Welcome to F.I.E.L.D.- the First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database.


Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"The word taqiya is derived from the root tuqat means conceal, hide or arrange for protection. It is also suggested that it is rooted from waqqa means keep from or guard someone. Thus, taqiya means precautionary dissimulation. The Koranic term tauqqat is also taken in the meaning of taqiya, to which divergence of opinions have been advanced. Baidawi (d. 685/1286) writes in his Anwar al-Tanzil that, "The qirah of Imam Yaqub (d. 205/820) contains the word taqiya instead of tauqqat." Similar word is also traced in the meaning of taqiya (Bukhari, 28:50). Ibn Hajar (d. 852/1449) also admits in Fateh al-Bari (28:50) that tauqqat and taqiya exercise equal meaning. Zamakhshari (d. 538/1144) in Tafsir al-Kashshaf (2:16), Raghib Ispahani (d. 502/1108) in Tafsir al-Gharaib al-Koran (1:313), Baidawi (d. 685/1286) in Anwar al-Tanzil (1:153) and Fakhruddin Razi (d. 606/1209) in Tafsir al-Kabir (2:646), etc. have concurred the doctrine of taqiya permissible in Islam in the light of the Koranic verse, which reads:- "Let not the believers take the unbelievers for friends rather than believers, and whoever does this, he shall have nothing of God, except when you have to guard yourselves against them for fear" (3:28).

The practice of taqiya was never unfamiliar to Islam, even its early phase. Ammar, his father Yasir and mother Sumayya were subjected to severe torture by the pagan Meccans, forcing them to renounce Islam. William Muir writes in The Life of Mohammad (London, 1923, p. 67) that, "These were seized and imprisoned or they were exposed upon the scorching gravel of the valley to the intense glare of the midday sun. The torment was enhanced by intolerable thirst, until the wretched sufferers hardly knew they said." Yet even under these trying circumstances, which would have maddened even the most resolute man, there were those among Ammar whose faith was as firm as mountain.

Ammar, suffering under tortures himself and his mind acted on by the sufferings of his parents, uttered a word constructed as recantation, though his heart never wavered. When accused by some Muslims of his disbelief, the Prophet said, "No! Ammar is full of faith from head to foot. Faith has been mingled in his flesh and blood." When Ammar came to the Prophet, he wept profusely because of his forced renunciation. The Prophet said, "Why should you cry? If they repeat (their torture), you also repeat what you have told them." (Tafsir al-Koran al-Azim, 2:586 by Ibn Kathir). On this occasion, the Koranic verse revealed: "Any one who, after accepting faith in God, utters unbelief, except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in faith" (16:106). Tabari writes in his Tafsir (24:122) that, "If any one is compelled and professes unbelief with his tongue, while his heart contradicts him, in order to escape his enemies, no blame falls on him, because God takes his servants as their hearts believe."

After the event of Karbala, the Shi'ites faced many troubles and hardships. The Umayyad punished and tortured them severely. According to Hayat al-Imam (2:357), Imam Muhammad al-Bakir once said: "Our followers were killed in every city. The hands and legs were cut off out of accusation. Whoever loved and followed us was imprisoned or his property was plundered or his house was demolished." The famous poet Abdullah bin Amir, known as al-Abli, described his troubles out of his love for Ahl al-Bayt. He said: "They made me homeless when I praised Ali. They thought that such praise was a dangerous illness in me." The author of Tarikh-i Baghdad (12:351) writes that Ibrahim bin Herthima once came to Medina. One of the Shi'ites came and greeted him. Ibrahim said to him, "Go away from me. If the Umayyad saw you greeting me, they would kill me." Moreover, the Umayyad ordered their governors to kill the babies who were named Ali. When Ali bin Rabah heard of that, he was afraid and changed his name to Ulay bin Rabah (Tehzib al-Tehzib, 7:319).

