Lying About Lying: The Art of Islamic Taqiyya

By Raymond Ibrahim

I was recently involved in an interesting exercise—examining taqiyya about taqiyya—and believe readers might profit from the same exercise, as it exposes all the subtle apologetics made in defense of the Islamic doctrine, which permits Muslims to lie to non-Muslims, or “infidels.”

Context: Khurrum Awan, a lawyer, is suing Ezra Levant, a Canadian media personality and author, for defamation and $100,000.  Back in 2009 and on his own website, Levant had accused Awan of taqiyya in the context of Awan’s and the Canadian Islamic Congress’ earlier attempts to sue Mark Steyn.

For more on Levant’s court case, go to

On behalf of Awan, Mohammad Fadel—professor of Islamic Law at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law—provided an expert report to the court on the nature of taqiyya, the significance of which he portrayed as “a staple of right-wing Islamophobia in North America.”

In response, Levant asked me (back in 2013) to write an expert report on taqiyya, including by responding to Fadel’s findings.

I did.  And it had the desired effect.  As Levant put it in an email to me:

It was an outstanding report, very authoritative and persuasive. Of course, we don’t know what the plaintiff’s [Awan’s] private thoughts about it were, but we do know that after receiving the report, he decided to cancel calling his own expert witness [Dr. Fadel]—who happens to be a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer. After reading your rebuttal, he decided he would rather not engage in that debate.

My expert report follows.  In it, I quote relevant portions of Fadel’s expert report (which can be read in its entirety here).  Most intriguing about the professor’s report is that it’s a perfect example of taqiyya about taqiyya.  By presenting partial truths throughout the report, Fadel appears to have even employed taqiyya’s more liberal sister, tawriya.

Accordingly, readers interested in learning more about the role of deception in Islam—and how to respond to those trying to dismiss it as an “Islamophobic fantasy”—are encouraged to read on.

Raymond Ibrahim’s Expert Report on Taqiyya

Instructions: I have been asked to assess a report concerning the doctrine of taqiyya in Islam, written by one Mohammad Fadel; and, if I disagreed with any parts of it, to explain why—objectively, neutrally, and in a non-partisan manner.  My findings follow.


The Islamic doctrine of taqiyya permits Muslims to actively deceive non-Muslims—above and beyond the context of “self-preservation,” as is commonly believed.

One of the few books exclusively devoted to the subject, At-Taqiyya fi’l-Islam (“Taqiyya in Islam”) make this unequivocally clear. Written (in Arabic) by Dr. Sami Mukaram, a former Islamic studies professor at the American University of Beirut and author of some twenty-five books on Islam, the book demonstrates the ubiquity and broad applicability of taqiyya in its opening pages:

Taqiyya is of fundamental importance in Islam. Practically every Islamic sect agrees to it and practices it … We can go so far as to say that the practice of taqiyya is mainstream in Islam, and that those few sects not practicing it diverge from the mainstream … Taqiyya is very prevalent in Islamic politics, especially in the modern era.[1]

The following report is written as a response to Mohammed Fadel’s report (henceforth referred to as MFR) which deals with the topic of taqiyya and its place and usage in Islamic jurisprudence.   Because MFR is written in a premises-conclusion format, the following report will follow MFR’s numbering schemata, pointing out which premises are agreeable and which are not—offering correctives to these latter resulting in an antithetical conclusion.

Numbers/Premises of MFR in Order:

1-3: Preliminary statements.

4: Agreed.

5:  Agreed, with the following caveat:  To many Muslims, jihad, that is, armed struggle against the non-Muslim, is the informal sixth pillar.   Islam’s prophet Muhammad said that “standing in the ranks of battle [jihad] is better than standing (in prayer) for sixty years,”[2] even though prayer is one of the Five Pillars, and he ranked jihad as the “second best deed” after belief in Allah as the only god and he himself, Muhammad, as his prophet, the shehada, or very First Pillar of Islam.[3]

All this indicates jihad’s importance in Islam—and thus importance to this case, since, as shall be seen, taqiyya is especially permissible in the context of jihad or struggle to empower Islam and/or Muslims over non-Muslims.

