Taqiya, or not showing their faith openly by means of pretense, dissimulation, or concealment, is a special type of Lying which is used by Shi'a Muslims. "Taqiya" (or taqiyyah) is related to the terms "taqwa'" and "taqi'" - all have the root meaning of "guarding" something, in this case, the Islamic faith.
This practice, along with the practice of Kithman, or concealing their faith from non-Shi'as, were, and are many places today, a method of self-preservation for the Shi'a community. Historically, the Shiites have been in the minority and have been persecuted by Sunni Muslims who considered them heretics. Shi'as are often persecuted today in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Sunni-Shi'a violence is fairly common. Sunnis would often attempt to force Shi'as to curse the House of Ali - believing that no devout Shiite could commit such an act. As a result of this persecution, the idea of Taqiya emerged. In other words, if a Shi'a Muslim's life is in danger, he may lie as long as he holds true to Ali in his heart.
Shi'as believe that the origin of this line of defence comes from the Qur'an. When Moses returned from the mountain and saw his people worshiping the golden calf, he was understandably angry and asked his brother Aaron why he allowed such a terrible sin to be committed. The Qur'an tells us
This verse is important because, since all Muslims believe that Aaron is a Prophet, none would criticize him for cowardice.
A more specific justification for Taqiya by the Shi'as is the instance when 'Ammar ibn al-Yasir (one of the companions loyal to 'Ali and considered to be one of the first Shi'a) was detained and tortured by infidels. He renounced his faith in order to escape and immediately went to Muhammad and repented. 'Umar suggested that he be put to death for apostasy, however, Muhammad said that it was better for him to renounce his faith with his lips (while still believing in his heart) than to be burned to death by the infidels.
This account is surprising considering how much emphasis the Qur'an places on martyrdom. Today, many Sunnis criticize 'Ammar for his actions and there is a significant difference of philosophy between Sunnis and Shi`a which creates this dilemma. The Sunnis believe that human beings have little or no free will, while the Shi`a believe that humans enjoy a great deal of free will.
To a Sunni, God decides how, and when, one is going to die and what is going to happen to all people - both believers and unbelievers. Therefore, it makes little difference what decisions one makes - everything is in God's hands, and it is not right to outwardly deny the faith in order to escape torture or death.
By contrast, the Shi'a believe that life is a gift from God and like any gift from God, should be preserved and not squandered. Anything that one can do to save one's life should be done, even if it is contrary to God's laws. In a life-threatening emergency, self-preservation, and the preservation of the faith take precedence over obedience to the shari'ah - in fact, this kind of preservation in such situations would be considered obedience to the shari'ah.
Taqiya is to be practiced only when one fears for one's life, the lives of one's family members, or for the preservation of the faith. In those situations, according to most Shi`a jurisprudents, Taqiya is required!
Some Shiite Traditions promoting Taqiya are
Zararah narrates that I asked a certain question to Imam Baqar (R). He gave me its answer. Another person then asked the same question and the Imam gave him a different answer. Later a third person asked the same question, but the Imam's answer this time was different from the previous two answers. I then asked him: "O, the son of the Messenger (S)! The two persons who just came here to ask you questions were from Iraq and were Shias, yet you gave them contradictory answers". The Imam then answered: "O Zararah! This is good for me as well as for you and this will help us survive and prosper". (Ft. #2 Ibid, p.37)
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