The insipid moral equivalence in President Obama’s apologia for Islam at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning has already been deconstructed by such commentators as Roger Simon, Victor David Hanson and Jonah Goldberg. I am bothered, though, by the president’s presumption of equivalence between doctrinal apples and oranges. If, as he maintains, we must engage in comparative religion with a focus on what believers do in the name of their varying faiths, then we should also analyze what their varying faiths tell them to do.
Sounding more like the executive director of CAIR, the president of the United States warned Christians and other non-Muslims to stay off “our high horse” regarding the sadistic murder of a Jordanian pilot, Lieutenant Mouath al-Kasaebeh, by Islamic State terrorists. We must have some humility, explained famously humble Mr. Obama. After all, over the last millennium, “people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
In Islamic doctrine, Jesus (Isa) is considered not God but a prophet. He is deemed to anticipate the final prophet, Mohammed, and to preach a Gospel subsequently perfected by the revelations of the Koran.
From that perspective, then, an analogous answer to Obama’s assertion could be made by recounting the terrible things Muslims have done in the name of Mohammed — an answer that wouldn’t require mining a millennium since it has been just three weeks since Lt. al-Kasaebeh’s immolation and the scene of mass-murdering jihadists braying, “Allahu Akbar! The prophet has been avenged!” as they fled the offices of Charlie Hebdo.
I’m more interested, though, in the deeds of Mohammed himself. When Christians resort to the wrongs cataloged by Obama, they are blatantly deviating from the example of Christ. Can the same be said for Muslims and the example of Mohammed?
In 627 AD, the prophet orchestrated the mass-murder of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe after they had surrendered to the Muslims. He presided over the beheadings of somewhere between 600 and 900 members of the tribe – including all young boys who had reached puberty. The women and the remaining children were taken as concubines and slaves (with some of the women sold for horses and armor). All the tribe’s wealth was confiscated.
This is not speculation. The incident is explicitly recorded in Koran. (By the way, I use the Koran approved and published in various languages, side-by-side with the original Arabic, by the Saudi government’s Ministry of Hajj and Endowments. The Kingdom has widely disseminated this version throughout the world, particularly Islamic schools.)
As recounted in Sura 33:25-27:
Allah turned back the unbelievers for (all) their fury: No advantage did they gain; and enough is Allah for the believers in their fight. And Allah is full of strength, exalted in might.
And those of the people of the book [the Banu Qurayza] who aided them – Allah did take them down from their strongholds and cast terror into their hearts, (so that) some ye slew, and some ye made captives.
And He made you heirs of their lands, their houses, and their goods, and of a land which ye had not frequented (before). And Allah has power over all things.
Mohammed’s first authoritative biographer, Mohammed ibn Ishaq (d. 768), elaborates with this account (reproduced at wikiislam.net):
Then [the Banu Qurayza] surrendered, and the apostle confined them in Medina[.]… Then the apostle went out to the market of Medina (which is still its market today) and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches. Among them was the enemy of Allah Huyayy b. Akhtab and Ka`b b. Asad their chief. There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900.
As they were being taken out in batches to the apostle they asked Ka`b what he thought would be done with them. He replied, “Will you never understand? Don’t you see that the summoner never stops and those who are taken away do not return? By Allah it is death!” This went on until the apostle made an end of them. Huyayy was brought out wearing a flowered robe in which he had made holes about the size of the finger-tips in every part so that it should not be taken from him as spoil, with his hands bound to his neck by a rope. When he saw the apostle he said, “By God, I do not blame myself for opposing you, but he who forsakes God will be forsaken.” Then he went to the men and said, “God’s command is right. A book and a decree, and massacre have been written against the Sons of Israel.” Then he sat down and his head was struck off.
Ibn Kathir, a revered fourteenth century scholar of sharia jurisprudence and biographer of Mohammed, adds:
Then the Messenger of Allah commanded that ditches should be dug, so they were dug in the earth, and they were brought tied by their shoulders, and were beheaded. There were between seven hundred and eight hundred of them. The children who had not yet reached adolescence and the women were taken prisoner, and their wealth was seized.
This was six centuries after the Gospel of the New Testament. Even if he did not turn the other cheek, the prophet could have shown compassion to his enemies. They had surrendered. Even if he had been determined to seize their territory and wealth, he could have allowed them to evacuate. Instead, he killed, enslaved, and sold them off.
Some background is necessary before we get to a second incident in the life of the prophet. Earlier this week, the Islamic State released a slick video showing Lt. al-Kasaebeh being burnt alive in a cage. The Obama administration spun into action … fresh off offending both the Egyptian government and most Americans by hosting some of its friends from the outlawed and virulently anti-American Muslim Brotherhood at the State Department. Echoing Islamists, administration officials assured us that, while this sort of barbarity was a staple of fifteenth century Christianity — it was against everything Islam stands for, and thus utterly slanderous for ISIS to rationalize it as Islamic warfare.
Inconveniently, the Koran proclaims that immolation is a punishment favored by Allah, so much so that the skin is constantly replaced to prolong the agony. It is imposed, moreover, not for anything particularly treacherous — just for refusing to accept Islam. Sura 4:56 explains:
Those who reject Our signs, We shall soon cast into the Fire. As often as their skins are roasted through, We shall change them for fresh skins, that they may taste the chastisement: for Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.
Now, according to “Muslim clerics” far and wide, as reported by Reuters, immolation is “considered despicable by Islam, no matter what the context.” How can that be when the Koran tells us Allah Himself has prescribed immolation as a suitable punishment? Because, Islam’s defenders rationalize, the immolation promised in the Koran is for Allah alone to impose in the afterlife, not for men to presume to impose in this life. “Only God tortures by fire,” tweeted Salman al-Odah, a Saudi sheikh.
