Dr. Ben Carson’s recent assertion that the Islamic doctrine of taqiyya encourages Muslims “to lie to achieve your goals” has prompted the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler to quote a number of academics to show that the presidential candidate got it wrong:
The word “taqiyya” derives from the Arabic words for “piety” and “fear of God” and indicates when a person is in a state of caution, said Khaled Abou El Fadl, a professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles and a leading authority on Islam.
“Yes, it is permissible to hide the fact you are Muslim” if a person is under threat, “as long as it does not involve hurting another person,” Abou El Fadl said.
The other academics whom Kessler quotes—including Omid Safi, director of the Duke University Islamic Studies Center, and Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School—make the same argument: yes, taqiyya is in the Koran but it only permits deception in the case of self-preservation, nothing more.
Although the word taqiyya is related to the Arabic word “piety” and its root meaning is “protect” or “guard against”—and the Koran verses that advocate it (3:28 and 16:106) do so in the context of self-preservation from persecution—that is not the whole story.
None of the academics quoted by Kessler bothered to acknowledge that the Koran is not the only textual source to inform Muslim action. They ignore the Hadith, the collected words and deeds of Muhammad. Koran 33:2, for instance, commands Muslims to follow Muhammad’s example, and his example—also known as the prophet’s Sunna—is derived from the many volumes of Hadith.
The importance of Muhammad’s example is seen in that the Sunnis, approximately 90% of the world’s Muslim population, are named after his Sunna. As one Muslim cleric puts it, “Much of Islam will remain mere abstract concepts without Hadith [whence the Sunna is derived]. We would never know how to pray, fast, pay zakah, or make pilgrimage without the illustration found in Hadith…”
It is therefore careless or disingenuous for Kessler and his “experts” to ignore Muhammad’s example as recorded in the Hadith in their discussion of taqiyya.
As usual, for the complete truth, one must turn to scholarly books written in Arabic. According to Dr. Sami Mukaram, an Islamic studies professor specializing in taqiyya, and author of the only academic book exclusively devoted to it, “Taqiyya in order to deceive the enemy is permissible.”[i]
This sounds similar to Carson’s assertion that taqiyya allows Muslims “to lie to achieve your goals.”
As proof, Mukaram documents two canonical anecdotes from Muhammad’s Sunna—his example to Muslims—that make clear that the prophet allowed his followers to lie and deceive non-Muslims above and beyond the issue of self-preservation:
The Assassination of Ka‘b ibn Ashraf
An elderly Jewish leader, Ka‘b ibn Ashraf, mocked Muhammad, prompting the prophet to exclaim, “Who will kill this man who has hurt Allah and his messenger?” A young Muslim named Ibn Maslama volunteered on condition that to get close enough to Ka‘b to murder him, he needed permission to lie to the Jew.
Allah’s messenger agreed. Ibn Maslama traveled to Ka‘b and began to complain about Muhammad until his disaffection from Islam became so convincing that Ka‘b eventually dropped his guard and befriended him.
After behaving as his friend for some time, Ibn Maslama eventually appeared with another Muslim also pretending to have apostatized. Then, while a trusting Ka‘b’s guard was done, they attacked and slaughtered him, bringing his head to Muhammad to the usual triumphant cries of “Allahu Akbar!”
The Disbanding of the Confederates
In another account, after Muhammad and his followers had attacked, plundered, and massacred a number of non-Muslim Arabs and Jews, the latter assembled and were poised to annihilate the Muslims once and for all (at the Battle of the Trench, 627). But then Naim bin Mas‘ud, one of the leaders of these “confederates,” as they became known in history, secretly went to Muhammad and converted to Islam. The prophet asked him to return to his tribesmen and allies—without revealing that he had joined the Muslim camp—and to try to get them to abandon the siege. “For,” Muhammad assured him, “war is deceit.”
Mas‘ud returned, pretending to be loyal to his former kinsmen and allies, and began giving them bad advice. He also subtly instigated quarrels between the various tribes until, no longer trusting each other, they disbanded.
Mas‘ud became a hero in Islamic tradition. He is often seen as being responsible for helping an embryonic Islam grow at a time when its existence was threatened. One English language Muslim site even recommends his actions as illustrative of how Muslims can subvert non-Muslims.
In the two examples above, Muslims deceived non-Muslims not because they were being persecuted for being Muslim—according to the Washington Post’s definition of taqiyya—but in order to make Islam supreme. (The Arabs and Jews met Muhammad at the Battle of the Trench because Muhammad and his followers first attacked them at the Battle of Badr and massacred hundreds of them on other occasions.)
Despite these stories being part of the Sunna to which Sunnis adhere, UCLA’s Abou El Fadl—the primary expert quoted by the Washington Post to show that Islam does not promote deceit—claims that “there is no concept that would encourage a Muslim to lie to pursue a goal. That is a complete invention.”
Tell that to Ka‘b ibn Ashraf, whose head was cut off for believing Muslim taqiyya. The prophet of Islam allowed his followers to lie to the Jew to slaughter him—just as he encouraged Mas‘ud to lie to his non-Muslim family and allies for the sake of Islam.
Thus, Dr. Ben Carson got it right when he said that taqiyya “allows, and even encourages you to lie to achieve your goals.” The all-important example of the prophet makes that clear.
[i] (At-Taqiyya fi’l-Islam, or “Dissimulation in Islam,” p. 32)