There are now at least twelve confirmed dead in the terrorist attack carried out by at least three jihadist gunmen against the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo. While it practices equal-opportunity satire, lampooning Islam has proved lethal for the magazine, just as it has for so many others who dare to exercise the bedrock Western liberty of free expression. Charlie Hebdo’s offices were firebombed in 2011 over a caricature of Mohammed that depicted him saying, “100 lashes if you don’t die from laughter.”
The cartoon was obviously referring to sharia, Islam’s legal code and totalitarian framework. Don’t take my word for it. Just flip through Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, the authoritative sharia manual. You will find a number of offenses for which flagellation is the prescribed penalty.
To take just a couple of examples, “the penalty for drinking is to be scourged forty stripes,” although the caliph (the Islamic ruler) is authorized to increase this to 80 stripes — although he must pay an indemnity if death results. . . . Pretty moderate, right? (Reliance, p. 617, sec. o16.3.) For adultery “the penalty consists of being scourged one hundred stripes” — and that’s if the adulterer “is not considered to have the capacity to remain chaste” (e.g., if she “is prepubescent at the time of marital intercourse).” “If the offender is someone with the capacity to remain chaste, then he or she is stoned to death.” (Reliance, p. 610, sec. o12.2.)
What Charlie Hebdo has satirized is a savage reality. That reality was visited on the magazine again today. As night follows day, progressive governments in Europe and the United States are already straining to pretend that this latest atrocity is the wanton work of “violent extremists,” utterly unrelated to Islam. You are to believe, then, that François Hollande, Barack Obama, David Cameron, and their cohort of non-Muslim Islamophiles are better versed in sharia than the Muslim scholars who’ve dedicated their lives to its study and have endorsed such scholarly works as Reliance.
Let me repeat what I have detailed here before: Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State did not make up sharia law. Islam did. We can keep our heads tucked snug in the sand, or we can recognize the source of the problem.
As I detailed in Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, the literalist construction of sharia that Islamic supremacists seek to enforce is “literal” precisely because it comes from Islamic scripture, not from some purportedly “extremist” fabrication of Islam. Moreover, this “classical sharia” is enthusiastically endorsed in principle by several of the most influential institutions in the Islamic Middle East, which explains why it is routinely put into practice when Islamists are given — or seize — the opportunity to rule over a territory.
Reliance is not some al-Qaeda or Islamic State pamphlet. It is a renowned explication of sharia’s provisions and their undeniable roots in Muslim scripture. In the English translation, before you get to chapter and verse, there are formal endorsements, including one from the International Institute of Islamic Thought — a U.S.-based Muslim Brotherhood think tank begun in the early Eighties (and to which American administrations of both parties have resorted as an exemplar of “moderation”). Perhaps more significantly, there is also an endorsement from the Islamic Research Academy at al Azhar University, the ancient seat of Sunni learning to which President Obama famously turned to co-sponsor his cloyingly deceptive 2009 speech on relations between Islam and the West.
In their endorsement, the al-Azhar scholars wrote:
We certify that the . . . translation corresponds to the Arabic original and conforms to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni Community. . . . There is no objection to printing it and circulating it. . . . May Allah give you success in serving Sacred Knowledge and the religion.
There could be no more coveted stamp of scholarly approval in Islam.
Charlie Hebdo, of course, is in the business of cartoon caricature for satirical purposes. That is a time-honored method of expression, political and otherwise, in the West. That is in stark contrast to how such expression is viewed by Islam. Here, as I summarized in my book Spring Fever – quoted verbatim and supported by citations — is what Reliance has to say about such visual art forms:
It is forbidden to make pictures of “animate life,” for doing so “imitates the creative act of Allah Most High”; “Whoever makes a picture, Allah shall torture him with it on the Day of Judgment until he can breathe life into it, and he will never be able to.” (Reliance w50.0 & ff.)
Nor is visual depiction alone in drawing sharia’s wrath. “Musical instruments of all types are unlawful.” As Reliance elaborates, singing is generally prohibited (for “song makes hypocrisy grow in the heart as water does herbage”), and “on the Day of Resurrection Allah will pour molten lead into the ears of whoever sits listening to a songstress.” There is an exception, though: If unaccompanied by musical instruments, song and poetry drawn from Islamic scripture and encouraging obedience to Allah are permissible. Ironically, although music is generally forbidden, dancing is permissible “unless it is languid, like the movements of the effeminate.” (Reliance r40.0 &ff.)
Understand, the prohibitions just described apply to artistic expression in general; Islam need not be lampooned for caricatures to run afoul of sharia. With that hostile predisposition in mind, let’s now consider Islam’s draconian treatment of expression that renounces Islam, belittles it or, in the slightest way, casts it in an unfavorable light:
Apostasy from Islam is “the ugliest form of unbelief” for which the penalty is death (“When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed”). (Reliance o8.0 & ff.)