That’s not very persuasive. There are, after all, numerous cruel penalties that Islamic scripture has Allah directing Muslims to impose — scourging, stoning, beheading and so on. Indeed, while in one breath condemning the torching of the pilot as a “lowly terrorist act” by a “Satanic, terrorist” group, Reuters quoted Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar (the ancient seat of Sunni scholarship), as pronouncing in the next breath that the ISIS killers should be “killed, crucified or have their limbs amputated.”
As Robert Spencer points out, the grand sheikh clearly drew that sharia sentence straight out of the Koran. Specifically, according to Sura 5:33:
The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, crucifixion, or the cutting of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land[.]
The verse goes on to say that, for those condemned, these punishments are to be “their disgrace in this world”; then, after death, another “heavy punishment” awaits them — presumably, the eternal barbecue foretold by Sura 4:56.
So at best, fire is frowned upon, but death by crucifixion and amputation is recommended. Not terribly comforting.
But it gets worse. There is also an eye-for-an-eye dimension of Islamic jurisprudence. Back to Sura 5, this time verse 45: “We ordained therein for them, ‘Life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal.” This is why, for example, in Saudi Arabia, where sharia is the law of the land, the government had a prisoner’s eye surgically removed after he was found guilty of an assault that damaged his victim’s eye.
Lt. al-Kasaebeh was captured while on a mission to firebomb Islamic State targets. The jihadists thus contend that setting him on fire was the reciprocal, scripturally prescribed punishment. That rationale is disturbing to us in the West, where — unless you’re frozen, Obama-like, in the fifteenth century — we do not criminalize honorable combatants who conduct legitimate attacks on enemy forces (and we don’t, in any event, do immolation).
Nevertheless, ISIS’s argument carries considerable weight in Islam. Even in the Reuters report that tries hard to depict universal Muslim condemnation of ISIS, a Jordanian cleric known as Abu Sayaf (a/k/a “Mohamed al-Shalabi”) is quoted as grudgingly saying, “Even if the Islamic State says [the Jordanian pilot] had bombed and burnt and killed us and we punished him they way he did to us, we say, ‘OK, but why film the video in this shocking way?’” In other words, burning the pilot alive is justifiable; it’s the bad PR from recording it that is unacceptable.
Now, with all that as context, let’s consider another episode from the prophet’s life, which, as Mr. Spencer points out, is conveniently omitted by al-Azhar’s grand sheikh, his fellow sharia jurists, and Islam’s Western apologists in the White House and beyond. The incident is recorded in Ibn Ashaq’s biography of the prophet (italics mine):
Kinana b. al-Rabi`, who had the custody of the treasure of B. al-Nadir, was brought to the apostle who asked him about it. He denied that he knew where it was. A Jew came … to the apostle and said that he had seen Kinana going round a certain ruin every morning early. When the apostle said to Kinana, “Do you know that if we find you have it I shall kill you?” he said Yes. The apostle gave orders that the ruin was to be excavated and some of the treasure was found. When he asked him about the rest he refused to produce it, so the apostle gave orders to al-Zubayr b. al-Awwam, ‘Torture him until you extract what he has,’ so he kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. Then the apostle delivered him to Muhammad b. Maslama and he struck off his head, in revenge for his brother Mahmud.
So at Mohammed’s direction, a man’s chest was set on fire to extract information from him before he was beheaded. Well, at least he wasn’t waterboarded.
Certainly I decided to order the Mu’adh-dhin (call-maker) to pronounce Iqama [the call to prayer] and order a man to lead the prayer and then take a fire flame to burn all those who had not left their houses so far for the prayer along with their houses.
Relatedly, Raymond Ibrahim directs our attention to an incident involving the prophet, recorded in another Bukari hadith (No. 261 in Book 4, Volume 52). The story involves eight starving tribesmen who sought the prophet’s help. Mohammed directed them to a shepherd, who fed them until they recovered their health. But they turned on the shepherd, killing him, and renouncing Islam. When he was informed, Mohammed ordered that they be captured and – besides having their hands and feet cut off – that iron be heated by fire and passed over their eyes, blinding them.
President Obama says we need to approach comparisons of religion with humility. I’m all for that. In a 2011 NRO column, I traced the evolution of Christianity in America from the often harshly theocratic origins of the original colonial settlements to the tolerant pluralism of modern times. The president, however, misses the point of humility. It is to refrain from dismissing out of hand the hope that Islam, too, will eventually evolve. It is not license to remain willfully blind to the dangers posed to us by its doctrine, as widely understood and practiced by a mainstream faction of Islam for centuries, right up to the present day.
Courageous Muslim reformers are laboring to advance an evolution — and they risk death at the hands of radical Muslims who regard them as apostates, an offense Islam punishes by death. We can humbly encourage the reformers while rationally acknowledging that their labors are very uphill. To repeat what I wrote in the 2011 column:
Cultures are dynamic. They change drastically over time. [But] there are grounds for concern that Islam’s will have a harder time evolving — the blights on our history are rooted in human failure to apply Judeo-Christian doctrine, not in the doctrine itself. [By contrast,] Islam’s problems are more about Islam than about Muslims.
That remains true, Obama’s wayward moral equivalence notwithstanding. Islam regards the Koran as the immutable word of Allah. In Sura 33:21, Allah gives Muslims the following admonition regarding Mohammed, “Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the Final Day.” Muslims are commanded to imitate their prophet. It is undeniable that their prophet was, to put it mildly, an aggressive warrior.
With regard to that aspect of Mohammed’s legacy, there is nothing equivalent to it in Christianity.
It is not humility but delusion to pretend that modern Islam is just fine as is. It is not humility but cowardice to indulge the suicidal notion that our own past sins render us unfit to condemn today’s atrocities.