The ISIS Penal Code: Shariah Justice and the Quest for Religious Legitimacy

The global allure of a self-designated Caliphate, especially one that insists that its every barbaric action is Qur’an-based and Sharia-true, should not be underestimated.

In October 2014, ISIS released the fourth issue of Dabiq, its online English- and multi-language newsletter. ISIS described a “successful consolidation of the judiciary,” and the formation of “sharia courts” that render decisions in a speedy and non-corrupt manner. ISIS has implemented a “radical interpretation of sharia law, killing men accused of blasphemy or homosexuality. The group has also carried out amputations and lashings for reasons as trivial as smoking or improper dressing.”

ISIS has taken over the education system in horrendous ways: one must memorize the Qur’an, there is to be no teaching of science, history, civics, physical education, and geography. Basic mathematics is allowed. ISIS has also established military training on children, imposed early curfews and full-face and body niqab on women, including those who work at hospitals.

While Westerners may find this as horrifying as ISIS’s systematic and taped destruction of ancient, precious pre-Islamic sculptures and artifacts, according to Jonathan Spyer and Jawad al-Tamimi in Middle East Forum, ISIS has, nevertheless, been carefully justifying their every atrocity as based on the Qur’an and Sharia law. For example, in terms of crucifixions, ISIS invoked Qur’an 5:33 (Those “who wage war on God and His Messenger” may be crucified).

Apostates may also be crucified—and ISIS bases this on a hadith (similar to Qur’an 5:33). Christians are required to pay a special tax “jizya,” “may not publicly wear crosses, pray in the presence of Muslims, or repair or renovate places of worship.”

Spyer and al-Tamimi point out that ISIS “already considers itself a state (dawla), not a mere group or organization (jamaat, or tanzim).” Therefore, like Saudi Arabia or Iran, it can lawfully cross-amputate for theft, stone adulterers to death, drop homosexuals from rooftops (and stone them if they are still alive), crucify or behead Christians and apostates, etc.

In October of 2014, 126 Islamic scholars and Muslim leaders from 38 countries signed an Open Letter to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi claiming that ISIS was violating Islamic Law. There was more than one signatory from the same country. For example, there were no fewer than 13 signatories from North America, mainly from the United States. Interestingly, many of the names belong to known Islamists, Muslim Brotherhood supporters and “fronts,” or anti-Zionists. For example, signatories include Nihad Awad (Council on American-Islamic Relations), Azhar Aziz (Islamic Society of North America), and Berkeley’s Hatem Baziem (American Muslims for Palestine).

While I am no Qur’anic scholar, much of what these signatories claim cannot be true. Or, rather, what they claim is the right interpretation of the Qur’an has not been followed by Muslim leaders historically—just as it is not being followed now by ISIS. For example, in their own Executive Summary, the signatories claim that “it is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent;” “forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers;” “forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat—in any way—Christians or any ‘People of the Scripture;’ “It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as People of the Scripture;” “The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus;” “It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert;” “It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights;” “It is forbidden in Islam to deny children their rights;” “It is forbidden in Islam to torture people;” “It is forbidden in Islam to disfigure the dead.”

Undaunted, in December 2014, ISIS released a formal penal code in which they spelled out “a set of fixed punishments.” This document’s release was followed by a spate of violent executions in which “a woman accused of adultery [was] stoned to death, 17 men crucified, and two men accused of homosexual acts thrown off a building.”

According to the translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), here are some of the acts and their punishments:

  • Blasphemy against Allah, Blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed, Blasphemy against Islam—all merit Death as does Sodomy, Adultery,  Murder, Apostasy, and Spying for Unbelievers.
  • Theft merits cutting off the hand;
  • Drinking alcohol merits 80 lashes;
  • Slandering merits 80 lashes;
  • Terrorizing People merits Exile.

Issue #7 of ISIS’s glossy online newsletter, Dabiq, was released in February. It is more than 80 pages long and is titled: “From Hypocrisy to Apostasy. The Extinction of the Grayzone.” ISIS means the “gray zone” in which Christian “Crusaders” and Jews, as well as Muslim hypocrites and apostates of all religions, are put on notice.

“Islam is the Religion of the Sword Not Pacificism” is the title of one chapter. This issue also displays many photos of ISIS’s atrocities and the Qur’anic justification for them. It blesses Bin Laden, boasts of the Islamic attacks against Europeans and Americans, prays that “Allah take revenge for the Muslims and the mujahidin, and rain fire and destruction upon the kuffar and murtaddin, wherever they are.”

Dabiq justifies ISIS’s ongoing persecution and murder of Coptic Christians as an act of revenge because Coptic Christians allegedly tortured and murdered Muslim women. This issue also deals with how ISIS is “clamping down on sexual deviance” and describes how the West has been “plunged into a downward spiral of sexual deviance and immorality.” It boasts of the murder of Theo Von Gogh and lauds the captured convert to Islam, John Cantlie who praises his captors and denounces “our deceitful governments.” He is quoted as saying: “Despite being a prisoner I’ve been shown respect and kindness, which I haven’t seen from my own [British] government.”

ISIS is a totalitarian cult led by barbarian psychopaths and extremist misogynists who seek to cover their criminality and self-perceived marginality with a cloak of religious respectability. They will continue on their path unless the “good people” of the world decide to stop them by any means possible and by any means necessary.

Yesterday, the Washington Post published an article which argued that the Islamic State caliphate “appears to be fraying from within, as dissent, defections, and setbacks on the battlefield sap the group’s strength and erode its aura of invisibility.”

According to Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, ISIS has failed because it has not been able to “unify people of different origins under the caliphate.” Many foreigners are people from “the margins of society” and many have come to “live in the Islamic State. They didn’t come to fight.” Finally, the Islamic “revolution” is not only crucifying Christians and forcing them and Yazidis into sex slavery, be-heading foreign aid workers and journalists—it has also begun to turn on its own.

One wonders whether Lina Khatib and the Washington Post are right.


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