The following article was originally published by the Stonegate Institute.
Perhaps you have heard of taqiyya, the Muslim doctrine that allows lying in certain circumstances, primarily when Muslim minorities live under infidel authority. Now meet tawriya, a doctrine that allows lying in virtually all circumstances—including to fellow Muslims and by swearing to Allah—provided the liar is creative enough to articulate his deceit in a way that is true to him. (Though tawriya is technically not “new”—as shall be seen, it has been part of Islamic law and tradition for centuries—it is certainly new to most non-Muslims, hence the need for this exposition and the word “new” in the title.)
The authoritative Hans Wehr Arabic-English Dictionary defines tawriya as, “hiding, concealment; dissemblance, dissimulation, hypocrisy; equivocation, ambiguity, double-entendre, allusion.” Conjugates of the trilateral root of the word, w-r-y, appear in the Quran in the context of hiding or concealing something (e.g., 5:31, 7:26).
As a doctrine, “double-entendre” best describes tawriya’s function. According to past and present Muslim scholars (several documented below), tawriya is when a speaker says something that means one thing to the listener, though the speaker means something else, and his words technically support this alternate meaning.
For example, if someone declares “I don’t have a penny in my pocket,” most listeners will assume the speaker has no money on him—though he might have dollar bills, just literally no pennies. Likewise, say a friend asks you, “Do you know where Mike is?” You do, but prefer not to divulge. So you say “No, I don’t know”—but you keep in mind another Mike, whose whereabouts you really do not know.
All these are legitimate according to Sharia law and do not constitute “lying,” which is otherwise forbidden in Islam, except in three cases: lying in war, lying to one’s spouse, and lying in order to reconcile people. For these, Sharia permits Muslims to lie freely, without the strictures of tawriya, that is, without the need for creativity.
As for all other instances, in the words of Sheikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajid (based on scholarly consensus): “Tawriya is permissible under two conditions: 1) that the words used fit the hidden meaning; 2) that it does not lead to an injustice” (“injustice” as defined by Sharia, of course, not Western standards). Otherwise, it is permissible even for a Muslim to swear when lying through tawriya. Munajid, for example, cites a man who swears to Allah that he can only sleep under a roof (saqf); when the man is caught sleeping atop a roof, he exonerates himself by saying “by roof, I meant the open sky.” This is legitimate. “After all,” Munajid adds, “Quran 21:32 refers to the sky as a roof [saqf].”
Here is a recent example of tawriya in action: Because it is a “great sin” for Muslims to acknowledge Christmas, this sheikh counsels Muslims to tell Christians, “I wish you the best,” whereby the latter might “understand it to mean you’re wishing them best in terms of their [Christmas] celebration.” But—here the wily sheikh giggles as he explains—“by saying I wish you the best, you mean in your heart I wish you become a Muslim.”
As with most Muslim practices, tawriya is traced to Islam’s prophet. After insisting Muslims “need” tawriya because it “saves them from lying,” and thus sinning, Sheikh Uthman al-Khamis adds that Muhammad often used it. Indeed, Muhammad is recorded saying “Allah has commanded me to equivocate among the people inasmuch as he has commanded me to establish [religious] obligations”; and “I have been sent with obfuscation”; and “whoever lives his life in dissimulation dies a martyr” (Sami Mukaram, Al Taqiyya Fi Al Islam, London: Mu’assisat al-Turath al-Druzi, 2004, p. 30).