‘Taqiyya’ and the global war against terrorism

by Andrew Campbell

The Islamic techniques of taqiyya – holy deception for the purpose of waging jihad – have enabled Islamic terrorists to embed themselves in Islamic communities in Western countries and live with “natural cover” to avoid detection by the authorities, writes Andrew Campbell.

The July terrorist attacks on London public transport, and the planned use of the deadly poison ricin against British targets, shocked the British authorities and public. However, the terrorists involved were employing the Islamic techniques of taqiyya — holy deception for the purpose of waging jihad — discussed in a previous article.1 These terrorists, successfully camouflaged and embedded in British society, offer one of the most striking recent examples of taqiyya, demonstrating the truth that those who are unaware of, or do not study, taqiyya, may be its victims.

Taqiyya has been defined as “a cloak for the believer” which, according to some verses in the Koran, permits under exceptional circumstances “even denial of Islam [Sura 106, 6], friendship with unbelievers [Sura 3, 28] and eating forbidden food [Suras 5, 3; 6, 119]”. The precedent for this religious dispensation to practise “subterfuge in defending oneself from one’s enemies is to be found in Muhammad’s fleeing from Mecca to Medina, in his docetism [Sura 4, 157]”.2 

Multiculturalism and Taqiyya

The recent terrorist attacks in London have dramatically highlighted the causal relationship between multiculturalism and Islamic terrorism, even leading to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly announcing the urgent need to revise his Government’s previous policies concerning multiculturalism and the limits of tolerance to potential jihadists. One of the four London terrorists, 30-year-old Mohammad Sidique Khan, used to work as a “learning mentor” to children of immigrant families at an inner-city primary school in Leeds. His wife, from whom he later separated, worked as a “neighbourhood enrichment officer”. In 2002, Khan gave an interview to The Times Literary Supplement, describing his job as helping the children of migrants to settle.3

The Czech Republic’s President Vaclav Klaus has recently described multiculturalism as a “tragic mistake of western civilization for which all will pay dearly”, and stated that the excessive openness of the West to immigrants from alien cultures “facilitates attacks by radical Islamists in western countries”.4 

Many taqiyya claims are made in the context of a privileged position provided by multiculturalism. Western countries have generously allowed Muslims into their countries in great numbers and, given scarce resources, budgetary constraints and the limited scope of background checking, it is impossible to perform adequate background checks on all immigrants, asylum-seekers and guest workers. Many have little respect for the Western mores, traditions and laws of their host country. They enter a process of “ritual adaptation” while living in a parallel Muslim space with their own mores, customs, schools, laws and religious practices.

Through their simple code of hospitality, a stranger may knock on a door in a Muslim community, with the simple request: “Brother, I have need of hospitality this night.” The host is tradition- and honour-bound to provide hospitality, not to ask any questions about suspicious luggage or packages, and to ensure that his family does not ask questions or talk of the stranger following his departure. Anonymity is thus preserved.

Taqiyya provides the “background music” for a benign operational environment for Islamic “sleeper agents” (exemplified in the Willie Brigitte case in Australia) who can embed themselves in Islamic communities and live with “natural cover” to avoid detection by authorities. The “brothers” offer operational support, safe houses and false documentation, and can obtain encrypted communications, mobile phones, arranged marriages, employment and financial support, as demonstrated in a number of well-publicised terrorist cases in Australia over the past five years.

A particular threat to Western traditions of free speech and debate is anti-discrimination legislation which privileges Islam as a religion beyond criticism, and therefore privileged to promote taqiyya. A particularly virulent terrorist organisation in London, for example, has threatened to sue any person who describes them as terrorists.

Such legal threats may inhibit or restrict the rational discussion of the relationship between Islam and terrorism. Lawyers associated with defending Muslims charged with terrorist offences should, in many cases, be subject themselves to security-checking to ensure that their motives are bona fide and that they are not secret converts, under the control of a foreign intelligence service or devotees of taqiyya.

