by Raymond Ibrahim
February 12, 2009
Editor's note: Substantial portions of the following essay made up part of Mr. Ibrahim's written testimony that was presented to Congress on February 12, 2009
Today, in a time of wars and rumors of wars emanating from the Islamic world — from the current conflict in Gaza, to the saber-rattling of nuclear-armed Pakistan and soon-to-be Iran — the need for non-Muslims to better understand Islam's doctrines and objectives concerning war and peace, and everything in between (treaties, diplomacy), has become pressing. For instance, what does one make of the fact that, after openly and vociferously making it clear time and time again that its ultimate aspiration is to see Israel annihilated, Hamas also pursues "peace treaties," including various forms of concessions from Israel — and more puzzling, receives them?
Before being in a position to answer such questions, one must first appreciate the thoroughly legalistic nature of mainstream (Sunni) Islam. Amazingly, for all the talk that Islam is constantly being "misunderstood" or "misinterpreted" by "radicals," the fact is, as opposed to most other religions, Islam is a clearly defined faith admitting of no ambiguity: indeed, according to Sharia (i.e., "Islam's way of life," more commonly translated as "Islamic law") every conceivable human act is categorized as being either forbidden, discouraged, permissible, recommended, or obligatory. "Common sense" or "universal opinion" has little to do with Islam's notions of right and wrong. All that matters is what Allah (via the Koran) and his prophet Muhammad (through the hadith) have to say about any given subject, and how Islam's greatest theologians and jurists — collectively known as the ulema, literally, the "ones who know" — have articulated it.
Consider the concept of lying. According to Sharia, deception is not only permitted in certain situations but is sometimes deemed obligatory. For instance, and quite contrary to early Christian tradition, not only are Muslims who must choose between either recanting Islam or being put to death permitted to lie by pretending to have apostatized; many jurists have decreed that, according to Koran 4:29, Muslims are obligated to lie.
The doctrine of taqiyya
Much of this revolves around the pivotal doctrine of taqiyya, which is often euphemized as "religious dissembling," though in reality simply connotes "Muslim deception vis-à-vis infidels." According to the authoritative Arabic text Al-Taqiyya fi Al-Islam, "Taqiyya [deception] 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 [p. 7; my own translation]."
Some erroneously believe that taqiyya is an exclusively Shia doctrine: as a minority group interspersed among their traditional enemies, the much more numerous Sunnis, Shias have historically had more "reason" to dissemble. Ironically, however, Sunnis living in the West today find themselves in a similar situation, as they are now the minority surrounded by their historic enemies — Christian infidels.
The primary Koranic verse sanctioning deception vis-à-vis non-Muslims states: "Let believers [Muslims] not take for friends and allies infidels [non-Muslims] instead of believers. Whoever does this shall have no relationship left with Allah — unless you but guard yourselves against them, taking precautions" (3:28; other verses referenced by the ulema in support of taqiyya include 2:173, 2:185, 4:29, 16:106, 22:78, 40:28).
Al-Tabari's (d. 923) famous tafsir (exegesis of the Koran) is a standard and authoritative reference work in the entire Muslim world. Regarding 3:28, he writes: "If you [Muslims] are under their [infidels'] authority, fearing for yourselves, behave loyally to them, with your tongue, while harboring inner animosity for them. … Allah has forbidden believers from being friendly or on intimate terms with the infidels in place of believers — except when infidels are above them [in authority]. In such a scenario, let them act friendly towards them."
Regarding 3:28, Ibn Kathir (d. 1373, second in authority only to Tabari) writes, "Whoever at any time or place fears their [infidels'] evil may protect himself through outward show." As proof of this, he quotes Muhammad's close companion, Abu Darda, who said, "Let us smile to the face of some people [non-Muslims] while our hearts curse them"; another companion, al-Hassan, said, "Doing taqiyya is acceptable till the Day of Judgment [i.e., in perpetuity]."
Other prominent ulema, such as al-Qurtubi, al-Razi, and al-Arabi, have extended taqiyya to cover deeds. In other words, Muslims can behave like infidels — including by bowing down and worshiping idols and crosses, offering false testimony, even exposing fellow Muslims' weaknesses to the infidel enemy — anything short of actually killing a Muslim.
