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Hiding in Plain Sight: Shi’i Islam, Secrecy, and Religious

In this talk, Assistant Professor of Religion Tariq al-Jamil explores the bodily practices and social behaviors associated with religious dissimulation - known as "taqiyya,” a practice in which a Shi’ite can lie about their faith in order to save a life - in 13th- and 14th-century Iraq. Professor al-Jamil is an expert on medieval Islamic social history and law, with a particular focus on Shi'ism. He has conducted research on Sunni-Shi'i relations and can address issues related to the academic study of Islam and the social history of Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. His published works and research interests include Islam and inter-communal violence, pre-modern religious identity, religious dissimulation, the transmission of knowledge in Islam, and women in Islamic jurisprudence.

Audio Transcript

Steven Hopkins:  Well, good afternoon. My name is Steven Hopkins from the Department of Religion here at Swarthmore College. It's my great pleasure to have the opportunity to introduce a dear colleague, Professor Tariq al-Jamil, for this sabbatical, faculty sabbatical, leave lecture. It's very interesting these opportunities. Now I see a lot of students here, which is quite good. And I see faculty members as well. These kinds of lectures give us an opportunity to have a sense of the other side of our vocation here at Swarthmore College. We often talk about teacher-scholars. And I know for one, for myself, and I know that after many of our lunch discussions on long-range planning, I know many of us feel the need to know more about the scholarship of our colleagues, to have opportunity to give ear to not only discussions about our classroom and again, you students and [et cetera 00:00:54] and education at Swarthmore, but our private lives as scholars, and productive scholars. These are our twin ideals here at Swarthmore. So, again, it's a pleasure for me to be here.

Tariq came to Swarthmore to the Department of Religion in the Fall of 2006 from the Department of Philosophy and Religion in North Carolina State University. He received his BA with honors in religion in Oberlin College in 1995, an MTS at Harvard Divinity School in 1997, received his PhD at Princeton University in Islamic Studies in the program in Near Eastern Studies in 2004 completing a dissertation on Shi'i and Sunni relations in medieval Baghdad. And I know for a fact that he is one of the favorite first students of [Shawn Wyman 00:01:39] [crosstalk 00:01:40] perhaps her favorite. You know, the first is always the most important one. A distinguished scholar of Islam at Princeton.

Tariq has speaking and reading knowledge of classical medieval and modern Arabic with reading and basic conversational skills also in Persian and Urdu. I say this because he has brought considerable language skills to his teaching here at the college. He's not only helped to establish and to undergird and develop Islamic Studies in the Arabic programs, but has advised original student theses in Arabic and again, something that we longed for in our department- feeling language is quite important to understanding things- is to have someone who can do that, who can read quite remarkably complex religious texts with students who are interested in doing such things and spend inordinate hours in his office doing so. That's the teacher part of the scholar.

Student interest in Tariq's classes was instantaneous and judging by the long lines in the hallway that still develop, he's still doing very well and it's not abated. His courses range widely from our senior seminars in the study of religion. Again, Tariq has a grasp of the field as a whole along with his focus in Islam. Gender, Sexuality and the Body in Islamic Discourses, the Koran and its Interpreters, the seminars and courses on Islamic Law and History, and next spring he'll be teaching a course that's related in the comparative way to the talk this afternoon on secrecy.

Tariq has been the recipient of the George E. Becker faculty fellowships, Swarthmore College 2009 and 2010, as well as a Linbeck Foundation Minority Faculty Research fellowship for research in Damascus, Syria. His book manuscript Power and Knowledge in Medieval Baghdad: 1258-1386, notice the historical context, is currently under review. Recent articles by Tariq include: Shi'i Hadith Methodology and Shi'i Legal Argumentation; Ibn Taymiyya, and Shi'i Polemics; The Struggle for Religious Authority: Medieval Islam: Identity and Power, Sunni and Shi'i Discursive Competition in Medieval Biographical Literature. Tariq's current research focuses on Shiism and intracommunal violence; religious dissimulation; and the transmission of knowledge in medieval Islam; also gender and sexuality in Islam. And his next book, which should be a best seller I would imagine, is on the relationship between marriage, divorce, and slavery in Islamic Law.

Tariq brings to all his work not only an ear to critical social theory, but for some strange reason, has an undying obsession with psychoanalytic theory. [laughter] Anyway, [laughter] His lecture this afternoon- [laughter] I share [laughter] is irrational, passion for some kind of theory. Anyhow, the focus of his lecture this afternoon will bring new methodological approaches to bear on actually a very well known theme of Shiism, Taqiya, or religious dissimulation. The focus of his lecture is to explore not only the theoretical, theological, the legal dimensions; but more precisely bodily practices and social behaviors associated with the performance of Taqiya in 13th and 14th century Iraq. It's my great pleasure to introduce my colleague, Tariq al-Jamil.

