Thursday, March 01, 2012

Tawriya: Islamic Doctrine of Dissimulation?

Dr. Ahmad Muhammad at-Tayyeb
Shaykh al-Azhar

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.

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.

That this really is an Islamic teaching, Ibrahim shows from a number of citations, including the words of Sheikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajid:
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!

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At 10:18 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

The various glosses on high and low context cultures come to mind, and perhaps the shame-culture/guilt-culture discussion also has some bearing here.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Agreed. Christianity has contributed to the West's guilt culture, whereas Islamic Civilization is a shame culture.

I'm less clear on the context issue.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:05 AM, Anonymous Erdal said...

Never heard of that one... but:

I recently read about a court case concerning an armed robbery on a high-profile poker tournament in a Munich (I think) downtown hotel. Some of thugs were cought almost on the spot, waepons and money still on them, and there was loads of eyewitness, DNA and video evidence, too.

During the trials, some confessed, some said nothing at all, and some vehemently denied any involvement.

In the tradition of Roman law the first group got a little bonus, punishment-wise, the third group got a litte extra for denying the obvious and wasting everybody's time.

The lawyer requested a repeat trial for the second and third group, because, you see, them being muslims, they are required by their religion to never admit to any wrongdoing, because, in classical sharia, it works exactly the other way round: a confession counts as an aggravating circumstance and leads to harder punishment by the courts (and to hell). Remaining silent is not expicitly considered by sharia law, since it's not allowed there, but has been recently fatwa'ed as ok for muslims in front of courts that allow for it.

AFAIK, the 3nd trial hasn't yet happend, but it's entirely possible that from now on this will somehow have to be accounted for.

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Erdal, that's fascinating. But why in the world would Sharia be opposed to confession? Does confession imply that one knew that some act was a crime, such that one bears more guilt?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:47 AM, Anonymous Erdal said...

No, it's about public order. Any conviction, even any trial, is seen as a disturbance of public order worse than the crime itself (if it was even real), and sharia tries to minimize the number of successful convictions, and trials as such, in three ways:

1) by giving preference to compensation instead of conviction, that is, the field of "civil law" as opposed to trial by a "state prosecutor" is very large, including even "capital crime".

2) by making it positively dangerous to accuse sombody, and for witnesses to come forward, because they are punished harshly in case a conviction cannot be obtained. (in line with Mosaic law)

3) by making convicting sombody (without confession) very, very hard, e.g. the number of eye witnesses required to convict is impossibly high, and cicumstantial evidence is (almost always) disallowed.

This is said to benefit public order in the ways:

1) The number of families or clans that hold grudges against the state (because one of them is convicted by the state) is minimzed. Instaed, the merely hold grudges among themselves.

2) It served to dramatically reduce the number of cases of false accusations with successful harsh punishment, something that was quite rampant at the time.

3) It puts the citzienry in a state of permanent alertness, because they know that crimes against them are easy to commit and will most likely go unpunished, because convictions are rare. This was judged to be way preferrable to living in constant fear of wrongful (and successful) accusation, something that by all available accounts of the time, was a huge problem.

See also entry "Evidence" in:'Whoever%20conceals%20the%20vices%20of%20his%20brother%20Muslim%20shall%20have%20a%20veil%20drawn%20over%20his%20own%20crimes%20in%20both%20worlds%20by%20Allah.'&hl=de&pg=PA110#v=onepage&q&f=false

At 6:34 AM, Anonymous Erdal said...

To be more specific:

Say, Person A robs person B, person B shouts lodly after the fleeing A so that somebody catches person A. A trial commences, person B testifies he saw person A steal his stuff and he brings 2 witnesses who saw the act.

These witnesses are required to say, quite truthfully: "I saw A taking B's goods, I did not see him pay them", they are not allowed to say "person A is a thief, because they would be judging his character.

The judge will order A to compensate B, because there was a transction without payment, but he will not prosecute him for "theft as such" (with amputation of hands), because no such thing has been established. "Being a thief" is a question of character, not merely one of having been seen taken stuff without paying. Thus the transaction is completed, public order is maintained.

Should person A confess, however, the badness of his character would be established, the judge would have to order the amputation, and 3 bad things would happen to public order:

1) B would go uncompensated, maybe even go after A's relatives for compensation or revenge.

2) A's family would hold grudges against the state, for hacking off his hands. They would also be shamed.

3) The public would be shamed and lose respect in the eyes of outsiders because one of them was a thief, also, anyone among them might possibly be a thief and coherence would diminish.

At 7:06 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Fascinating topic and information, Erdal. Applying Sharia to a modern society would appear to be difficult.

Let me make that link more useful: Dictionary of Islam.

Jeffery Hodges

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