Islam and Violence
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Islamic law sanctions several forms of physical violence in domestic, civil, and international contexts, ranging from unprovoked imperial Jihad, to wife-beating, to amputations. While a few modern Islamic scholars have challenged the legality of imperial violence, a smaller minority that also of domestic violence, and yet smaller minority that of civil violence, the overwhelming majority of Islamic scholars today embrace the tradition of Islamic violence in all three respects.
Invitations to Islam Prior to Violence
The practice of inviting non-Muslim nations to join Islam or pay the Jizyah prior to engaging in offensive Jihad was first initiated by the Prophet Muhammad. For instance, he sent a letter to Heraclius, the Eastern Roman emperor in Constantinople, stating "I invite you to Islam, embrace Islam and you will be safe; ...But if you reject this invitation of Islam, you shall be responsible for misguiding the peasants (i.e. your nation)." Similarly, another letter was sent to Muqawqas, the vicegerent of Egypt, stating "I invite you to accept Islam. Therefore, if you want security, accept Islam... But if you refuse to do so, you will bear the burden of the transgression of all the Copts." Muhammad's lead was then followed by the Rightly-Guided Caliphs Abu Bakr as-Siddiq and Umar Ibn al-Khatab. The leaders of later Islamic empires such as the sultan of the Ottoman Empire also followed suit, and it has even been codified within the Islamic Shari'ah (see sections o9.0 to o9.8 in 'Umdat as-Salik wa 'Uddat an-Nasik). Critics have argued that the modern continuation of this practice is found in the actions of Islamic leaders such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and even terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, although modern Islamic scholars have argued otherwise.
Killings Ordered or Supported by Him
Violence under Prophet Muhammad was a frequent occurrence. The use of assassination to achieve political/religious goals has been important throughout the history of Arabia and Islamic expansion. The list of known killings ordered or supported by him number at least forty-three. Muhammad and his companions murdered (and even tortured) hundreds of people (most of these being Jews). His targets included men, women and children, both young and old. The reasons behind their executions varied from "causing offence" and writing or reciting poetry, to the monetary gains Muhammad and his movement made by their elimination. This page lists some of the results and reasons for the targeted killings and assassinations ordered or supported by Muhammad, as well as the primary Islamic sources which mention these incidents.
Genocide of the Jewish Banu Qurayza
In the 5th year of Hijra (627 CE), on the orders of Prophet Muhammad, almost nine hundred Jews of a Medinan tribe named Banu Qurayza were massacred by Muhammad's followers. The killing began early in the day, ending in torchlight. Those who escaped death (women and children, excluding boys who had begun to grow pubic hair) were taken captive by Muslims to be sold in slave markets and exchanged for horses and armour. Modern Islamic scholars, acknowledging the event since it is found in the most authentic Islamic scriptures, have presented many arguments to portray the massacre as contextually justified, most notably the idea that the Banu Qurayza had betrayed the Muslims at the Battle of Khandaq. Critics have argued that hadiths to this effect were probably invented later in justification since, if the Muslims really had been betrayed by so large a party, then they should have lost the battle, which they didn't. Historians, by contrast, have at times argued that, contrary to Islamic scripture, the entire ordeal may have been a later invention made to antagonize the Jews and glorify Muhammad, as there is historical evidence which suggests that there were no such populations and tribes of Jews in the vicinity of Muhammad's people.
The torture and execution of Umm Qirfa
Umm Qirfa was an old Arab woman contemporaneous to Prophet Muhammad. She belonged to a pagan tribe named Banu Fazara at Wadi Al-Qurra. She was also a chief of her clan and a renown poetess. She was killed when Muhammad’s followers raided her tribe and won over them. She was tied between two camels which were driven in opposite directions and her body was split apart. Later, her decapitated head was presented to Muhammad, who then ordered it to be paraded throughout the streets of Medina.
