By Mohamedarif Suleman (Nairobi, Kenya)
Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi in his book “Taqiyah” answers thus: “its literal meaning is to safeguard; to defend; to fear; piety (because it saves one from the displeasure of Allah)”
He goes on to explain the significance of the practice by explicating that in Islamic Terminology, it also means to save life, honor or property by hiding one’s belief or religion. Hence, we must not confused taqiyah with nifaq, as the latter is a negative attribute whose intention need not be to deceive oppressors or to save lives.
As Islam places overwhelming emphasis on the aspect of Muslim unity and fraternity, we are told many a times of the need to practice taqiyah, especially in prayers where joining of Jamaat prayers in a Sunni congregation by say, folding one’s hands, would not exclude one from any normal reception.
Muslims, for example, living in India have often faced the threat to their lives and property during Hindu-Muslim clashes, thus causing significant harm and oppression upon them. We, therefore, see that many brothers during such a time disguise themselves as non-Muslims, or as Hindus This, it must be understood, is in line with the compulsory divine order of protecting life and the dignity that goes with it. Again, as a parallel, it must be distinguished from the political espionage witnessed prominently during the cold war days, where the concealing of one’s identity, although perilous to life was driven by political ambitions and design.
In answer to a question, Rizvi dispels the allegations leveled against Shias as the only sect practicing such an act on an official basis. In reality, if the tables were turned in the case of the Hindu example, it may well be expected that Hindus, caught in Muslim territory, would undoubtedly use similar means to save their skin. In milder cases, we have today witnessed many Hindus, seeking job prospects in the Middle East, declaring their religion as Islam, although their being non-Muslim does not marginally affect their chances of success. It is therefore within the trait of human nature to protect oneself from destruction. As long as it is meant to protect life, property and honor, it would be termed taqiyah, but beyond that, it would carry other implications.
In the same book, it has been suggested by some readers that by doing such a thing, one exposes himself to the possibility of accepting the belief one uses as a pretext, hence ensuring that the very Islamic beliefs guiding this philosophy result in the loss of faith. Again, Rizvi propounds on the merit of Islamic faith that yields only to the conviction of the heart, rather than any lip service offered In such a scenario, by simply uttering non-Muslim tenets, one does not necessarily submit to anti-Islamic school of thought.
Venturing deeper into scholastic discussion, it is strongly believed as well that since doing taqiyah borders heavily on the act of lying, it should be borne well that taqiyah does not encourage lying. This is a misrepresentation. The example quotes is that of a person faced with a difficult situation. Both options at his disposal may result in some degree of harm. What does one do in such a situation? It is of greater recommendation to try to salvage the situation by implementing the answer with lesser repercussions rather than surrendering to the plight of an impasse.
Fortunately, most of the problems of the last century that prohibited Muslims to be seen openly are now over. Yesterday, a bearded man was a confirmed terrorist and a veiled woman, largely oppressed. Yet Muslims caved for them, until the Iranian Revolution gave new meaning to freedom of worship. Simultaneously, the collapse of the Easter bloc made religious practice easier and permissible. Isn’t; it ironical then that now that everything is open, Muslims, rather than practicing their faith are busy modeling the consumerist West and her materialistic teachings?