It is alleged that the Qur’an supports a concept known as Taqqiyah or deception, where by a Muslim may conceal the true nature of his or her beliefs by outwardly declaring something contrary. They would supposedly do this until more favorable conditions allow them to pursue their true agenda. For example, given the current atmosphere of Islamophobia, a Muslim may allegedly declare that Islam teaches tolerance of non-Muslims and social freedoms but deceivingly plots otherwise.
It is first important to cover the early history of Islam and how the doctrine of Taqqiyah developed particularly among one sect of Muslims: Shias. Shia-Muslims account for approximately 20% of all Muslims.
The primary difference between Shias and non-Shias is that the former believe that Ali (Holy Prophet Muhammad’s younger cousin) was the rightful heir to the leadership of the Muslim community. Hence, they do not recognize the leadership (or Caliphate) of Abu Bakar, Umar and Uthman who preceded Ali. This belief poses a problem because it is difficult to explain why Ali himself accepted the leadership of the first three Caliphs and, in fact, took bay’ah (pledge of allegiance) at their hands.
The Shia clergy claims that Ali was performing Taqiyyah—meaning that he was hiding his true beliefs to protect himself. To support their argument, Shias point to verse 40:29 of the Qur’an where a man from the family of Pharaoh secretly believed in Moses’s teachings but concealed it for fear of crossing Pharaoh.
Non-Shia Muslims believe that while there may have been disagreement over succession to Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace), the situation posed no grave risk to Ali. He reconciled with the outcome of succession and served honorably under the first three Caliphs before himself being elected as the fourth Caliph. Thus, there was no need for him to conceal his beliefs. On the other hand, concealing one’s belief in a situation of grave danger at the hands of a cruel and murderous tyrant like Pharaoh (who opposed Moses) is understandable and not viewed as a moral wrong.
Moreover, these accounts and verses are taken out of context by anti-Islam activists and apologists to paint all Muslims as having the belief that deception is justified for the purpose of spreading Islam.
The Qur’an champions honesty and integrity, and unequivocally condemns deception and lying as is evident from the verses below under the section: Fundamental Teachings of Islam.
And they planned, and Allah also planned; and Allah is the Best of planners. (3:55)
This verse is frequently showcased by anti-Islam activists to allege that deceit or Taqqiyyah is part of Islam and, in fact, Allah Himself has practiced it. The word ‘planner’ in the verse is represented as ‘deceiver’ by those who make this allegation.
The context of this verse is that the Jews planned to have Jesus (peace be on him) humiliated by pursuing his crucifixion with Roman authorities to prove that he was not the Messiah. Per popular Jewish belief, the Messiah would conquer Rome. But, God caused their plan to fail and according to the Qur’an they were not successful in the crucifixion. Instead, Jesus (peace be on him) went to be regarded as the a highly revered holy figure among the billions of Muslims and Christians of the world.
Several academics and esoteric scholars have proposed that Biblical accounts allude to Jesus’s survival from crucifixion. This is widely known as The Swoon Theory and has the following salient points:
- Jesus had won the sympathy of some powerful Jews such as St. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.
- Roman perfect Pilate had become sympathetic to Jesus and resisted the pressure to crucify him. He washed his hands in public to symbolize that he will take no blame in Jesus’s crucifixion (Matthew 27:24).
- The crucifixion was set for Sabbath when bodies must be taken down before sunset per Jewish law. Jesus spent only a few hours on the cross whereas death by crucifixion normally took much longer, even up to few days.
- To induce a quick death before Sabbath begins, Roman guards would break the legs of those being crucified as the lungs would collapse quickly under the sudden and immense weight-pressure without support from the legs. Per Biblical accounts, Roman guards did not break Jesus’s legs while they broke the legs of the other two men being crucified alongside. (John 19:33).
- Joseph of Arimathea and St. Nicodemus brought large quantities of healing herbs (Aloe and Myrrh) which were likely used to heal Jesus’s wounds and nurse him back to health. Verse 19:39 in the Gospel of John states the herbs were for embalming per the Jewish burial custom. However, there has never been a known Jewish burial custom involving embalming. It is believed that the writer of the verse was probably Greek (all New Testament original manuscripts are in Greek) and being unaware of Jewish burial practices made the error in assuming the herbs were for embalming. The Jesus’s survival from crucifixion theory states the herbs were actually gathered to heal Jesus’s wounds and nurse him back to health.