Wife-beating is instructed by the the Qur'an and the Hadiths, and has been an accepted part of Islam law since its inception. Quran 4:34 states that men are in charge of women and that husbands may, among other things, beat their wives if they fear disobedience. Prophet Muhammad provided tacit approval of wife beating by not scolding Muslims for beating their wives, referred to women who spoke-out against abuse as "not the best among you", forbade Muslims from questioning men who beat their wives, allowed others to hit his wives (the very women whom all Muslims adore and refer to as "the Mother of believers"), reaffirmed the command of wife-beating in his farewell sermon, and himself struck one of his wives in the chest. In addition to Muhammad's actions, three of the four Rightly-Guided Caliphs are also reported to have beaten women. Because of its many endorsements within Islamic scripture, wife-beating is permitted by the majority of Muslim scholars and leaders. This has led to domestic violence being permitted under law in several Islamic states or being largely ignored by the authorities.
Honor related violence is physical violence that is inflicted on an individual by perpetrators who believe the victim has brought dishonor upon the family, clan, or community by engaging in any conduct that is perceived as immoral or unacceptable by religious or social/cultural standards. This type of violence frequently in Muslim families, where women are killed for many "honor" related reasons, including being raped or associating with non-related males.
In practice, honor related violence is not limited to humans, but can also apply to animals. For example, in July 2011, a male who was caught in Pakistan having sex with another man's donkey was fined 110,000 rupees. This fine was not imposed for having sex with an animal, but for committing adultery. The raped donkey was labelled a 'kari' (an adulteress) and eventually honor killed by its owner.
While honor violence is not explicitly endorsed in Islamic law, it often appears where Islamic law is implemented. Certain Islamic punishments such as stoning, flogging, and even death by being thrown off a tall building are prescribed for sexual crimes. While these punishment are not justified as 'recovering honor' as such, it is not difficult to see how a culture can make that connection and then implement the violence prescribed through other, extralegal means.
Rape, known in Islamic law as zina bil-ikrah or zina bil-jabr (literally "fornication by force"), is generally defined by Muslim jurists as forced intercourse by a man with a woman who is not his wife or slave and without her consent. As with enslaved females, according to Islamic law, married women are required to oblige their husbands sexual advances - raping one's wife is permissible. The concept of "rape" is thus deemed to be equally non-existent in the contexts of both marriage and slavery.
A small number of hadiths are cited to support the Islamic punishments for rape. These narrations relate to the rape of free women and of female slaves who are not owned by the perpetrator. However, the Qur'an, on numerous occasions, permits Muslim men to have sexual relations with their own female slaves (famously referred to as "what your right hand possesses"), often in conjunction with the commandment for men to keep otherwise chaste. In addition, there are narrations in which female captives were raped prior to being ransomed back to their tribe.
Lesser vs greater Jihad
During Prophet Muhammad's lifetime, and onwards to the present, the word 'Jihad' was, and is, almost always used in a military sense. This idea of a greater and lesser jihad was a later development which originated from the 11th century book, The History of Baghdad, by the Islamic scholar al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, by way of Yahya ibn al 'Ala'. The "lesser versus greater jihad" hadith's isnad has been categorized by scholars as "weak" (da`if), and generally in Islamic law, only the authentic (sahih) and good (hasan) hadiths are used in deriving the rules. The weak hadiths are far lesser value for the purpose of Shari'ah. Contemporary Islamic scholars have even classed it as "maudu" (fabricated), meaning this narration, by some, is not even considered to be a hadith at all. This narration does not appear in any of the famous hadith collections, and even appears to contradict the teachings found in corroborated (Mutawatir) sahih hadith. Furthermore, all four schools of Sunni jurisprudence (Fiqh) as well as the Shi'ite tradition make no reference at all to the "greater" jihad, only the lesser.
Suicide is forbidden in Islam. However, martyrdom operations (Istishhad) are considered an altogether different topic in Islamic law, with scholars being split on the issue. Notable scholars and speakers such as Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the world's most quoted independent Islamic jurist, Dr. Zakir Naik, known for his advocacy of "Qur'anic science", and Tahir Ashrafi, the Chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, have justified the use of suicide bombing in Islam. Opinion polls have further shown that an extremely large number of Muslims from around the world support the practice.
