My Taqiyya

  • National Newswatch

This is not a fun time to be Muslim. It hasn't been in a while. But with the emergence of fear-mongering against Muslims as such a profitable industry – replete with book deals and seminars – hating on us has become quite the trend.It is amusing, however, to see the weapon du jour, a linguistic bludgeon, being a word that most Muslims have never heard of: “taqiyya” – ta-kai-yah. It is a word that implies that all Muslims are dishonest, that they have within their religion, Islam, a legitimized form of deception which allows them to lie.So prevalent has the use of this term become that in the new season of the Fox television series Prison Break, set in Yemen, a Muslim character tells a lie and then defends it as “taqiyya.”As a Muslim, I must admit the only reason I even know what this word means is because of a course I took at New York University 25 years ago. An obscure academic term referring to a survival mechanism of 7th century Shias in response to Sunni persecution at the time – “taqiyya” refers to the concealment of one's beliefs in situations of danger.Thirteen hundred years on, in a life that no longer involves fleeing Sunni persecutors on naked horseback, I must admit that my exposure to “taqiyya” has been rather limited. In fact the only “taqiyya” I know is what I do on family vacations – try to lie low.Anyone who has ever witnessed a Muslim family trying to take a group photo will understand. It is a decibel level the most seasoned of warriors will shirk from, a soul-piercing detonation that rings in your ears until the angel of death blows his trumpet and sets you free.There is the roaring disapproval of a Muslim matriarch that puts Gengiz Khan to shame. Add social media to the explosive mix and my taqiyya is meekly answering “no” to all questions about anyone looking fat in anybody else's Instagram photos.When your brothers' wives (tsk only one each) are size zeros, your taqiyya on beach vacations is finding an industrial-sized sarong and a quiet spot under a palm tree as far away from them as possible to stay south of the radar.Yes, having recently returned from a family reunion, I verily testify to a dangerous dynamic Muslims are prey to, one that must be safe-guarded against no matter what it entails.It is a burden that we Muslims carry in which an act as simple as deciding where to take the group for lunch can turn into a ticking explosive. My only aim: to get through the prescribed limit of time without rocking the taqiyya.A detached witness, you observe the dynamics of your childhood working themselves out again – favoritism, comments about whose SAT scores were higher. And then there is “the talk” about whose kids are more athletic and have better grades. It makes you wonder – do those spreading misinformation against 1.8 billion people have any idea how much more dangerous this is?Without a doubt, Muslim bashing today is a lucrative business. According to a University of California Berkeley's Center for Race and Gender report, between 2008-2013, certain special interest groups allocated $206 million “to promote prejudice against, or hatred of, Islam and Muslims.” In today's climate of populist politics based on fear and divisiveness, these numbers can only be extrapolated.As propaganda machines distribute talking points to spread hatred towards Muslims, certain words and catch phrases are deliberately misinterpreted and spread – “taqiyya” being the nom de jour.Ironically, the word “taqiyya”, itself, does not appear in the Holy Quran even once. It comes from the Arabic word waqaya, which means to protect. So in this context, it basically means to agree with someone, in words or in action, because of fear of harm from that person.And doing so is nothing new or unique to Muslims. Historically, this has been done by many.It is what Jesus practiced when he said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's,” by concealing his opinion about paying the imperial tax, which would have endangered his life.It is what St Paul did when he said, “I am a Pharisee, descended from the Pharisees,” to safeguard himself from those who held different beliefs from him and could endanger his life.Me? I'm just a small-town Muslim girl trying to survive family vacations.