taqiyya ('dissimulation') as viewed by the Shi'ite school of thought

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taqiyya ('dissimulation') as viewed by the Shi'ite school of thought
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One of the teachings of the Qur'an is that a Muslim is permitted to conceal his belief in situations wherein, as a result of expressing it, his life, honour or property would be endangered. In religious terminology, such an act is referred to as taqiyya ('dissimulation'). It is not only on religious grounds that dissimulation is justified, but intelligence and human wisdom likewise reveal the necessity and propriety of the practice in certain sensitive situations, On the one hand, the preservation of life, property and honour are necessary, and on the other, acting according to one's beliefs is a part of one's religious duty. But in those cases where the outward expression of one's belief might endanger one's life, property or honour, and the two duties thereby clash, human intelligence naturally will give precedence to the most important of the two duties. In truth, dissimulation is a weapon in the hands of the weak in the face of merciless tyrants. It is obvious that in the absence of any danger a person will not need to hide his beliefs, nor act in opposition to his beliefs.

One of the teachings of the Qur'an is that a Muslim is permitted to conceal his belief in situations wherein, as a result of expressing it, his life, honour or property would be endangered. In religious terminology, such an act is referred to as taqiyya ('dissimulation'). It is not only on religious grounds that dissimulation is justified, but intellect and human wisdom likewise reveal the necessity and propriety of the practice in certain sensitive situations,

The Qur'an refers implicitly to 'Ammar b. Yasir (and all those who, whilst at war with the disbelievers, and despite the strength of their heartfelt faith, formally utter words of disbelief in order to save themselves) in the following verse:

Whoever disbelieves in Allah after his belief... except for one who is forced [to renounce his religion] while his heart is secure in faith... (Sura al¬Nahl, 16:106)

In another verse it is said:

Let not believers take disbelievers as allies rather than believers. And whoever [of you] does that has nothing with Allah, except when taking precaution against them in prudence.(Sura Al 'Imran, 3:28)

In the light of these two verses, the Muslim commentators unanimously attest to the religious sanction given to dissimulation.[1] Indeed, anyone who has conducted a modicum of research into Qur'anic commentary and Islamic jurisprudence will know that the principle of dissimulation is justified within Islam. The verses above, and the actions of, for example, the believing folk of Pharaoh, who hid their faith, while outwardly denying it (see Sura Ghafir, 40: 28), cannot be overlooked. But dissimulation has, for the most part, been opposed. However, it must be said that despite the fact that the verses regarding dissimulation were revealed in respect of the possibility of dissimulating in the face of disbelievers, the principle established is not restricted in its applicability to those circumstances wherein the life, property and honour of Muslims are threatened only by disbelievers; for if the expression of one's beliefs, or action according to one's beliefs, gives rise to fear for one's life, property and honour, which are being threatened by a Muslim, then dissimulation in such a situation will be upheld by the same principle that allows for dissimulation before disbelievers.
This point' has also been made by others. For example, Razi says:

'The Shafi'ite madhhab establishes that whenever the Muslims find themselves in a situation vis-a-vis each other similar to that pertaining between Muslims and disbelievers (in war), then dissimulation for the sake of the preservation of life is permitted. Dissimulation is not confined to circumstances in which loss of life [is feared]; it is also permitted in the face of the possibility of loss of property. For the sacredness of property is akin to the sacredness of the blood of the Muslims, and if one is killed in this path [that is, the path of protecting the lives or the property of Muslims] he is accounted a martyr.' [2]

Abu Hurayra said:

'I have received from the Prophet two types of knowledge and instruction: one of them I have transmitted to people, but the other I have kept to myself, for had I conveyed it to you, I would have been killed.' [3]

The historical record of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs is full of injustice and oppression. In those days, it was not only the Shi'a who, as a result of manifesting their beliefs, were rejected and banished [and were thus forced to resort to dissimulation], Sunni scholars of hadith were also compelled, during the rule of Ma'mun, to take the path of dissimulation over the question of the 'createdness of the Qur'an'; all of them, except one (Ahmad b. Hanbal), outwardly accepted the edict of Ma'mun on this question, even while being inwardly opposed to it, the story of which can be read in history books.[4]

Taqiyya from the point of view of Shi'ism

From the point of view of Shi'ism; dissimulation is necessary in certain conditions but forbidden in others; in the latter case, one cannot resort to dissimulation on the pretext that one's life or property might be endangered. Certain groups believe that the Shi'a uphold the necessity of dissimulation in an unconditional manner: such a belief is completely erroneous, and the leading authorities of Shi'ism have never entertained it. Such leaders have always taken note of the conditions of their time, paying careful attention both to the requirements of the general welfare of the Muslims and to the avoidance of whatever is to the detriment thereof, and have thus chosen an appropriate path. Therefore, we see that in fact there have been times when the Shi'a have not taken up the path of dissimulation, but have on the contrary sacrificed their lives and their property in the cause of bearing witness to their beliefs.