Is this why the Muslim American sergeant Hasan Akbar attacked and killed his fellow servicemen in Iraq in 2003? Had his pretense of loyalty finally come up against a wall when he realized Muslims might die at his hands? He had written in his diary: "I may not have killed any Muslims, but being in the army is the same thing. I may have to make a choice very soon on who to kill."
War is deceit
None of this should be surprising considering that Muhammad himself — whose example as the "most perfect human" is to be tenaciously followed — took an expedient view of lying. It is well known, for instance, that Muhammad permitted lying in three situations: to reconcile two or more quarreling parties, to one's wife, and in war (see Sahih Muslim B32N6303, deemed an "authentic" hadith).
As for our chief concern here — war — the following story from the life of Muhammad reveals the centrality of deceit in war. During the Battle of the Trench (627), which pitted Muhammad and his followers against several non-Muslim tribes known as "the Confederates," one of these Confederates, Naim bin Masud, went to the Muslim camp and converted to Islam. When Muhammad discovered that the Confederates were unaware of their co-tribalist's conversion, he counseled Masud to return and try somehow to get the Confederates to abandon the siege — "For," Muhammad assured him, "war is deceit." Masud returned to the Confederates without their knowing that he had "switched sides," and began giving his former kin and allies bad advice. He also went to great lengths to instigate quarrels between the various tribes until, thoroughly distrusting each other, they disbanded, lifting the siege from the Muslims, and thereby saving Islam in its embryonic period (see Al-Taqiyya fi Al-Islam; also, Ibn Ishaq's Sira, the earliest biography of Muhammad).
More demonstrative of the legitimacy of deception vis-à-vis infidels is the following anecdote. A poet, Kab bin al-Ashruf, offended Muhammad by making derogatory verse concerning Muslim women. So Muhammad exclaimed in front of his followers: "Who will kill this man who has hurt Allah and his prophet?" A young Muslim named Muhammad bin Maslama volunteered, but with the caveat that, in order to get close enough to Kab to assassinate him, he be allowed to lie to the poet. Muhammad agreed. Maslama traveled to Kab, began denigrating Islam and Muhammad, carrying on this way till his disaffection became convincing enough that Kab took him into his confidences. Soon thereafter, Maslama appeared with another Muslim and, while Kab's guard was down, assaulted and killed him. Ibn Sa'ad's version reports that they ran to Muhammad with Kab's head, to which the latter cried, "Allahu Akbar!" (God is great!)
It also bears mentioning that the entire sequence of Koranic revelations is a testimony to taqiyya; and since Allah is believed to be the revealer of these verses, he ultimately is seen as the perpetrator of deceit — which is not surprising since Allah himself is described in the Koran as the best "deceiver" or "schemer" (3:54, 8:30, 10:21). This phenomenon revolves around the fact that the Koran contains both peaceful and tolerant verses, as well as violent and intolerant ones. The ulema were baffled as to which verses to codify into Sharia's worldview — the one, for instance, that states there is no coercion in religion (2:256), or the ones that command believers to fight all non-Muslims till they either convert, or at least submit, to Islam (8:39, 9:5, 9:29)? To get out of this quandary, the ulema developed the doctrine of abrogation (naskh, supported by Koran 2:106) which essentially maintains that verses "revealed" later in Muhammad's career take precedence over the earlier ones, whenever there is a contradiction.
But why the contradiction in the first place? The standard view has been that, since in the early years of Islam, Muhammad and his community were far outnumbered by the infidels and idolaters, a message of peace and coexistence was in order (sound familiar?). However, after he migrated to Medina and grew in military strength and numbers, the violent and intolerant verses were "revealed," inciting Muslims to go on the offensive — now that they were capable of doing so. According to this view, quite standard among the ulema, one can only conclude that the peaceful Meccan verses were ultimately a ruse to buy Islam time till it became sufficiently strong to implement its "true" verses which demand conquest. Or, as traditionally understood and implemented by Muslims themselves, when the latter are weak and in a minority position, they should preach and behave according to the Meccan verses (peace and tolerance); when strong, they should go on the offensive, according to the Medinan verses (war and conquest). The vicissitudes of Islamic history are a testimony to this dichotomy.
