Published in Jihad Watch
Sam Shamoun of Answering Islam recently forwarded me an article titled “Tawriya: Islamic Doctrine of ‘Creative Lying’? Response to Raymond Ibrahim,” appearing on a website called Muslim Debate Initiative, and written by one Shadid (“Severe”) Lewis in response to my recent exposition on the doctrine of tawriya. Although this response—poorly written, poorly argued—would normally be ignored, I address it for three reasons: 1) To date, it is the only rebuttal I have seen from a Muslim concerning tawriya; 2) Far from rejecting tawriya, it actually validates it (the author spends his time chasing red herrings, not disproving the doctrine); 3) It is a good example of the speciousness and sophistry employed by those who try to downplay or rationalize some of Islam’s more problematic doctrines, in this case, tawriya. (Note: Although Shadid’soriginal article is littered with grammatical and punctuation errors, in the interest of readability, I have corrected the more egregious when quoting him.)
At the start, after informing readers that he “read the article of Raymond Ibrahim posted on Frontpagemag.com and I just had to respond,” Shadid argues that tawriya really “means deliberate ambiguity rather than creative lying.” Discerning readers understand such euphemisms change nothing about the doctrine.
After I pointed out that most Muslim scholars (or ulema) are agreed that tawriya should not be used to commit an “injustice,” I added “‘injustice’ as defined by Sharia, of course, not Western standards.” To this, Shadid responds: “Says who? None of the sources he [me] cited said as only defined by Sharia. A commonly known wrong is a commonly known wrong just the same in Islam (stealing, cheating, murder, etc. is wrong and accepted as such in Islam).”
First, of course the Muslim authorities do not bother pointing out that they mean justice and injustice as defined by Sharia; that’s a given. Likewise, anyone familiar with Islamic law and doctrine—presumably Muslims like Shadid himself—know that many of Islam’s views on “right” and “wrong” do not agree with “universal standards.” One example: Islamic law holds that any Muslim who converts out of Islam and refuses to return is an apostate to be executed. Whereas in Islam, such executions are deemed “just,” from a Western point of view, which acknowledges religious freedom, they are unjust. In this context, then, it is “just” to use tawriya (lying) to enable the execution of an apostate.
Next, Shadid distracts the issue by making irrelevant points: “Sheikh Al-Munajjid, another source cited by the article’s author, said excessive use of puns leads to lying. So the claim that this [tawriya] can be used whenever and wherever is a lie in itself.”
Yes, at the very end of his fatwa, after giving many proofs validating tawriya, Munajjid warned that too much tawriya can “lead one to slip into a lie,” meaning that, by getting caught up in one’s own dissembling game, one can end up committing an actual lie—one that is not “technically” true, a criterion of tawriya—without realizing it. More to the point, saying that some ulema warn against using tawriya too much, does not change the fact that Islam permits lying through tawriya, and that it is up to the individual Muslim to decide how much is too much.
Shadid continues: “Al Munajjid said this [tawriya] is used for embarrassing circumstances. Yet the author would have us believe Muslims can use this to lie in business transactions, and to take peoples’ property and other commonly accepted wrong activities.”
Seems like Shadid is engaging in his own bit of tawriya here: yes, Munajjid did say tawriya can be used for embarrassing circumstances, but he mentioned embarrassment as an example of, not the sole justificationfor, tawriya. Rather, the two criteria he gave, and which I noted in my original article, are 1) that the words literally fit the alternate meaning, so that the lie is technically true, and 2) that there is a “legitimate need” (i.e., a Sharia compliant need).
Caught up in his own convoluted logic/tawriya, Shadid next contradicts himself: “Another source cited by the articles author which he ignores is: Al-Nawawi, who said the deliberate ambiguity [tawriya] is permissible if the need arises or a legitimate interest …”—there it is again, “legitimate interest.” In other words, Nawawi, just like Munajjid, is simply another Muslim scholar who confirms that tawriya is permissible if it serves a “legitimate interest,” i.e., if the lie enables something deemed “legitimate” according to Sharia.
Then there are Shadid’s ridiculous arguments:
Mr. Ibraham told us Muhammad is recorded saying “Allah has commanded me to equivocate among the people inasmuch as he has commanded me to establish [religious] obligations”; and “I have been sent with obfuscation”; and “whoever lives his life in dissimulation dies a martyr” (Sami Mukaram, Al Taqiyya Fi Al Islam, London: Mu’assisat al-Turath al-Druzi, 2004, p. 30).
However the source he cites clearly is Al Taqiyya Fi Al Islam, London: Mu’assisat al-Turath al-Druzi, 2004, p. 30). Did you catch it? The source is about AL TAQIYYA not about TAWRIYA. And taqiyya deals with a situation only when a Muslim’s life is in immediate danger [not true] and they utter words of disbelief because they are threatened with being killed or tortured. Thus this citation does not support any proof for “creative lying.”
Apparently Shadid’s point is that any quote contained in a book that is not specifically devoted to the topic of the quote, is to be ignored. This is tantamount to saying “I reject any quote on jihad, regardless of the authority, unless it comes from a book with the word ‘jihad’ in its title. But if the title of the book is, say, ‘Islamic Law,’ or ‘War in Islam,’ then the quote on jihad is inadmissible.”
Better for you, Shadid, to address the actual quote itself—that your prophet’s mission was rooted in obfuscation, according to his own words—rather than quibble about the title of the book containing the quote.
Next he complains that I misrepresented a hadith when I wrote:
Muhammad said: “If any of you ever pass gas or soil yourselves during prayers [breakingwudu], hold your nose and leave” (Sunan Abu Dawud): ” Holding one’s nose and leaving implies smelling something offensive—which is true—though people will think it was someone else who committed the offense.”
According to Shadid:
Those familiar with this hadith can quickly see that Ibrahim has added his own conclusion about this hadith not endorsed by the Islamic position. No where is it taught that this hadith teaches for one to pass gas and leave thereby allowing some one else to take the blame for passing gas and the offensive smell.
Yet, he fails to mention that this hadith figures in the literature devoted to justifying tawriya, including Munajjid’s fatwa. And if this hadith does not teach “one to pass gas and leave thereby allowing some one else to take the blame for passing gas and the offensive smell,” then what is its significance, why does Muhammad teach to hold the nose, and why are the ulema referring to it in the context of tawriya? After all, wasn’t Shadid himself arguing earlier that tawriya is to be used only for “embarrassing” situations—and what’s more embarrassing than this?
In light of all the above, readers are free to conclude whether, as Shadid put it, my article on tawriya is “a clear example of how these haters just make up blatant lies to taint Islamic teachings and draw false conclusions based on their over zealous bias against Islam,” or whether Shadid’s entire rebuttal—which strains out a gnat while accepting that Islam permits lying—is itself an example of obfuscation.