Evaluating the Impact of Taqiyya (Dissimulation) On Shi’i Narrations

Below is a partial translation of the transcripts of Ayatullah Syed Ali Hussaini al-Sīstānī’s bahth al-khārij discussions on the topic of conflicting narrations.[1]

Regarding the effects of Taqiyya on the written corpus of narrations, Syed Sistani discusses the various views regarding the extent to which the current narrations we have today can be attributed to the Imams (A) narrating them under the state of Taqiyya. He then mentions the following 4 points worthy of consideration which, according to him, implies that the great majority of narrations we have today can not be said to have been uttered under the guise of Taqiyya.

First point 

What has been indicated by Sheikh al-Mufīd, that the realm of Taqiyya is only limited to areas of necessity and compulsion (ḍarura and iḍtirār) and it’s realm has been mentioned in the narration of Maythamī where the Imam (A) says: “except due to fear and necessity.”[2] And what has been mentioned in a narration: “Taqiyya is with regards to everything the son of Adam is compelled to. So Allah has Permitted it for him.”[3] And in another narration from Hārun ibn Muslim from Masa’da ibn Sadaqa from Imam al-Sādiq (A), “When a believer makes his faith apparent and then appears from him that which opposes this, he has exited from that which he has described and made apparent (faith) and he would be in opposition to it [faith] expect if he claims that he committed that act in the state of Taqiyya. With that, it would be assessed; if it was from those [acts] that it is not possible to do Taqiyya in, [his claim] would not be accepted because Taqiyya has places. Whoever removes it from its places, it would not be upright for him and the explanation of what is Taqiyya done in, for example, is if there is an evil group whose rulings and actions are apparently against the correct rulings and actions, then whatever action the believer does amongst them in the state of Taqiyya which does not lead to corruption (fasād) in religion, indeed it is permitted.”[4]

Therefore, the presumption of Taqiyyah is not correct in all instances and the mere existence of an opposing view within the Sunnis at the time the narration was uttered does not necessitate that we assume the narration in accordance with their view was due to Taqiyya as long as Tawriyya (deliberate ambiguity) was not possible in it, and it was not correct to remain silent or there was no expression like ‘it has been narrated from so and so like this’ as in the narration of Ma’ādh. Clearly, narrations that lack all these matters are extremely rare.

Second point

The Imams (A) assumed the role of training a group of their students and jurists of their time and specifically taught them the general principles (usūl āmah) of the Sharī’a. They (the students) became aware of the Imams (A) fiqhi orientation and the style of His (A) speech. The likes of these students, when they would be faced with the edict (fatwa) of the Imam (A) stated in Taqiyya, they would certainly know that this has been uttered under Taqiyya as has been mentioned in several narrations such as the narration of Salama ibn Muhriz in [the chapter of] Hajj.[5]

Even if we accept that some narrations were issued in Taqiyyah from the Imams (A) and then further narrated by the enemies of the Ahlulbayt (A) or those who were far dwellers or those of weak faith or those who doubted from the Shias – because the Imams (A) due to their circumstances and their specific roles, like the leaders of some sects and religions, had uttered some statements out of Taqiyya due to different reasons and in some situations to repel some doubts from them, etc – but usually the chosen companions of the Imams (A) and the elites, who knew the principles of their (A) thought and their foundations, would not report such narrations. So if the imam (A) would utter something in the state of Taqiyyah, or it had been reported to them [these companions], they would immediately realise this [narration] has been uttered in the state of Taqiyyah such as in the previous narration about the daughter inheriting half whereby they [the companions] said “He (A) has done Taqiyyah for you”. Infact, it is even possible most of the shias knew this and not only the elite companions. This phrase, “He gave you from the pouch of Nūrah” (اعطاك من جراب النورة) was famous.

However, sometimes these narrations were reported by the weak shias or their enemies, such as when they wanted to attack the Shias. They would associate themselves with the Imams (A) without any support, and they would oppose the Imams (A) in speech and action. That is why sometimes they would narrate from the Imams (A) some narrations that are in apparent conflict with what was famous amongst the Shias or what was in accordance with their opponents, such as praising some of the caliphs or associating with them in terms of lineage, which perhaps sometimes the Imams (A) may have uttered such narrations in Taqiyya in order to repel some danger from themselves or their Shias and their foundation. This is while the elite companions and even others, especially in that period, knew it had been uttered in the state of Taqiyya. Our discussion is about those narrations that have been reported by the reliable companions or the elites from amongst the Shias, not from others – so how is it possible that they would report or transcribe those narrations stated in Taqiyyah in such a high quantity?

Furthermore, the narrators would exhibit their narrations and sayings to the great jurists like the way Umar ibn Udhayna showed his narrations that he had heard from a group to Zurārah and asked him to identify the correct ones. With such precision, they did not write down such narrations that were said in the state of Taqiyya under the category of edicts (fatāwa) of the Imams (A) and if they did write them down, then it was for alerting others that such narrations exist historically but not that they are the edicts of the Imams (A).

