Beheadings Allowed by Islam, but Only in Extreme Situations

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 24, 2004 | Go to article overview

Beheadings Allowed by Islam, but Only in Extreme Situations


Byline: Julia Duin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Beheading, the method that Islamist terrorists have used to execute three hostages in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, is specified by Islamic law, but should be used only in extreme cases, with at least one judge and credible witnesses to a crime, Islamic analysts say.

Others point out that the Koran refers to such a punishment for infidels and that Muhammad oversaw the beheading of several hundred men in his lifetime.

The tapes of the recent beheadings also have the terrorists yelling "Allahu akbar" - meaning "God is great" - while killing their hostage.

The killings of Americans Nicholas Berg and Paul M. Johnson Jr. and South Korean Kim Sun-il - and that of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 in Pakistan - are "an extreme form of execution that is most inhumane," said Sam Hamod, former director of the Islamic Center in the District who is now a lecturer and writer near San Diego.

The executioners, who claim to act in the name of Islam, he said, "may find a hadith [or saying of Muhammad] that supports it, but the Koran doesn't allow it."

The killers didn't even do the job right, he said.

"If they are going to have an execution, the [executioner] must say a prayer and ask for forgiveness from God for what he is doing and pray for the person's soul being killed," he said. "You can't do it like the idiots on TV. The right thing to do is slit the person's throat, not cut off the entire head."

At issue is book 47, verse four of the Koran, which says, "Therefore, when ye meet the unbelievers in fight [or jihad], smite at their necks at length; when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly on them.

"Thereafter is the time for either generosity or ransom until the war lays down its burdens."

The "smite at their necks" wording "doesn't mean to kill somebody," Mr. Hamod said.

Any Islamic capital punishment, he added, must be handed down by a panel of judges plus there must be four credible witnesses of an extreme crime committed by the person to be executed. And civilians - but not soldiers - are protected under Islamic law.

Secular authorities in predominantly Christian nations have used beheading as a method of execution, but there is nothing in the theology of either Judaism or Christianity to justify beheading. …

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