From the synopsis of an in-depth fatwa on the subject: "We have arrived at the conclusion that martyrdom operations are permissible, and in fact the Mujahid who is killed in them is better than one who is killed fighting in the ranks, for there are gradations even among martyrs, corresponding to their role, action effort and risk undertaken. Then, we explained how martyrdom operations are the least costly to the Mujahideen and most detrimental to the enemy. We have heard, as you must have, that most scholars today permit such operations; at least 30 Fatawa have been issued to this effect. We explained how this issue is derived from the issue of plunging single-handedly into the enemy ranks; something which is praiseworthy by the agreement of jurists. We then further stated that we preferred the view that such an action is permissible even if martyrdom is the only goal, although it is certainly not the optimal practice."
It is important to note that while many Islamic jurists have endorse suicide bombing as such, they have, as would be expected, differed endlessly as regards to whether it should be used in the contexts where it is actually used. Indeed, the majority of Jihad-oriented suicide bombing in the world today is conducted by terrorists who do not have majority support among the Islamic establishment.
Amputation is the removal of part or all of a body part enclosed by skin. It is a prescribed punishment in the Qur'an, and within the context of Islamic law, it refers to the removal of the hands or feet. Today, amputation is used as a punishment for theft in Saudi Arabia and Northern Nigeria, which reintroduced Shari'ah law in 1999. In Somalia, a court run by an extremist Islamic group sentenced four Somali men in June of 2009 to each have a hand and a leg cut off for allegedly stealing mobile phones and guns. In 2008, the Islamic Republic of Iran saw five double amputations in a single week -- five convicted robbers were each sentenced to have their right hands and left feet amputated. When the Taliban, an Islamic militant group, took over Afghanistan in 1996, within a year, public executions, amputations and stonings were a regular Friday event in Kabul.
Stoning to death, according to traditional interpretations is primarily a punishment for married persons who engage in unlawful sexual relations (which include homosexual relationships). The criminals "hands are tied behind their backs and their bodies are put in a cloth sack." They are then "buried in a hole, with only the victims heads showing above the ground. If its a woman, she is buried up to her shoulders." The stones which are to be thrown at the criminal "should not be so large that the offender dies after a few strikes, nor so small as to fail to cause serious injury." Due to the Islamic laws on rape requiring four male eye witnesses before guilt can be ascertained, many rape victims end up being charged with 'adultery' (that is, on alternative evidence such as pregnancy). As was the case for a 13-year-old girl in Somalia who in October of 2008 was buried up to her neck and stoned to death in front of more than 1,000 people in a football stadium. She was the victim of gang-rape. Incidents of stonings have been reported in Iraq and Pakistan, and forms a part of Afghan, Iranian, Nigerian, Indonesian, Sudanese, Saudi Arabian, and United Arab Emirate law. The Qur'an itself does not explicitly mention the act, but there are several sahih (authentic) hadith which speak of Muhammad ordering people to be stoned to death. According to a sahih hadith, the Qur'anic verses of stoning were written on a piece of paper and were lost when a goat ate the paper.
Crucifixion is prescribed as a punishment in the Quran for those who 'spread mischief in the Earth' (variously interpreted as everything from political corruption to promoting atheism). Crucifixion typically refers to the method of execution and/or torture by tying and/or nailing someone to a cross, stake or tree. It can also refer to the method of public display of a body after execution, such as the incident in Saudi Arabia when a convicted killer was beheaded and his body was "crucified." Crucifixion as a method of torture and execution is reportedly still being used in Sudan and Iraq, both Islamic countries, and it is still a part of Iran's criminal code. Hamas, the Islamic governing body of Gaza, reinstated the penalty of crucifixion in 2008.
