A couple of weeks ago, a video appeared on the internet. Another beheading, but what made it unusual was that it was shown on Egyptian TV by talk show host Tawfiq Okasha, described in various postings as a liberal, on his show “Egypt Today.” Mr Okash said the crime took place in Tunisia and that the film showed men beheading a Christian for the crime of having converted from Islam.
Some days later other posts and comments appeared on line saying that the video was first posted by the Free Syrian Army, and that the victim was an a Alawite, the Shia offshoot to which Assad belongs.
The internet is replete with this sort of thing, the decapitation of Daniel Berg in Iraq being the most widespread. Some years ago, I watched the film of Mr. Berg’s last minutes, and had not returned for more.
This time, I felt that if Mr Okash was brave enough to show this on Egyptian T.V., and ask the anguished question, “Is this Islam,” I would do him the courtesy of watching.
I don’t speak Arabic but have enough words to pick up a little of the gist. The words “murtad,” apostate, and “mushrik,” polytheist – which Muslims consider Christians, with their concept of the Trinity to be – recur over and over again.
What did I see? I saw a man have his head slowly severed from his body, as I had seen before, the initial cut severing the carotid much the same as the that of the halal slaughter method, so one hears a gurgling as the victim continues to breathe though the blood.
The young man first lies calmly with the knife at his throat, calm, his eyes doe like, with either the peace of resignation, hope for the life hereafter, or perhaps drugged, although I very much doubt this kind of mercy was shown.
The first slice is shallow, and the blood starts. Then the sawing begins, and it goes on for a very long time, as the killer slices and also bends the head away from the growing neck cut so that one is presented a grisly anatomy lesson. Within this time the life drains from the eyes and death triumphs.
When the head comes free it is lifted in triumph to cries of Allahu Akbar ( Allah is greater). Then as I had seen before, the head is set upon the trunk, much as one might display a hunting trophy,
Some days after the video appeared, posts appeared on line showing the video in earlier posts, and stating that it was not in Tunisia, but Syria, citing the use of the epithet “rafidi”( deserter), which they say is used for Shia, but certainly could describe anyone who left Islam. Not knowing the word then, I didn’t hear it, and have no desire to watch again so as to confirm this. Most said it was the Free Syrian Army, who are Sunni, killing an Alawite . A few said the victim was Shabiha, as the informal militias of street thugs, and undercover secret police Assad employs are known. These commenters thought the man got what he deserved, and looked forward to more of the same.
Some thought the audio might have been dubbed, although I haven’t found that anyone has yet done any forensics to prove or disprove this.
In the end, It really doesn’t matter. What does, is the answer to Mr. Okasha’s question, “Is this Islam?”
And the answer is yes, it is , and has always been thus.
The Islamic tradition of the end of the Jewish Banu Quraiza tribe after their defeat in Medina at the Battle of the Trench is iconic.
“The Jews were made to come down, and Allah’s Messenger imprisoned them. Then the Prophet went out into the marketplace of Medina , and he had trenches dug in it. He sent for the Jewish men and had them beheaded in those trenches. They were brought out to him in batches. They numbered 800 to 900 boys and men. As they were being taken in small groups to the Prophet, they said to one another, ‘What do you think will be done to us?’ Someone said, ‘Do you not understand. On each occasion do you not see that the summoner never stops? He does not discharge anyone. And that those who are taken away do not come back. By God, it is death!’ The affair continued until the Messenger of Allah had finished with them all.”
Narrated Atiyyah al-Qurazi: I was among the captives of Banu Qurayza. They (the Companions) examined us, and those who had begun to grow hair (pubes) were killed, and those who had not were not killed. I was among those who had not grown hair.
And this rather odd detail related by Mohammed’ s child bride, Aisya:
Narrated Aisha: No woman of Banu Qurayza was killed except one. She was with me, talking and laughing on her back and belly (extremely), while the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) was killing her people with the swords. Suddenly a man called her name: Where is so-and-so? She said: I asked: What is the matter with you? She said: I did a new act. She said: The man took her and beheaded her. She said: I will not forget that she was laughing extremely although she knew that she would be killed.
As for apostasy, the penalty is death, although beheading may not be the sole means of execution.
From “Reliance of the Traveler,” A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred law( ISBN 0-9159-5772-8), which represents the Hanafi school of jurisprudence which dominates in Sunni Islam. The translation is endorsed by Al Azhar Univeristy Cairo, among other authorities.
Section o8.1 “When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostasizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed.”
And, lest one think that the word “deserves’ indicates opinion only, 08.2 goes on to say, “In such a case it is obligarory for the Caliph( or his representative) to ask him to repend and return to Islam. If he does, it is accepted from him, but if he refuses, he is immediately killed.”
Given the example of Islam’s founder, beheading is understandably the method of choice, as in Saudi Arabia, although Iran has progressed to the Seventeenth Century or so, with hanging.
So, Mr. Okahsa, this is Islam. Clearly you were appalled, but if your horror is to have any meaning, you must look squarely at your religious tradition and admit what it is now, if you are to have any hope of changing it to something on which you could look on without being sickened
(This link is one of many that will take you to the video.)