Taqiyya as Impressions and Perceptions Management

The tactical use of children

Media interviews with terrorist suspects, who have received visits (misleadingly called “raids”) from security authorities, invariably feature a veiled woman holding children or a baby as she affirms her husband’s innocence and attests to his innate goodness and innocence of any possible involvement in terrorism.

False and often malicious claims are often made against law-enforcement officials for allegedly causing “damage” to the family residence. Legal threats for compensation are a form of ritual for media purposes. In television interviews featuring suspected terrorists, the suspect/father holds the child, or appears in family ensembles, while denying involvement or know-ledge of terrorism, as if family photographs preclude involvement in terrorist planning or operations.

Taqiyya and the Manipulation of Jihad

Jihad is the Islamic code word for terrorism. The contemporary political meaning of jihad is clear from Islamic texts — it refers to jihad of the sword. Egyptian-based Islamic fundamentalists, from whom Bin Laden recruited his key operatives, believe jihad is the sixth pillar of Islam and is a binding commitment on all Muslims for all time.

The frequent claims that jihad is solely a subjective and psychological state of inner personal struggle “for Allah” and an “individual psychological phenomenon”, are examples of taqiyya. In contemporary terms, jihad means “holy war” against unbelievers and it is in this context that Al Qaeda training manuals correctly refer to jihad as “holy war”.

Phony Disagreements amongst Muslim Leaders and Groups

Islamic spokesmen claim that Islam is tolerant as it embraces a wide variety of beliefs. However, this claim overlooks the often violent clashes between Islamic groups, power struggles over access to local and foreign funding, and competition for recruits.

Many disputes between Islamic factions are doctrinal, dating back to the early period of Islamic history. Many relate to interpretations of the Koran and the numerous versions of the Hadiths. However, the vast majority of Islamic organisations are doctrinally committed to jihad. Disagreements between sheikhs are often tactical issues, over timing of operations (jihad) or competitive subversion among Islamic groups.

A well-known Australian sheikh who supports Hezbollah and martyrdom operations recently emerged as bin Laden’s harshest critic! This tactical manoeuvre is not a renunciation of Al Qaeda, but an attempt to gain legitimacy and discredit political and religious opponents through taqiyya.

Taqiyya and Counter-terrorism

Conceptual and operational confusion over the term “moderate Muslim” bedevils Western governments, intelligence organisations, law-enforcement agencies, policy-makers and the general public. Taqiyya is a significant cause of this conceptual confusion. It notoriously impedes effective counter-terrorism as analysts cannot accurately evaluate and assess threat information from deceptive sources that are often contaminated by taqiyya.

Taqiyya also poses a counter-intelligence threat. According to a recent Reuters report, a Moroccan-born translator and interpreter, employed by the Dutch Intelligence Service (AIVD), was arrested on 30 September 2004, for betraying state secrets. Othman Ben Amar (alternative spelling: Beni Abdella) was employed to translate Arabic-language wiretaps made by the AIVD’s specialist division devoted to countering Islamic terrorism. Othman is suspected not only of sabotaging or suppressing transcripts of crucial telephone intercepts, but of leaking information to a Utrecht-based group, suspected of possessing explosives and also of leaking information to an Amsterdam-based group of Islamic terrorists linked to the assassination of Dutch film maker, Theo Van Gogh, on 2 November 2004. He is known to have sent clandestine messages via a highly sophisticated encryption technique known as Steganography, whereby messages and blueprints of a potential target can be hidden undetected in website pictures. Earlier in his career, Othman had also founded a lobbying organisation to counter the alleged negative media image of Muslims since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.5 

In the United States, there have been documented cases of Muslim translators rendering inaccurate and misleading translations. Some translators have been identified as under the control of foreign intelligence organisations.