Tariq al-Jamiil: Thank you so much for coming out on Thursday and thank you so much, Steven, for such generous introduction. I do appreciate that. I am humbled by such an introduction. I would like to- I think it's perhaps appropriate to just start right in and to say something about what is this business about Taqiya. Taqiya is an accepted principle in both Shi'i and Sunni forms of Islam and it tends to be based on a number of Koranic verses, including the verse that you see here, which is not necessarily explicit to some of the later social practices that we will see associated with it. But it is a [inaudible 00:06:08] that the faithful should not take the faithless for allies instead of the faithful; and whoever does that, Allah will have nothing to do with him unless it is done as a precaution in order to guard yourselves from them. But, perhaps the verse receiving the most attention in discussions of Taqiya has been this one, that is whoever expresses disbelief in God after once believing, will suffer greatly unless that person is under compulsion while his heart is at rest in prayer.

So that this particular verse is believed to have taken, at least in most commentaries about it, is taken to refer to a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, Ahmar ibn Jazi, who is outwardly- at the time of its revelation was outwardly denying Muhammad's prophecy and worshiping pagan idols in order to protect himself while he was in Mecca. But the verse has been interpreted more broadly to mean that a Muslim or Muslimette may deny her faith or violate Islamic law if her life is threatened.

So, from this very basic conception of Taqiya, the Shi'is have in fact employed much more expansive uses of the concept and application. So the practice of the simulation itself is often characterized in Shi'i literature as including the ability to employ secrecy or kitman. And the secrecy is viewed as being able to be employed for the benefit of the individual or group. However, the use of secrecy have led many scholars to skeptically view secrecy and concealment merely as a tactic for insuring survival in the context of social mores and exemption and political persecution.

This, in turn, has produced a number of assumptions concerning the practice of secrecy and its relationship to suspicion. Mainly the idea that what one wishes to conceal is inherently negative or even pernicious. The idea that secrecy can corrupt and debilitate character is, perhaps, one of the first ways in which Taqiya was understood by scholars writing on Islam. For instance, at the early part of the 20th century, [Goldsear 00:08:49], a very well established orientalist, says that Taqiya resulted in what he called a "suppressed fury" among the Shia, which in turn "led to unrestrained hatred and fanaticism." Now, however, unlike [Goldsear 00:09:10], I've seen in literature the use of Taqiya that actually refers to a set of practices that are neither laudable or loathable, but rather function as unifying features for defining group solidarity and belonging.

So, not only does control over secrecy preserve central aspects of identity, it guards their changes, its growth, and decay. So that the dual conundrum of power requires not only knowledge, but the capacity to put knowledge to use. But without the knowledge, there's no chance to exercise power. So, that to have no insight into what others conceal is to lack power as well. The secret then is a discursive strategy. A strategy that transforms knowledge into a scarce resource and serves then as a valuable commodity, the possession of which bestows prestige or symbolic capital on its owner. So, discussions of Taqiya primarily in the contemporary period have concentrated mainly on theoretical discussions involving heavy and legal literature.

So with few exceptions most of the discussions that have preceded mine have focused primarily on theoretical considerations. With the exception, I suppose of the work of Devin Stewart who produced a short article, relatively short article, on the travels of a scholar of [foreign language 00:15:17] during the Ottoman Empire roughly between the- around the 10th century, that is the 10th century Hijiri or the 16th century of the common era. I often have problems with these dates. So, generally, when I mention a date I'm talking about the Islamic dates.

So there have been very few, if any, attempts other than Devin Stewart's study to think about Taqiya as practice or the constitutive elements of its performance. So, what is it? Is Taqiya the sociological phenomena of passing, for instance. Most people would be familiar with this idea of passing. Is it passing or not? Actually in my work I've found that there's enough divergence, or at least enough divergence to cast doubt on the congruities between the modern notion of passing and the medieval practice of dissimulation. In particular, because of the differences between the kind of bodily practices associated with Taqiya and also the kind of racialized context and the racial implications of passing. So, the short answer to that is, I don't believe that Taqiya easily maps on to what sociologists have defined as passing. But I'll say more about that later.

So that the relationship between the practice of Taqiya and Shia living in predominantly city areas in the multi [inaudible 00:12:20] the power and strategies for their cultivation during the pre-modern period are, in my opinion, unique. So that dissimulation function not only as a means to subvert and undermine the marginalization of Shia in areas where they constitute a minority group, but it also simultaneously functioned as a powerful tool for the creation of more egalitarian possibilities for the preservation of forms of privileged knowledge. Now this privileged knowledge obviously was internally shared but externally undisclosed and created, generated for other [inaudible 00:13:01] of religious connections.

