The holiest of Islam’s two yearly holidays is Eid al-Adha; in Arabic, “the feast of the sacrifice.” This week, on August 21, Muslims worldwide slaughtered sheep, remembering how God saved Abraham from sacrificing his son Ishmael.
Wait, Ishmael? Not Isaac?
Though the Qur‘an doesn’t name the son, Muslims believe it was the ancestor of the Arabs that God used to test Abraham’s faith. Should Christians understand this as a theological error? Or an outright lie?
The identification matters, because Isaac is a prefiguration of Jesus, whose sacrifice saved man from his sins. Religions often have differing traditions; and for Christians, Muhammad’s conscience in founding Islam is unknown. But some Christians today are comfortable delving into the conscience of everyday, ordinary Muslims, finding deception at every turn.
The idea is called taqiyya: that Muslims are permitted by their faith to lie if it will advance the cause of their religion.
Tharwat Wahba, professor of mission at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, cited a tradition of Muhammad that allows Muslims three exceptions to lie for a greater cause: War, reconciliation, and to keep a wife happy.
Might some Muslims extrapolate two of these for their experience in the West? Does the first exception imply there is a secret jihad? In the second exception, a religion of peace?
“Accept kindness and friendship, but be alert and awake,” Wahba said. “Don’t be naïve. Some have agendas.”
So what if a Muslim invites you to a celebration? The lamb might be tasty, but should Christians be wary?
Statistics show they already are.
The 2018 American Muslim Poll from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) found
only 36 percent of white evangelicals believe Muslims are committed to the well-being of America.
And according to the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of self-identified white evangelicals believe
there is a “great deal” or “fair amount” of support for extremism among Muslims living in America. This is often connected to a fear of Shari’ah law.
Yet according to the 2017l ISPU poll, only 10 percent said Shari’ah should play a legal role in their community.
Are the rest lying? Or are evangelicals predisposed to assume they are?
Taqiyya is an Arabic word that has come to mean “dissimulation,” said Martin Accad, chief academic officer of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon and associate professor of Islamic Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. It is a contested allowance in Islam to conceal your true faith if under personal duress.
But in much anti-Muslim discourse, taqiyya has been redefined into a religious obligation for Muslims to lie to non-Muslims not simply for survival, Accad said, but to serve the expansionist agenda of their religious community.
Without knowing the term, the concept is creeping into Christian consciousness. (For example, Ben Carson brought it up during his presidential campaign.) And Accad wants to nip it in the bud.
“My intention is to guard us against bearing false witness,” he wrote
for Ramadan last year. “Would it not represent taqiyya on our part to use a Muslim belief against Islam, by promoting a partial understanding of it?”
Like the name of Abraham’s son, taqiyya is not mentioned in the Qur‘an. But an anti-Muslim website
draws attention to several references which seem to imply a license to lie.
The central story in Islamic tradition involves a family converted to Islam by Muhammad. Persecuted, the mother and father refused to give up their faith and were killed.
Their son wavered, maligned the prophet, and praised the pagan gods. Returning later to Muhammad, he received comfort, asked only about what was in his heart.
But a far more prominent theme in the Qur‘an, Accad said, is hypocrisy. Considered a grave sin among Muslims, it is almost always followed with promises of hellfire. An expanded taqiyya definition does not mesh well.
Shia Muslims adhere to taqiyya more than Sunni Muslims, but the reason is historical, he said. They have been persecuted more often by their Sunni rulers.
Amr Salah, a lecturer at the prestigious al-Azhar University in Cairo, hardly heard of taqiyya growing up, save in slander against Shia Muslims. But he was disturbed to hear how some American Christians were being informed.
“The discourse of taqiyya reminds me of how Nazi Germany spoke of the Jews,” he said. “If you say people are not trustworthy, it is dangerous.”