TAQIYA i. In Shiʿism



i. In Shiʿism

The foundations of taqiya can be traced back to certain Qurʾanic verses, perhaps the most explicit of which is Qurʾan 3:28.  The exegetes agree that the exception in the verse to taking the unbelievers as awliyāʾ (protectors) when guarding against them in fear refers to taqiya; the pivotal word toqā (piety) is glossed and even sometimes read as taqiya (Ālusi, III, p. 121).  Other commonly cited proof-texts for the permissibility of taqiya are the verse granting permission for those under compulsion to recant their belief (Qurʾan 16:106) as well as the story of the believer from the people of Pharaoh who followed Moses but hid his faith (Qurʾan 40:28).

Taqiya holds an exceptional degree of legitimacy in Shiʿism owing to the abundant Hadith in its praise from the Imams (Majlesi, XXXVI, pp. 569-605).  Some widely quoted Traditions state that it is a part of religion or religion itself, and others identify it as a sign of faith. There is also a reoccurring motif in the Shiʿite literature of numerous prophets and friends of God using taqiya at critical points in their lives; figures as diverse as Seth (Šiṯ, son of Adam and Eve), the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (Aṣḥāb al-Kahf), and Moḥammad’s forefathers are cited as champions of taqiya (Moʿallem, I, pp. 11-30).   In Shiʿite exegesis there are also several taqiya related intepretations of Qurʾanic verses with no apparent connection to the topic; thus “the most noble of you before God is the most God-wary (enna akramakom ʿenda Allāh-e atqākom)” (Qurʾan 49:13) is creatively reinterpreted as “the most noble of you in before God is the most firm in taqiya,” where the multivalency of the word taqwā (piety, being righteous, being wary) is drawn upon to support taqiya (Kohlberg, 1975, p. 396).

The emphasis on taqiya in Shiʿism originates in the difficult circumstances of the early community in the decades after the events of Karbala, in particular the tumultuous period of the later Umayyads and early Abbasids.  As part of their general position of quietism in expectation of a messianic figure who would deliver the community from persecution (see HIDDEN IMAM), the Imams practiced discretion on a variety of occasions and urged their companions to do the same.  Firstly, they deliberately gave contradictory rulings on sensitive issues and at times publicly dissociated themselves from close companions.  Secondly, they urged the concealment (ketmān) of mundane and esoteric secrets related to their Imamate and condemned the dissemination (eḏāʿa) of those teachings to those considered incapable or untrustworthy (Majlesi, XXXVI, pp. 339-55).  Finally, they urged their followers to intermingle with other Muslims in various social and religious occasions and show them courtesy and respect.  Despite the considerable stress the Imams placed on taqiya, however, it does not seem they deemed it literally a pillar of faith, but as a temporary measure for times when the Shiʿites were under threat (Kohlberg, 1995, pp. 367-68; Bojnurdi, V, p. 54).

Although taqiya is often regarded as a shibboleth of Shiʿites, it is incorrect to consider it exclusive to them.  The basic principle is agreed upon by the Sunnite ulama, but they tend to restrict its use in dealings with non-Muslims and when under compulsion (ekrāh; in general see Sarḵasi, XXIV, esp. p. 45; Ālusi, III, pp. 121-26).  In contrast, the Shiʿite ulama allow it in interacting with both non-Muslims and Muslims (including other Shiʿites) and practically in all necessary matters (żaruriyāt); Makki, II, p. 158; Bojnurdi, V, p. 75).  Perhaps because of its ubiquitous presence in Shiʿite history, taqiya is a veritable bȇte noire of anti-Shiʿite polemicists; they regularly berate the Shiʿites for exaggerating its importance and the more vociferous of them claim that it is the basis of a Shiʿite conspiracy to destroy Islam from within (Ālusi, III, pp. 123-25; Ebn Taymiya, II, p. 46).

In systematizing the wide-ranging Hadith about taqiya, the Shiʿite jurists developed various retrospective classifications.  First, they divided taqiya into five categories corresponding to the rulings of the šariʿa (Makki, II, pp. 157-58; Anṣāri, p. 39).  Thus, taqiya is obligatory (wājeb) in cases when its abandonment causes significant harm, such as ʿAli’ b. Abi Ṭāleb’s acceptance of Abu Bakr’s caliphate (r. 632-34), and illicit (ḥarām) when its practice results in widespread corruption in religion; hence Imam Ḥosayn b. ʿAli’s refusal to pledge allegiance to Caliph Yazid I (r. 680-83) (Makki, II, pp. 157-58; Anṣāri, p. 39).  It is agreed that taqiya is forbidden if it involves the murder of an innocent (lā taqiya fi’l-demāʾ), although there is disagreement over whether it is allowed to dissociate oneself (barāʾa) from the Imams, which is ordinarily considered an act of unbelief (Anṣāri, pp. 65-69, Moʿallem, I, pp. 84-92).  Another juristic analysis of taqiya relates to the motives behind it: there is taqiya arising out of fear of a immediate danger (ḵawfiya) and taqiya when there is a need to conceal secrets (ketmāniya), but not necessarily an imminent threat.  A third type of taqiya is for the sake of reducing tensions with non-Shiʿites by showing them friendliness (modārātiya; Ḵomeyni, II, pp. 174-75, Moʿallem, I, p. 204).

