Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post has awarded Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson four Pinocchios for a statement justifying his skepticism of a hypothetical Muslim president: “Taqiyya is a component of Shia that allows, and even encourages you to lie to achieve your goals.”
Carson’s statement was not entirely accurate, but it was not an outright four-Pinocchio lie. Kessler ignores important aspects of taqiyya that go far beyond self-preservation, as he alleges.
Kessler reduces taqiyya to a defensive doctrine: “Essentially, the Koran suggests that a person who faces religious persecution can withhold the identity of their faith in order to avoid bodily harm or death,” he writes. He interviews a number of sympathetic experts, including the liberal Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School. But Kessler does not approach scholars who take a critical view of taqiyya, who point out its use in international relations and conflict.
In an article entitled “Taqiyya About Taqiyya,” expert Raymond Ibrahim concludes: “Deception—known under the broad term taqiyya—is permissible in Islam, above and beyond the limited issue of self-preservation. This assertion is not “Islamophobic”; it is true.”
That is not to say it is permissible to lie in the ordinary sense of the word, or that a hypothetical Muslim candidate would be allowed to lie to become president (any more than any other politician).
However, in the context of conflicts with non-Islamic civilizations, deception is permissible. Ibrahim notes that Yasser Arafat once defended peace accords with Israel in similar terms. The idea is relevant to the issue of Syrian “refugees,” many of whom may be neither refugees nor Syrians.
So Carson is wrong as regards the general conduct of law-abiding Muslim citizens. But taqiyya remains critical to understanding the external threat the U.S. is facing.