More Mixed News from the Middle East


Despite the avalanche of bad news from the Middle East, there has finally come some good news.  It is that Saudi Arabia has finally begun to step up to lead a coalition of predominantly Muslim countries to fight ISIS, ISIL, IS, Daesh – or whatever you want to call it (I’d call it the greatest perversion of a religion the world has seen since the Middle Ages).  But even as overdue as it is, it is especially noteworthy because  Saudi Arabia has been the home and fountain-head of the Salafist or Wahabist forms of Sunni fundamentalism that has spawned most of this radical Islamicist extremism. Much of it is based on the Hadith or traditions that developed during the centuries after the Koran or Quran  was written and many cases are not found in the Quran to begin with. 

For example, take the case of beheading of captives or prisoners, which is practiced by both the Islamic State as well as the Saudi Arabian government – in fact, according to an Al Jazeera News report this past September, the Saudis had beheaded about 41 people in 2015, with the same year’s target set at 79.  So the question is, how much is beheading necessarily connected to Islam?

To try to find out, I went to three different translations of the Quran  that I have on my Kindle e-reader and tried a word search for “behead” or “beheading.” I drew a total blank.  But what does turn up if you search using the word “head” is a command (in Surah or Chapter 8, verse 12) to “smite” (an archaic word for “strike”) the head or neck – as well as the “fingertips” – of those who disbelieve.  Only one of the three versions I have (the translation ascribed to the Egyptian judge Mohammed Abib Shakir) translates the Arabic verb as meaning “strike off” their heads as well as their fingers, and even that translation is not consistent, because Shakir seems to have translated the same verb when it is used in Chapter 47, verse 4, as simply “smite” (their necks) – and then goes on to advise the conquerors to afterwards “set them free as a favor” or “let them ransom (themselves)” until the war ends.  In either of these latter cases it is hard to see how those who have been so “smitten” could be set free or ransomed if they had already been deprived of their head!

Not overlooking the cruelty of medieval conquests and conversion methods often used by both Muslims and Christians in times past, I think that this “beheading” controversy goes to prove that so much of what people blame on religion in general often has little or nothing to do with what the various founders of any particular religion had in mind to begin with.  As is often the case, such practices are often holdovers from earlier cultural norms, or created by leaders (such as Mohammed himself who, although the Quran limits a man to four wives, allowed himself thirteen) later on who want to enforce their own ideas.  In any case, I think that we should be grateful that at long last the Saudis have begun to see the light (even starting allow women to vote despite still not being allowed to drive cars) and step up to their responsibilities.  Americans should not have to do their fighting for them, especially now that we no longer have to depend on the Saudis for our oil.

But I also think that all this mid-Eastern turmoil really has more to do with traditional cultures being challenged by the modern world, with its upholding of religious freedom and other human rights than it has to do with any particular religion itself.  Most of the Islamic nations, other than Pakistan (which now has its own major fundamentalist problems) refused to endorse the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.  This is why groups like the Taliban so vehemently oppose the education of girls and women.  If women were educated enough to read what the Quran actually says, who knows what they might demand?  And as for allowing women to drive, although they will have more than enough oil and gas to burn, how many Saudi husbands can afford to buy each one of his wives her own automobile?  


R W Kropf  12-23-2015                                                MixedNews.doc  15-12-23.html