6: Agreed.  Qiyas, or analogical reasoning, the practice of finding antecedents in the teachings of the two revelatory sources (Qur’an and Hadith) and rationalizing their applicability to modern phenomena, also belongs to usul al-fiqh, or Islam’s roots of jurisprudence.  It gives more elasticity to Islam’s rules (a major theme throughout this report).  Qiyas, for example, is the way al-Qaeda and other jihadi organizations justify suicide attacks: although killing oneself is clearly forbidden in Islam, in the context of jihad—in the context of trying to empower Islam—suicide attacks are rationalized as legitimate forms of stealth warfare, since those giving their lives are not doing so out of despair but rather for Islam (as in Qur’an 9:111).[4]

7-19: Generally agreed (or indifferent to: some information in these numbers is not necessarily germane to the issue at hand and did not warrant confirmation).

20“Normative Islamic doctrine places strong emphasis on the obligation to speak the truth.”

This is the first of many statements/premises that are only partially true.

For starters, Islamic jurisprudence separates humanity into classes.  The rules concerning the relationship between a Muslim and a fellow Muslim differ from the rules concerning the relationship between a Muslim and a non-Muslim.

First there is the umma—the “Islamic nation,” that is, all Muslims of the earth, irrespective of national, racial, or linguistic barriers.  Many of the Qur’an’s and Hadith’s teachings that appear laudable and fair are in fact teachings that apply only to fellow Muslims.

For example, although the Qur’an’s calls for Muslims to give charity (zakat) appear to suggest that Muslims may give charity to all humans—in fact, normative Islamic teaching is clear that Muslim charity (zakat) can only be given to fellow Muslims, never to non-Muslims.[5]

As for legal relations between Muslims and non-Muslims—or kuffar, the “infidels” (kafir, singular)—within the Islamic world, these fall into two main categories: first, the harbi, that is, the non-Muslim who does not reside in the Islamic world; if at any time a Muslim comes across him in the Muslim world, according to classic Islamic doctrine, he is free to attack, enslave, and/or kill him (the exception is if he is musta’min—given a formal permit by an Islamic authority to be on Muslim territory, such as the case of the many foreigners working in the Arabian Peninsula).[6]

Second is the dhimmi, the non-Muslim who lives under Muslim domination (for example, all the indigenous Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Berbers, etc. whose lands were conquered by Muslims beginning in the 7th century).   By today’s standards, the rules governing the dhimmi, most of which are based on the so-called “Conditions of Omar” (sometimes the “Pact of Omar”) are openly discriminatory and include things such as commanding non-Muslims to give up their seats whenever a Muslim wants it.[7]

It is, then, in this divisive context that one must approach the Qur’an, keeping in mind that most of the verses discussing human relations are discussing intra-relations between Muslims, not Muslims and non-Muslims.  For examples of the latter, see Qur’an 9:5, 9:29, 5:17, and 5:73 for typical verses that discuss relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, verses which have further abrogated the earlier, more tolerant ones.[8]

As for the Qur’an verses listed in MFR 20—which are meant to support the statement that “Normative Islamic doctrine places strong emphasis on the obligation to speak the truth,” a close reading, supported by mainstream Islamic exegeses, demonstrates that the true function of those verses is to portray true believers (Muslims) and Islam’s prophets as the epitome of honesty and sincerity.  Significantly, none of the verses mentioned in MFR 20 actually exhort Muslims to be honest and truthful, including to fellow Muslims, in the same vein as, for example, unequivocal statements such as Do not lie to one another” (Colossians 3:9) and “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).

The fact is, other Islamic teachings and caveats have permitted Muslims to deceive even fellow Muslims.  For example, the doctrine of tawriya allows Muslims to lie in virtually all circumstances provided that the lie is articulated in a way that it is technically true.

The authoritative Hans Wehr Arabic-English Dictionary defines tawriya as, “hiding, concealment; dissemblance, dissimulation, hypocrisy; equivocation, ambiguity, double-entendre, allusion.” Conjugates of the trilateral root of the word, w-r-y, appear in the Quran in the context of hiding or concealing something (e.g., 5:31, 7:26).