So, what did pre-modern scholars mean when they talked about the distinction between our sect? For instance, you commonly see the phrase [foreign language 00:13:14], you know, our group, and the other. What did these kinds of associations imply? What were the boundaries for exclusion from the group? Were they bodily? And if they were bodily, then we have to consider some of the communal aspects of the body and its role for complicating the actual performance of Taqiya in social context. So what is it? What do you have to do to actually dissimulate? Do you have to pray differently? Do you have to wash for prayer differently? Do you have to have certain ideas about what constitutes Islam? Is it based on terms of devotion? Is it, in fact, doctrinal? So, in essence, the sustained performance of Taqiya might include a multitude of actions and behavior that cannot directly be associated with expressions of religion or belief.

So how do we begin to answer the important questions about Taqiya given that we're relying upon medieval sources that are primarily literary? So that one of the most important and perhaps immediate questions that one can ask about dissimulation is: What is there to be safeguarded? So is there something particular to an individual or is it a set of broader community interests or a combination of both these things? Can Taqiya be limited to the protection of a specific doctrine? Or, can it, in fact, be used to keep secrets from people who are internal to the group as well as external to the group? For instance, in the Druz religion the parents tend to be divided into two categories: people who are [foreign language 00:15:09] or ignorant people or the [foreign language 00:15:09] the so-called knowledgeable ones, the sages. And only the latter category are allowed to read the sacred texts of the religion or to attend the [foreign language 00:15:16] or the secret ceremony of worship.

So this is one way of thinking about the use of dissimulation, that is creating a distinction between those who are knowledgeable and then the larger group- the everyday people, the [foreign language 00:15:30], who essentially are ignorant of the religion's basic precepts. So the key to really thinking about all of these questions about dissimulation, for me, is thinking about the use and application of strategies for dissimulating and specific social context so that this really isn't a theoretical discussion.

So in that light, I'd like to give you some preliminary information on really what this issue speaks to because I don't think it's easy to understand the implications of dissimulation without understanding certain pre-modern, that is early modern, understandings of the academic study of Islam. So and I'm reminded here, I think, of just recently- even in a congressional poll- some 43 percent of members of Congress could not name one distinction between Sunni and Shi'i. So I will assume that we are a much more educated audience than that, but, nonetheless, I will say a little bit about this basic distinction.

So the coexistence of the Shia and Sunni communities are perhaps the oldest and most enduring historical, political, and theological distinction in Islamic civilization. The origins of the Shi'i community itself has been the subject of ongoing disagreement between Western scholars and traditional Shi'i chroniclers and hegeographers. The early manifestations of Shiism tended to revolve assent of [foreign language 00:17:14]. It's a very difficult term to understand because it has such broad import and particularly in the early Islamic centuries. But it means something like devotion, something like loyalty, and its probably the earliest sense that we have of a kind of protégé community. And if we think about its absolute attachment or support for the Prophet's cousin, Hassan ibn Ali, and that he would succeed the prophet as legitimate ruler and interpreter of religion for the community.

So then Shi'i doctrine projects the existence of this form of Shiism back to the Prophet's demise or even before that time. So there's growing academic support actually for this view among scholars in universities in the United States and Europe for instance. And relative recent works by scholars like Wilford Madeline, Patricia Crone, and Martin Hines have found support for traditional Shi'i accounts in historical records. In any case, there's general agreement that Shiism existed as a coherent and distinct point of view with a recognizable identity from the first Islamic century.

Less than 30 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad the first civil war ultimately culminated with the murder of Ali and it was clear that by this time the Shi'i Ali or Ali's party or supporters represented a distinct community that expressed not only its political and military aspirations but also involved claims to religious authority. So that here Islamists have tended to ignore this early religious dimension and reduce the conflict to issues revolving around the nature of successorship to Muhammad or a personal allegiance to Ali and his descendants.

However, scholars have also anachronistically represented Sunnism as a merely a kind of normative Islam established in a unified position so that it was a kind of orthodoxy against which alternative positions struggled for legitimacy. And this is, I think, probably one of the most common [jokes 00:19:35] that one finds in sort of introductory texts about the distinction between Sunnism and Shiism. But somehow there were the normative Islam that fell from the sky and it was doctrinally organized around the principles of what constituted the greater Shiism, uh Sunnism. This is simply not the case. So that, one, Muslims, Shi'i Muslims in particular, do not define themselves oppositionally. Rather, the Shia have always considered themselves to be an integral part of the fabric of the Islamic religious community and, in fact, claim to represent the most elite group of faithful within the community. So to dismiss Shiism as merely the dangerous heterodoxy that deviated from the mainstream of Islamic thought and practice is to misunderstand the nature of the development of early Islamic society.

