points crumble in face of the fact that, all philology, sophistry, and appeals to emotions aside, in mainstream Islam, what ultimately matters is how the ulema—especially the “mainstream jurists” he continues evoking—have understood and articulated the doctrine of taqiyya.

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