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Wednesday, February 04, 2015
When do Muslims burn witches at the stake?
The caliph believes it is his right to burn men alive. Robert Spencer brings some ahadith from either side.
The Iraqi ‘Ikrima thought it was wrong. From Bukhari, execution by fire:
Some Zanadiqa were brought to ‘Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn ‘Abbas who said, “If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Apostle forbade it, saying, ‘Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire).’ I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Apostle, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'”
The translator Muhsin Khan says Zanadiqa (singular Zindiq) means atheists but he is ignorant. Most often it referred to Manichees. Expanding from that you were generally accused of being zindiq if you practiced astrology. Which – I’ll agree with the mediaeval Muslims here – is basically the rich-man’s witchcraft. Certainly it wasn’t atheism. So there truly is a parallel here with the European burning of witches.
It is interesting here that ‘Ali did this practice; and one suspects that, as a relative of the Prophet, he would have claimed a precedent for it; but we don't hear ‘Ali's own side of things from ‘Ikrima. So to that, the Jews told Ibn Ishaq that the Prophet had done it himself. Then, as we know, Tabari and Ibn Hisham (quoted here, tr. Guillaume 515) quoted Ibn Ishaq:
Kinana b. al-Rabi`, who had the custody of the treasure of B. al-Nadir, was brought to the apostle who asked him about it. He denied that he knew where it was. A Jew came (T. was brought) to the apostle and said that he had seen Kinana going round a certain ruin every morning early. When the apostle said to Kinana, ‘Do you know that if we find you have it I shall kill you?’ he said Yes. The apostle gave orders that the ruin was to be excavated and some of the treasure was found. When he asked him about the rest he refused to produce it, so the apostle gave orders to al-Zubayr b. al-Awwam, ‘Torture him until you extract what he has,’ so he kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. Then the apostle delivered him to Muhammad b. Maslama and he struck off his head, in revenge for his brother Mahmud.
In addition Bukhari brings Abu Hurayra here.
Of course... Tabari also quoted Sayf bin Umar a lot. So even if we accept the Kinana tradition, that Muhammad would do himself what he forbade of others (and many Muslims don't accept this) that was the Prophet. Only an Imam like ‘Ali would dare follow this example so closely. And if you're following Abu Hurayra ahadith . . . you may even be better off with Sayf.
I'd have to do a lot more common-link hadith-digging to come up with a firm decision on whether Islam practiced burning consistently. I do see it with the early Umayyads. Mu'awiya had the bishop of Emesa (Hims) burned in the mid 660s AD: Theophanes tr. Turtledove, 48. We can also talk about Muhammad bin Marwan's massacre of Armenians in 700 AD.
So again, this is what happens when a man claims the caliphate: a caliph promulgates his own sunna and so by definition cannot be a Sunn-î. The caliph acts according to what is good for the caliph. He might even rewrite the Book.
Back in Jordan: their King is a Hashimi. He is related both to ‘Ali and to al-‘Abbas. Since he is Sunni he will incline more to the ‘Abbasids. That leads him to denounce the Imami punishment as arrogant and thus illegal.
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