Beheadings Have No Justification in Islam, Scholars Say

June 24, 2004

Source: New York Newsday,0,5716711.story

On June 24, 2004 New York Newsday reported, "It has become a terrifying spectacle disseminated by videotape: masked men calmly reading statements and then beheading their hostages. The speeches are mostly political; occasionally they have invoked vague religious justifications for the killings. But there is little precedent in Islamic holy texts and tradition for carrying out decapitations, scholars say. Islam's holy book, the Quran, provides clear prohibitions against killing civilians and bans mistreatment of prisoners. 'There is absolutely nothing in Islam that justifies cutting off a person's head,' said Yvonne Haddad, a professor at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. 'In fact, Islam was the first major religion to set guidelines for the treatment of prisoners and the conduct of war.' By beheading their victims and distributing the tapes on the Internet and to Arab television networks, Islamic militants have hit on a new strategy to gain worldwide attention. 'This is clearly designed to spread terror,' said Diaa Rashwan, a leading expert on Islamic militants at Cairo's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. 'Suicide bombings no longer receive as much attention as they used to, but these beheadings terrify people all over the world.' Rashwan noted that unlike most statements from Islamic militants, which are peppered with religious imagery and anecdotes, the speeches that accompanied the beheadings of U.S. businessman Nicholas Berg and South Korean translator Kim Sun-il mostly focused on political themes."