A Muslim colleague of mine once made this clear during a casual, though revealing, conversation. After expounding to him all those problematic doctrines that make it impossible for Muslims to peacefully coexist with infidels — jihad, loyalty and enmity, enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong — I pointedly asked him how and why he, as a Muslim, did not uphold them. He kept prevaricating, pointing to those other, abrogated verses of peace and tolerance. Assuming he was totally oblivious of such arcane doctrines as abrogation, I (rather triumphantly) began explaining to him the distinction between Meccan (tolerant) and Medinan (intolerant) verses, and how the latter abrogate the former. He simply smiled, saying, "I know; but I'm currently living in Mecca" — that is, like his weak and outnumbered prophet living among an infidel majority in Mecca, he too, for survival's sake, felt compelled to preach peace, tolerance, and coexistence to the infidel majority of America.
War is eternal
The fact that Islam legitimizes deceit during war cannot be all that surprising; as the saying goes, all's fair in love and war. Moreover, non-Muslim thinkers and philosophers, such as Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and Hobbes, all justified deceit in war. The crucial difference, however, is that, according to all four recognized schools of Sunni jurisprudence, war against the infidel goes on in perpetuity — until "all chaos ceases, and all religion belongs to Allah" (Koran 8:39). In its entry on jihad, the definitive Encyclopaedia of Islam simply states:
The duty of the jihad exists as long as the universal domination of Islam has not been attained. Peace with non-Muslim nations is, therefore, a provisional state of affairs only; the chance of circumstances alone can justify it temporarily. Furthermore there can be no question of genuine peace treaties with these nations; only truces, whose duration ought not, in principle, to exceed ten years, are authorized. But even such truces are precarious, inasmuch as they can, before they expire, be repudiated unilaterally should it appear more profitable for Islam to resume the conflict.
Moreover, going back to the doctrine of abrogation, the vast majority of the ulema agree that Koran 9:5, famously known as ayat al-saif — the "sword verse" — has abrogated some 124 of the more peaceful Meccan verses.
The obligatory jihad is best expressed by Islam's dichotomized worldview that pits Dar al-Islam (the "realm of submission," i.e., the Islamic world), against Dar al-Harb (the "realm of war," i.e., the non-Islamic world) until the former subsumes the latter. Internationally renowned Muslim historian and philosopher Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) articulates this division thusly: "In the Muslim community, holy war [jihad] is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. The other religious groups [specifically Christianity and Judaism] did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense. … But Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations."
This concept is highlighted by the fact that, based on the ten-year treaty of Hudaibiya (628), ratified between Muhammad and his Quraish opponents in Mecca, ten years is, theoretically, the maximum amount of time Muslims can be at peace with infidels. Based on Muhammad's example of breaking the treaty after two years (by citing a Quraish infraction), the sole function of the "peace treaty" (or hudna) is to buy weakened Muslims time to regroup before going on the offensive once more. Incidentally, according to a canonical hadith, Muhammad said, "If I take an oath and later find something else better, I do what is better and break my oath." The prophet further encouraged Muslims to do the same: "If you ever take an oath to do something and later on you find that something else is better, then you should expiate your oath and do what is better."
After negotiating a peace treaty criticized by Muslims as conceding too much to Israel, former PLO leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasser Arafat, speaking to Muslims in a mosque and off the record, justified his actions by saying, "I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraish in Mecca." In other words, like his prophet, the "moderate" Arafat was giving his word only to annul it once "something else better" came along — that is, once Palestinians became strong enough to renew the offensive.
Most recently, a new Islamic group associated with Hamas called Jaysh al-Umma (Islam's army) stated clearly, "Muslims all over the world are obliged to fight the Israelis and the infidels until only Islam rules the earth." Realizing their slip, they quickly clarified: "We say that the world will not live in peace as long as the blood of Muslims continues to be shed." Which is it — until Muslim blood stops being shed in Israel or "until only Islam rules the earth"?
These are all clear instances of Muslims feigning openness to the idea of peace simply in order to buy more time to build up their strength.
