What is “Taqiyah”?
Taqiyah is defined as “fear, caution, dissimulation of one’s religion (under duress or in the threat of damage)” (Hans Wehr dictionary). The word is often used by 12 Imamer Shi-ites to refer to the practice of hiding the fact that they are 12er in order to be safe, or to lead a normal way of life, in a non 12er environment.
The reasons 12er Shi-ites find it necessary to do this include:
1. They are usually in the minority (with the exception of 12ers living in Iran and some parts of Iraq), and therefore tend to be the targets of bullying and discrimination. With the spread of Saudi Wahhabism, today’s Sunnis often label the 12ers as unbelievers, and anti-12er violent attacks seem to be on the rise.
2. The 12er version of Islam, with its far-fetched claims, and provocative version of history, has whipped up the Sunnis into an anti-Shi-ite frenzy.
Taqiyah for new Zaidis?
The question facing Zaidis living in non-Zaidi societies is, do we also need to hide the fact that we are Zaidi Shi-ites from Sunnis, and/or from 12er Shi-ites?
Personally, I think the answer to this question is no, for the following reasons:
1. The Zaidi version of Islam is not, and never has been, an extreme position, and we need to calmly explain this to Sunnis and 12ers rather than hide from them.
2. Zaidis have never officially allied themselves with either group and can not therefore be accused of really being allied to one side or the other.
3. Zaidis are not linked by the Western media to any suicide bombings or other terrorist acts, so they are unlikely to receive a hostile reception in non Muslim environments.
It is, of course, a matter for personal judgement, how/when/where/whether to make one’s Zaidism public.
It could be argued that a Sunni or 12er who has become a Zaidi stands to lose their spouse, and/or the goodwill of their parents, children, employers, work colleagues, and Muslim friends, and that taqiyah should be employed to avoid these types of relationship breakdowns.
I would disagree with that view because these are not life and death matters, and the precedents for hiding your religious beliefs (in Muslim literature) seem to be linked with the threat of immediate execution, not relationship breakdowns or loss of employment.
I decided to avoid confrontation by relocating before switching to Zaidism. Moving to a place where nobody knew me (and there are hardly any Muslims) made the change-over very easy and non confrontational.
It’s ridiculous that non Muslims accept you as a Zaidi more easily than Sunnis and 12 Imamers. It just goes to show how intolerant Muslims have become of each other in recent decades. May Allah guide us all to the Straight Path.