Some Muslim employees in U.S. law-enforcement refuse to investigate “brothers”. An FBI special agent Gamel Abdel-Hafiz was the subject of controversy in March 2003 when colleagues complained he had told them: “I do not [tape] record another Muslim. That is against my religion.” He was also accused by the FBI of “contacting subjects of their investigations and not disclosing these contacts”.6 Muslim chaplains in the military and prisons and six members of the U.S. armed forces have been charged for various terrorist-related charges. Military personnel at Guantanamo Bay have been charged with espionage and related offences and three U.S. veterans have been charged with terrorist related offences.7 

The Global Shortage of “Moderate” Muslims

Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew pointed out in March 2004 that “at the moment, the moderate Muslims are keeping out of sight. … But if … the moderates in the Muslim world keep silent, either condone or duck the issue, then there is a danger that the West may begin to feel, that really, there are no champions to counter these terrorists. That would become a very dangerous problem.”8 

Defining a moderate Muslim is complicated by Muslims who claim to be moderate and who conceal their militancy by taqiyya. Even Daniel Pipes, a leading student of Islamic and Middle East politics and a believer in the “moderate Muslim” hypothesis, admits:9 

“There are lots of fake-moderates parading about, and they can be difficult to identify, even for someone like me who devotes much attention to this topic.”

Devising criteria for defining “moderate Muslims”, he concedes, is “a tough question”. He writes: “Distinguishing between real and phony moderation, obviously, is not a job for amateurs like U.S. government officials.”10

Pipes concludes:11 

“Islamists note the urge to find moderate Muslims and are learning how to fake moderation. Over time, their camouflage will undoubtedly further improve. Figuring out who’s who is a high priority … plenty of Muslims are in the murky middle. An unresolved debate has raged for years in Turkey whether the current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogoan, is an Islamist or not. … The task of identifying true moderates cannot be done through guesswork and intuition. … I too have made my share of mistakes. What’s needed is serious, sustained research.”

It is highly significant that an expert such as Pipes should admit to such analytical errors and interpretation. It underlines the precarious position of analysts and policy-makers as they seek to counter Islamic terrorism and make valid threat assessments.

Criteria for Defining “Moderate Muslims”

Pipes recommends that the best method to assess the degree of militancy or moderation in an individual is to direct closed questions rather than open-ended and general questions, which may became lost in definitional conflicts. This type of interviewing is a particular skill which must be learned and reinforced and used vigorously and rigorously if the truth of any claim is to be resolved.

Pipes recommends that Islamic activists, intellectuals and imams should be asked whether they condone or condemn the terrorist actions of specific and identified terrorist groups and whether they support martyrdom operations.

Islamists should be asked whether non-Muslims should enjoy equal rights to Muslims; whether they accept the validity of other religions; whether Muslims have the right to convert to other religions; whether Muslim women can marry non-Muslim men; and whether Muslims should or will accept the laws of a non Muslim state.

Referring to religious tolerance and religious pluralism, the question should be asked as to whether Sufis and Shiites are genuine Muslims and whether takfir (condemning fellow Muslims as unbelievers) is an acceptable practice.

Muslims should be asked whether they accept the legitimacy of scholarly inquiry into the origins of Islam. A critical reality-testing question — as taqiyya-inspired theories are diffused through the Middle East and Western diasporas — is: “Who was responsible for the 9/ 11 terrorist attacks?”

Muslims should be asked whether they approve of enhanced security measures and accept the need for racial profiling and aircraft security measures, given the high prevalence of Muslims in terrorist operations and whether they accept the legitimacy of Western countries which are ruled by majority secular and/or Christian laws rather than by Sharia law.

Pipes recommends that these questions should be “posed publicly — in the media or in front of an audience — thereby reducing the scope for dissimulation [taqiyya]”.12 

Is the term “moderate Muslim” an oxymoron? Critical commentators claim that it is at best a contrast concept. Some Muslims are more fundamentalist than others, but Islam is a religion which emphasises fundamentals: it is a paradigm fundamentalist religion.