So Sunnism, or the later as it was called the [foreign language 00:20:32], the people of custom and community, they did not exist as a doctrinal perspective until the late second century. Moreover, one of the founding principles of Sunni belief is the inherent justice, wisdom, and legitimacy of the first four of [foreign language 00:20:51] or [foreign language 00:20:52], the right regarded Caliph; and that is Abu Bakr, [foreign language 00:20:56], and Ali. So rather than represent a majority consensus from which the Shia deviated in recognizing only the legitimacy of Ali, the very articulation of this foundational principal of Sunnism was a compromise between the earlier non-Shi'i recognition of only the first three Calipha as encompassing the ideas of Islamic leadership on one hand and the Shi'i insistence upon Ali supremacy. So that what I'm suggesting here is that perhaps we can think about Sunnism as a kind of oppositional movement that was designed itself to respond to the existence of forms of specific patterns of devotion to individuals. So Sunnism, rather than be normative Islam, was a response to the kinds of diversity present in the community.

So, on one hand, we think about it from this perspective; but, also, this perspective on the origins of Sunnism came to be dominant in Western scholarship on Islam primarily because the Western scholars who first approached this material simply took the normative perspective of Sunnism for granted. Why did they do that? Because they primarily read Sunni chronicles, Sunni biographical dictionaries, and Sunni materials that were theologically invested in the idea of perpetuating a kind of normative Sunnism.

So, it's perhaps forgivable in some ways, that the first Western scholars to approach this material simply adopted the perspective of their medieval sources. Of course, this creates a difficult perspective for Shiism which, in fact, again writing in the late 19th century, [Goldear 00:22:50], in fact, says that Shiism is a sect in Islamic context and that any group that departs from the [foreign language 00:22:59] or historically sanctioned form of Islam, on a central issue, a fundamental issue of importance, contradicts Sunni [foreign language 00:23:08]. And what he means by this is that he simply accepted Sunni polemical sources and [hereticalogical 00:23:13] literature for inquiry into the religious worldview of Sunnism. So that, in fact, these hostile sources mainly went to overestimate the importance of even the kind of extremist elements in the Shi'i community. So that [inaudible 00:23:33] Shia who, groups, who are often thought far left of central Shi'i perspective were proofs for [Goldsear 00:23:44] of what he referred to Shiism as a particularly fecund [inaudible 00:23:50] for absurdities suited to undermine and wholly disintegrate the Islamist doctrine of God.

I think that perhaps it makes more sense to think about these two divisions in the Islamic community as two branches or streams of thought in Islam, of course of varying size, both of which can be regarded as authentic expressions of Islamic piety. These streams should not be envisioned as proceeding in passive clear divergence from one another, rather they converge at many points intellectually, politically, and historically. It becomes clear when one looks at the sources in detail that analysis of [paresiographical 00:24:32] and polemical literature from both sides that it's not a matter of two streams progressively dividing and subdividing into numerous rivulets of thought, but rather the Sunni-Shi'i dichotomy is more accurately compared to a series of small tributaries which eventually coalesce into two large streams that we recognize today as Sunnism and Shiism. It's a very wordy, water metaphor to explain, I think, a very basic process which is that these groups develop largely in opposition to one another and that there was a biologic process by which these communities were formed rather than a kind of assumption of a consolidated Islam that was somehow descended from the sky.

So, what does this all have to with Taqiya? For one, the very few studies that focus on Sunni-Shia relations begin with the formative period in the development of the Islamic community, more specifically over struggles for leadership immediately following the death of Muhammad, so that the skewed emphasis on historical origins have led scholars to almost entirely ignore subsequent developments in relations between the two communities. So my research on the performance of Taqiya or dissimilations seems to contribute to the body of knowledge concerning Islam by highlighting the ways in which these two streams of Islamic community converge in concrete, historical circumstances in geographical locations far beyond the formative period of Islamic civilization.

Contrary to the narratives articulated by scholars who attempted to generalize about the nature of Sunni-Shia relations for all times and all places, when viewed in concrete social and political circumstances, there's a great deal of messiness and murkiness in the expression of forms of group solidarity and belonging. And the development in jurisprudence, theology, and philosophy tend to have significant overlap. So that the social historical approaches better illustrate the degree of diversity and tolerance tolerated, the degree of difference tolerated in pre-modern Islam by both Sunni and Shi'is if they continue to engage in the self-conscious process of defining nature, that is the nature of group membership and belonging.

