Tawriya: Islamic Doctrine of Dissimulation?
In a recent short essay, "Tawriya: New Islamic Doctrine Permits 'Creative Lying'" (February 28, 2012), Raymond Ibrahim explores a 'new' Muslim teaching -- though he admits that it is technically not new, so his title is a bit misleading. Anyway, here's Ibrahim's explication of tawriya:
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 says something that means one thing to the listener, though the speaker means something else, and his words technically support this alternate meaning.That this really is an Islamic teaching, Ibrahim shows from a number of citations, including the words of Sheikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajid:
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. Likewise, say a friend asks you, "Do you know where Mike is?" You do, but prefer not to divulge. So you say "No, I don't know" -- but you keep in mind another Mike, whose whereabouts you really do not know.
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 Sharia, of course, not Western standards).Although we might not appreciate being misled by an instance of tawriya, I'm nevertheless struck by how fastidious this doctrine is. There are times when one would rather not be too explicit about the truth yet would also not wish to lie outright. I can imagine that the sort of dissimulation allowed by tawriya would be very useful under totalitarian rule, when the truth can get one killed.
The problem arises, as I've already hinted, when "we" are the ones being misled. Here's a possible example of tawriya from a passage written by a Shaykh of al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmad Muhammad at-Tayyeb, in a "Declaration by al-Azhar and the intellectuals on the legal ordinances of fundamental freedoms" (Oasis, February 28, 2012):
Freedom of belief and the right connected to it of full citizenship (muwâtana) for everyone, based [in turn] on absolute equality in rights and duties, is considered the cornerstone of the modern social order. This freedom is guaranteed by diriment and ever valid religious texts and by explicit constitutional and juridical principles. The Omnipotent in fact says, be He exalted and magnified: 'No compulsion is there in religion. Rectitude has become clear from error' (2:256); 'so let whosoever will believe, and let whosoever will disbelieve' (18:29). It follows that any form of compulsion in religion, persecution or discrimination in its name, is condemned as a crime. Each individual in society has the right to embrace the ideas he prefers, provided it does not harm the right of the society to preserve the heavenly faiths. In fact, the three divine religions have their own holy character (qadâsa). Individuals are free to practise their own rites without offending the sensibility of others, violating the sacredness (hurma) of the three religions in word or in facts, and without making an attempt on public order.I'm not sure how "diriment" is to be understood in this passage -- perhaps as nullified restrictions on freedom of belief? Anyway, this passage could be taken as an instance of tawriya if it has two audiences in mind, both the Egyptian one and the Western one. Westerners will read this as a guarantee of the freedom to believe or disbelieve in any or all religions, to change one's religion, and to speak openly about one's beliefs, even to the point of attempting to persuade others to change their religion, but all of these Western freedoms are severely curtailed by Islamic law. For instance, a Muslim can never, on pain of death, openly renounce Islam according to Islamic law.
Martino Diez, writing for Oasis, recognizes the dissimulation (though he calls it "vagueness") and explores possible implications in "How, for whom and to what extent al-Azhar defends the freedom of creed and speech," but I'll leave that for readers to follow up on.
I would simply note that -- tawriya or no tawriya -- Muslim statements must be subject to close scrutiny because terms in Islam have very different meanings than they do for Westerners. Caveat auditor!