When Moderates Are Right but Wrong…

What happens when moderates are proven or observably right in their statements but wrong elsewhere in core doctrine?

Here is an example:

Above: PBS News Hour Youtube video.

The Qur’anic verse in question is 47:4. Another verse seen in the video but not discussed is 8:12. Below are those Qur’anic examples translated by Yusuf Ali.

“Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): therefore (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah’s Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of Allah, – He will never let their deeds be lost.”

Reference: Holy Qur’an, 47:4.

“[Remember] when your Lord inspired to the angels, “I am with you, so strength those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.””

Reference: Holy Qur’an, 8:12.

This raises one immediate question: why discuss the former verse but not the latter verse?

Is it the fact that the latter verse mentions striking terror into the disbelievers, a category of people that will last forever, and part criteria for terrorism? Or is that it potently tells believers to strike disbelievers upon their necks, thereby representing the act of beheading and inflicting a slaughter? Maybe it is the mutilation of bodies or possible torture in striking off their fingertips that is mentioned?

Either way, the Professor in the video tactically avoided this verse. None the less this verse, as interpreted by Ibn Kathir, was in reference to the angels striking disbelievers during the Battle of Badr. Therefore, logic would assume that a man cannot take the role of an angel, therefore this command to strike at the necks was ‘locked’ into the divine realm. Right? Maybe. Because the religion contradicts itself later…

To quote from the video above, Professor Rashid Khalidi, Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University, says that:

“If they’ve cut off their heads, you’re not going to bind them. And you’re not binding them to cut off their heads. You are binding them to either be generous with them – release them. Or ransom them – to hold them for ransom. So there’s nothing about cutting off heads in this passage.”

Have you spotted the mistakes?

The former claim is that this passage stipulates binding ‘them’ to release them or to ransom them. Passage 47:4 does indeed discuss ransoming in regards to the burdens of war, financial restraints, but 8:12 does not.

It also assumes that you do not bind your enemy to behead them, this is observably untrue. Most beheading videos have binded captives. Why? They struggle, they wriggle, sometimes they escape, sometimes they fight back. Sometimes they are held in place by another person. This is the brutal truth of executions.

The latter claim is that there is nothing about cutting off heads in passage 47:4, which is observably untrue. Both passages clearly state smiting or striking the neck, which is interpreted as beheading by numerous scholars. However, it can also be interpreted as striking at the face and neck, for best method of winning the fight with swords, during a battle.

But are you ready for another logical leap and contradiction within the religion? Muhammad had ordered beheadings during his lifetime so this is assumably sanctioned by Allah. These beheadings were of captured prisoners of war, who surrendered to Muhammad. Did Muhammad have Qur’anic and Angelic or Divine justification for such a thing? Well, no one stopped him. In fact, in regards to historic context, asbab al-nuzul and tafsir, it is beheading en masse.

Tafsir Ibn Kathir tells the meaning of this verse to clarify the act:

“So, when you meet (in fight in Allah’s cause) those who disbelieve, smite (their) necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly (on them, take them as captives). Thereafter (is the time) either for generosity (free them without ransom), or ransom (according to what benefits Islam), until war lays down its burden.”

Reference: Tafsir Ibn Kathir.

This is observably striking at the neck during the heat of battle. But is is also killing the disbelievers brutally, smiting the neck, until they stop, surrender, or are defeated.

Another tafsir excerpt from Ibn Kathir re-explains the position in greater detail:

“So, when you meet those who disbelieve (in battle), smite (their) necks until you have fully defeated them, then tighten their bonds. Thereafter (is the time) either for generosity or ransom, until the war lays down its burden.

[…] This is referring to the prisoners of war whom you have captured. Later on, after the war ends and the conflict has ceased, you have a choice in regard to the captives: You may either act graciously toward them by setting them free without charge, or free them for a ransom that you require from them.’ It appears that this Ayah was revealed after the battle of Badr. At that time, Allah reproached the believers for sparing many of the enemy’s soldiers, and holding too many captives in order to take ransom from them.

[…] It is not for a Prophet to have captives of war until he had made a great slaughter (among the enemies) in the land. You desire the commodities of this world, but Allah desires (for you) the Hereafter. Allah is Mighty and Wise.”

Reference: Tafsir Ibn Kathir.

Does this sound like a passage which is not advocating beheading and terroristic actions we see portrayed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Strike at their necks until you slaughter them, then take the rest prisoner. That could easily fall into the realm of beheading and it is no wonder that some interpret it as such.

The above tafsir has been viewed as binding and releasing captives or selling them is “later on, after the war ends.” And this is as early as the Battle of Badr, one of the very first fights, and the first major battle, that the Muslims were involved in whereby many people in Mecca were captured or gave up arms. The Muslims at this point in time were financially restrained, resorting to raiding caravans and the likes. Therefore, in context, this verse appeals to financial restraints of war after already inflicting a slaughter and smiting the necks of disbelievers who oppose the Muslims.

Another point to make is that the Professor seems to be leaning on the justification of kidnapping-to-ransom events and taking prisoners of war. So, if the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria do this, are they justified? The implication from the video is that they are.

The Professor goes on to say:

“The people [ISIS] who are doing this, are claiming this passage as justification for this practice. It is not. It shows that they know nothing about Islam and that they probably do not know how to read this [Qur’an] properly.”

Is this true? Some scholars would tell you yes, it is. Others would tell you it is not. Others would tell you that there are Hadithic and Sira sources that support beheading. Others would tell you that it must be done by a governed power and not by vigilantism. Others would tell you that it is permissible as Muhammad did and allowed it (and thus assumably Allah did so to).

So what is true? Cafeteria religion with underlying dualism in most topics of interest to do with extremism tell us one thing: most things go and it is up to Allah to judge. Extremists and moderates alike can use contradictory evidences and scholarship and interpretation to challenge each others views but this will probably not undermine the problem of terroristic violence.

Take a note at the above video. It is a very good video but take a note at the translation used which says “strike off the heads.” If this translation was acknowledged, I would lean further on the terrorists being correct. Would you not?

Now there can be other arguments against beheadings, such as sayings of some of the rightly guided Caliphs in Hadithic literature. But, once again, this does not counter Muhammad’s actions, as guided by the angel Gabriel, or Allah’s commands, as given in the Holy Qur’an and interpreted in different ways.

It seems that these verses are extreme and are difficult to find a moderate position within. Why? Because there is evidence that goes both ways but does also lean on the permissibility of beheading captives. This results in tactics of misinformation, misdirection, and misinterpretation by moderates to advocate their position. Reading between the lines and digger a little deep reveals that their position is the weaker one.

So what do we do when a moderate is simply wrong in his views?

What do we do when the moderate is right on one thing and the extremist wrong on another?

Do we challenge them?

Do we let them be?

Does the moderate position harm counter-terrorism?

Does acknowledging the extremist position harm counter-terrorism?

Could it energize more extremism?

Does it diminish extremism by offering another pathway of religious reasoning?

I would like your opinion below, in the comment section. Thank you for reading.


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