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How Dissimulation in Political Islam Leads to Ethical Bankruptcy

Around the world, politicians are often criticized for their ethics, honesty, and consistency. Unfortunately, many people today accuse the politicians in their countries of lying, hypocrisy, or opportunism. The portrayal of politicians in series, movies, and literature also often conjures up this unethical profile. The corrupting effect of power and authority on human character, gaps in checks and balances, and pedagogical deficiencies are highlighting the profile of unethical politicians today. Still, the immorality of devout individuals and groups who engage in politics based on religious identity is a matter that needs to be emphasized. These politicians, who project a highly devout and principled profile to society, manage to hide their entirely pragmatic, selfish, and unprincipled politics so easily. In Turkey, the most useful tool that combines morality and immorality in the same personality for Islamist politicians is dissimulation. But does dissimulation have a religious source? To understand this, we first need to examine the Quran’s approach to the concepts of fear and love.

Fear is one of the strongest emotions. It is impossible to understand humans without considering fear. For this reason, fearing God is seen as important in religions as loving Him. However, in Islam, rather than abstract feelings of love and fear, the practical manifestations of these emotions have been emphasized more. Instead of love, obedience has been emphasized, and instead of fear, the feeling of piety. The Quran even states, “Say, O Prophet! If you love Allah, then follow me; Allah will love you” (Al-Imran 31), thus highlighting the importance of the practical manifestation of abstract love.

The practical manifestation of the feeling of fear is expressed through the concept of piety, which means protection. The significance of piety as a strong and important behavior is explained in the verse, “The most noble and valuable among you in the sight of Allah is the one who is most pious” (Hujurat 13). Piety represents not only adherence to legal and moral rules but also respect for the laws that Allah has placed in the universe. In religious literature, piety is understood as avoiding what Allah has prohibited.

The manifestation of the natural human emotion of fear in religious literature as respect for Allah and protection from His wrath actually tells us that we should fear only Him. However, humans also fear other humans. This fear should not override the fear of Allah. Yet, exceptionally, sometimes it is necessary to fear humans and take precautions against the dangers that may come from them. The Quran explains what to do in such human situations: “Believers should not take disbelievers as allies instead of believers. Whoever does this will have nothing to do with Allah, except when you need to protect yourselves from them” (Al-Imran 28).

The verse allows believers to protect themselves against the danger coming from disbelievers. Another verse clarifies the conditions for this protection: “Except those who are compelled while their hearts are firm in faith, whoever opens their heart to disbelief after having faith, upon them is wrath from Allah and a severe punishment” (Nahl 106).

The situation of the Yasir family, mentioned as the reason for these verses, helps us understand the situation described in the verses more clearly and concretely. Ammar bin Yasir, whose parents were tortured and killed, had to deny his faith under torture. When he reported his situation, the Prophet Muhammad said, “If they torture you again, tell them what they want, but do not lose faith in your heart.” Based on these verses and the example from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, Islamic jurists have permitted a person under the threat of death and in a situation of war to verbally deny their faith while keeping their heart firm in belief. However, this verbal confession should not harm another person, and the danger should not be a speculative possibility but a concrete and life-threatening one.

Islamic jurists have discussed this condition not as dissimulation but under the Quranic concept of duress (ikrah) in legal texts. For instance, the 12er Shiism introduces a variant of the term used in the verse (tukāh) as dissimulation, placing it at the center of their political opposition. Living as a minority and opposition for a long time, Shiites have prioritized secrecy to protect their identity and have often tried to appear different from what they are. This approach has led them, over time, to extend the scope of the exceptional permission for dissimulation under certain conditions. Eventually, the concept of dissimulation has become an ethical norm, causing the moral reliability of Shiite scholars to be questioned. As a result, some contemporary Shiite intellectuals outright oppose this practice, while others try to reduce its socially destructive impact by categorizing its scope. However, this significant instrument of minority and fear politics has been revitalized on the contemporary political stage by Islamist politicians. Islamists, who perceive politics as a jihad and label the non-supportive Muslim majority as a society of ignorance, have easily internalized this rhetoric.

Political Islamists, who have been successful on the political stage, were accused by their rivals of being practitioners of dissimulation. Once in power, the ethics of dissimulation served to legitimize plunder and looting. Sincere believers who expressed their discomfort with this situation were accused and thrown into prisons. Currently, the Islamist government in Turkey is undergoing a decline both economically and politically. Parallel to this, disillusioned youths have begun to question the ethics of dissimulation. Since they equate Islamism with Islam, they have started to direct their anger and disappointment towards religion itself. Consequently, while political Islam has reached its peak in terms of political power, it appears to have led to a complete moral collapse.

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Professor Ayhan Tekines is an author and scholar. He was a professor of theology at Hena e Plote Beder University, Tirana, Albania, where he was also the Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Previously, he taught at several schools of theology in Turkey. His research focuses on hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and particularly in the field of Tibb al-Nabawi (the medicine of the Prophet). He is the author of various books including The Virtues of the Holy Qur'an.

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