Certain groups believe that the Shi'a uphold the necessity of dissimulation in an unconditional manner: such a belief is completely erroneous, and the leading authorities of Shi'ism have never entertained it. Such leaders have always taken note of the conditions of their time, paying careful attention both to the requirements of the general welfare of the Muslims and to the avoidance of whatever is to the detriment thereof, and have thus chosen an appropriate path.

In fact, the ma'sum Imams of Shi'ism have for the most part been martyred, having met their death either through the sword or the poison of their enemies. Without doubt, if they had presented a smiling face and offered up sweet words to the rulers of their times, they would have been regaled with the highest positions of power and privilege; but these Imams knew all too well that dissimulation (for example, in the face of Yazid [the caliph held responsible for the killing of the grandson of the Prophet, Husayn, at Karbala]) would have given rise to the disappearance of true religion and the effacement of the correct application of the faith.
In contemporary conditions also, there are two types of religious obligation incumbent upon the religious leaders of the Muslims: in certain circumstances to resort to dissimulation, and in others-wherein the fundamentals of the faith are endangered-to be prepared to give up one's life and face death.
In conclusion, let us recall that dissimulation is a personal affair, and that it pertains to individuals placed in a position of weakness in the face of powerful enemies; they dissimulate insofar as they consider that-if dissimulation is not made, not only do they lose their lives, but also no positive advantage is derived from their being killed. But there is no place for dissimulation in regard to the teaching and clarification of the doctrines and rulings of religion-for example, no scholar can write a book, on the basis of dissimulation, in which deviant doctrines are presented in the guise of Shi'i belief, and disseminated as such to the public. Therefore, no book has been written in the field of beliefs and rulings on the basis of dissimulation throughout the course of the history of Shi'ism; on the contrary, even in the most difficult times, Shi'i scholars have always made manifest the true beliefs of this perspective. Of course, there are differences of opinion as regards certain principles and issues, but never has there been any Shi'i scholar who has written a book or treatise contradicting-under the pretext of dissimulation-any clear and important aspect of Shi'i belief; nor have any such scholars expressed one thing in public and something contrary in secret: anyone who employs such methods of discourse puts himself outside the pale of Imami Shi'ism.

They dissimulate insofar as they consider that-if dissimulation is not made, not only do they lose their lives, but also no positive advantage is derived from their being killed. But there is no place for dissimulation in regard to the teaching and clarification of the doctrines and rulings of religion-for example, no scholar can write a book, on the basis of dissimulation, in which deviant doctrines are presented in the guise of Shi'i belief.

For those who find it difficult to understand or digest the idea of dissimulation, or who have been subject to the propaganda of the enemies of Shi'ism, we would strongly recommend that they study the historical experience of the Shi'a during the reign of the Umayyads, the Abbasids, and even during that of the Ottomans in Turkey and Syria, and discover what a high price they paid for upholding and following the beliefs of the ahl al-bayt, what sacrifices they made and what bitter tribulations they endured. The Shi'a underwent such a fate, despite having recourse to dissimulation; what, one wonders, would have been their lot if they did not have recourse to this principle? One might well also ask: in such a case, that is, without the practice of dissimulation, would there be anything left of Shi'ism today?

The difference between dissimulation and hypocrisy is as great as that between Heaven and earth. The hypocrite is one who is inwardly in a state of faithlessness while outwardly professing faith; whereas Muslims who resort to dissimulation have hearts overflowing with faith; while outwardly expressing the contrary, only out of fear for the harm that the oppressor may bring upon them.

In principle, if there is cause for any blame to be attached to dissimulation it is solely on account of those who compel its practice; that is those persons deserve to be blamed who, instead of conducting themselves according to the Islamic principles of justice and kindness, waged the most severe and murderous policy of suppression, both political and religious, against the followers of the family of the Prophet. It is such people who are culpable, not those who out of sheer necessity took refuge in dissimulation, in order to preserve their lives, their property and their beliefs. What is astonishing is that some people, rather than blaming those who compel recourse to dissimulation-namely, the oppressors ¬blame instead those who resort to it-namely, the oppressed, accusing them moreover of hypocrisy. In truth, the difference between dissimulation and hypocrisy is as great as that between Heaven and earth. The hypocrite is one who is inwardly in a state of faithlessness while outwardly professing faith; whereas Muslims who resort to dissimulation have hearts overflowing with faith; while outwardly expressing the contrary, only out of fear for the harm that the oppressor may bring upon them.

1. al-Tabari, Jami' al-bayan, vol; 3; p. 153; al-Razi, Tafsir, vol. 8, p. 113; 'Abd Allah al-Nasafi, Tafsir al-Nasafi (Beirut, 1419/1998), vol. 1, p; 271; Mahmud Alusi, Ruh al-ma'ani (Beirut, n.d.), vol. 3, p. 121; Shaykh al-Tabarsi, Majma' al-bayan, vol. 1, p. 430.
2. al-Razi, Tafsir, vol. 8, p. 13.
3. Muhammad Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi, Mahasin al-ta'wi'l(Beirut, 1399/1979), vol. 4, p. 82.
4. See al-Tabari, Ta'rikh vol. 7, pp.195-206.

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