May 11, 2004

2 Qutb 8c

Today I came across this article on IslamOnline on the proper treatment of prisoners of war:

“Treat the prisoners of war kindly.”

No, this is not a statement in the Geneva Conventions summarizing the rights of POWs. This is the Prophet Muhammad’s instruction to his Companions more than 1400 years ago. Islam has set down rules for warfare, detailing when Muslims should fight, whom they should fight, and how they should fight.

The linked article on the rules of warfare tells us,

These are the rights that Islam confers on combatants:

No one should be burned alive or tortured with fire.

Wounded soldiers who are neither unfit to fight, nor actually fighting, should not be attacked.

Prisoners of war should not be killed.

It is prohibited to kill anyone who is tied up or in captivity.

Residential areas should not be pillaged, plundered or destroyed, nor should the Muslims touch the property of anyone except those who are fighting against them.

Muslims must not take anything from the general public of the conquered country without paying for it.

The corpses of the enemy must not be disgraced or mutilated.

Corpses of the enemy should be returned.

Treaties must not be broken.

Muslims are prohibited from opening hostilities without properly declaring war against the enemy, unless the adversary has already started aggression against them.

These articles were posted, not in response to horrendous execution of a U.S. civilian in the clutches of al Qaeda (about which the site, as of this writing, is silent), nor the mutiliation of the remains of six Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza (there is a story on the killings, which oddly enough makes no mention of the failure of the mention of the mutilations). Rather, the passages excerpted above are part of the site's indignation over the despicable behavior of some U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison. Passing strange is this Islam, some of whose adherents seem to believe that its moral strictures are binding only on the infidels, and not the faithful.

In any case, the above list of proper war conduct, as far as I can tell from historical and religious sources, is a bunch of hooey, for the most part. Captives taken in combat were reduced to slavery, and it was permissible to kill polytheists who did not accept Islam. And no less an authority than ideofact's old friend Sayyid Qutb, in Social Justice in Islam, notes that while plunder of the infidels was a significant revenue stream for the Caliphs, modern Islamists had better look elsewhere for money, at least until they're militarily able to bring Jihad to the lands of the nonbelievers.

The link within the first quoted passage begins with this blatantly false assertion:

Prior to the revelation of the Qur’an fourteen hundred years ago, there was no concept of civilized behavior neither in war nor of the rights of enemies. Yet Islam decreed humane rules of war, many centuries before such ideas were put into conventions and agreements in the West.

A while back, I mentioned Sophocles' play Antigone in connection with the barbaric killing and subsequent corpse mutilation of four contractors in Fallujah. The play revolves around Antigone's effort to give her brother a proper burial; Creon, the ruler of Thebes by default (her father the king has blinded himself and gone into exile; her brothers have slain one another in a war of succession) will offer a proper burial only to the brother who was considered the rightful heir; the usurper is left to rot. Antigone rightly provides her brother with last rites, and is condemned by Creon. I suppose I shouldn't be too troubled by the appalling lack of a classical education on the part of the writers and editors of IslamOlnine, but one would hope that a fact checker there might have been alert to the mistake.

But is a classical education of any relevance to an Islamist? In the eighth chapter of Sayyid Qutb's work Milestones, he writes:

A Muslim cannot go to any source other than God for guidance in matters of faith, in the concept of life, acts of worship, morals and human affairs, values and standards, principles of economics and political affairs and interpretation of historical processes. It is, therefore, his duty that he should learn all these from a Muslim whose piety and character, belief and action, are beyond reproach.

Therein lies the poverty of the Islamists, which will be the subject of my post in this series.

Update: Brian Ulrich of Brian's Study Breaks notes in a comment that IslamOnline has posted a story on condemnations by some Islamic scholars of the killing of Nick Berg. Here are the second, third, and fourth paragraphs of the story:

"Islam respects the human being, dead or alive, and cutting off the American's head was an act of mutilation forbidden by Islam," Ibrahim Al-Fayoumi, a member of Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Academy, told

He cited a number of verses from the holy Qur'an which affirm giving due respect to dead people regardless of their race or religion.

However, Fayoumi suspected the whole episode was "an American propaganda to divert attention from the scandal of the U.S. military abuse of Iraqi detainees".

The rest is okay, so far as it goes. I also note that there's no condemnation of the mutilation of the corpses of Israeli soldiers.

Posted by Ideofact at May 11, 2004 11:59 PM

There is stuff up there now condemning the Berg murder.

Posted by: Brian Ulrich at May 12, 2004 12:20 PM


And now there are also articles about the condemnation of the Berg killing by Iraqi scholars and ordinary Iraqis, the condemnation of the killing by Al-Azhar scholars, there are two different fatawa (legal ruling) questions pointing out the impermissibility of the action, one of which features numerous Islamic scholars speaking strongly against the act.

But don't let reality get in the way of your prejudiced rant, Bill.