So a particularly highly fascinating and instructive way of thinking about these differences is looking at Taqiya, that is the social uses of Taqiya, okay? So how in fact does this process of dissimulating step into identity formation during historical times beyond the early period? My work actually centers on Baghdad as a city for looking at dialogue between Sunni and Shi'i scholars and it makes sense, I think, to ask why Baghdad? So that during the 7th and 8th centuries, in particular, Baghdad, which had been a long established center of learning in the Muslim world, began to establish itself as a site of mutual participation where Sunni and Shi'i scholars gathered together as both students and teachers. And, more importantly, the participation in shared learning was not an exception to the general pattern of learning that took place during this time. If we bring to bear in this context modes of historical analysis and close looks at Arabic literature, including biographical dictionaries, chronicles, endowment deeds, texts on law and theory, polemical treatise, genealogical works, we clearly see a much more nuanced picture.

And I do this in the context of Baghdad for a number of reasons. One, Baghdad was an important commercial and political center. So it would be home of the Abassi Caliph. It had a number of very important religious institutions. There- the- considerable endowments were available for religious training. In that we see fairly exemplary patterns of scholarship taking place between the two groups in the city. There was also a particular policy of keeping the Shi'i Imams under a form of de facto house arrest in Iraq, in particular in Baghdad, and this led to an increased Shi'i presence there. Also, it was a major place for shrine visitations and the major Shi'i shrines were located just to the south of Baghdad in Najaf and Karbala and Kufa as well. And last but not least, there was a thriving Shi'i merchant community in an outlying suburb of the city. So Baghdad is an interesting place for thinking about the performance of Taqiya in local context.

So we also have the scholars who are actually engaged in these scholarly networks producing texts about what they're doing simultaneously so that we have texts from this period where scholars are self-consciously writing about themselves. And these works have been, perhaps, the most significant in the formation of Shi'i studies over time. Now, one of the things that one has to think about in looking at Taqiya is this kind of popular notion that somehow there was a Sunni revival in the 5th or 11th century. And what this means is by this time there was a consolidation of Sunnism such that personal connections between scholars was precluded by the fact that one had to declare allegiance to a particular school. Okay, so that is, one had to declare whether one was Sunni or Shi'i in order to actually study in institutions of religious learning. Now, one of the problems with that, is that these things seem to only apply to cases where scholars were resident students. So where scholars were not resident, people were free to approach the transmission of knowledge together in a way that did not seem to challenge Sunni or Shi'i identity.

Now when one thinks about how this functioned on a practical level, we see that there was this notion of consensus [foreign language 00:32:05] which was a strategy for- in many ways, confronting the idealized or normative position, the proposed normative position, of Sunnism. So that when we see that there were forms of symbiotic dialogue and social interactions between Sunni and Shi'i scholars, Taqiya functioned to undermine the very notion of a kind of Sunni consensus. So that we see on a practical level that by this time, that of the 5th and 11th century, Sunni jurists themselves often disagreed concerning points of law and theology and many were subjugated to charges of violating consensus and subverting established doctrinal positions. So that the efforts of the Sunni majority to mimic the influence, for instance, of their own scholars like, for instance, ibn Taymiyya, who was considered by many modern revisionist historians, to be the model of medieval Sunni traditionalism, in fact, attest to this fact. So the notion of ijma, or consensus, was developed as a legal doctrine designed to mimic the indeterminacy inherent in the Islamic concept of political authority. The doctrine of ijma plainly stated that at a certain point established Islamic doctrinal formulations and methodological perspectives were permitted and were no longer permitted to be debated and were established and were considered to be permanently resolved. The doctrine of consensus proved to be extremely problematic.

Although the majority of Shi'i scholars of Islamic jurisprudence, Sunni scholars of Islamic jurisprudence, accepted the notion of consensus, they disagreed on, for instance, whose consensus counted. They disagreed on whether that was the companions of the Prophet, the jurist or the general community. They also disagreed on whether the consensus of all jurists should be counted. So, whether it was the jurist of a specific geographical location, or whether it was jurists who maintained specific qualifications of prerequisite. They also disagreed on how consensus could be verified. For instance, whether the silence of a jurist on a particular issue could count toward consensus. In addition, they disagreed on whether the consensus of one generation binds subsequent generations or whether consensus established in one region binds another. More importantly, the majority of jurists recognized that refusing or denying the existence of a consensus did not establish one as an unbeliever. The contested issues surrounding the doctrine of consensus ultimately meant that ijma largely functioned as a rhetorical device in the polemics among various schools, most prominently in debates between Shi'i and Sunni scholars; however, the over emphasis on consensus obscured the degree of diversity present and tolerated among medieval jurists themselves in the enormous fields of religious learning in which Shia and Sunni scholars study together in relative cooperation.

