During her imprisonment, Kayla Mueller, 26-year-old humanitarian aid worker, was repeatedly raped by the leader of ISIS, Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, before she was killed last February. The news of al-Baghdadi’s serial assault habits came out last week.
ISIS’s al-Baghdadi operates within a shame/honor paradigm, like most of the Middle East and Arab World. Ms. Mueller represented an American object. Shaming her reflects the supremacy and dominion of the Caliph and Muslims over the enemy. The message he most likely desired to send was that, despite the airstrikes, Muslims are still strong and can achieve hegemony over America and its people.
Many politicians affirm that ISIS is not Islamic and its members are not true Muslims, while the militant group itself justifies its actions by quoting the Quran and Muhammad’s sayings. Even, al-Azhar, the most prestigious university of Sunni Islam, has refused to identify ISIS and its members as not Muslims, maintaining that “we cannot infidelize a Muslim regardless of his sins.”
But how can ISIS’s Caliph al-Baghdadi vindicate such deeds, raping and enslaving non-Muslim women? The answer is most likely that he cites sacred texts to support his acts, along with revered precedents.
In Muhammad’s Biography, we read of his conflict with the Jewish tribe of Bani Qurayza, which led him to raid and seize it for almost a month, before the people eventually surrendered. Following the decree of one of his companions, he instructed that “the men should be killed, the property divided, and the women and children taken as captives.” To kill the men, the Prophet dug trenches, and struck off their heads. As for the captive women, the Prophet sold them to purchase horses and weapons in return, except one gorgeous woman, Rayhana, whom he “kept for himself.” Though Rayhana’s husband had just been murdered and she refused to quit Judaism to embrace Islam, the Prophet declared her one of his wives.
While some Muslims may view this incident with the Jewish tribe as permissible only for the Prophet, because of his stature and divine position, ISIS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may claim to qualify for the same license.
Another clear example in the life of the astounding Muslim leader Khalid ibn al-Walid, who is called by the Prophet “the Sword of Allah,” a shrewd, skillful, and cunning warrior.
Khalid was leading an army to fight those who had quit Islam after Muhammad’s death and refused to pay the tax. He came upon a small tribe, spotting among them a notable man named Malik and his wife Layla. The Muslim historian Al-Ya‘qubi writes that Khalid saw Malik’s wife and lusted after her. Khalid asked Malik and his people whether they rejected Islam. Though they affirmed they were Muslims and that they prepared their taxes, Khalid claimed to doubt them and had Malik beheaded. On that same day, Khalid took Layla and fornicated with her.
This incident is mentioned in the vast majority of the Muslim histories with these specific details. Khalid is known among Muslims, especially the Sunnis, as a great leader who was commended by the Prophet himself.
There is no guarantee that similar incidents will not take place in the future. The evil deeds of ISIS and its commanders will continue, supported by what they claim to be sacred—ancient holy texts. The voice of these texts is louder than contemporary reasoning. If the Muslim community itself does not counter the claims offered by militant Muslim groups, there can be no hope in overcoming the use of violence under the banner of religion.
The solution is not to keep debating whether ISIS is or is not Islamic, as the driving texts are clear and loud. An end to rape cannot be obtained by downplaying any Islamic-related role in such terror. Neither can the solution stem from a politically-correct discourse out to avoid causing offense. The solution lies in the hands of Muslims themselves. Non-Muslims cannot refute evidence offered by Muslims and embedded in Muslim sacred texts.
Ayman S. Ibrahim is Post-Doctoral Fellow of Middle Eastern History at Haifa University and Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies and Senior Fellow for the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.