As a doctrine, “double-entendre” best describes tawriya’s function. According to past and present Muslim scholars (several documented below), tawriya is when a speaker/writer asserts something that means one thing to the listener/reader, though the speaker/writer means something else, and his words technically support this alternate meaning.

For example, if someone declares “I don’t have a penny in my pocket,” most listeners will assume the speaker has no money on him—though he might have dollar bills, just literally no pennies.

This is legitimate according to Islamic law, or shari‘a—the body of legal rulings that defines how a Muslim should behave in all circumstances—and does not constitute “lying.”

In a fatwa, or Islamic decree, popular Sheikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajid asserts that, “Tawriya is permissible if it is necessary or serves a shari‘a interest.”  As mentioned, empowering Islam is one of the highest shari‘a interests [9] (hence why jihad, so lauded by Islam’s prophet as aforementioned, is sometimes seen as the “sixth pillar”).

After surveying the consensus of the Islamic community (ijma, a root source of Islamic jurisprudence, as MFR 6 correctly indicates) Sheikh al-Munajid concludes by saying: “Tawriya is permissible under two conditions: 1) that the words used fit the hidden meaning; 2) that it does not lead to an injustice” [“injustice” as defined by shari‘a; empowering Islam through tawriya or empowering a Muslim against an infidel is certainly not an injustice from an Islamic point of view].

Otherwise, it is permissible for a Muslim even to swear when lying through tawriya. Munajid, for example, cites a man who swears to Allah that he can only sleep under a roof (saqf); when the man is caught sleeping atop a roof, he exonerates himself by saying “by roof, I meant the open sky.” This is legitimate. “After all,” Munajid adds, “Qur’an 21:32 refers to the sky as a roof [saqf].”

By way of modern examples, and because some Muslims hold it to be a “great sin”[10] to acknowledge Christmas (since doing so validates Christianity, a different message than Islam), one Muslim cleric recently appeared on video counseling Muslims to tell Christians, “I wish you the best,” whereby the latter might “understand it to mean you’re wishing them best in terms of their [Christmas] celebration.” But—here the sheikh giggles as he explains—“by saying I wish you the best, you mean in your heart I wish you become a Muslim.”[11]

As with most Muslim practices, tawriya is traced to Islam’s prophet Muhammad. After insisting Muslims “need” tawriya because it “saves them from lying,” and thus sinning, in a video, Sheikh Uthman al-Khamis adds that Muhammad often used it.[12] Indeed, Islam’s prophet is on record saying “Allah has commanded me to equivocate among the people inasmuch as he has commanded me to establish [religious] obligations”; and “I have been sent with obfuscation”; and “whoever lives his life in dissimulation dies a martyr.”[13]

More specifically, in a hadith, Muhammad said: “If any of you ever pass gas or soil yourselves during prayers [thus breaking ablution purity, or wudu‘ [14], hold your nose and leave”[15]: Holding one’s nose and leaving implies smelling something offensive—which is true—though it implies someone other than the offender is responsible.

Following their prophet’s example, many leading Muslim figures have used tawriya, such as Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal, founder of one of Islam’s four schools of law, practiced in Saudi Arabia (the teachings of which have spread far and wide among the world’s Muslims, thanks to Saudi funding). Once when Hanbal was conducting class, someone came knocking, asking for one of his students. Hanbal answered, “He’s not here, what would he be doing here?”[16]—all the time pointing at his hand, as if to say “he’s not in my hand.” The caller, who could not see Hanbal’s hands, assumed the student was simply not there and left.

Sheikh Muhammad Hassan,[17] another very popular Egyptian cleric (who once said Islam forbids Muslims from smiling to infidels, except when to Islam’s advantage [18]) and Dr. Abdullah Shakir, [19] are also on record justifying tawriya. In recorded videos they both give the example of someone knocking on your door, you do not wish to see them, so a relative answers the door saying, “He’s not here,” and by “here” they mean the immediate room, which is true, since you will be hiding in another room.

On the popular Islam Web,[20] where Muslims submit questions and Islamic authorities respond with a fatwa, a girl poses her moral dilemma: her father has explicitly told her that, whenever the phone rings, she is to answer saying “he’s not here.” The fatwa solves her problem: she is free to lie, but when she says “he’s not here,” she must mean in her mind that he is not in the same room, or not directly in front of her.