So, one recent study argues that beginning in the late third century, Sunni scholars throughout the Islamic world utilized Taqiya, or dissimulation, in order to participate in Sunni education. However, this work doesn't provide evidence to suggest that affiliation with one particular legal school, in this case the [foreign language 00:35:44] school, would have constituted the performance of Taqiya in the context, in particular in the context of specific medieval place or region. So how do we, in fact, know that this was Taqiya that to actually attend or accept a particular Sunni school of thought or as it was later identified encompass the practice of Taqiya. According to my own examination of over 2000 Shi'i biographical entries written during the 7th and 8th centuries, Shi'i scholars themselves did not yet refer to themselves as belonging to a distinct legal school as it was conceived in the Sunni scholarly milieu.

Contemporary Shi'i and Sunni sources refer to Shi'i scholars as belonging to the "Shi'i [foreign language 00:36:34]" rather than the kind of technical term that we see in later tradition of referring it to as Ja'fari. So the term Ja'fari was not used to refer to a specific school nor is it affixed to the name of Shi'i scholars as part of their name or their [foreign language 00:36:51] in their biographies. So that this may suggest that distinctive Shi'i legal identity was still in its formative stages and Shiism was, in that undertaking study in a particular Sunni school, did not in fact compromise any sense of Shi'i group belonging or identity. So that this kind of focus on Shi'i responses to the development of Sunni ijma, in fact, minimizes their complex relationships, the power between Sunni and Shi'i scholars in the pre-modern period.

In fact, we see the development of a number of very important scholarly disciplines taking place among both groups [inaudible 00:37:41] simultaneous so that a scholar like [foreign language 00:37:43] [foreign language 00:37:44] and [foreign language 00:37:45] introduced a concepts into Shi'i jurisprudence of [foreign language 00:37:50] [inaudible 00:37:51] that he borrowed and elaborated from Sunni works, Jabal ibn Toulouse and ibn [foreign language 00:37:58] at the same period introduced concepts that borrowed and rejected that were in dialogue with Sunni concept of Hadith criticism. Scholars like [foreign language 00:38:13], [foreign language 00:38:14], [foreign language 00:38:16] introduced a kind of distinctive way of thinking about Shi'i jurisprudence that had not been articulated.

So, how do we actually figure out, given the complexities of determining identity where identity is not fully formed and you have this kind of Taqiya in the distance, this concept of the ability to dissimulate. One, I think, if one looks at a variety of Arabic documents, a more nuanced picture emerges. In particular, if one looks at teacher permission slips, which- I had perhaps the pleasure or displeasure of looking at thousands of these rather pedantic documents that simply describe with whom a particular scholar has studied. Also, if you look at the dedications of books from the period and whether or not they dedicated to a Sunni or Shi'i scholar, a Sunni or Shi'i ruler, complicates the picture but probably, more than any other source the complications of representing identity in biographical dictionaries.

So Taqiya functions in literary sources as a strategy, a competition between Sunni and Shi'i scholars and you can see it clearly in the literary sources. In particular when thinking about biographical dictionaries, one of the first problems that one encounters is that Taqiya functions as an allegation. So that there is this phenomena of claiming as a broader strategy for, I think, engaging in, trying to mediate the asymmetries of power between the two groups. So that there is this complication in rendering such a- even Taqiya characterizes with one of his colleagues that "one of those where a Shi'i acts like a Sunni and a Sunni acts like a Shi'i. What did that mean? What did that suggest about identity and group membership in this context? And one of the things that I hedge on in my own work about this is thinking about identity. I have this sort of very visceral reaction to the idea of pre-modern identity because it's not a term that my medieval subjects used and they were clearly ambivalent about the idea of what it meant to have a kind of static idea of what one was outside of context. So, I'll say more about that later, but there's this process in biographical dictionaries of claiming. So that what we see is a particular scholar being represented as Sunni in one context represented as Shi'i in the Shi'i context.

How do we know? How do we know who these people are? Let me actually just get to an example of this and I'll come back to some of the more specific things about Taqiya. If I could get my screen to work. Oh, wa-lah, it works. Okay, so here's an example of entry in a biographical dictionary. [Foreign Language Sentence 00:41:50] Oh, okay, here's a long name. So it goes, it begins: "Ibn [foreign language 00:42:02] mentioned in his [foreign language 00:42:05] that Sayed [foreign language 00:42:06] used to sit preaching and was trying to [foreign language 00:42:09] and composing and reciting good poetry. He used to curse [foreign language 00:42:13] which is a kind of pejorative term that was used during the time for Shi'is. It means, kind of, I guess, like turncoat or- I can't really- it's- it's a pejorative term. And he was cleared of suspicion of being one of them. He used to visit the tomb of Imam Achmad, and this is in Baghdad, and he persisted in his adherence to Sunnism in particular when he saw the [foreign language 00:42:40] drowning throughout Iraq and it, i.e., the flood did not come near the tomb of Imam Achmad, the founder of one of the popular Sunni schools, one of the surviving Sunni schools.