Public Opinion Polls and “Moderate Muslims”

As early as November 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks against America, four out of ten British Muslims believed that Bin Laden was justified in mounting his war against the United States. Over 10 per cent stated that the attacks on the World Trade Center were justified. Asked if it was more important to be Muslim rather than British, 68 per cent claimed it was more important to be Muslim.13 

In 2001, Daniel Pipes claimed that “Muslims love Bin Laden”, and noted that the alleged “vast majority” who rejected or condemned Osama Bin Laden was “well hidden and awfully quiet, if it even exists … hardly anyone publicly denounces him. … [M]ore broadly, I estimate that bin Laden enjoys the emotional support of half of the Muslim world.”

Pipes concluded: “The wide and deep enthusiasm for bin Laden is an extremely important development that needs to be understood, not ignored.”14 

In 2002, Pipes wrote that:15 

“… from election data, survey research, anecdotal evidence, and the opinions of informed observers, this Islamist element constitutes some 10 to 15 per cent of the total Muslim world population of roughly one billion — that is, some 100 to 150 millions worldwide. … [M]y sense is that one half of the world’s Muslims — or some 500 million persons — sympathize more with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban than with the United States.”

The noted American journalist, Arnaud de Borchgrave, cites more disturbing estimates. According to de Borchgrave, there are 120 million fundamentalist sympathisers, or as he expresses it, “10 per cent of the world’s Muslim population of 1.2 billion”.16 He writes: “In Pakistan, some 66 per cent believe Osama Bin Laden is a good guy. As the world’s biggest proliferators of nukes to America’s enemies, he has close to 100 per cent approval rating.”17 

Egypt’s President Mubarek, Pakistan’s President Musharaff, Tunisia’s President Ben Ali, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd, Morocco’s King Mohamed VI and other moderate leaders assured de Borchgrave that the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims were moderate and regarded jihad as a “self-cleansing process to get back on the path of spiritual excellence”. All the leaders assured him that Islamic extremists constituted no more than one per cent of their population. In 2003, de Borchgrave pointed out to Pakistan’s President Musharaff that one per cent of 140 million is 1.4 million. Musharaff replied graciously: “You’re right, but I’d never thought of it in that way.”18 

De Borchgrave concluded: 19 

“One per cent of 1.2 billion is 12 million Muslim fanatics who believe America is the Great Satan, fount of all evil, to be attacked and demolished …

Recent opinion surveys among Britain’s almost 2 million Muslims, mostly from South Asia, rang alarm bells in Whitehall and the media. Eighty per cent were against the invasion of Iraq, 13 per cent said another September 11-style attack on America would be justified, and 50 per cent said they would consider becoming a suicide bomber if forced to live like Palestinians. Some 200,000 openly sympathized with Osama bin Laden.”

Shortly after the September 11 attack, Melanie Phillips reported:20 

“In November 2001, a Sunday Times survey … found that four out of 10 British Muslims believe Osama bin Laden is justified in mounting his war against the United States. A similar number say that Britons who want to fight alongside the Taliban are right to do so. In another opinion poll, taken for the Asian radio station Sunrise, 98 per cent of London Muslims under 45 said they would not fight for Britain, while 48 per cent said they would take up arms for Bin Laden.”

A confidential Whitehall dossier — Young Muslims and Extremism — prepared for British Prime Minister Tony Blair last year, has estimated the magnitude of the terrorist threat facing Britain. Using intelligence gathered from MI5, it concludes that up to 16,000 British Muslims are “actively engaged in terrorist activity, whether at home or abroad or supporting such activity”.21 

Shamateh — Muslims’ “Sympathy” for Bin Laden and Al Qaeda

In October 2004, Sadik J. Al-Azm, emeritus professor of modern European philosophy at the University of Damascus, candidly and with honour noted:22 

“There is a strong injunction in Arab Islamic culture against shamateh, an emotion — like schadenfreude — of taking pleasure in the suffering of others. … Yet it would be very hard … to find an Arab, no matter how sober, cultured and sophisticated, in whose heart there was not some room for shamateh at the suffering of Americans on September 11. … And I knew intuitively that millions and millions of people throughout the Arab world and beyond experienced the same emotion. … Does my response, and the silent shamateh of the Arab world, mean that Huntington’s clash of civilizations has come true, so quickly?”