Do some people who are Muslims or Islamists engage in actions that are against Islaam or make hypocritical arguments? Yes. That's a big revelation. That all billion Muslims in the world don't follow Islaam perfectly. Stop the presses.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at May 12, 2004 05:59 PM

Also, your comment that the rules of war laid down by the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and spelled out by his Khulafaa (succesors) and the Muslim scholars since his time are not 'hooey.'

It is not true that any polytheist not accepting Islaam could be killed. It is true that some prisoners of war were put into slavery. (This is not chattel or race based slavery as was practiced here in this hemisphere.) This was slavery as a result of wars which was the traditional practice of many if not all tribal societies at the time. Islaam did not end this practice, but it laid down conditions for the humane treatment of these slaves and it provided many many encouragements to free these slaves to the point where many Muslim scholars have argued that it was terminated on a gradual basis.

Many of the greatest scholars of early Islaam and in fact poltical and military leaders were slaves and freed slaves.

Were these rules of war practiced by all Muslims throughout the 14 centuries since the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). No. (And guess what, the commandments against interest, adultery, stealing, and even worshipping more than one god have been broken as well).

In what kind of bizarre world does this make them 'hooey.'

We live in a country where a majority of people who claims to follow Jesus Peace Be Upon Him, who they believe said "Turn the other cheek" and yet it engages in actions killing thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of the people carrying out these attacks and many supporting them, whether you want to deny it or not, believe that these actions are justified as 'revenge' for 9/11. Or as actions to show 'those people' that 'we' are serious.

GW can say his favorite political philosopher is Jesus, and he can execute hundreds, engage in wars, cut services for the poor and give tax cuts to the rich, support dictators and tyrants while claiming to have some kind of God-given mission to spread democracy.

Does this make what Jesus (peace be upon him) said 'hooey.'? Not at all.

It makes GW Bush a hypocrite and a liar and a wicked Pharoahnic tyrannical ruler, just like his buddies in the Saud family, and his man Karimov, and Firawn Mubarak, and His boy "King" "Abdullah" and his old buddy Saddam.

But its okay...everyone has the chance to repent for their sins and change their ways. And if they don't, God is All-Just and All-Powerful.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at May 12, 2004 06:17 PM

I'm not quite sure how my criticism of the content of one Web site qualifies as a "prejudiced rant."

Posted by: Bill at May 12, 2004 06:22 PM


Your comment "Passing strange is this Islam...some of whose adherents" formed the basis for my perception of the piece as a prejudiced rant since it tied in your (later proved to be mistaken) initial observations of that certain webite's reactions to somehow be indicative of something about Islaam as a whole.

It was certainly a rant, although that is what blogs are for I suppose. Also, the prejudice I was referring to was not necessarily against all Muslims. Although it would be hard to tell from that post, I know from your other writings that you are not necessarily prejudiced against all Muslims. Your prejudice is clearly against "Islamists" about whom you are clearly prepared to believe the worst -- basically that we are all powerhungry hypocritical ignorant nonthinking beings unable to respond to the pain or suffering of others or recognize principle. In this case, as is noted above you turned out to be utterly wrong in your assumption about IslamOnline.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at May 12, 2004 06:50 PM

I will be proved utterly wrong about IslamOnline when the site also runs condemnations of the mutilation of the bodies of the Israeli soldiers. And prominently placing in the story about Berg's death the completely unsupported and ludicrous notion that Americans were behind that killing somewhat diminishes the power of the denunciation, don't you think?

If I had written, "Passing strange, how all Muslims expect..." then yes, I would be guilty of prejudice.

Posted by: Bill at May 12, 2004 11:01 PM

Hi Bill,
I'm glad to hear your renovations are almost finished.

Abu Noor,
I refer you to the book, "The Trouble with Islam" by Irshad Manji.


Posted by: Mahsheed at May 13, 2004 01:05 AM

Abu Noor --

Sorry, not every book was quite where I wanted it until now. My comment on polytheists in this post derived, first, from this Qur'anic passage:

When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful.

I've quoted here from my less than satisfying Penguin translation by N.J. Dawood, from the al-Tawbah, 9-5, I think it is.

I'm certainly no expert on Qur'anic exegisis, but my understanding is that this is one of the many passages in the book which deals with a specific time and place -- there are similar passages in the Old Testament. I think "idolators" here refers only ot those still following the pre-Islamic Arabian pagan religion.

However, that passage (and I believe a few others) have in the past caused some problems of interpretation -- with the Zoroastrians of Persia and Hindus in India. Similarly, I believe it's been invoked by modern Islamists as justification for some of their slaughters.

Posted by: Bill at May 16, 2004 11:18 PM

Mahsheed --

So good to hear from you.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed by the Manji book. I thought the most interesting parts were the autobiographical sections.

I loved Reading Lolita in Tehran by the way -- thanks so much for suggesting it.

Posted by: Bill at May 16, 2004 11:20 PM