Ali ibn Abdul Kareem took the Shi'i in [inaudible 00:42:56] and showed them this miracle. This account was recorded many times by [foreign language 00:43:01] and other scholars. He died during the year 749 in Baghdad and was buried in the [inaudible 00:43:08]. There's a lot going on here. So on the one hand the author has the problem of the name, and so that his name clearly associates him with a kind of Shia genealogy so that hence the long genealogy of Hussein and Baghdadi, but he attaches a [foreign language 00:43:32] to the end of the name to imply that he had some kind of affiliation with a Sunni legal school and hence places him at the shrine of Achmad ibn Hanbal cursing the Shia. And this is a very important dimension because in thinking about how to distinguish people cursing is one of the primary methods used to distinguish religious identity. If you curse the opposition, you're assumed to be one of the others. And there's, of course, this miraculous quality, so if he demonstrates this to the Shia- but it just demonstrates the kind of very contested nature of thinking about how these things work.

So then, what do we know from a narrative like this about what constituted Taqiya? We know that there are certain behaviors that are associated with the performance of Taqiya. The one, there is a changing of the place of prayer and the performance of ritual obligations, so that one goes to a popular site whether it be a Shia or a Sunni site. There's a modification of when name or genealogy [foreign language 00:44:43]. And there's a connection to prominent Sunni's, okay? So you see all of these things happening here in this biography. And there's typically a change that you don't see it here in external appearance. So either one wears a ring, one wears a beard in a particular style, one adjusts one's style of clothing, or as I mentioned earlier, the production of documents or specific kinds of monographs.

Now, when we think about Taqiya in terms of its social functions, none of the Hadith traditions related to it says beware of consequences of slip ups. And this occurs in a section on Taqiya in probably the most authoritative CE Hadith work. And what this implies is that its inclusion in that particular section is not just an immoral imperative to consider the consequences of one's actions, but it also implies that Taqiya is not a single statement or action during the time of duress. But it's a careful sustained performance that may involve many desperate disparate acts, interrelated acts from a complex narrative that makes up an individual's social self. So that Taqiya is a complicated set of behaviors, not simply the performance of one act or one statement.

Let me go back to Taqiya in religious sources. So that there are many traditions, Hadith-based traditions associated with Taqiya. So you see Hadith in this particular section on the chapter on Taqiya that the divine mystery is a secret veiled in a secret. God likes to be worshiped in secret. In Taqiya lies nine-tenths of religion. He who has no Taqiya has to faith. Taqiya is part of God's religion. Taqiya is to be used in every necessity. Taqiya is applied to everything which man is compelled. Taqiya is part of religion, my religion, and the religion of my ancestors. So that the Shia Imams are often depicted as emphasizing the Taqiya is a very important sacred duty. So Ja'far Al-Sadiq, the sixth Shia Imam, says, "What pleases me more than Taqiya? My God, nothing on the face of the earth is more pleasing to me than Taqiya." It is not permitted to lift one's Taqiya until such time as "he who shall arise"- that is the [inaudible 00:47:37] twelfth CE Imam- "returns." He who does so places himself outside of God's religion and the religion of the Imami's." So that Taqiya is considered to be one of the very important dimensions, one of the very important doctrines os Shiism.

Now, what does this mean in terms of social practice? There is this case of trying to identify what constitutes being CE as opposed to having CE proclivities. So, for instance, we see it often in biographical dictionary the use of the phrase "[inaudible 00:48:22]" which means kind of mild Shiism, a kind of Shiism without being- you're a Shi'i but you're not a complete turncoat. So that there are degrees in how this occurs in the form of performance. There's also the problem of the distinction between legal and doctrinal meanings of Taqiya. So that, for instance, again, even Taqiya prominent Sunni scholar from the period engages in an anti-Shi'i polemical diatribe where he reduces Taqiya to simple lying and hypocrisy. He says, "For what is hypocrisy other than a man to speak what he does not hold in his heart." So that the presence of Sunni polemical accusations of Taqiya and the gradual increase in Shia apologetics concerning its social practice and meaning throughout the medieval period necessitates great historiographic due diligence while approaching its use and application in local context. So that, over time, its a kind of accusation that's formed by both sides to discredit one another.