Apostasy occurs not only when a Muslim renounces Islam but also, among other things, when a Muslim appears to worship an idol, when he is heard “to speak words that imply unbelief,” when he makes statements that appear to deny or revile Allah or the prophet Mohammed, when he is heard “to deny the obligatory character of something which by consensus of Muslims is part of Islam,” and when he is heard “to be sarcastic about any ruling of the Sacred Law.” (Reliance o8.7; see also p9.0 & ff.)
It is worth pausing to mull these latter prohibitions against denying or reviling any aspect of Islam, Allah, or the prophet. The call to kill apostates for such offenses obviously applies with equal or greater force to non-Muslims, who are pervasively treated far worse than Muslims are by sharia. See, for example, the infamous verse 29 from Sura 9, the Koran’s most bellicose chapter:
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold forbidden which had been forbidden by Allah and his Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, from among the people of the book [i.e., Christians and Jews], until they pay the jizya [the poll tax imposed on non-believers for the privilege of living in the Islamic state] and feel themselves subdued.
While insipid Western leaders cannot admonish us often enough that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” the French satirical magazine has offered a different take — one rooted in the cherished Western belief that examination in the light of day, rather than willful blindness, is the path to real understanding. In that tradition, a few other choice aspects of sharia, detailed by Muslim scholars in Reliance, are worth reviewing:
‐“Jihad means to war against non-Muslims.” (Reliance o9.0.)
‐It is an annual requirement to donate a portion of one’s income to the betterment of the ummah (an obligation called zakat, which is usually, and inaccurately, translated as “charity”); of this annual donation, one-eighth must be given to “those fighting for Allah, meaning people engaged in Islamic military operations for whom no salary has been allotted in the army roster. . . . They are given enough to suffice them for the operation even if they are affluent; of weapons, mounts, clothing and expenses.” (Reliance, h8.1–17.)
‐As commanded in the aforementioned Sura 9:29, non-Muslims are permitted to live in an Islamic state only if they follow the rules of Islam, pay the non-Muslim poll tax, and comply with various conditions designed to remind them that they have been subdued, such as wearing distinctive clothing, keeping to one side of the street, not being greeted with “Peace be with you” (“as-Salamu alaykum”), not being permitted to build as high as or higher than Muslims, and being forbidden to build new churches, recite prayers aloud, “or make public displays of their funerals or feast-days.” (Reliance o11.0 & ff.)
‐Offenses committed against Muslims, including murder, are more serious than offenses committed against non-Muslims. (Reliance o1.0 & ff; p2.0-1.)
‐The penalty for spying against Muslims is death. (Reliance p50.0 & ff; p74.0 & ff.)
‐The penalty for homosexual activity (“sodomy and lesbianism”) is death. (Reliance p17.0 & ff.)
‐A Muslim woman may marry only a Muslim man; a Muslim man may marry up to four women, who may be Muslim, Christian, or Jewish (but no apostates from Islam). (Reliance m6.0 & ff. — Marriage.)
‐A woman is required to be obedient to her husband and is prohibited from leaving the marital home without permission; if permitted to go out, she must conceal her figure or alter it “to a form unlikely to draw looks from men or attract them.” (Reliance p42.0 & ff.)
‐A non-Muslim may not be awarded custody of a Muslim child. (Reliance m13.2–3.)
‐A woman has no right of custody of her child from a previous marriage when she remarries “because married life will occupy her with fulfilling the rights of her husband and prevent her from tending to the child.” (Reliance m13.4.)
‐The penalty for theft is amputation of the right hand. (Reliance o14.0.)
‐The penalty for accepting interest (“usurious gain”) is death (i.e., to be considered in a state of war against Allah). (Reliance p7.0 & ff.)
‐The testimony of a woman is worth half that of a man. (Reliance o24.7.)
‐If a case involves an allegation of fornication (including rape), “then it requires four male witnesses.” (Reliance o24.9.)
‐The establishment of a caliphate is obligatory, and the caliph must be Muslim and male. “The Prophet . . . said, ‘Men are already destroyed when they obey women.’” (Reliance o25.0 & ff; see also p28.0, on Mohammed’s condemnation of “masculine women and effeminate men.”)
This is not “violent extremist” doctrine. This is Islamic doctrine — sharia, authoritatively explained and endorsed. Millions of Muslims, particularly in the West, do not abide by it and are working heroically — and at great risk to themselves — to marginalize or supersede it. Of course we should admire and help them. That, however, is not a reason to pretend that this doctrine does not exist. It is, furthermore, suicidal to ignore the fact that, because this doctrine is rooted in scripture and endorsed by influential scholars, some Muslims are going to act on it, and many millions more will support them.
This anti-liberty, supremacist, repulsively discriminatory, and sadly mainstream interpretation of Islam must be acknowledged and confronted. In its way, that is what Charlie Hebdo had been attempting to do — while, to their lasting shame, governments in the United States and Europe have been working with Islamist states to promote sharia blasphemy standards. That needs to end. The future must not belong to those who brutalize free expression in the name of Islam.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.