The Doctrine of Taqiyya (Concealment)
Why Pagans Don’t Have to Come Out,
In this essay I will discuss the problems neo-pagans face in our “Christian-based society” about being public with their faith and in the creation of a free space wherein one is safe to practice their faith. In doing so, I will use the principle of comparative religion and show what modern pagans can learn from the experience of Ismailism. Ismailism, considered by the dominant Sunni Muslims as an Islamic heresy, was in a similar position concerning their society. However, Ismailism found a way to survive and for a while to prosper (until it’s center was destroyed by the Mongols) , a story from which we post-modern pagans can learn.
The Ismaili’s used the doctrine of taqiyya, concealment, as a means of survival in a hostile religious environment. Passive martyrdom is rare in Islam; if one is attacked then one should defend oneself and strike back if possible. However, senseless dying doesn’t do anyone any good. Taqiyya allows one to take on the outward appearance of orthodoxy while remaining faithful to one’s true beliefs. This meant taking on the chains of the Law (shariah) through performing orthodox religious acts. To Islamic orthodoxy this was usually enough as it was your actions and not mere belief which made one a Moslem. And while taking on the outward appearance of orthodoxy, Ismaili missionaries spread their doctrines throughout the Islamic world. And when they could safely come out of concealment they did as when they founded the Fatimid Imamate in Eygpt during the 10th century.
Modern pagans can also choose to conceal their true faith, if to come out would cause senseless martyrdom (loss of family, job, life, etc.). Remember, the gods and goddesses call you to life and not to self-destruction. So if you cannot come out safely, then don’t! And you should not feel guilty about it either. If you can come out safely do so, but do not look down upon or feel you are more pagan than those who cannot come out safely.
Concealment is not personal oppression; it does not mean you are not free. The pagan closet is the first free space one creates. Within it neither church nor state has any real power. These powers have no way of knowing your existence much less of oppressing you (unless you let them). The very act of concealment shows that you have more power than they do over your own life. Your secret practice of paganism makes a mockery of all means of power and control.
This leads us to another point of Ismailism: the expansion of free space through evangelicalism (paganism is also good news!). The freedom of an individual is always a fragile freedom easily crushed if exposed. By linking up with others one can use the strength of solidarity to defend each other against the powers. Ismaili missionaries would travel the Islamic world looking for those who were capable of experiencing gnosis (enlightenment) linking them up into a world-wide free space. And wherever they became significantly numerous, they would rise in socio-religious rebellion and come out openly (abandoning Islamic religious practice).
One of the most inspiring religious event in history was the Feast of the Great Resurrection. The Ismaili’s had established a mini-state centered around the fortress of Alamut in northern Iran about 1074 AD. This fortress served as a free space for Ismailism and was a center of learning and science. Within its bounds Islamic law was not obeyed. This went on for about three generations till Hasan II came to be religious leader of the community. Then on the 17th of Ramadon (the month of fasting) Imam Hasan II called the community together from its dispersion and at mid-day broke the fast with the drinking of wine (forbidden in Islam on earth, but allowed in heaven). He proclaimed the Great Resurrection and ended the concealment. “The Chains of the Law had been Broken.” By doing so he extended the free space to the whole community thereby universalizing the enlightenment experience. By the drinking of wine and the breaking of the fast, he declared this world is already Paradise once one awakens to it in gnosis. The ressurection of the dead was in fact a religious awakening to unity with the One through the Imam. To awaken is to cast off the religious law in trust and act in freedom.
Of course, this freedom did not last and within a few years Hasan II was murdered and after a few generations Alamut was destroyed by the Mongol armies of the Khan. But the story is still inspiring in how the Ismaili’s adapted themselves to a hostile environment and pagans can learn much from its history. What is important immediately is to create and to expand our personal freedom through the creation of free spaces (which may be temporary and mobile) where the authority of church and state no longer have any hold. The basis of this freedom is the individual who has the freedom and creativity to act (either openly or in concealment). And remember:
THE CHAINS OF THE LAW HAVE BEEN BROKEN
THIS WORLD IS ALEADY PARADISE
IT IS TIME TO WAKE UP
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?