Despite their deceptive natures, and in accordance to mainstream Islamic teaching, none of the aforementioned examples of tawriya—beginning with Islam’s prophet and followed  by Islam’s doctrinaires, past and present—are considered lies.

This is significant.

Furthermore, that tawriya, which allows Muslims to deceive fellow Muslims, is legitimate according to shari‘a, should be indicative of how much leeway there is for Muslims when speaking to non-Muslims—considering that Islam also teaches Muslims to be loyal to fellow Muslims and to have enmity for non-Muslims, as in the doctrine of wala’ wa bara’.[21]

­­21: Again, the statement that “The Prophet Muhammad also emphasized the importance of honesty as a central principle of Islam,” followed by the hadith “Honesty leads to righteousness…” is only valid in the context of Muslim to Muslim relations.

Again, because tawriya is techincally not lying, as Islamic consensus holds—provided the words fit the meaning used to mislead others—it is considered permissible, or mubah, though a minority categorize it as “disliked,” meaning that its performance is not a sin, though not performing it is rewarded (as MFR 17 correctly indicates).

As for the Islamic prophet himself—whose example is to be upheld as closely as possible by Sunni Muslims (sunna meaning “example”)—above and beyond the aforementioned, according to a canonical hadith, it is well known that he permitted lying in three scenarios: to reconcile quarreling parties, to one’s wife, and in war, or jihad.[22]

It is the third of these categories, jihad, that is relevant here.

According to one Arabic legal manual devoted to jihad as defined by the four schools of Sunni Islamic law, “The ulema [“scholars”] agree that deception during warfare is legitimate … deception is a form of art in war.”[23]  Moreover, according to Dr. Mukaram, the foremost expert on taqiyya, this deception is classified as taqiyya: “Taqiyya in order to dupe the enemy is permissible.”[24]

This Muslim notion that “war is deceit” goes back to the Battle of the Trench (year 627), which pitted Muhammad and his followers against several non-Muslim tribes known as Al-Ahzab. One of the members of Ahzab, Na‘im ibn Mas‘ud, went to the Muslim camp and converted to Islam. When Muhammad discovered that the Ahzab were unaware of his conversion, and thus defection, he told Mas‘ud to return and try to get the Ahzab forces to abandon the siege. It was then that Muhammad memorably declared, “For war is deceit.” Mas‘ud returned to the Ahzab without their knowing that he had switched sides and intentionally began to give his former kin and allies bad advice. He also went to great lengths to instigate quarrels between the various tribes until, thoroughly distrusting each other, they disbanded, lifting their siege.[25]

A more compelling expression of the legitimacy of deceiving non-Muslims is found in the following authentic anecdote from the Muslim prophet’s life. A poet, Ka‘b ibn Ashraf, offended Muhammad with his verse, prompting the latter to exclaim, “Who will kill this man who has hurt Allah and his prophet?” A young Muslim named Muhammad ibn Maslama volunteered on condition that in order to get close enough to Ka‘b to assassinate him, he be allowed to lie to the poet.

Muhammad agreed.[26]

Ibn Maslama traveled to Ka‘b and began to denigrate Islam and Muhammad. He carried on in this way till his disaffection became so convincing that Ka‘b took him into his confidence. Soon thereafter, Ibn Maslama appeared with another Muslim and, while Ka‘b’s guard was down, killed him.[27]

Accordingly, normative Islam teaches that deceit is integral to jihad: Ibn al-Arabi declares that “in the Hadith [sayings and actions of Muhammad], practicing deceit in war is well demonstrated. Indeed, its need is more stressed than the need for courage.” Ibn al-Munir (d. 1333) writes, “War is deceit, i.e., the most complete and perfect war waged by a holy warrior [mujahid] is a war of deception, not confrontation, due to the latter’s inherent danger, and the fact that one can attain victory through treachery without harm [to oneself].” And Ibn Hajar (d. 1448) counsels Muslims “to take great caution in war, while [publicly] lamenting and mourning in order to dupe the infidels.”[28]

In short, the earliest historical records of Islam clearly attest to the prevalence of taqiyya—deception and betrayal, as in the case of the poet Ka‘b —as a form of Islamic warfare against the non-Muslim infidel.  And this is still a legal strategy for Muslims vis-à-vis non-Muslims—especially if the lying is rationalized as a form of jihad to empower Islam or Muslims.