The repetition and amplification of taqiyya themes in schools, media, educational institutions and mosques, concerning the supposedly nefarious polices of the United States and its allies, are a critical factor in creating and sustaining support for jihad and Al Qaeda through the Middle East and in Western Muslim diasporas.

The Policy Implications of Taqiyya

Christians seeking dialogue and inter-faith activities with Muslims should be aware of taqiyya and its modes.

Western media should be alert to the use of taqiyya to ensure that they do not uncritically accept Islamic statements and submit to self-censoring, as demonstrated by the ABC and Reuters’ refusal to use the word “terrorist” about the 11 September attacks.

Muslim claims of alleged discrimination and torture by Western authorities should be subjected to investigative journalism. Many self-appointed Islamic media spokesmen who make such claims, are skilled in taqiyya.

Western governments should subsidise inquiry and academic research in both the West and Muslim countries in order to bring to light taqiyya themes in statements by Islamic spokesmen. Academics and researchers pursuing this sort of legitimate inquiry should be protected by law from threats or harassment from Islamists.

Muslims in Western countries who leave Islamic groups should be provided with legal rights and protection to ensure that they are not subject to Sharia law as apostates and punished by death.

Friday night prayer sermons should be publicly available and translated from Arabic to ensure that mosques are not the privileged sanctuaries of terrorism epicenters of jihad and used for the promotion and protection of terrorism. Currently, self-appointed imams can choose any place, ranging from a basement to a garage, and convert it into a mosque. The al-Quds Mosque on Steindamm Street in Hamburg was a meeting place for the core of the Hamburg cell which planned the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Citizenship should be permitted only to Muslims who are prepared to clearly and unambiguously renounce jihad and murderous fatwas, for example, the recently re-affirmed fatwa against British writer Salman Rushdie. Iranian spokesmen make the taqiyya claim that the fatwa against Rushdie has been withdrawn. But an Iran-based religious foundation is known to have placed a bounty of £1.4 million pounds ($US 3.5 million) on Rushdie.

The fatwa was confirmed in January 2005 by Iran’s Ayatollah ali Khamenei who told the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that Rushdie was an apostate and that killing him was authorised by Islam. Rushdie was described as mahdour al damn mortad which refers to a person whose blood may be shed with impunity.23 

Taqiyya and Terrorism

American authorities are belatedly aware that the core group of the September 11 terrorist team lived in and visited the United States for two years before the attacks. Taqiyya enabled the September 11 terrorists to embed themselves in American society. They were never the subject of official scrutiny as they claimed to be businessmen, students and tourists, although they travelled with false documentation and aliases. They followed the Al Qaeda instruction manual concerning taqiyya, and were well-dressed, clean-shaven, and flew first class to avoid official scrutiny.

In a recent study of the operational motives and methods of Sunni Islamist terrorists in the West, Norwegian academic Petter Nesser said of their practice of taqiyya:24 

“It allows them to display considerable pragmatism to pursue what they believe is in God’s interests. According to the principle of taqiyya, the ‘Vanguards’ [so-called ‘true Muslims’ committed to all-out war on infidels] are permitted to cooperate on an ad hoc basis with basically anyone as long as it serves their cause in the long run. It also means that the Salafi radicals [Sunni jihadists, such as the followers of Bin Laden] can ‘blend into’ western societies, using western clothes and even drink alcohol in order not to attract unwanted attention to their activities. One example is how the September 11, 2001 suicide-pilots were observed drinking and partying a few days before the attacks.”

