The Islamic doctrine of "taqiyya," dissimulation, permitting Muslims to deceive non-Muslims to advance the cause of Islam, is back in the news. In a speech delivered on May 20, 2023, Iran's Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to a report,
"set out to explain and clarify the principles and standards of 'a successful foreign policy' focusing on three keywords: Honor, wisdom, and expediency.
"Khamenei... used the Islamic concept of 'Taqiyya' to describe the regime's decision to accept the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal with the West. Taqiyya means the permissibility to deny or conceal one's real beliefs to secure a worthy goal...."
Khamenei's emphasis on "expediency" as the third principle in foreign policy was particularly notable, as he urged flexibility "in necessary instances" and circumventing "tough barriers" to continue a set course.
His mention of "flexibility" was a reference to his famous phrase of "heroic flexibility" in 2013, when he signaled his permission for nuclear talks to begin.
If it was not clear what "heroic flexibility" meant then, it probably should be clear by now. Reports consistently document that Iran has been cheating since day one (here, here and here) and allege that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has let itself to be hoodwinked and has "capitulat[ed] to Iranian pressure."
As the Iranian scholar Amir Taheri and former executive editor-in-chief of Iran's leading newspaper, Kayhan, pointed out this week, in article titled "Iran: Heroic Flexibility Returns":
"[Khamenei] has decided to perform what he calls 'heroic flexibility' in foreign policy.... In a speech last week, he said he was applying the tactic of 'taqiyeh' (dissimulation), a theological concept, to diplomacy.... [H]e said that when a revolution hits a tough rock on its path, it need not break its head against it; the wisest course would be to try and go around it.
"It is against that background that Tehran now hails its recent 'normalization' with Saudi Arabia, followed by 'dispersing the clouds' in relations with the United Arab Emirates, as "a major step towards Islamic solidarity."
Taqiyya, in fact, is one of the most important doctrines that Westerners frequently overlook in their dealings with Muslims. In short, it permits Muslims to say or do anything — from cursing and condemning Muhammad to being baptized and partaking of communion — so long as they remain committed Muslims at heart, and their deception either benefits themselves or Islam.
[A]l- Taqiyya is with the tongue only, (not the heart)," Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti in his book, "al-Durr al-Manthoor Fi al-Tafsir al- Ma'athoor," narrates Ibn Abbas as saying. (For copious documentation, see here).
Taqiyya is actually all around us. Iran pretends that its nuclear program is just for peaceful purposes. Some Muslims pretend to convert to Christianity (past and present), or a Muslim gunman gains entrance into a church by feigning interest in Christian prayers. Examples abound.
It should not be surprising, therefore, that Khamenei is relying on taqiyya once again. What is surprising is that the Biden Administration is falling for it – after being told it would be used – and allowing itself to be sucker-punched, or pretending to allow it.
Taqiyya permeates all Muslim politics. According to the late Sami Mukaram, the world's leading authority on taqiyya:
"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." (Mukaram, Sami, At-Taqiyya fi 'l-Islam, London: Mu'assisat at-Turath ad-Druzi, 2004, p. 7; author's translation)
The earliest historical records of Islam clearly attest to the prevalence of taqiyya — deception and betrayal. This is still a legal strategy for Muslims vis-à-vis non-Muslims, the non-Muslim infidel — especially if the lying is rationalized as a form of jihad to empower Islam or Muslims — including through nuclear armament. 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.
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 his approval, the only criterion being that their intentions (niya) be pure. [Mukaram, At-Taqiyya fi 'l-Islam, pp. 11-2.]
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." [Mukaram, At-Taqiyya fi 'l-Islam, pp. 41-42]
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. [Devin Stewart, "Islam in Spain after the Reconquista," Emory University, p. 2, accessed Nov. 27, 2009.]
Although many scholars associate taqiyya with the Shia branch of Islam (the sort practiced in Iran), that is not entirely true. In 1994, for instance, PLO leader Yasser Arafat, after he signed the Oslo Accord with Israel that was predictably criticized by fellow Arabs as offering too many concessions, justified his actions by saying, "I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh in Mecca"— referring to a truce, the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, which Muhammad broke as soon as he had regained power and was able to attack.
As a persecuted minority group interspersed among their Sunni rivals, the Shias have often had more reason to perfect the art of dissembling — to save themselves from the Sunnis (ISIS, al-Qaeda, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram, and Hamas are all Sunni).
Khamenei, by referring to taqiyya in Iran's agreement to a nuclear deal with the West, is signaling that Iran is only going along for "expediency" – as Khamenei stated above — until it finds itself in a position to realize its nuclear aspirations and renege.
In short, as this author has noted:
The prophet of Islam, Muhammad... 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.
That said, is there a single authority representing the West at these international nuclear talks that knows — let alone cares about — any of this? Or is the fix already in?
Raymond Ibrahim, author of Defenders of the West and Sword and Scimitar, is the Distinguished Senior Shillman Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and the Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.