So, here's another example of an entry from a biographical dictionary describing a scholar, and I won't reveal whether he's Shia or Sunni. But he says, "He was a highly respected, powerful, highly knowledgeable and widely known figure that is descendant of the Prophet Muhammad." He was [foreign language 00:50:02] and [foreign language 0:50:02]. He was of the cemetery- which is a technical title for his position within the regime of the time. Ibn [Enba 00:50:12] mentioned in his [unda 00:50:14] the passing of his grandfather [Asaya Jamal Adeen Achmed 0:50:16] I saw that he, that is Avi ibn Abdul Kareem reported a flood in Baghdad in the year 725 and he was [na keed 00:50:27]. He died in the violent plague in the year 749 and was buried in the [cosmi strine 00:50:31]. So he's referring to this incident, but in this case he brings in the subject's grandfather from the previous narrative to suggest that he too could have been Sunni in spite of the obvious Shi'i name and genealogy.

You have other examples of this where a biographical dictionary mentions that the two of them Ali ibn Abdul Kareem and his cousin were given the honorific title, the same honorific title and the same [philonemc 00:51:08] during their lifetime. This form of naming was strange to the Persians, but among the Arabs it was quite common, in particular earlier- and particularly in earlier times. In general, I saw a tribute to him in text, and so he names his books, and then, of course, he brings in the genealogy to establish him as a potentially- potentially as a Sunni scholar. So when one looks at biographical dictionaries and chronicles, they provide an interesting starting point for the examination of the uses, the social uses of Taqiya. Careful examination of literary sources shed light on the self-descriptions of the [foreign language 00:51:51] and how like the complexities, ambiguities and potential dangers of Sunni-Shi'i interaction in the context of competition for authority and legitimacy. In addition, during the form, content, and production of biographical accounts as themselves mechanisms for articulating competing claims for social and academic prestige is instructive for approaching the question of group membership and religious affiliation.

So that, when we look at, again, an account like this, we see that the content of this biographical description suggests a great deal about the contested nature of identity and religious authority. So one of the principal problems is the [foreign language 00:52:38] or the name, the scholar's name [inaudible 00:52:41]. It indicates that he is, as I said earlier, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad's immediate family. And, it is a particularly kind of privilege of genealogical status so that from the earliest of times he and Sunni sources assigned an elevated position to the genealogy of the two grandsons of the Prophet, Hussein and Hosain, and it's largely devised from a number of Hadith that celebrate the people from this particular lineage.

So, what he does, is tries to draw from this lineage to actually claim him within the Shi'i- the Sunni school for increased prestige. So, if there are these asymmetries of power so that Shi'is have to dissimulate, why is it that in biographical sources, these sources are keen to claim Shi'is for their own prestige and the cultivation thereof? I could say more about that, but I won't. I want us, I want to open it up to some questions so I will actually cut myself short and give you a few final thoughts about this issue.

So that in the talk I specifically focused on Shi'i and Sunni scholars in Baghdad from the Mongol conquest of Iran and Iraq to the execution of the Abassi Caliph. However, I think this dynamic of scholarly travel across Muslim lands during the period has potentially wider implications for my study. However, one must ask whether or not the relationship between Shia and Sunni scholars in Baghdad was also the case in other medieval cities in the Islamic world. However, I think- while I think there's sufficient evidence to suggest that scholars duplicated this pattern elsewhere, my methodology takes as its starting point that relationships between Sunni and Shi'i scholars in Baghdad may have different meanings, functions, and goals than similar relationships in other cities in the Islamic world.

Rather than create a kind of universal template by which Shi'i and Sunni scholars can be viewed, I want to suggest that cultural institutions, religious institutions, and practices can not be studied in isolation from their specific political context. So that when you look at dissimulation, I would say that if there's anything that can be taken from some of the rather wordy things I've said today, is that dissimilation is not simply a method of overcoming persecution in areas where Shi'is were minorities; but it was a very powerful tool for the creation of more egalitarian possibilities and that the secret knowledge itself carries considerable weight for the person with whom one has the secret withheld from.

And it's interesting because the discussion about Taqiya has survived in the contemporary world to the extent that you can find it and it's like Taqiya for dummies on the internet; but also when Muslims, whether Sunni or Shi'i are giving testimony. For instance I saw an article online from a conservative political magazine that called Representative Keith Ellison's testimony before the congressional hearings on the radicalization of Muslims in the US as a case of a Muslim congressman using Taqiya to pretend that he was American and that he actually cared about American security. So that the connection between the performance of Taqiya and suspicion, I think, survives as in the popular imagination between Muslim and non-Muslim others; but also continues to be flung around as an allegation between Sunni and Shi'is as modes of interaction occur across both sides. And, there, I will conclude on that note.

Hiding in Plain Sight: Shi’i Islam, Secrecy, and Religious

 aljamil tariq
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