Thus, Imam Muhammad al-Bakir had to articulate the implication of the doctrine of taqiya in Shi'ism, and we may attribute the rudiments of its theory to him. Looking the changing condition radically then prevailing in the Arab society, it was a wise move by Imam Jafar Sadik to broach his followers the doctrine of taqiya, and made it the Shi'ite article of faith. He is reported to have said that, "Our belief concerning taqiya is that it is obligatory and he who forsakes, it is in the same position as he who forsakes prayer."

The Imam also said, "Whoever does not practice taqiya, he has no real faith. He who divulges our secret is like one who rejects it" (al-Kafi, 1:65). But it left to his son, Imam Jafar Sadik to give it a final form abreast of time and make it an absolute condition of the faith. In fact, it was a need of time and the changing circumstances in which they were living and working out the tenets for their followers. The theory of taqiya suited very well the theory of extraordinary knowledge embodied in the Imams, which should be limited to a few selected persons. The taqiya was also caused by Imam's applying esoteric interpretations to the Koran and other religious scriptures, intending to guard against the followers of exoteric belief, who were not prepared to digest such interpretations. Thus, Imam Jafar Sadik said, "This amr (Imamate and esoteric mysteries) is mastur (occult) and muqanna (veiled) by a mithaq (covenant), and whoever unveils it will be disgraced by God" (al-Kafi, 2:488). In a conversation with Mu'alla bin Khunays, one of the extremists of Kufa, Imam Jafar Sadik said, "Keep our affairs secret, and do not divulge it publicly, for whoever keeps it secret and does not reveal it, God will exalt him in this world and put light between his eyes in the next, leading him to paradise. O'Mu'alla, whoever divulges our affair publicly and does not keep it secret, God will disgrace him in this world and will take away light from between his eyes in the next, and will decree for him darkness that will lead him to the fire. O'Mu'alla, verily the taqiya is of my religion and of the religion of my forefathers. One who does not keep taqiya he has no religion. O'Mu'alla, it is necessary to worship in secret as it is necessary to worship openly. O'Mu'alla, the one who reveals our affairs is the one who denies them" (al-Kafi, 2:488). Once Imam Jafar Sadik also said, "Fear for your religion and protect it with taqiya, for there is no faith in whom there is no taqiya" (Ibid. 1:483).

Imam Jafar Sadik had certainly worked out that an open dawat based on esoterism in the line of Imam Ismail would mean a sure doom in the powerful Abbasid regime. It was, of course, risky for the Imams and their followers to openly propagate their minoritarian beliefs then onwards, therefore, the secret mission system was introduced under the garb of taqiya, which could also avoided great deal of persecution. Hence, he legislated taqiya to prevent the blood of the followers from being shed. Tusi writes in Talkhis al-Shafi (1:59) that, "No sect was troubled as the Shi'a. They suffered from fear all the time. So, they cleaved to taqiya." According to Urdu Encyclopaedia of Islam (6:581), "The Shi'ites were suspected in some matters in non-Shi'ite rules, therefore, the doctrine of taqiya exercised special importance."

Kalqashandi writes in Subh al-A'sha (10:436) that one of the Fatimid Imams said in one of his decrees, "Preserve the secrets of wisdom; reveal them only to those qualified. Give them only to those who are deserving. Do not divulge to the weak what they cannot bare and what their minds are unable to accept."

Imam Mustansir billah II (d. 880/1475) said in Pandiyat-i Jawanmardi (p.43) that, "Beware of them, and keep secret my mystery from those unworthy ones, from those devils in human form, fearing lest they attack you, or cause you to be dragged into the darkness of misfortune just as they have been dragged themselves."

We may conclude from above discussion that the real meaning of taqiya is not telling lie or falsehood, as it is often understood, but the protection of the esoteric mysteries and its followers from enemies through concealment in circumstances where there is fear of being killed, captured or insulted. Imam Jafar Sadik also said: "Taqiya is the shield of the believer and his fortress" (al-Kafi, 2:221).

Back to top