Nesser listed case studies which showed that most of the radical Islamists subsequently arrested in Europe “had an outward Western appearance, and did not display their religious or political beliefs”,25 wearing the cloak of taqiyya.


1. Andrew Campbell, “‘Taqiyya’: How Islamic Extremists Deceive the West”, National Observer, No. 65, Winter 2005, pages 11-23.

2. Paul Stenhouse, “‘Niceties of Deceit’: Illustrated by passages from the Futuh al-Habasa”, unpublished monograph, page 21. See also: Arab Faqih, Futuh al-Habasa [The Conquest of Abyssinia] [16th century], Paul L. Stenhouse trans. (Hollywood, California, U.S: Tsehai Publishers and Distributors, 2003).

3. “Edgeware Road: Mohammad Sidique Khan”, The Times (London), 14 July 2005.

4. “Klaus says multiculturalism, immigration cause terrorism”, Prague Daily Monitor, 14 August 2005.

5. “Dutch suspect intelligence leaked to militants”, Reuters report, 17 November 2004; “The Secret Service Mole”, Dutch Report: News from Holland, 13 January 2005.

6. Daniel Pipes, “The FBI fumbles [on Gamal Abdel-Hafiz]”, New York Post, 14 March 2003.

7. Daniel Pipes, “Pentagon Jihadis”, New York Post, 29 September 2003.

8. Lee Kuan Yew interview with BBC’s East Asia Today programme, broadcast 28 March 2004, cited in Jihad Watch, 29 March 2004.

9. Daniel Pipes, “Identifying moderate Muslims”, New York Sun, 23 November 2004.

10. Daniel Pipes, “[Finding moderate Muslims:] Do you believe in modernity?”, Jerusalem Post, 26 November 2003.

11. Daniel Pipes, “Identifying moderate Muslims”, New York Sun, 23 November 2004.

12. Daniel Pipes, “[Finding moderate Muslims:] Do you believe in modernity?”, Jerusalem Post, 26 November 2003.

13. John O’Sullivan, “Allegiances in a Multicultural Age”, National Review (New York), 8 November 2001.

14. Daniel Pipes, “Muslims love Bin Laden”, New York Post, 22 October 2001.

15. Daniel Pipes, “Who Is the Enemy?” Commentary (New York), January 2002.

16. Arnaud de Borchgrave, “Al Qaeda’s U.S. Network”, Washington Times, 13 August 2004.

17. Arnaud de Borchgrave, “Islamist Fifth Columns”, Washington Times, 8 April 2004.

18. Arnaud de Borchgrave, “Radical Islam Rising: One percent of one billion is a lot”, The American Conservative, 13 January 2003.

19. Ibid.; Arnaud de Borchgrave, “Islamist Fifth Columns”, Washington Times, 8 April 2004.

20. Melanie Phillips, “Britain ignores the angry Muslims within at its peril”, The Sunday Times (London), 4 November 2001.

21. “Leaked No 10 dossier reveals Al-Qaeda’s British recruits”, The Sunday Times (London), 10 July 2005; Daniel Pipes, “The Next London Bombing”, FrontPageMagazine.com, 11 July 2005.

22. Sadik J. Al-Azm, “Time Out of Joint: Western dominance, Islamist terror, and the Arab imagination”, Boston Review, October/November 2004.

23. “Ayatollah confirms fatwa on Rushdie”, The Times (London), 21 January 2005.

24. Petter Nesser, Jihad in Europe — A survey of the motivations for Sunni Islamist terrorism in post-millennium Europe (Kjellar, Norway: Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, 2004), pages 22-23. See also: Brian Ross, “By the Book, Terrorists May Have Used Bin Laden Manual”, ABC News (American Broadcasting Company), 4 October 2001.

25. Nesser, op. cit., page 23.

National Observer
(Council for the National Interest, Melbourne),
No. 66, Spring 2005,
pages 26–36.


Tagged with: , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *