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"I’d rather die standing up
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Stephane Charbonnier
(1967-2015)


What Does Islam Teach About...

Torture

What does Islam teach about torture?

Torture is sanctioned in Islam when there is a reason for it.

Quran

Quran (5:33) - "The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides..." Quran (8:12) - "Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): "I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them."

Quran (48:29) - "Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves"

Quran (24:2) - "The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication,- flog each of them with a hundred stripes: Let not compassion move you." Not only is physical torture prescribed as punishment for moral crime between consenting adults, but believers are told to suppress their natural urge for human compassion.

Torture in the next:

Quran (22:19-22) - "These twain (the believers and the disbelievers) are two opponents who contend concerning their Lord. But as for those who disbelieve, garments of fire will be cut out for them; boiling fluid will be poured down on their heads. Whereby that which is in their bellies, and their skins too, will be melted; And for them are hooked rods of iron. Whenever, in their anguish, they would go forth from thence they are driven back therein and (it is said unto them): Taste the doom of burning." The punishment of those who merely disbelieve in Muhammad's claims about himself is described as being horrifically brutal in many other places as well, such as Quran 4:56, which says that they will face a continuous cycle of torture in which their skin will be burned off only to be replaced by new skin.

How Allah feels about non-Muslims naturally determines the attitude of devout Muslims. In the Quran, Muhammad explicitly uses Allah's hatred of unbelievers to motivate his people to Jihad:

Quran (9:73): "O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey's end."

Hadith and Sira

Muslim (16:4131) - They were caught and brought to him (the Holy Prophet). He commanded about them, and (thus) their hands and feet were cut off and their eyes were gouged and then they were thrown in the sun, until they died. Muhammad had two killers put to death, not in the way of "an eye-for-an-eye," but in a more agonizing manner.

Muslim (17:4196) - A married man confesses that he has adultery (four times, as required). Muhammad orders him planted in the ground and pelted with stones. According to the passage, the first several stones caused such pain that he tried to escape and was dragged back.

Bukhari (11:626) - "The Prophet said, 'No prayer is harder for the hypocrites than the Fajr and the 'Isha' prayers and if they knew the reward for these prayers at their respective times, they would certainly present themselves (in the mosques) even if they had to crawl.' The Prophet added, 'Certainly I decided to order the Mu'adh-dhin (call-maker) to pronounce Iqama 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.'" Muhammad orders his men to burn alive those who do not present themselves at the mosque for prayer.

Ibn Ishaq 436 - When Muhammad wished to attack the Meccan army at Badr, his men captured two slaves who were carrying water for the caravans and brought them into his presence. They were interrogated under torture as Muhammad stood praying: “…they brought them along and questioned them while the apostle was standing praying… The people were dismayed at their report…and so they beat them. When they were beaten soundly…"

Ibn Ishaq 734 - When Muhammad’s favorite wife Aisha was accused of adultery, he launched an investigation that included the brutal interrogation of a female slave: "So the apostle called Burayra to ask her, and Ali got up and gave her a violent beating, saying “'Tell the Apostle the truth.'”

Ibn Ishaq 595 - Muhammad orders that a man have his tongue cut out.

Ibn Ishaq 764 - After amassing a powerful army, Muhammad sent his forces to take the peaceful farming community of Khaybar by surprise. In the aftermath, he was dissatisfied with the amount of plunder and felt that the town’s treasurer, Kinana, might be holding out on him. He had the man brought to him:

When he [Muhammad] asked him about the rest he refused to produce it, so the apostle gave orders to al-Zubayr bin 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 bin Maslama and he struck off his head.”

(As a happy side note to the story – Kinana's untimely death left a beautiful young widow named Saffiya, whom Muhammad was then able to “marry”).

Abu Dawud (494) - In addition to the right of men to beat their wives over disobedience, children are to be beaten as well if they don't pray. "The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Command a boy to pray when he reaches the age of seven years. When he becomes ten years old, then beat him for prayer." (Incidentally, this is still taught)

Abu Dawud (4477) - Muhammad orders that a man be beaten with "whips, sticks and sandals" merely for being drunk. He threw dust into the face of the victim during his ordeal. "A man who had drunk wine was brought (before him) and he ordered them (to beat him). So they beat him with what they had in their hands. Some struck him with whips, some with sticks and some with sandals. The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) threw some dust on his face."

Notes

The life of Muhammad demonstrates that torture is sanctioned in cases of interrogation. The prophet of Islam did not stop his people from beating and abusing individuals in his presence when information was needed, whether it concerned a matter of sexual impropriety or the location of wealth that could be looted. In at least one case of the latter, he is noted to have directly ordered the torture.

Torture is also allowed as a form of punishment and when putting people to death. Rather than prescribing quick methods of execution there were times when Muhammad ordered his men to make a victim's death as slow and agonizing as possible. In one case, his men literally pulled apart the body of an elderly woman named Umm Qirfa by tying her limbs to camels then sent in opposite directions (Ibn Ishaq 980).

One of the most influential Shi'a religious leaders in Iran recently extended the validity of torture to the practice of raping prisoners in the defense of Islam. Mesbah-Yazdi said that it was advisable for the rapist to "perform a ritual washing first and say prayers while raping the prisoner."

Mesbah-Yazdi went on to add that "If the judgment for the [female] prisoner is execution, then rape before execution brings the interrogator a spiritual reward equivalent to making the mandated Haj pilgrimage [to Mecca], but if there is no execution decreed, then the reward would be equivalent to making a pilgrimage to [the Shi'ite holy city of] Karbala."

According to the cleric, "If the prisoner is female, it is permissible to rape through the vagina or anus." When asked if the rape of men and young boy was considered sodomy, he said, "No, because it is not consensual."

A 2006 fatwa on the popular Islam Web website authorized burning people as a form of punishment. (It was pulled after ISIS began doing this to people in 2015).

Muslim apologists often tell a different story in the West, where rhetorical strategy creates the impression that they oppose torture in and of itself, thus attracting the support of a broader coalition. (CAIR's short-lived 2006 "Campaign against Torture" is one of the best examples of this). The scope of their efforts, however, rarely extend beyond condemning Western countries in general (and the US in particular). Sympathies are also tellingly limited to the alleged treatment of Muslim terror detainees.

In fact, these organizations have very little to say about ending the less ambiguous and far more brutal human rights violations practiced by Muslim governments, even though the victims there are usually Muslim as well (such as the cleric Mesbah-Yazdi's unfortunate victims of rape). The goal of these "anti-torture" campaigns is not an end to torture, but rather an attempt to capture the moral high ground on a controversial issue by exploiting Western attitudes - with no regard for the victims of true torture.

The barbaric treatment of hostages by groups like ISIS is a direct product of religious belief. The Quran is quite explicit in teaching that the 'merciful' Allah tortures non-believers for eternity using supernatural methods to inflict pain that are not even possible in this life. There is no reason for a believing Muslim to think that Allah would disapprove of a far more temporal and limited practice against those whom he has destined for such anguish.

In summary, Islam is not fundamentally opposed to torture in certain circumstances, as long as it is the Muslim party applying it. This is a good example of the many common double standards within the religion that must be recognized and brought out in the open to facilitate honest dialog.

(Note: There are Muslim individuals who sincerely object to torture on principle. So, it would not be right to make assumptions about anyone's personal view on this subject - or any other - based on nominal religious affiliation).

See also:
The Case for Burning
Myth: Muhammad Opposed Torture

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