This is likely the ‘plan’ being alluded to in this verse. Those Jews who opposed Jesus had planned to have him humiliated via crucifixion to strip him of his claim of being the Messiah. However, God planned to rescue Jesus and have his status and spirituality elevated in the world, which is what we have seen happen in history. This is clarified by the following verses 4:157-160 of Quran…
And because of their disbelief and their uttering against Mary a grievous calumny; And their saying, ‘We did kill the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah;’ whereas they slew him not, nor crucified him, but he was made to appear to them like one crucified; and those who differ therein are certainly in a state of doubt about it; they have no definite knowledge thereof, but only follow a conjecture; and they did not convert this conjecture into a certainty; On the contrary, Allah exalted him to Himself. And Allah is Mighty, Wise.
Some non-Ahmadi Muslims believe that God transplanted Jesus’s face onto Judas the traitor who was the one crucified. This belief is not stated nor supported by the Qur’an or any supporting texts (such as Hadith). It is merely a weak theory removed from the Qur’an and therefore can be safely discarded. It is possible this theory, found in the Gospel of Barnabas, imported into Muslims beliefs when Islam spread rapidly among the Christians of Arabia.
Fundamental Teachings of Islam
The following verses of the Quran clearly command the faithful to be honest, straight in speech and to befriend the truthful. Naturally, a religion that advocates these teachings cannot supports any form of deception. A concealment of faith is only reasonable and acceptable in a remote situation of grave risk such as the example in verse 40:29 of a man who had concealed his belief in Moses as a prophet of Allah for fear of Pharaoh (Moses’s mortal enemy).
And confound not truth with falsehood nor hide the truth, knowingly. (2:43)
But they who repent and amend and openly declare the truth, it is these to whom I turn with forgiveness, and I am Oft-Returning with compassion and Merciful. (2:161)
O ye who believe! Be strict in observing justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against parents and kindred. Whether he be rich or poor, Allah is more regardful of them both than you are. Therefore follow not low desires so that you may be able to act equitably. And if you conceal the truth or evade it, then remember that Allah is well aware of what you do. (4:136)
O ye who believe! fear Allah, and say the right word. He will bless your works for you and forgive you your sins. And whoso obeys Allah and His Messenger, shall surely attain a mighty success. (33:71-72)
O ye who believe! fear Allah and be with the truthful. (9:119)
The steadfast, and the truthful, and the humble, and those who spend in the way of God, and those who seek forgiveness in the latter part of the night. (3:18)
That Allah may reward the truthful for their truth, and punish the hypocrites if He so please, or turn to them in mercy. Verily Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. (33:25)
That He might establish the truth and bring to naught that which is false, although the guilty might dislike it. (8:9)
According to the Quran, prophets are the perfect examples for their followers; they were all truthful. For a religion and doctrine that places such profound emphasis on honesty and truth, it is an irreconcilable contradiction that it would in any way advocate a doctrine of deception.
And it is not possible for a Prophet to act dishonestly. (3:162)
And relate the story of Abraham as mentioned in the Book. He was a truthful man and a Prophet. (19:42)
And of the people of Moses there is a party that exhorts people to truth and does justice therewith. (7:160)
The Muslims were severely persecuted in Mecca for thirteen years for propagating Islam before migrating to Medina. This period saw the martyrdom of several Muslims at times for nothing more than refusing to denounce the fundamental belief and slogan of Islam: “There are no Gods but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger”. The Quran, while permitting one to conceal a belief in the face of a mortal danger, praises martyrs who are slain in the way of Allah (3:158). Sumayyah bint Khayyat, a woman, is known as the first martyr of Islam. She was tortured to death for refusing to denounce Islam.
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) himself was so rigid in his standards of truthfulness that he was known among his people as “The Trusty” and “The Truthful”. He was equally anxious that Muslims should adopt the same standards of truthfulness. When the Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) first gathered the people of Mecca to announce his religious mission he addressed them by saying, “If I was to tell you that there is an army behind that hill about to attack this town, would you believe me?” The people replied. “Yes, for we know you are a truthful and honest man and you would never lie”. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) then announced, “Then, I tell you that there is only One God, and I am His Messenger”.
A well-known Hadith (sayings and events of the life of Muhammad) speaks of a man who once came to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) and said: “O Messengers of Allah! I suffer from three evils: falsehood, indulgence in strong drinks and fornication. I have tried my utmost to get rid of them but have not succeeded. Will you tell me what to do?” The Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) replied: “If you make a firm promise to me to give up one of them I guarantee that you will be rid of the other two”. The man promised to do so. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) said: “Give up falsehood.”