In the afterlife
There are nearly 500 verses (roughly one out of every twelve) in the Qur'an which speak of Jahannam (Hell). It was created by Allah to punish wrongdoers and disbelievers. It is stated in the Quran that Allah had the option of 'giving every soul its guidance' but that he decided instead to 'fill Hell with jinns and men' by his own will. The victims of hell are themselves its fuel, according to the Quran. Some of the tortures include: wearing garments of liquid pitch and fire, being bound in yokes and chains, spending eternity in a blazing fire with exchangeable skins so that they can be roasted over and over again, faces being covered in fire and lips being burned off, boiling water being poured over heads and used to scald skin and internal organs, being dragged by the face through boiling water and fire, beaten with maces of iron, and being fed painful, noxious, choking foods (shaped like the heads of demons) which will leave people hungry and boil their insides.
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- This is because, according to some Islamic jurists, if the act of rape is not witnessed by four males, it is considered an admission of Zina (unlawful sexual intercourse) which is punishable with death.
- "Definition of Amputation" (archived from the original), http://archive.is/20120915/http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=12537. - Medicine Net
- "Kingdom’s Leading Executioner Says: ‘I Lead a Normal Life’ - Mahmoud Ahmad, Arab News - June 5, 2003" (archived from the original), http://archive.is/20120915/http://www.arabnews.com/?page=0§ion=1&article=27038&d=5&m=6&y=2003.
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- "Islamic Extremists Sentence 4 Somalis to Amputations - Associated Press, FoxNews.com - June 22, 2009" (archived from the original), http://archive.is/20120915/http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,528139,00.html.
- "Somali Islamists Amputate Teenagers` Hands, Legs - JAVNO, June 25, 2009" (archived from the original), http://archive.is/20120915/http://www.javno.com/en-world/somali-islamists-amputate-teenagers-hands-legs_267541.
- "Spate of Executions and Amputations in Iran - Nazila Fathi, The New York Times - January 11, 2008" (archived from the original), http://archive.is/20120909/http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/11/world/middleeast/11iran.html.
- "Flashback: When the Taleban took Kabul - Terence White, former AFP correspondent in Kabul - BBC News - October 15, 2001" (archived from the original), http://archive.is/20120713/http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1600136.stm.
- "What happens in Stoning?" (archived from the original), http://archive.is/20120915/http://www.apostatesofislam.com/media/stoning.htm. - apostatesofislam.com
- "Should Sharia laws be reconsidered?" (archived from the original), http://archive.is/20120915/http://www.iheu.org/node/262. - Sandhya Jain - International Humanist and Ethical Union, March 9, 2004
- "Stoning victim 'begged for mercy'" (archived from the original), http://archive.is/20120712/http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7708169.stm. - BBC News, November 4, 2008
- "Stoning - Frequently Asked Questions about Stoning" (archived from the original), http://archive.is/20120915/http://www.stop-stoning.org/faq_stoning. - stop-stoning.org
- References: Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal. vol. 6. page 269; Sunan Ibn Majah, page 626; Ibn Qutbah, Tawil Mukhtalafi 'l-Hadith (Cairo: Maktaba al-Kulliyat al-Azhariyya. 1966) page 310; As-Suyuti, ad-Durru 'l-Manthur, vol. 2. page 13
- "Convicted killer beheaded, put on display in Saudi Arabia - CNN - May 30, 2009" (archived from the original), http://archive.is/20120915/http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/05/30/saudi.arabia.execution/index.html.
- Sudanese slave 'crucified' by his master not unusual in central African nation - Michael Ireland (Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service) - November 9, 2004 7 Christians mutilated & Crucified During a Series of Raids on Villages - Simon Caldwell (The Catholic Herald) - 25 September 2009
- "Christians in Iraq, including converts from Islam and people involved in mixed-faith marriages, are being crucified by Muslim terrorists, according to a Dutch member of Parliament studying the war-torn country (WorldNetDaily.com) July 17, 2007" (archived from the original), http://archive.is/20120915/http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=56726.
- ""Case Study in Iranian Criminal System" - Ehsan Zar Rokh, University of Tehran - 2008" (archived from the original), http://archive.is/20120915/http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1108208.
- Hamas Reinstates Crucifixions of Christians - Nicole Jansezian - January 9, 2009