Monday, March 27, 2006

Is Calling Islamic Law "Draconian" Unfair to Draco?

Probably not. As legend at least, Draco is remembered for promulgating severe seventh century B.C. laws "naming death as the penalty even for minor offenses that today would be classed as misdemeanors." (Ancient Greece, Pomeroy, et al., Oxford University Press, 1999)

But even though he was no Draco, Muhammed could be pretty harsh, or at least that's what Muslim documents record. For example, take one of the red hot iron excerpts from Sahih Bukhari,* a group of documents revered by Muslims as second only to the Quran:

Volume 8, Book 82, Number 796:

Narrated Anas:
A group of people from 'Ukl (tribe) came to the Prophet and they were living with the people of As-Suffa, but they became ill as the climate of Medina did not suit them, so they said, "O Allah's Apostle! Provide us with milk." The Prophet said, I see no other way for you than to use the camels of Allah's Apostle." So they went and drank the milk and urine of the camels, (as medicine) and became healthy and fat. Then they killed the shepherd and took the camels away. When a help-seeker came to Allah's Apostle, he sent some men in their pursuit, and they were captured and brought before mid day. The Prophet [Muhammed] ordered for some iron pieces to be made red hot, and their eyes were branded with them and their hands and feet were cut off and were not cauterized. Then they were put at a place called Al-Harra, and when they asked for water to drink they were not given till they died. (Abu Qilaba said, "Those people committed theft and murder and fought against Allah and His Apostle.")
(my emphasis)

Gee, I wish Muhammed wouldn’t have held back like that. If I were there I would have urged him to get tough on those murderers.

Ok, it’s true that punishments could be pretty harsh everywhere fourteen hundred years ago. But it is rather striking, is it not, to see that the prime examplar for Muslims, the man they consider the best of men, is someone most Muslims believe was capable of the above and similar acts.

One might drop it there, except that most Muslims take Muhammed’s example as valid for all time, including our own. Why? Because he channeled God’s word verbatim, or so Muslims say. Both Huston Smith, in The World’s Religions and Daniel Boorstin, in The Creators pointed out that for Muslims the Quran is the “Inlibration” of God, the entry of God into a book, somewhat as for Christians Christ is the Incarnation of God, the entry of God into the flesh. The Muslim attitude to the Quran is not analogous to the Christian attitude toward the Bible (which Christians generally consider an “inspired” record, not a verbatim transcript of God’s own words).

When one recalls that small parts of Europe may be ruled by Sharia (Islamic law) within a decade or two, and all of Europe by century's end, the urgency of getting to know Muhammed becomes evident. So in future posts I'll cite other remarkable episodes from his life.

*According to the University of Southern California website, Compendium of Muslim Texts:

"...Bukhari's collection is recognized by the overwhelming majority of the Muslim world to be one of the most authentic collections of the Sunnah [life] of the Prophet... The Sunnah is the second source of Islamic jurisprudence, the first being the Qur'an. Both sources are indispensable; one cannot practice Islam without consulting both of them."

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