I confess that I am only at the very beginning of Sadakat Kadri’s book ‘Heaven on Earth; A Journey Through Shari’a Law‘ and yet on every page of the opening chapters, I find myself compelled to comment.
Kadri presents a time period before the Qur’an as much in need of revolutionary ideas. Infanticide if the child was female is the norm, stoning of those accused on flimsy evidence is rampant. Pre-Islamic Arabia is a cruel and divided land, for Kadat. And yet, when the similar cruelties of the religion that rapidly took over the area, and the dictates of its leader are highlighted, Kadri seems to excuse the most grotesque behaviour. For example, Kadri writes:
“The criminal justice provisions instituted at this time, as reflected in the text of the Qur’an were straightforward enough. God required humanity to punish four sins, known as haddood. Theft was said to merit amputation of the right hand, fornication earned a hundred lashes, and falsely accusing someone of the same crime was punishable by 80 strokes. The gravest crime, the ‘waging of war against Islam or spreading disorder in the land’, was attended by an entire battery of punitive possibilities: exile, double amputation, suspension from a cross, and decapitation.”
– We must take from this, the dangerous idea – belonging to a faith that is taught to children – that God believes chopping someone’s limbs off is the morally correct way to handle theft. That physically harming someone, is morally better than stealing someone’s property. After such a gruesome back catalogue of violent attacks upon the individual, and the unquestioned assumption of religious supremacy over the individual, a page later Kadri bizarrely writes:
“Torture, which was routine under the Christianised Roman law of Byzantium, found no place in the Qur’an.”
– It takes an extraordinary mind to note that hands were ordered to be put on blocks and chopped off, for theft, and to follow that note up with a denial of torture. I suspect the one receiving a double amputation, or being decapitated may consider themselves tortured. One may claim that it was the context of time, that believers nowadays know better, but that of course requires dismissing the fact that this is all conceived by a divine rule giver who transcends time, and so is supposedly morally superior to not only Muhammad 1400 years ago, but also believers today. Context of time is irrelevant when dealing with a time-transcending being.
Kadri goes on to note that whilst stoning to death for illicit sex is prescribed in the Qur’an, it is actually progressive insomuch as it makes the penalty far harder to impose than that which came before. Kadri relates a story of Muhammad and an adulterer, quoting an Islamic criminal law book from the 20th century:
“Calling a spade a spade, (the Prophet asked) ‘Did you **** her? Ma’iz said ‘yes’. He asked ‘Like the kohl stick disappears into the kohl container and the bucket into the well?’ He answered ‘Yes’. Then he asked ‘Do you know what zina means?’ He said ‘Yes, I did with her unlawfully what a man does with his wife lawfully’. Then the Prophet asked ‘What do you intend with these words?’ He answered ‘That you purify me’. Then he ordered him to be stoned.”
– This vicious story, a story of a man who died from rocks being hurled at him by a man who claims (not proves) to be a messenger of god thus permitting himself the right to decide who lives and dies. A story of stoning human beings considered less morally questionable than having sex with someone you’re not married to, is a story that Kadri spends the next two pages making excuses for. For example, he says:
“Pious Muslims see only extraordinary restraint on the Prophet’s part, and they often point out additional signs of his mercy; the fact that he made no attempt to track down the woman concerned, for example. At the opposite end of the spectrum are people who focus on nothing but the outcome. But a single perspective on a controversial event never makes for balance…”
– It is difficult to know where to begin with this. Perhaps at the point where just a few pages earlier, Kadri highlights Muhammad’s forward thinking policy that ‘the killing of a single person was meanwhile tantamount to the killing of the whole of humanity’ apparently negated a few moments later, by his order to stone a man to death. Or perhaps that the point where Kadri implies that those who praise Muhammad for ‘extraordinary restraint’ for not slaughtering the woman involved also are of a similar short sightedness with those of us who ‘focus on nothing but the outcome’. The outcome in this instance, is the taking of the life of a human being, for having consensual sex with someone. Focusing on anything else is to relegate the life of that human being, to less as important as the philosophical reasoning behind it. Focusing on anything else is to accept without question a man’s self imposed right to decide who lives and dies based on the delusional supremacy of his own beliefs. Kadri clearly thinks that those of us who focus on that, on murder, are short sighted. I would argue that those who focus on anything other than that murder, or try to trivialise that murder, the brainwashing of a young man to believe he need be punished for sex, and the brutal order to stone him, is not only short sighted, it excuses cruelty. Kadri continues his excuses:
“…. and as soon as other hadiths are taken into account, a subtler picture begins to emerge. One of them states that the execution divided Muslims into two camps, and another has Muhammad asking the killers of Ma’iz ‘Why did you not leave him alone? He might have repented and been forgiven by God’. At least two more suggest that Ma’iz’s real offence was not illicit sex, but indiscretion. One contemporary was heard to ruminate many years later that the young man had been punished only because he insisted on telling everyone he was guilty.”
– Far from a ‘subtler picture’ emerging, we simply change the reasons for murdering a man from having sex, to saying he’s had sex. As if this is any more of a legitimate reason to end the life of another human being with rocks. Either way, we are given clear evidence that Islam was never simply reserved as a guide to how to live one’s life, to better oneself, a spiritual system of inner peace. It was always a system of control, because it decided who does and doesn’t deserve to be murdered by other believers. A political system, like liberalism, fascism, communism, capitalism, and thus open to all the criticisms that all other systems of power must be open to.
But for now, I will continue to make my way through Kadri’s book, fully in the knowledge that he begins from the premise that Muhammad’s cruelty can be excused if we simply focus on other things, and just not question the relationship between a man of his time, a transcendent god, and binding moral laws anchored to 1400 years ago. A tactic that continues to permit some from turning their heads to religious supremacy and the dangers of idolising moral squabbles from centuries ago.