Politics & Policy

The Prophet and Paul Johnson

An Islamic Condemnation of Al Qaeda Killings

Paul Johnson, an American engineer, was killed by al Qaeda after being kidnapped, as was Kim Sun-il, a 33-year-old South Korean. So was Nick Berg savagely slaughtered by militants. These horrible episodes are disgusting, by every human standard. What makes them even more repulsive is that they are committed in the name of Islam.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Islam presents the principles of just war, and kidnapping noncombatants, killing them, or threatening to do so are overtly against those principles.

In the Koran, there are several verses about prisoners of war. First of all, you can’t take noncombatants as captives. On the contrary, another verse makes it clear that non-Muslims, even the least sympathized pagans, are to be protected whenever they ask for asylum:

“If one amongst the Pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of God; and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge” (Koran, 9:6).

Since Nick Berg, Kim Sun-il, and Paul Johnson were not combatants, their request for asylum–it is reasonable to assume that they asked for it–should have been accepted. So, they should have been kindly escorted to wherever they wished to go.

Let’s assume that they were regarded as combatants. Berg, Johnson, and Sun-il should therefore have been regarded as prisoners of war. The verdict of the Koran is clear about them: They should be taken as captives during the battle, then, after the war, they should be released for free or ransomed (Koran, 47:4).

There is no justification for the killing, or even the ill treatment, of POWs in the Koran. On the contrary, a verse tells that good Muslims are the ones who give the best of their food “to the poor and the orphan and the captive” (Koran, 76:8).

There are also historical accounts reporting Prophet Muhammad ordering his men to treat captives very humanely. According to one account:

“After the Battle of Badr, prisoners of war were brought. Among them was al-Abbâs. He did not have a shirt on, so the Prophet looked for a shirt for him. It turned out that a shirt of Abd Allah bin Ubayy was the right size, so the Prophet gave it to al-Abbâs to wear and compensated Abdullah with his own shirt” [Al-Bukhârî (3008)].

So, even the torn-up shirt of Johnson–seen in his captivity photos–let alone all the abuse that might be related to it, is inherently un-Islamic.

Throughout history, many Muslim jurists have also emphasized that POWs cannot be killed or tortured. Ibn Muflih, the jurist from the Hanbalî school, writes: “The correct position on the matter is that if an enemy soldier is captured, it becomes unlawful to kill him.” There is also a historical account: The governor of Iraq, al-Hajjâj, brought a prisoner in irons to Ibn Umar and ordered him to come up and kill him. Ibn Umar refused, saying: “This is not the way we do things. Allah says: ‘either generosity or ransom’ and He does not say anything about killing them.”

In short, the kidnappings and murders we see today, like all other acts of terrorism committed against civilians, are un-Islamic cruelties. They stem from a kind of necrophilic nihilism, not from the essence of Islam.

The fact that the kidnappers and killers mention Islam and Allah virtually in their every sentence should not mislead us. The Koran speaks about a gang who planned to kill Prophet Salih by swearing an oath in the name of Allah (Koran, 27:49). This is an example that men can do evil in the name of God. The killings of Nick Berg, Kim Sun-il, and Paul Johnson have been just that. And every Muslim should denounce this evil.

Mustafa Akyol is a political scientist, journalist and a freelance writer living in Istanbul, Turkey. He is also director at the Intercultural Dialogue Platform, based in Istanbul.

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