Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Is Islam Evil? - Part IX

James Arlandson gives reason number seven for concluding that Islam is "not the religion of peace":

7. Muhammad in his Quran commands that the hands of male or female thieves should be cut off.

5:38 Cut off the hands of thieves, whether they are male or female, as punishment for what they have done—a deterrent from God: God is almighty and wise. 39 But if anyone repents after his wrongdoing and makes amends, God will accept his repentance: God is most forgiving and merciful. (Haleem)

Arlandson also quotes an anecdote about Muhammad:

Ibn Umar said the Prophet had a thief’s hand cut off for a shield worth three dirhams. (Bukhari and note the three hadith below this one)

The shield was fairly expensive. The poor in Muhammad’s armies could not afford one. But is a shield equal to a hand?

This anecdote is a bit problematic because  a shield is part of a person's military gear, so a theft of a weapon or of other military gear (like a shield) could have serious and even deadly consequences for the person whose weapon or shield was stolen.  Treating such thefts lightly could also be problematic for maintaining military disicipline and a well-equipped army or band of soldiers.  The theft of a piece of military equipment should not be equated to the theft of ordinary goods (food, clothing, pottery, livestock) from an ordinary civilian.

This passage from the Quran plus some anecdotes about Muhammad led Arlandson to draw a negative conclusion about Islam:

Thus, harsh and excessive punitive violence sits at the heart of early Islam--in Muhammad's life and in the Quran.  Islam is therefore not the religion of peace.

Cutting off the hand of a theif is indeed "harsh and excessive punitive violence", as Arlandson claims.  God, by definition, is a morally perfectly good person.  But a morally perfectly good person would not encourage such harsh and excessive violence as the punishment for a crime, especially for a minor theft.  In the USA we have established a constitutional prohibition against the use of "cruel and unusual punishment", so local, state, and federal governments cannot impose such excessive and harsh punishments for any crime, even for rape or murder.  

It is rational to conclude that either Allah is NOT God, but is a morally flawed person, or else that Allah is God, but that Muhammad and the Quran falsely represent Allah as encouraging harsh and excessive punishment for the crime of theft.  Either Allah is not God, or else the Quran contains false teachings about the will of Allah.

But before we get too far up on our high horse, it is important to place this harsh punishment in proper historical perspective.  According to Arlandson, the historical context of the passage quoted from the Quran took place about 630 C.E.. Over a thousand years later, in Chirstian-dominated countries, such as Britain, Christians were employing an even more excessive penalty for theft: death by hanging. Britain was a Christian nation, not an Islamic nation, and yet we find that the death penalty was rather freely given out in Britain in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries:

At the beginning of the 19th century, there were no fewer than 222 capital crimes, including such terrible offences as impersonating a Chelsea pensioner and damaging London Bridge! One reason why the number of capital crimes was so high was due to the way that particular offences were broken down into specific crimes. For instance stealing in a shop, a dwelling house, a warehouse and a brothel was each a separate offence. Similarly with arson, burning down a house was distinguished from burning a hayrick. It should be noted that in practice, there were only about seventeen general offences for which a death sentence was generally carried out in the 18th and early 19th centuries. These included murder, attempted murder, arson, rape, sodomy, forgery, uttering (passing forged or counterfeit monies or bills) coining, robbery, highway robbery (in many cases, this was the offence of street robbery, that we would now call mugging), housebreaking, robbery in a dwelling house, returning from transportation, cutting and maiming (grievous bodily harm) and horse, cattle or sheep stealing. For all the other capital offences, transportation to America or Australia was generally substituted for execution.
(from "The history of judicial hanging in Britain 1735 - 1964")

Between England, Wales, and Scotland, there were about 103 civilian executions per year in the 1700s, or over 10,000 executions from 1700-1799 (see "The history of judicial hanging in Britain 1735 - 1964"). Most of the executions were hangings, and given that humane methods of hanging had not yet been developed, most of those hangings were cruel and painful deaths; death by strangulation that took several minutes.

Hanging was not the only cruel punishment given out in the history of Britain. Other punishments imposed by the "merciful" Christians of Britain include: drawn, hanged, and quartered (a person would be hanged, but cut down while still alive, disemboweled, and then chopped into four pieces with an ax), burning at the stake (the preferred capital punishment for women), boiled to death, and such loving non-capital punishments as whipping, amputation, and branding.

Cutting off a person's hand for stealing something is a harsh and excessive punishment, but death by hanging is even more harsh and excessive.  Given the choice to lose one hand or to be strangled to death, most of us would prefer to have one hand cut off and to go on living.