Furthermore, early Muslims are often depicted in early Islamic texts as lying their way out of binds—usually by denying or insulting Islam or Muhammad—often to the approval of the latter, his only criterion being that their intentions (niya) be pure.[29] During the centuries-long wars with Christians, whenever and wherever the latter were in authority, the practice of taqiyya became even more integral and widespread.

Professor Mukaram states, “Taqiyya was used as a way to fend off danger from the Muslims, especially in critical times and when their borders were exposed to wars with the Byzantines and, afterwards, to the raids of the Franks and others.”[30] The widespread use of taqiyya was one of the main reasons that prompted the Spanish Inquisition: hundreds of thousands of Muslims who had feigned conversion to Christianity secretly remained Muslim, conspiring with North African Muslim tribes to reconquer the Iberian Peninsula.[31]

22-23-24:  Partially agreed. These three sections deal primarily with the importance for a Muslim to uphold his covenant (a presumably immaterial point in the case at hand).  Covenants are in fact to be honored according to mainstream Islamic teaching.  Even so, however, and as with the general ban on lying, caveats abound:

Consider the role of covenants between Muslims and non-Muslims in the context of the perpetual nature of jihad: based on the 10-year treaty of Hudaybiya (628), ratified between Muhammad and his Quraish opponents in Mecca, mainstream Sunni jurists are agreed that ten years is the maximum amount of time Muslims can be at peace with non-Muslims; once the treaty has expired, the situation needs to be reappraised.

Based on Muhammad’s example of breaking the treaty after two years (by claiming a Quraish infraction), the primary function of the truce is to buy weakened Muslims time to regroup before renewing the offensive.[32] According to shari‘a law expert Dr. Majid Khadurri, “By their very nature, treaties must be of temporary duration, for in Muslim legal theory, the normal relations between Muslim and non-Muslim territories are not peaceful, but warlike.”[33] Hence “the fuqaha [jurists] are agreed that open-ended truces are illegitimate if Muslims have the strength to renew the war against them [non-Muslims].”[34]

Some of Sunni Islam’s four schools of law (or madhahib), such as the Hanafi, assert that Muslim leaders may abrogate treaties merely if it seems advantageous for Islam.[35] This is reminiscent of the following words of Prophet Muhammad as found in a canonical hadith: “If you ever take an oath to do something and later on you find that something else is better, then you should expiate your oath and do what is better.”[36]

Nearly 1400 years after Muhammad abrogated the covenant with the Quraish, Yasser Arafat, soon after negotiating a peace treaty criticized as conceding too much to Israel, addressed an assembly of Muslims in a mosque in Johannesburg justifying his actions by referring to Muhammad’s example: “I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraish in Mecca.”[37] In other words, like Muhammad, Arafat gave his word only to annul it once “something better” came along—that is, once the opportunity to renew the offensive to empower Islam came along.

In short, the idea of making covenants with non-Muslims revolves around Muslim capability. This is made clear in an authoritative Sunni legal text, Umdat as-Salik, compiled by a 14th century Egyptian scholar, Ahmad Ibn Naqib al-Misri: “There must be some benefit [maslaha] served in making a truce other than the status quo: ‘So do not be fainthearted and call for peace when it is you who are uppermost’ [Qur’an 47:35].”[38]

25-26-27: These sections finally deal directly with the topic of taqiyya.  Again, because they are built atop some invalid premises, they are only partially correct.

Thus,  “A Muslim who is subject to severe religious persecution—which exposes him to a reasonable fear of death or severe bodily injury unless he renounce Islam—is permitted, but not required, to renounce Islam verbally even though he remains inwardly a faithful Muslim.”

This is true. However, fear of religious persecution is hardly the only criterion to justify deception in Islam, as demonstrated above.

Accordingly, the assertion from MFR 26 that “Significantly, however, he [Muslim] is only permitted to lie about his religious belief if he is subjected to severe persecution, e.g., loss of life or severe bodily pain” is plainly false.

