In “Taqiyyah Sunrise: Shining Light on Contemporary Deception,” published by the Jewish Chronicle on December 19, 2019, Usama Hasan, a board member of the British think tank Quilliam, declares that
This article seeks to clarify the origins, meaning, and application of the concept of taqiyyah. In doing so, my purpose is to minimise its use, as part of a hostile narrative which paints Muslims are [sic] religiously-obligated liars.
Taqiyya is Islamic sanctioned deception. Apologists, such as Hasan, insist that it is limited to preserving one’s life when in danger, while others say its application is much more open-ended and potentially subversive of non-Muslim societies.
The occasion that spurred Hasan to write—and the heart of his argument—appear in this paragraph:
Melanie Phillips is a Times columnist and often appears on the BBC in its TV and radio programmes such as Question Time and The Moral Maze. She also writes for the JC. In her article, “Islamists are not the same as other prisoners,” (The Times, 3 December 2019) she claims that “taqiyya, the command to deceive for Islam … is of fundamental importance in Islam. Practically every Islamic sect agrees to it and practises it.” Her authority? A minor Lebanese academic who is a member of the relatively heterodox Druze sect. This is a bit like deploying Neturei Karta against mainstream Jewish sects, or quoting a Jehovah’s Witness as an authority on the doctrinal content of post-Nicene Christianity.
The “minor Lebanese academic” that Hasan deigns not even name is Dr. Sami Nassib Makarem (1931-2012), a scholar of Arabic and Islam. In 1963, Makarem earned his PhD in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan, where he taught Arabic and specialized in Islamic Studies. Since 1964 till his death he was a professor of Arabic and Islamic thought at the American University of Beirut; from 1975-78, he was director of its Center of Middle Eastern Studies. He published well over twenty books, most of them academic and in the Arabic language.
His 2004 book, Al-Taqiyya fi’l Islam (“Taqiyya in Islam”), is what concerns us here. I first encountered and read it in 2006, while still working at the Library of Congress; later I translated portions of it. Going now through my own copy again—and at 327 pages, with countless references and citations to Islamic/Arabic texts—it is by far the most comprehensive and scholarly treatment on the doctrine of taqiyya known to me. It certainly validates one of its opening statements (which Phillips partially quoted, and which Hasan dismisses out of hand):
Taqiyya is of fundamental importance in Islam. Practically every Islamic sect agrees to it 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 … Taqiyya is very prevalent in Islamic politics, especially in the modern era.
Despite Makarem’s credentials, Hasan dismisses him in an ad hominem attack that presents him as “A minor Lebanese academic who is a member of the relatively heterodox Druze sect.” Citing him in regards to mainstream Islam is, for Hasan, “a bit like … quoting a Jehovah’s Witness as an authority on the doctrinal content of post-Nicene Christianity.”
What a silly argument. It’s tantamount to saying that no one but a Sunni can objectively study and write on Sunnism; no one but a Shia can objectively study and write on Shiism; and so on. In reality, many of the world’s greatest authorities have no “innate” connection to their topic; such disconnectedness, if anything, often helps ensure their objectiveness. Up until a few decades ago, for example, if you wanted to know anything about Islamic history, you—and this includes Muslims, who at best knew only hagiography—had to turn to European Orientalists (whose writings tend to remain more learned and objective than their modern day counterparts).
Despite Hasan’s insinuations, Professor Makarem did not approach the topic of taqiyya “as a Druze”—whatever that might mean—but as a scholar, as his book makes clear on every page. Indeed, any notion that he had some sort of axe to grind—for example by pinning taqiyya on other sects but exonerating his own—is dispelled by the fact that his comprehensive treatment also includes the Druze.
Incidentally, and very much unlike Makarem, Usama Hasan has no relevant credentials; his degrees are in the hard sciences (e.g., engineering).
So what we have here is a Muslim man, with no formal credentials on the topic—aside from being a former jihadist whose Saudi-educated father compelled to memorize the Koran in youth—telling us to ignore an actual scholar with formal, academic credentials in Islamic theology, simply because the latter says things (taqiyya/deception is prevalent and mainstream) that present Islam in an unflattering light.
To be sure, Hasan tries to rationalize taqiyya in other ways—including through the usual array of partial truths, partial omissions, generalizations and conflations that I’ve encountered and dismantled many times before (here and here for example)—but it was his flippant dismissal of Makarem that seemed especially disingenuous and in need of addressing.
The overall hollow nature of Hasan’s article is perhaps most evident in how it regularly turns to fake outrage against those who dare mention—and, worse, disseminate knowledge of—taqiyya. A few excerpts follow:
[I]t is disappointing that The Times, one of the most important newspapers in the world, should publish Melanie Phillips [on taqiyya] …
The Times, the JC, the Spectator, and the BBC should be ashamed of promoting someone [Philips] who has made this charge against us [Muslims] for so many years. …
It is outrageous that a respected national newspaper should render the tropes of anti-Muslim hatred mainstream in this manner.
“Disappointing … ashamed … outrageous”: These are words better applied to the deceitful doctrine of taqiyya itself and those who would whitewash it—not those who expose it.
Raymond Ibrahim, author of Sword and Scimitar and The Al Qaeda Reader, is Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center; Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute; and Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.