The Islamic Reasons for ISIS’ Barbaric Murder of Homosexuals

As inhumane as these actions may be, executing homosexuals in this way does not come from a nihilistic urge for carnage.

BY Immanuel Al-Manteeqi · @Al_Manteeqi | June 12, 2016

[UPDATE: Late last night, a gunman killed up to 50 people and wounded 42 in an Orlando, Florida nightclub shooting. Police stormed the Pulse nightclub after a three-hour standoff and released 30 hostages. The FBI believe shooting was terrorism. CBS News has identified the shooter as Port St. Lucie resident Omar Mateen, a US citizen of Afghan descent. He is confirmed dead.]

On May 9th, 2016, ISIS members blind-folded an unidentified man and threw him off a five-story building in Manbij, a city in the Aleppo province of Syria. A mob of hundreds of people—including children—gathered below the building to witness this execution. What is worse is that the mob stoned the victim’s body after it hit the ground, probably to make sure that the victim was dead, if not to symbolically take part in the execution.

There is a trend in the way that ISIS goes about executing those that it alleges of being homosexual—it usually, though not always, has them thrown off of tall buildings. As inhumane as these actions may be, this trend of executing homosexuals in this way does not come from a nihilistic urge for carnage. No, they are cold and calculated steps taken by people who believe that through such actions they are serving God.

Executing homosexuals by such means as throwing them off of high buildings is motivated by a fairly mainstream Islamic rationale. In order to understand why ISIS takes part in such vile actions, it is necessary to understand the reasons that they are themselves appealing to in performing such actions. In what follows, I will lay out the chief reasons for ISIS’ barbaric execution of homosexuals:

First, there is relatively good evidence  that Islam prohibits homosexual acts. This can be gleaned from reading the Qur’an (in Q 4:15-16; 15:73; 26:165; 7:80-82; 26:165-175; 27:55-58; 29:28-29), which talks about the punishment that God visited upon the “people of Lot,” which the Qur’an takes to be a lecherous people who participated in homosexual actions (echoing the Biblical story of Lot’s visit to Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament).

Indeed, in Muhammad Malik’s English translation of the Qur’an printed in Texas, the comment on Q 15:73, which talks about two angels’ visitation to the people of Lot, reads as follows: “the same angels came to Prophet [Lot] and executed Allah’s decree of stoning to death the nation of homosexuals.” So strong is the association with the people of Lot and homosexuality that it has become common place among Arabs to call a homosexual person by the pejorative term “Loti” (لوطي), after the prophet Lot’s namesake.

Furthermore, that homosexual acts are prohibited in Islam is also relatively uncontroversial among Islamic scholars; only in recent memory do you have the emergence of openly homosexual imams, and even then, it is an exclusively Western phenomenon.  So ISIS has good grounds for taking homosexual actions to be sinful.

Second, there is a hadith attributed to Muhammad that mandates the death penalty for partakers of homosexual acts. However, there is only one such hadith, and it is not found in the two Sahih collections (Sahih Muslim and Sahih Al-Bukhari), the two most trusted collections of ahadeeth. The only textual evidence in the ahadeeth that talks about the punishment for homosexuality can be traced back to a hadith in Musnad Ahmad, a collection of ahadeeth that is attributed to Ahmad ibn Hanbal (c. 780 – 855 A.D.), the founder of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, one of the four most prominent schools  in Sunni Islam.[1]  The hadith  has Muhammad saying that “whomever you find doing the actions of the people of Lot, kill the one doing it, and the one it is done to.” This hadith has been appealed to on multiple occasions by ISIS in carrying out executions.

Third, while there is a consensus amongst Muslim scholars that homosexual acts are sinful, there is no consensus as to the proper punishment of such acts. Some Muslim scholars, including early ones, reject the above hadith as having a weak isnad or chain of transmission. The scholars’ beliefs reflect the multiple traditions relating what the companions of Muhammad believed. There are traditions which record that Ibn Abbas, Muhammad’s cousin, stated that homosexuals should be thrown off the highest place in a city. Other traditions, like those attributed to Ali ibn Abi Talib (the cousin of Muhammad and the fourth “rightly guided” caliph), and Abu Bakr, the first “rightly guided caliph,” record that homosexuals should be burned to death.

Given the aforementioned texts, ISIS’s reasoning is quite simple here: true Islam is the Islam that was practiced in the first three generations of Islam, the generation of the Messenger Muhammad, the generation of the companions (الصحابة) of Muhammad, and the generation of the followers of the companions (التابعون). Since in these generations homosexuals were executed by Muslims, today homosexuals should be executed as well; in particular, they should be executed in ways that resemble how they were killed in the aforementioned generations. One such manner of execution is that which is attributed to Ibn Abbas, viz., throwing homosexuals off of rooftops. ISIS believes that this is in keeping with what was practiced in the first three and best generations of Islam, as is clear from what is published in its videos and Dabiq issues (Dabiq is the name for ISIS’ English magazine).

Although the condemnation of homosexual acts has relatively strong textual basis in Islam, the same cannot be said about the appropriate punishment for such acts.

The ahadeeth and other traditions are not founded upon bedrock historical truth, as they come long after the death of Muhammad. In addition, early Muslim scholars themselves disagree with respect to whether the foundational hadith text mandating the execution of homosexuals is considered reliable. Given this, reformist-minded Muslims have leeway, even within their own Islamic paradigms, to consign these anti-homosexual traditions to the dustbins of history.

[1] This hadith is copied in other hadith collections, particularly in the Sunan collections—viz., in Sunan Al-Tirdmidhi, Sunan Abi Dawood, and Sunan Ibn Majah, which are all part of the Sahih Sittah, the six most trusted collections of Sunni ahadeeth.



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