As mentioned, according to shari‘a law, deception is permissible in several contexts above and beyond the question of self-preservation against persecution.

Furthermore, MFR mentions Qur’an al-Nahl (16:106), which discusses the permission for Muslims to dissemble their identity if persecuted by non-Muslims, as the primary verse justifying taqiyya.  In fact, Muslim jurists often point to another verse, Qur’an 3:28, which better captures the overall nature of taqiyya in a more applicable context: “Let believers [Muslims] not take infidels [non-Muslims] for friends and allies instead of believers. Whoever does this shall have no relationship left with God—unless you but guard yourselves against them, taking precautions.”[39]

The exegesis of Qur’an 3:28 of Muhammad ibn Jarir at-Tabari (d. 923), author of one of the most standard and authoritative Qur’an commentaries throughout the Islamic world, follows:

If you [Muslims] are under their [non-Muslims’] authority, fearing for yourselves, behave loyally to them with your tongue while harboring inner animosity for them … [know that] Allah has forbidden believers from being friendly or on intimate terms with the infidels rather than other believers—except when infidels are above them [in authority]. Should that be the case, let them act friendly towards them while preserving their religion.[40]

Regarding Qur’an 3:28, Ibn Kathir (d. 1373), another standard authority on the Qur’an, writes, “Whoever at any time or place fears … evil [from non-Muslims] may protect himself through outward show.” As proof of this, he quotes Muhammad’s close companion Abu Darda, who said, “Let us grin in the face of some people while our hearts curse them.” Another companion, simply known as Al-Hasan, said, “Doing taqiyya is acceptable till the Day of Judgment [i.e., in perpetuity].”[41]

Other prominent scholars, such as Abu Abdullah al-Qurtubi (1214-73) and Muhyi al-Din ibn al-Arabi (1165-1240), have extended taqiyya to cover deeds. In other words, Muslims can behave like infidels and worse—for example, by bowing down and worshiping idols and crosses, offering false testimony, and even exposing the weaknesses of their fellow Muslims to the infidel enemy—anything short of actually killing a Muslim.[42]

[Note: Although MFR 25 correctly asserts that “there are occasions in which it is permitted, or even required, to lie,” nowhere in the report are examples offered of when it is “required” for Muslims to lie.]

28-29“In no case, as far as I know, have Muslim theologians taken the position that it is generally permissible, much less obligatory, for Muslims to lie to non-Muslims, whether in matters regarding religious belief or secular practices…”  And (#29), “…there is no doctrinal basis in authentic Islamic teachings to support the claim, made by Ezra Levant and others … that taqiyya is anything other than an exceptional doctrine justified under circumstances of extreme duress that are simply inapplicable to Muslims living in Canada and the United States.”

The many references above (with endnotes below) from the Qur’an, from the sayings and deeds of Islam’s prophet Muhammad, and from the decrees and consensus of past and present Islamic authorities, demonstrate otherwise.

As for the idea that taqiyya is “an exceptional doctrine justified under circumstances of extreme duress,” it is well to remember that the premiere authority on taqiyya, Dr. Mukaram, asserts that:

Taqiyya is of fundamental importance in Islam. Practically every Islamic sect agrees to it and practices it … We can go so far as to say that the practice of taqiyya is mainstream in Islam, and that those few sects not practicing it diverge from the mainstream … Taqiyya is very prevalent in Islamic politics, especially in the modern era.[43]


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.  From a legalistic point of view, and as seen especially via the concept of tawriya, as long as deceptions are technically true (“I don’t have a penny in my pocket,” only dollars), they are not even considered lies.  The prophet of Islam, Muhammad—the example that Sunni Muslims especially pattern their lives after—regularly made use of deceit. In order to assassinate a poet (Ka‘b ibn Ashraf) who offended him, Muhammad permitted a Muslim to lie to the poet.  Muhammad is further on record giving license to breaking oaths (“if something better” comes along) and openly lying (without even employing tawriya) to one’s wife and in war.  As for the latter, which assumes a perpetual nature in the guise of the jihad against the non-Muslim in order to make Islam (and Muslims) supreme (e.g., Qur’an 8:39), deception and lies are certainly permissible.


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