The attitude of prominent Shiʿites before and after Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1978-79 regarding the contemporary relevance of taqiya might be described as ambivalent.  Ayatollah Ḵomeyni, who supported traditional jurisprudence (feqh-e jawāheri), forbade its use when it became an excuse for inaction in the face of “deviant tyrants [who] intend to alter the laws of inheritance, divorce, ḥajj, and prayer” (Ḵomeyni, II, p. 178).  ʿAli Šariʿati, who was highly critical of the seminary (ḥawza) approach, also condemned excessive use of taqiya as a sure sign of reactionary Safavid Shiʿism (Šariʿati, pp. 83-84).  Despite their divergent methodologies, however, neither of them rejected taqiya outright: Ḵomeyni wrote a treatise specifically on the topic in which he largely concurred with the opinions of previous jurists (Ḵomeyni, II, pp. 173-207), while Šariʿati argued for a modernist reinterpretation of taqiya as a tactic in revolutionary struggle (Rahnema, pp. 303-5).  After the revolution, one of the priorities of the Islamic Republic has been fostering a rapprochement (taqrib) between Shiʿites and Sunnites, and this goal is even enshrined in the constitution (article 11).  Although the policy rests on clear political considerations, on a theoretical level it could be interpreted as a modern application of taqiya modārātiya.


Šehāb-al-Din Maḥmud Ālusi, Tafsir Ruḥ al-maʿāni fi tafsir al-Qorʾān, 30 vols., Beirut, 1964. 

Mortażā Anṣāri, al-Taqiya, ed. F. Ḥassun, Qom, 1412/1991. 

Moḥammad Musawi Bojnurdi, al-Qawāʿed al-feqhiya, 7 vols., Qom, 1419/1998. 

Lynda Clarke, “The Rise and Decline of Taqiyya in Twelver Shiʿism,” in T. Lawson, ed., Reason and Inspiration in Islam: Theology, Philosophy and Mysticism in Muslim Thought, London, 2005, pp. 46-63.

Ebn Taimiya, Menhāj al-sonna al-nabawiya fi naqż kalām al-Šiʿa wa’l-Qadariya, ed. Moḥammad Rašād Sālem, 9 vols., Riyadh, 1986. 

Ignaz Goldziher, “Das Princip der taḳijja im Islam,” ZDMG 9, 1906, pp. 213-26. 

Etan Kohlberg, “Some Imāmī Shīʿī Views on Taqiyya,” JAOS 95, 1975, pp. 305-402; repr. in idem, Belief and Law in Imāmī Shīʿism, Aldershot, 1991, part 3. 

Idem, “Taqiyya in Shīʿī Theology and Religion,” in Hans G. Kippenberg and Guy G. Stroumsa, eds., Secrecy and Concealment: Studies in the History of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Religions, Leiden, 1995, pp. 345-80. 

Ruḥ-Allāh Ḵomeyni, al-Rasāʾel, 2 vols., Qom, 1385/1965. 

Bahāʾ-al-Din Ḵorramšāhi, “Taqiya,” in Dāʾerat al-maʿāref-e Tašayyoʿ/Encyclopaedia of the Shiʿa V, Tehran, 1996, pp. 38-41. 

Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesi, Beḥār al-anwār al-jāmeʿa le-dorar aḵbār al-aʾemma al-aṭhār, ed. ʿAli Namāzi Šāhrudi, 110 vols. in 52, Beirut, 1429/2008.  

Šams-al-Din Moḥammad Makki, al-Qawāʿed wa’l-fawāʾed, ed. ʿAbd-al-Hādi Ḥakim, Qom, n.d. 

Moḥammad-ʿAli Moʿallem, al-Taqiya fi feqh ahl al-bayt, 2 vols., n.p., 1418/1997. 

Ali Rahnema, An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of Ali Shariʿati, New York, 2000. 

Šams-al-Din Moḥammad Saraḵasi, Ketāb al-mabsuṭ, 30 vols., Beirut, n.d. 

ʿAli Šariʿati, Tašayyoʿ-e ʿalawi wa tašayyoʿ-e ṣafawi, Tehran, 1971; tr. Ḥaydar Majid, as al-Tašayyoʿ al-ʿalawi wa’l-tašayyoʿ al-ṣafawi, Beirut, 2007.

R. Strothmann (Mokhtar Djebli), “Taḳiyya,” in EI2 X, 2000, pp. 134-36.


(Louis Medoff)

Originally Published: April 25, 2015

Last Updated: April 25, 2015

Cite this entry:

Louis Medoff, "TAQIYA i. In Shiʿism,"  Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2015, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/taqiya-i-shiism (accessed on 25 April 2015).