Beheadings in Islamic History

PMT 2013-044b by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

In my previous blog article I began a two-part study on the horrible phenomenon of Islamic beheadings. I will conclude this study in this posting. Ironically, this posting appears on December 25, 2013, the date set aside to celebrate the birth of Christ. We need to set the Prince of Peace over against the sword of Islam.

In Islam  the Prophet Muhammad is the greatest example for the faithful to follow. He is the model of dedication to God par excellence; in fact, he is deemed the perfect example of submission to Allah. Hence, even deriding this perfect one is blasphemous, as witness the case of Salman Rushdie who was put under a death sentence for belittling the Prophet.

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Now then, what can we learn from the example and the teachings of the “perfect” founder of Islam? Do his life and teachings discourage the horrible conduct we see engaged, tolerated, and cheered by so many Muslims today?

The Qu’ran (which embodies Muhammad’s “revelations” from God) certainly does not harmonize with Christ’s peaceable teachings. In the Qu’ran we read: “Those of the believers who stay at home, other than the disabled, are not equal to those who strive in the path of God with their goods and their persons. God has placed those who struggle with their goods and their persons on a higher level than those who stay at home. God has promised reward to all who believe but He distinguishes those who fight, above those who stay at home, with a mighty reward” (Sura 4:95; cp. 8:72; 9:41, 81, 88; 46:9).

In Sura 9:5 we read “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem.” At verse 29 the devout Muslim is directed to “fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of truth, from among the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

And these teachings of Muhammad himself arose from his own lifestyle. His early caravan raids to finance his new religion and later wars against the inhabitants of Medina and other cities to promote it give meaning to his religion of “Islam,” which means “submission.”

Unlike Christ, “In Islam, the struggle of good and evil acquired, from the start, political and even military dimensions. Muhammad, it will be recalled, was not only a prophet and a teacher, like the founders of other religions; he was also a ruler and a soldier. Hence his struggle involved a state and its armed forces.” (Bernard Lewis, The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror [New York: Modern, 2003], 26.)

Thus, “Muhammad triumphed during his lifetime, and died a sovereign and a conqueror” (Lewis, The Crisis of Islam, 10). We must understand that “from the lifetime of its Founder, and therefore in its sacred scriptures, Islam is associated in the minds and memories of Muslims with the exercise of political and military power (Lewis, The Crisis of Islam, 21).

To make matters worse, Sunni Islam is the largest Islamic sect, encompassing 85% of Muslims in the world. “Sunni” is based on the “sunna,” “the pathway of the prophet” Muhammad (to which all Muslims are committed, whether formally Sunnis or not) (Peter G. Riddell and Peter Cotterell, Islam in Context: Past, Present, and Future [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], 208.) “Muslims have the duty of da’wa, calling, summoning people to submit to Allah and to follow the sunna, the pathway trodden first by Muhammad” (Riddell and Cotterell, Islam in Context, 118).

But what is the example, the way, the path of the prophet? He not only engaged in caravan raids early in his career as a prophet and war later, but he himself was involved in the massacre of the Qurayza Jews wherein he “had trenches dug, and the men were led out in batches and beheaded” ( Riddell and Cotterell, Islam in Context, 30). Ibn Ishaq’s ancient, authoritative Life of Muhammad records of this event: “There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900” (Cited in Riddell and Cotterell, Islam in Context, 30).

How could the recent beheadings and dismemberments of a few “pagans” alarm the devout Muslim today? His “perfect” Prophet beheaded upwards of 900 in one setting! We are alarmed because we are Christians. As Rudyard Kipling wrote of the Islamic problem: “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet” (The Ballad of East and West, 1889). The roots of East and West in the founders of their respective religions provide a stark demonstration of the cultural and moral differences separating us.

We can be thankful that not all Muslims accept this sort of behavior. Ironically though, we applaud them for their religious inconsistency. They are out of step with the example of their model Prophet, their scriptures, their worldview, and their history. When Christians have engaged in atrocities, they were denying their Great Prophet (Christ), breaking their scriptures (Christ’s teaching), breaching their worldview, and their founding history.

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3 thoughts on “Beheadings in Islamic History

  1. mollygriffith2014 November 12, 2014 at 11:32 pm

    What about the beheaded martyrs in Revelation? How does beheading fit with the Olivet Discourse?

  2. Kenneth Gentry November 13, 2014 at 6:41 am

    He mentions their “beheading” to show that these are not all Christians, and are not even all Christians who simply die. Rather these are persecuted Christians who are killed for their faith. This reflects the expectation in Matt 24:9: “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.”

    Beheading represents Rome’s well-known method of execution by an ax. John may have used this term as a catch-all image of execution, due to its familiarity to his Asian audience and since Rome is ultimately involved in these deaths. This would show that they result from formal, capital sanctions (Rev 13:10; cf. Mk 6:27; Acts 12:2; cp. Acts of Paul 11:5; Eccl. Hist. 2:25:5; see: Rom 13:4). Surely this is a periphrasis for execution. No one would argue that his concern is limited to those and only those who were beheaded — or (more literally) to those who were beheaded with an ax instead of a sword. This probably re-emphasizes the Roman beast’s role in their deaths (after all, he notes that they “had not worshiped the beast”).

  3. mollygriffith2014 November 13, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Ok. Wow! Yeah. Thanks!

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