In addition, the narrators would gain their knowledge from their teachers for example, the way al-A’lā ibn Razīn taught Muhammad ibn Muslim, and Safwān ibn Yahya taught Abd-Rahmān ibn Hajāj and would read to them their hadith books.

With this inspection and scrutiny, how is it possible to think that they would write down the narrations, that were uttered in the state of Taqiyya, in the authentic collections of hadith which were under the full view of the great personalities of the Shīa and their jurists? And how is it possible to think that these narrations were transcribed for example in the Jāmi’ al-āthār of Yunus ibn Abd Rahmān and the Mashyakha of Hassan ibn Mahbub and the books of ibn Abi Umayr and the like, which are regarded as the original sources for the 4 main books [of hadith]? And these [companions] were ordered to write down the narrations and teach them, in order to protect them from getting lost and in order for the shias to act upon them.

Therefore, with the author knowing that the narration was stated in Taqiyya, how would they write them in those books that were specifically for the edicts of the Imams (A) and for the shias to act upon them?

Contradictory narrations uttered from Imam al-Bāqir (A) and al-Sādiq (A) were presented to the later Imams (A) such as Imam al-Jawād (A), al-Hadi (A) and al-Hujja (A) whereby they were asked for the solution to resolve the contradictions in the narrations but they did not state that one of the narrations was stated in Taqiyya.

Yes, this does not negate the possibility of rare cases whereby it [cases of Taqiyya] was hidden from them but that does not mean we take all the narrations that are in line with Sunnis to be said in Taqiyya.

Third point

It is observed that the hadith books we have in our hands comprise many narrations about the virtues and praises of the Ahlulbayt (A) and their spiritual ranks, and the virtues of visiting them and their graves, and the virtue of visiting Masjid al-Kūfa and Sahla, and the virtue of the water of Furāt, and even the virtues of their Shias and that they are created from the lights of the Imams (A), and what is related to their (A) rights such as Khums and spoils of war, and similarly narrations that explain the flaws of their enemies and their defects and other such texts which are from the unique foundations of the Shi’i thought, with the admission of the scholars that these were transmitted clearly and apparently without Taqiyyah. If Taqiyyah would have had its impact it would have effected here whereby such narrations, that are about sensitive topics and in opposition to the Sunnis, would not have been written down.

And we do not limit [these narrations] to the book Basāir al-Darajāt which comprises these narrations so that some of the Qummis may reject this book. Rather, we even indicate to al-Kāfi, about which Sheikh Mufeed says in his commentary of al-I’tiqādāt of Sadūq, “it is the noblest book of the Shias”, which has some matters that perhaps even some of the Shīas may not be able to bare them, let alone the Sunnis. These narrations certainly were not uttered under Taqiyyah even with their sensitive nature, yet we say there is Taqiyya in narrations that are regarding explaining the secondary laws in which even the Sunnis themselves differ which are not even as important as narrations about the foundations [of religion] and virtues [of Ahlulbayt (A)] and flaws [of their enemies] and narrations related to some of the principles of the secondary laws which impinge the pillars of religious thought of the Sunnis such as narrations allowing Mut’a[6], and impermissibility of wiping [in wudhū] over leather shoes[7], whereby independent books have been written on these topics and about the invalidity of Awl[8] and Ta’sub[9] for which many narrations have been written down in the books of Hadīth and these [narrations] have reached us safe and sound without any trace of Taqiyya. However, for some specific secondary matters we say they have been uttered under Taqiyya – how is that correct when even the Sunnis themselves are not unanimous in them? And why did Taqiyya not take place in the foundations and important laws about which the Sunnis pay considerable attention?

Furthemore, the Sunnis at that time did not have a great social or political status so that the Imams (A) would be cautious of them. Abu Hanīfa, for example, was detested by the ruling authorities because he took some stances in opposition to them. For example, during the time of Banu Ummaya he gave the ruling that it was mandatory to support Zayd ibn Ali in his revolution, and during the time of Banu Abbās he opposed them and supported Muhammad Nafs al-Zakkiya and his brother Ibrāhim. So he did not have such a great social and politcal status that the Imam (A) would be cautious of him in his verdicts. And if we look at some of the narrations about Qiyās, we find that the Imams (A) confronted Abu Hanīfa and critiqued his views and critcised Qiyās and Abu Hanīfa and his likes in a severe and intense way without any fear or caution. [they (A) criticised them] in the foundational matters and their reliance on Qiyās and non-reliable dhannī sources and their abstaining from taking narrations of Ahlulbayt (A) and distancing them from their (A) school which resulted in negative effects on Islamic thought. So in these important foundational areas, in which you would think they would have observed Taqiyya in explaining them, we do not find any trace of Taqiyya but in secondary matters the Imams (A) were wary of them and gave verdicts based on Taqiyya?