Some other historical facts that are relevant here are the Inquisition and the witch-hunts in Europe. During the Inquisition Christians cruelly tortured fellow citizens who were suspected of holding religious or theological or philosophical beliefs that were contrary to the teachings of the Church at that time:

Historians use the term "Medieval Inquisition" to describe the various inquisitions that started around 1184, including the Episcopal Inquisition (1184–1230s) and later the Papal Inquisition (1230s). These inquisitions responded to large popular movements throughout Europe considered apostate or heretical to Christianity, in particular the Cathars in southern France and the Waldensians in both southern France and northern Italy. Other Inquisitions followed after these first inquisition movements. Legal basis for some inquisitorial activity came from Pope Innocent IV's papal bull Ad extirpanda of 1252, which explicitly authorized (and defined the appropriate circumstances for) the use of torture by the Inquisition for eliciting confessions from heretics.[13] By 1256 inquisitors were given absolution if they used instruments of torture.[14]

In the 13th century, Pope Gregory IX (reigned 1227–1241) assigned the duty of carrying out inquisitions to the Dominican Order. They used inquisitorial procedures, a legal practice common at that time. They judged heresy alone, using the local authorities to establish a tribunal and to prosecute heretics. After 1200, a Grand Inquisitor headed each Inquisition. Grand Inquisitions persisted until the mid 19th century.[15]  
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If the Christian torturers managed to force a confession out of a suspected heretic without actually killing the suspect, then the punishment that would be imposed was, in some cases, a horrific death by being burnt at the stake:

In practice, the Inquisition would not itself pronounce sentence, but handed over convicted heretics to secular authorities for the punishment deemed fitting by the Church.[5] The laws were inclusive of proscriptions against certain religious crimes (heresy, etc.), and the punishments included death by burning, although imprisonment for life or banishment would usually be used. Thus the inquisitors generally knew what would be the fate of anyone so remanded, and cannot be considered to have divorced the means of determining guilt from its effects.[6]
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Witch-hunts occurred in Europe for a number of centuries:

The witch trials in the early modern period were a period of witch hunts between the 15th and 18th centuries,[1] when across early modern Europe[2] and to some extent in the European colonies in North America, there was a widespread hysteria that malevolent Satanic witches were operating as an organized threat to Christendom. Those accused of witchcraft were portrayed as being worshippers of the Devil, who engaged in such acts as malevolent sorcery at meetings known as Witches' Sabbaths. Many people were subsequently accused of being witches, and were put on trial for the crime, with varying punishments being applicable in different regions and at different times.

While early trials fall still within the Late Medieval period, the peak of the witch hunt was during the period of the European wars of religion, peaking between about 1580 and 1630. The witch hunts declined in the early 18th century. In Great Britain, their end is marked by the Witchcraft Act of 1735. But sporadic witch-trials continued to be held during the second half of the 18th century, the last known dating to 1782,[3] though a prosecution was commenced in Tennessee as recently as 1833.[4][5][6]

Over the entire duration of the phenomenon of some three centuries, an estimated total of 40,000 to 100,000 people were executed.[7]
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During the witch-hunts of Europe thousands of women were burned at the stake for the crime of witchcraft, which, of course, is a crime that none were in fact guilty of:

Burning was also used by Roman Catholics and Protestants during the witch-hunts of Europe. The penal code known as the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina(1532) decreed that sorcery throughout the Holy Roman Empire should be treated as a criminal offence, and if it purported to inflict injury upon any person the witch was to be burnt at the stake. In 1572, Augustus, Elector of Saxony imposed the penalty of burning for witchcraft of every kind, including simple fortunetelling.
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Various cruel forms of torture were used by Christians in France, Britain, Scotland, Germany, Italy, and Spain:

Tortures included the chevalet, in which an accused witch sat on a pointed metal horse with weights strung from her feet.[28] Sexual humiliation torture included forced sitting on red-hot stools.[29]Gresillons, also called pennywinkis in Scotland, crushed the tips of fingers and toes in a vice-like device.[30] The Spanish Boot, or "leg-screw", used mostly in Germany and Scotland, was a steel boot that was placed over the leg of the accused and was tightened. The pressure from the squeezing of the boot would break the shin bone in pieces. An anonymous Scotsman called it "The most severe and cruel pain in the world".[31] The echelle more commonly known as the "ladder" or "rack" was a long table that the accused would lie upon and be stretched violently. The torture was used so intensely that on many occasions the victim's limbs would be pulled out of the socket and, at times, the limbs would even be torn from the body entirely. On some special occasions a tortillon was used in conjunction with the ladder which would severely squeeze and mutilate the genitals at the same time as the stretching was occurring.[30] Similar to the ladder was the "lift". It too stretched the limbs of the accused, this time however the victim's feet were strapped to the ground and their arms were tied behind their back before a rope was tied to their hands and lifted upwards. This caused the arms to break before the horrific portion of the stretching began.[31]
viewed 9/12/13

Christians employed punishments that were more harsh, more excessive, and more violent than cutting off the hand of a thief. And Christians did so nearly a thousand years later than the time period when Muhammad put forward this rule. 

So, Arlandson needs to also acknowledge the dirty laundry on his own side of the fence: Christians have a long history of using harsh, excessive, and violent punishments, some of which make cutting off the hand of a thief pale by comparison.