views updated


TAQĪYAH ("safeguarding, protection") and kitmān ("concealment") are terms applied, primarily in the Shīʿī branches of Islam, to two broader types of religious phenomena: (1) the "prudential concealment" of one's allegiance to a minority religious group in danger of persecution and (2) the esoteric "discipline of the arcane," the restriction of a spiritual reality or mystery (or its symbolic form) only to those inwardly capable of grasping its truth.

Juridical and Ethical Dimensions

The classical discussions found in all Islamic legal schools are based on various Qurʾanic verses (16:106, 3:28, 40:28, etc.) permitting the neglect of certain religious duties in situations of compulsion or necessity. In each school an elaborate casuistry was developed, detailing the special conditions for such exceptions. However, the crucial practical question for Shīʿī groups, given the endangered minority position of the Shīʿī imams and their followers from earliest Islamic times onward, was that of concealing the outward signs of their Shīʿī allegiance (for example, their distinctive forms of the ritual prayer and profession of faith) under threatening circumstances. Hence, Shīʿī legal discussions of taqīyah traditionally focused on this aspect, emphasizing, for example, surah 16:106, which was taken to describe the divine forgiveness of a companion of the Prophet, ʿAmmār ibn Yasīr, who had been forced to deny his faith by the idolators of Mecca.

Sunnī polemics against Shiism have traditionally stressed this narrowly prudential aspect of taqīyah, portraying it as a sign of moral or religious hypocrisy, passivity, and the like. However, neither that polemic (which overlooks the central theme of martyrdom and heroic resistance in Shīʿī piety and sacred history) nor the narrowly ethical reasonings of the legal schools (including those of the Shīʿah) accurately conveys the distinctively positive symbolic function of taqīyah: for the Shīʿah themselves, and like the martyrdom of so many imams and their supporters, it is a perennial and fundamental form of "witnessing" their essential role as the faithful spiritual elite of Islam, and not simply another communal sect or school.

Spiritual and Esoteric Dimensions

This uniquely Shīʿī conception of taqīyah (or kitmān ) as a high spiritual duty, rather than a pragmatic necessity, is grounded in a large body of reported sayings (adīth) of the first Shīʿī imam, ʿAlī ibn Abī ālib (d. ah 40/661 ce), and other early imams (notably Muammad al-Bāqir and Jaʿfar al-ādiq) which repeatedly stress the positive, essential role of taqīyah as an integral part of religion (dīn) and true piety (taqwā; see Qurʾan 49:13). In Shīʿī tradition, the concept of taqīyah is intimately bound up with the fundamental role of the imams, and their initiates, as the divinely instituted guardians of the esoteric wisdom or "hidden secret" (sirr maknūn) constituting the essential spiritual core and intention of the Qurʾanic revelation. In this context, taqīyah refers primarily to the initiate's strict responsibility to divulge the forms of that spiritual knowledge only to those rare individuals capable of perceiving (and safeguarding) their inner truth.

Similar assumptions of esotericismespecially the basic distinction between a public level of formal "belief" and ritual practice, and a higher level of contemplative insight and perception accessible only to a spiritual or intellectual elitewere equally fundamental to such widespread (though by no means specifically Shīʿī) Islamic spiritual traditions as Sufism and the philosophic schools. Those assumptions, along with corresponding practices, came to be pervasive not only in the high literate culture (for example, ūfī mystical poetry) but also in social domains not involving strictly "religious" activities. Moreover, the social and political conditions underlying taqīyah in Shīʿī circles, and such later offshoots as the Druze or Nuayrīyah, likewise encouraged similar precautionary developments among other minority religious groups or sects, whether Islamic (certain ūfī arīqah s, religio-political "brotherhoods," and so forth) or non-Islamic. Hence, "taqīyah- like" phenomenawhether or not justified in specifically Shīʿī termshave continued to form an essential, if still relatively unstudied, dimension of religious and social life in many regions of the Islamic world down to the present day.


For the classical Islamic legal sources, see R. Strothmann's "Taīya," in The Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam (Leiden, 1961), which includes non-Shīʿī treatments; Hamid Enayat's Modern Islamic Political Thought (Austin, 1982), which touches on contemporary Shīʿī political reinterpretations; and especially Etan Kohlberg's "Some Imāmī-Shīʿa Views on Taqiyya, " Journal of the American Oriental Society 95 (1975): 395402, with extensive bibliographic references. Henry Corbin's En Islam iranien, 4 vols. (Paris, 19711972; English translation in preparation), contains numerous translated canonical sayings of the Shīʿī imams concerning taqīyah and its esoteric underpinnings, as well as later developments; see index under ketmān and taqīyeh. For illustrations from later Shīʿī thought and references to parallel phenomena in other Islamic traditions such as philosophy and Sufism, see my work The Wisdom of the Throne (Princeton, 1981). References to the actual social manifestations of taqīyah at any period are usually fragmentary (given the very nature of the phenomenon) and must be gleaned from autobiographies, travelers' reports, and so on. Excellent illustrations for nineteenth-century Iran may be found in Comte de Gobineau's Les religions et les philosophies dans l'Asie centrale, 2d ed. (1863; reprint, Paris, 1971), and Edward Granville Browne's A Year amongst the Persians (1893; reprint, Cambridge, 1959). For representative developments in the Indian context, see Azim Nanji's The Nizārī Ismāʽīlī Tradition in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent (Delmar, N. Y., 1978).

James Winston Morris (1987)