How can Imam al-Sādiq (A) be cautious of al-Awzā’ī who was in Syria whereby he had no influence in the social surroundings of the Imam (A) and perhaps the people of Iraq or Medinah had not even heard of his views? As for Mālik [ibn Anas], he became popular after the time of Imam al-Bāqir (A) and Sādiq (A). As for Shāfi’i and Ahmad, their birth was after Imam al-Sādiq (A), so how can we take the narrations that are in line with their views to be said in the state of Taqiyya? Simialrly, there were extreme disputes and disagreements between the Sunni scholars and their schools, and insults were uttered by some of them against others.

In parts of the Tārikh al-Baghdād of Khatīb al-Baghdādi there are insults of Abu Hanīfa, just like the Hanafis would belittle other schools and their leaders. Perhaps the reason for these disagreements was that the ruling authority of that time would spread and encourage such disagreements to achieve their political goals or maybe the reason was the presence of some tribal or ethnic prejudice. The people of Kufa were biased towards Kufans and people of Madina for Madinites and so on.

And with such disagreements in opinions and the attacking of some upon others, how can the possibility of Taqiyya be strengthened whereas in most of the secondary matters in which contradictory narrations were uttered by the Imams (A), the Sunnis themsleves were in disagreement on those issues?

In any case, the probability of issuance of narrations in Taqiyya perhaps is a surprisingly minuscule probability in itself and is a matter of leniency in fatwa and research even though Taqiyya had an impact in rare cases in contradicting narrations. These conflicting narrations were more likely due to the Imams wanting to sow discordance amongst the Shias or pulling them towards perfection or being lenient, etc.

Fourth point

The reasons that have been mentioned for why narrations were uttered in Taqiyya do not necessitate that these narrations should forever remain in that state. Rather, the state of Taqiyya was temporary and would be uncovered later or the Imam(A) would reveal the truth after this period was over. What was uttered in Taqiyya was to protect the questioner, which the companions of the Imams (A) were aware of, due to the great number of interactions between the questioner and the Sunnis and the infrequency of interacting with the Shias. The Imam (A) would reveal the truth to the questioner later on and what was uttered in accordance with the view of the questioner is not included under our narrations. Our discussion is about those narrations that have been narrated by the reliable and elite companions of the Imams (A) and those in their inner circle. We had mentioned that the elites, or even most of the Shias, would constantly attempt to not ask the Imams (A) in the presence of the general public (Sunnis) in normal situations and more specifically in matters of a sensitive nature. That is why we see Zurāra had selected specific timings for when to question the Imams (A).

Similarly, when replying in a gathering where people from whom Taqiyya was to be observed were present, it was not necessary for the Imams (A) to reply in the manner of Taqiyya. Rather, they could respond to the question by saying so and so has said this and so and so has said that, and so on.

As for fearing the ruling authority, even though the authorities were powerful at that time, but their power was not constant. If in the time of Imam al-Bāqir (A) they were powerful, and we assume the Imam (A) issued an order opposing the reality [i.e. in Taqiyya] but in the time of Imam al-Sādiq (A) they became weak and the conditions became suitable for the Imam (A) to reveal the truth and to make it clear that the ruling issued by his father (A) was not in accordance with reality and was in the state of Taqiyya such as the narrations about hunting parts of birds which we mentioned previously since Imam al-Sādiq (A) was at the end of the period of the Umayyads and the beginning of the period of the Abbasids whereby they were busy with organizing their affairs and thus they did not have that strict surveillance on him (A) during the end period of his (A) life.

It has become clear from these four points that the written narrations stated under Taqiyya are minimal and that our Fuqahā and Muhaditheen exerted various efforts in the areas of authoring and writing and liberating their hadith books from those narrations stated under Taqiyya and were largely successful in this, except for very few rare instances.


[1] Sayyid ʿAlī al-Ḥusaynī al-Sīstānī, Taʿāruḍ al-Adilla wa Ikhtilāf al-Ḥadīth, Transcribed by Sayyid Hāshim al-Hāshimī, Pgs. 276-283

[2] Uyūn akhbār al-Redha 2:20/45; Wasāil 27:113/21

[3] Al-Kāfi 2:175/18; Wasāil 16:214/2, Chapter 25 from the chapters of Amr and Nahi

[4] Al-Kāfi 2:134/21; Wasāil 16:214/2, Chapter 25 from the chapters of Amr and Nahi

[5] See Al-Kāfi 4:263/46; Wasāil 11:101/24, Chapter 38 from the chapters of Hajj and its obligation

[6] See for example: al-Kāfi 5:363/364, and many others

[7] See for example: al-Kāfi 6:415/11, al-Faqīh 1:47/94, and many others

[8] See for example: al-Kāfi 7:80/13, al-Faqīh 4:256/5620, and many others

[9] See for example: al-Kāfi 5:363/364, and many others