Here, then, is the problem: If Islam must be in a constant state of war with the non-Muslim world, which need not be physical, as the ulema have classified several non-violent forms of jihad, such as "jihad-of-the-pen" (propaganda) and "money-jihad" (economic); and if Muslims are permitted to lie and feign loyalty, amiability, even affection to the infidel, simply to further their war efforts — what does one make of any Muslim overtures of peace, tolerance, or dialogue?
This is more obvious when one considers that, every single time Muslims "reach out" for "peace," it is always when they are in a weakened condition vis-à-vis infidels — that is, when they, not their non-Muslim competitors, benefit from the peace. This is the lesson of the last two centuries of Muslim-Western interaction, wherein the former have been militarily inferior and thus beholden to the latter.
One wonders if the reverse would hold true. If, for example, the Palestinians suddenly became stronger than Israel and could annihilate it, if Israel reached out for peace or concessions, would the (overwhelmingly Muslim) Palestinians grant it? In fact, the answer to this question is evident in all those countries where non-Muslim groups live as minorities among Muslim majorities: while living in constant social subjugation (according to Koran 9:29) they are also sporadically persecuted and killed — such as the Christian Copts of Egypt who, after merely assembling for prayer in a condemned factory, found 20,000 rioting Muslims surrounding them, screaming the Muslim war cry, "Allah Akbar," while throwing stones at them.
Reciprocal treatment or religious obligation?
Why did Osama bin Laden, who firmly believes in the division of the world into two entities — Islam and the rest — which must war until the former dominates the globe, attack the U.S.? The following anecdote sheds some light: after a group of prominent Muslims wrote a letter to Americans saying that Islam is a peaceful religion that wishes to coexist with others, seeking only to "live and let live," bin Laden, thinking no non-Muslim would see his letter, castigated them as follows:
As to the relationship between Muslims and infidels, this is summarized by the Most High's Word: "We [Muslims] renounce you [non-Muslims]. Enmity and hate shall forever reign between us — till you believe in Allah alone" [Koran 60:4]. So there is an enmity, evidenced by fierce hostility from the heart. And this fierce hostility — that is, battle — ceases only if the infidel submits to the authority of Islam, or if his blood is forbidden from being shed [i.e., a dhimmi], or if Muslims are at that point in time weak and incapable [i.e., taqiyya]. But if the hate at any time extinguishes from the heart, this is great apostasy! … Such, then, is the basis and foundation of the relationship between the infidel and the Muslim. Battle, animosity, and hatred — directed from the Muslim to the infidel — is the foundation of our religion. And we consider this a justice and kindness to them (from The Al Qaeda Reader, p. 43).
It bears repeating that this hostile weltanschauung is well supported by mainstream Islam's schools of jurisprudence (i.e., there is nothing "radical" about it). When addressing Western audiences, however, bin Laden's tone drastically changes; he lists any number of "grievances" for fighting the West — from Palestinian oppression, to the Western exploitation of women and U.S. failure to sign the Kyoto protocol — never once alluding to fighting the U.S. simply because it is an infidel entity that must be subjugated. Indeed, he often initiates his messages to the West by saying, "Reciprocal treatment is part of justice" or "Peace to whoever follows guidance" — though he means something entirely different than what his Western audience thinks.
This is of course a clear instance of taqiyya, as bin Laden is not only waging a physical jihad, but one of propaganda. Convincing a secular West (whose epistemology does not allow for the notion of religious conquest) that the current conflict is entirely its fault only garners him and his cause more sympathy; conversely, he also knows that if Americans were to realize that, all political grievances aside — real or imagined — according to Islam's worldview, nothing short of their submission to Islam can ever bring peace, his propaganda campaign would be quickly compromised. Yet the fact is al-Qaeda is motivated more by religious obligation than reciprocal treatment. Hence the constant need to lie, "for war," as their prophet asserted, "is deceit."
It should be added that, though the vast majority of the world's Muslims are not active terrorists, bin Laden's list of grievances against the West is paradigmatic of the average Muslim's grievances. However, if they are unaware that, according to Islam — not bin Laden — animosity towards infidels transcends time, space, and grievances, and that religious obligation commands the war continue till "all religion belongs to Allah," they are either ignorant of their own faith, or — taqiyya?
With friends like these …
Associated with Hamas, denounced by American politicians for "pursuing an extreme Islamist political agenda," its members arrested for terrorism-related charges — the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is another Muslim group which appears to be less than sincere to its non-Muslim audience; situated in the U.S., it is also much closer to home. When it comes to the issue of jihad, perpetual warfare, even doctrines such as taqiyya — indeed, all that has been delineated in this essay — CAIR has been at the forefront of not only denying their existence, but accusing of "Islamophobia" and threatening with lawsuits anyone alluding to them, thereby censoring any critical talk of Islam.
Could CAIR be taking lessons from the Muslim convert Masud, whom Muhammad urged to go and live among the Confederate infidels, solely in order to mislead and betray them, so that Islam might triumph?
The most obvious example of taqiyya, however, comes from an entire nation: Saudi Arabia. If any nation closely follows Sharia — including, but not limited to, the division of the world into two perpetually warring halves, Islam and infidelity — it is Saudi Arabia, a.k.a. America's "friend." According to Sharia, for instance, the Saudis will not allow the construction of a single church or synagogue on their land; Bibles are banned and burned; Christians engaged in any kind of missionary activity are arrested, tortured, and sometimes killed; Muslim converts to Christianity are put to death.
Yet for all that, in their attempt to portray Islam as a "tolerant" religion, a religion that, once again, merely seeks "peacefully coexist" with others, the Saudis have been pushing for more "dialogue" between Muslims and non-Muslims, specifically Christians and Jews (ironically, those two peoples who are currently much more powerful than Islam). Rather tellingly, however, Saudi Arabia refuses to host any of these conferences; after all, their prophet Muhammad's deathbed wish was to expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian peninsula; how to re-invite them now and talk of peace and tolerance? Moreover, surely the Saudis fear that a real "debate" — not just the perfunctory talk of "mutual understanding" that permeates these farces — might take place, once the non-Muslim participants discover that they are not free to practice their faiths on Saudi soil? The most recent interfaith conference was held in Madrid, where King Abdullah, despite all the aforementioned, asserted, "Islam is a religion of moderation and tolerance, a message that calls for constructive dialogue among followers of all religions."
Mere days later, it was revealed that Saudi children's textbooks still call Christians and Jews "infidels," the "hated enemies," and "pigs and swine." A multiple choice test in a fourth-grade book asks Muslim children, "Who is a 'true' Muslim?" The correct answer is not the man who prays, fasts, etc., but rather, "A man worships God alone, loves the believers, and hates the infidels" — that is, those same people the Saudis want to "dialogue" with.
Clearly, then, when Saudis — or other Sharia-following Muslims — call for "dialogue" they are merely following the aforementioned advice of Muhammad's friend, Abu Darda: "Let us smile to the face of some people while our hearts curse them."
There is also a troubling philosophical — again, specifically epistemological — aspect to taqiyya. Anyone who truly believes that no less an authority than God justifies and, through his prophet's example, sometimes even encourages deception, will not experience any ethical qualms or dilemmas about lying. This is especially true if the human mind is indeed a tabula rasa shaped by environment and education: deception becomes second nature.
Consider the case of Ali Mohammad — bin Laden's "first trainer" and longtime al-Qaeda operative. Despite being entrenched in the highest echelons of the terror network, his confidence at dissembling enabled him to become a CIA agent and FBI informant for years. People who knew him regarded him "with fear and awe for his incredible self-confidence, his inability to be intimidated, absolute ruthless determination to destroy the enemies of Islam, and his zealous belief in the tenets of militant Islamic fundamentalism." Indeed, this sentence sums it all: for a "zealous belief" in Islam's "tenets," which, as seen, legitimize deception, will certainly go a long way in creating "incredible self-confidence" when lying.
The bottom line is, any Muslim who closely observes Sharia law — and that is, incidentally, the definition of a Muslim, "one who submits to (the laws of) Allah" — laws that, among other bellicosities, clearly and unambiguously split the world into two perpetually warring halves — such a Muslim will always have a "divinely sanctioned" right to deceive, until "all chaos ceases, and all religion belongs to Allah" (Koran 8:39). All Muslim overtures for peace, dialogue, or even temporary truces must be seen in this light.
Raymond Ibrahim is the associate director of the Middle East Forum and the author of The Al Qaeda Reader, translations of religious texts and propaganda.