Note: The following is an open letter to Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler.
Dear Glenn Kessler,
First of all, why is your “Fact Checker” column of Sept. 22 awarding Dr. Ben Carson “Four Pinnochios” for his statement regarding “taqiyya” running for a second time? It first appeared last week, but there it is again in Sunday’s paper, Sept. 27, on p. A5.
I missed it the first time – but it’s definitely worth revisiting.
Dr. Carson said the following: “‘Taqiyya’ is a component of Shariah that allows, and even encourages you to lie to achieve your goals.”
You then write: “In other words, he appeared to be saying that this tenet of Islam offered some kind of loophole that would allow the Muslim to lie about his or her religious beliefs to pursue other objectives. Is this the case?” (Emphasis added.)
For the record, your paraphrase is not what Carson said. He invoked “taqiyya” to describe a concept in Shariah, or Islamic law, that, as he put it, “allows and even encourages [a Muslim] to lie to achieve [his] goals.”
I note that you have chosen to frame Dr. Carson’s very broad claim about Shariah-approved lying by focusing on a literal definition of “taqiyya,” as if Carson were discussing only whether Muslims were specifically permitted to lie about “religious beliefs.”
You then go on to “fact check” this concept of lying about religion in Islam.
Note that I put “fact check” in quotation marks. This is because you did not, in fact, check the facts. You just contacted Shariah apologists and “taqiyya”-artists for comment.
As a reporter, you really ought to check the authoritative Islamic sources yourself, even if just for “balance.”
Such sources include “Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law.” It is available on Amazon, which should please the boss. Even at $29.95, it is a bargain, and I cannot recommend it highly enough as a means of quick access to “Shariah,” or Islamic law, as authorized by Sunni Islamic authorities, including certification by Al Azhar.
Turn to the detailed subject index of “Reliance of the Traveller” where you will find a section on “Lying.”
This “Lying” section includes, relevantly, a subsection called “reasons that permit.”
Before I tell you what it says under the heading “Permissable Lying” on p. r8.0, I will quote three men you selected to referee this crucial discussion about lying in Islam, which, thankfully, Dr. Carson has brought to mainstream-media attention for the first time, incredibly, since 9/11.
I am calling them (A), (B) and (C).
(A) actually addresses Dr. Carson’s broad statement about the permissibility of lying in Islam, declaring: “There is no concept that would encourage a Muslim to lie to pursue a goal. That is a complete invention.”
“Complete invention”? As we will see below, “Fact Checker” does not have enough PInnochios to reflect the mendacity of (A)’s statement.
Now, to the other “experts,” who discuss lying in Islam in terms of protecting a religious minority:
(B): “It is a dispensation within some aspects of Shia law, which was developed out of the experience of a persecuted minority. … If a Shia is being persecuted, and someone holds a gun to your head asking, ‘Are you a Shia?’ you are allowed to say ‘no’ in order to save your life.”
(C): “Taqiyya is dissimulation when one is being oppressed or tortured or having one’s views banned, a bit like Jesuit dispensation to lie under oath when your life is in danger.”
To recap, you, and, by extension, the Washington Post, are reporting that Islamically legal lying to achieve goals is “a complete invention,” or narrowly approved in cases of religious persecution.
Now, to the authoritative Sunni Islamic law book, “Reliance of the Traveller.”
The Shariah discourse on “Permissable Lying” opens by citing canonical “hadiths” (or traditions of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad) by Bukhari and Muslim that quote Muhammad as having said: “He who settles disagreements between people to bring about good or says something commendable is not a liar.”
The text continues, quoting Umm Kalthum, a daughter of Muhammad, who appears in the collection by Muslim, where she says:
“I did not hear him permit untruth in anything people say, except for three things: war, settling disagreements and a man talking with his wife or she with him. …”
War, settling disagreements and talk between man and wife: That’s a whole lot of “permissable lying” right there.
“This,” “Reliance of the Traveller” continues, “is an explicit statement that lying is sometimes permissable for a given interest, scholars having established criteria defining what types of it are lawful.
“The best analysis,” the text continues, “is by Imam Abu Hamid Ghazali,” a famed theologian (d. 1111).
And Ghazali said:
“If a praiseworthy aim is attainable through both telling the truth and lying, it is unlawful to accomplish through lying because there is no need for it. When it is possible to achieve such an aim by lying but not by telling the truth, it is permissable to lie if attaining the goal is permissable … and obligatory to lie if the goal is obligatory.” (Emphasis added.)
Now, back to your Source (A). He claimed “there is no concept that would encourage a Muslim to lie to pursue a goal.”
I just found exactly such a concept in the Al-Azhar-approved Shariah law book, as derived from the “hadiths” of Bukhari and Muslim and explicated by Ghazali. And, more important, you can, too. Have a look for yourself. It will help in your preparations for the Washington Post correction Dr. Carson greatly deserves.
The section on “Permissable Lying” in “Reliance of the Traveller” continues, offering additional detail. It underscores the fact-checkable fact that there exist within Islamic law different circumstances in which lying is permissable if not “obligatory.”
Meanwhile, I haven’t even mentioned the Islamic conception of “slander,” (completely, divergently at odds with our own), which serves as the Islamically legal means of outlawing free speech about Islam that is true but not complimentary.
So, to one side of the West-Islam divide, we have Thou Shalt Not Lie. Neat. Simple.
On the other side we have a body of Islamic law stipulating when exactly Thou Shalt Lie.
Dr. Carson was right again. I trust that “Fact Checker” is already preparing the necessary correction.