The doctrine of Taqiyya

The doctrine of Taqiyya in the perspective of the Quranic terms; ikrāh and iḍṭirār (Extraneous circumstances)

18th April 2015

Taqiyya or dissimulation is the hiding of one’s true beliefs in order to protect the life or property of an individual from harm. It is a doctrine however not free from controversy, with those employing it being accused of lying or hypocrisy. Indeed, this is the accusation levelled at the Shia who have justified using this doctrine extensively as they have historically been an oppressed minority. A discussion on this very topic was held by The Centre of Intra-Muslim Studies from the Shia perspective presented by Shaykh Ayub Rashid and the Sunni by Maulana Abdul Hadi al-Umari.

Shia Presentation

Shaykh Ayub’s core argument was that a proper understanding of taqiyya is rooted in the Quran, Sunna, and rationality, and is synonymous with terms more widely used amongst Sunni scholars such as iḍṭirār (necessity) or ikrāh (compulsion). Citing the views of Shia and Sunni scholars on the topic, he delineated the scope and limits of taqiyya, differentiating it from hypocrisy and emphasising the validity of it.

The Shaykh outlined the basis of taqiyya from the Quran by quoting exegeses such as tafsir ibn Kathir. An example of such a verse is “except when you are wary of them, out of caution (tuqāt)[1] in which Ibn Kathir explains that taqiyya stems from the term used here (tuqāt) as they share the same verbal root[2]. Furthermore, the Shaykh outlined verses in the Quran permitting the hiding one’s faith in times of danger such the believer from the Pharaoh’s clan hiding his faith[3].

Another oft-cited verse on the topic is the incident of Ammar Yasir who after being forced to recant his faith under duress is consoled by the following verse “Excepting someone who is compelled [to recant his faith] while his heart is at rest in it”[4], indicative of God’s approval of hiding one’s faith in situations of compulsion. In addition to Quranic evidence, the Shia hadith literature has plenty of references to taqiyya being permitted and indeed promoted such as the narration “There is no religion for one who doesn’t practise taqiyya”[5]. The Shaykh pointed out that this principle was rooted in pragmatism and was more widely used by Shia communities as they have historically been a persecuted minority. He also quoted the Shia theological stance outlining instances when using taqiyya is necessary, prohibited or when it is merely permitted. Addressing the difference between taqiyya and hypocrisy, he quoted how Shia scholars argue the difference in being the latter is for purely worldly gain, whilst the former being for God. [6]

Sunni Presentation

Maulana Abdul Hadi’s presentation outlined the permissibility of saying or doing something contrary to one’s belief as being rooted in the Quran and Sunna, provided the limits are maintained. These limits are within the scope of situations of necessity or duress.

In addition to the verses quoted by Shaykh Ayub, Maulana Abdul Hadi quoted the verse “Allah does not like the disclosure of [anyone’s] evil [conduct] in speech except by someone who has been wronged[7], which talks about going against one’s belief when forced to do so according to him. Building on verses such as the permissibility of consuming carrion in situations of necessity[8], Maulana pointed out that in certain situations, such as protecting life and property, going against one’s belief is not an option (rukha) but is an obligation.

Supplementing his argument of permissibility of hiding one’s faith in extenuating circumstances he quoted narrations from Sunni books, one of which was “whatever Allah has made halal is in his book … and whatever is dropped is a grace[9]. Maulana was also clear in pointing out that there are limits to concealing one’s true beliefs provided one does not transgress the limits as is mentioned in the Quran: “without being rebellious or transgressive…[10].

The discussion after the presentations made it clear that whilst the term ‘taqiyya’ predominantly used by the Shia may have negative baggage because of the context or the misuse of it, in effect it has the same outcome as the notion of idhtirar or ikrāh as used by Sunnis.

[1] Quran 3:28

[2] Ref bin Kathir, Isma’il bin ‘Umar (12 December 2020) [c. 1370]. “The Prohibition of Supporting the Disbelievers”. Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Azim. Dar-us-Salaam Publishing.

[3] Quran 40:28 “Said a man of faith from Pharaoh’s clan, who concealed his faith”.

[4] Quran 16:06

[5] al-Hurr, al-Amuli, Wasail al Shia, vol 12. Pg 210 (Mu’assat al Bayt).

[6] see Al- ‘Amidi, Thamir, al-Taqiyya fil Fikr al Islami, p.g. 122 (Markaz al Risala: 1998).

[7] Quran 4:148

[8] Quran 2:173

[9] Sunan Abi Dawud 3800 Book 28, Hadith 65.

[10] Quran 2:173



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