Does Islam sanction burning people to death?

Many of us heard on the news or witnessed on the internet the murder of the Jordanian Pilot by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria/Levant (ISIS/L) operatives.  By quoting from the Qur’an and other Islamic texts Islamic Literalists like those who belong to ISIS/L believe they are following their revealed religion to the letter of the law as they interpret it. ISIS/L’s reading of the Qur’an leads them to assert that they are waging a defensive jihad — a total war to defend Islam against both non-believers and apostates, with the Jordanian being in the latter category as a professing Muslim who took up arms against the jihad. Thus, his execution was legitimate under Qur’an and Shari’a, but shocking and horrific to Westerners and to those, like the Hashemites of Jordan and many of those in the national elite, who are secularized Muslims.  Obviously many in the Islamic world do not agree with this literalist interpretation. Whether most or many agree with this interpretation we are witnessing Muslims in the Middle east attacking ISIS/L not over their interpretation of Islamic texts but rather because these Sunni regimes are or eventually will be targets of the Islamic State. These Sunni Muslim regimes were not motivated by the slaughter of Americans, Christians, Shiites, and Yazidis but were moved by the horrible burning death of a Jordanian Pilot from an influential tribe in Jordan that fully supports Hashemite rule in the Kingdom of Jordan.  There are MANY so-called “moderate” Sunni Muslims who accept killing of unbelievers, apostates, and open heretics [e.g., Shi’a], but draw the line at judicial killing or terrorist killing of other Sunnis, even if their faith is only nominal. Below we will examine these verses to determine if ISIS/L operatives burned the Pilot to death in accordance with the Islamic texts or in clear violation of these texts.


Muhammad is in Mecca. He is being opposed even by some of his closest relatives in this case his aunt and uncle. As a result of this verbal assault and the throwing of thorns before Muhammad’s feet, Muhammad went into a trance and revealed Surah 111.     Qur’an 111:1-5: “Abu Lahab’s hands will perish and he will perish. His wealth and that which he earns will not avail [help] him. He will burn in fire giving rise to flames — and his wife — the bearer of slanderer. Upon her neck a halter of twisted rope!”

One interpretation will insist that Muhammad is speaking about the life to come but in these verses the word hell is not used. As for his wife why would she need to hang from the end of a rope in the next life if she was already dead? The Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation states the fiery uncle who condemned the Prophet would be burned. His wife would have to bring the wood for the fire, with the hangman’s noose already around her neck. This text may seem more terrifying if one was threatened with burning or hanging while they were still alive. We now leap five years into the future.


Muhammad has just defeated the Meccan Quraysh in battle, the same people to whom Abu Lahab and his aunt Umm belong. Following this battle at Badr, Muhammad sent a number of raiders with orders to capture some of the Meccans and burn them alive. This can be found in Muhammad’s biography Ishaq:316. Notice Muhammad has already won a great victory but is now urging his followers to hunt down those who escaped [Understand these are his extended family members] capture them and burn them alive. “But on the following day he sent word to us, ‘I told you to burn these men if you got hold of them. But I decided that none has the right to punish by fire save [except] Allah. So if you capture them, kill them.’”  So Muhammad the model of human conduct (Surah 33:21) changed his mind.  His relatives should not be burned to death but they must still be killed. His change of mind did not come from the Qur’an but changed according to his whim.

 In the same year the following hadith occurred. We know this event happened after Muhammad declared that people should not be burnt. Bukhari:V9B84N57: “Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn Abbas who said, ‘If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Apostle forbade it, saying, “Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment [fire].” I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Apostle, “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.”’” This can also be found in the following hadith: Bukhari:V4B52N260: “Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn ‘Abbas, who said, ‘Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, “Don’t punish (anybody) with Allah’s Punishment.” No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’”.

What we learn here is the atheists used to be Muslims. This is obvious according to Ibn Abbas statement at the end of this hadith. Ali either did not get the memo or he believed that Qur’an 111 did not apply to hell but to this life in regard to anyone who had insulted the Prophet by resisting or leaving Islam. Although Muhammad stated people should not be burnt, Ali did not suffer any punishment for burning the atheists to death. Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, would eventually become the fourth Caliph of Sunni Islam and the first Imam of Shi’a Islam.


The next incident we learn from Maldudi. He was a Pakistani Islamist who followed in the theological steps of Hassan al Banna and Said Qutb. Maldudi passed away in his native Pakistan in 1979.  In his book (vol. 1, p. 765, Prescribed Punishments; cf. Maududi vol. 2, p. 52, note 68) he stated;

Abu Bakr had a homosexual burned Ibn Abbas and Abu Huraira reported Allah’s messenger as saying, “Accursed is he who does what Lot’s people did.” In a version . . . on the authority of Ibn Abbas it says that Ali [Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law] had two people burned and that Abu Bakr [Muhammad’s chief companion] had a wall thrown down on them.

This is telling. It was acknowledged that Ali previously had two people burnt. After that despite what Muhammad previously said Abu Bakr, acting upon the Prophet’s words, burned a homosexual to death. Since Muhammad brought up Lot and the events of Sodom and since God destroyed the city and people with fire, who were Sodomites, Abu Bakr believed he could kill a homosexual the same way. Abu Bakr was Muhammad’s closest friend and would become the first Caliph of Sunni Islam. Abu Bakr was not sanctioned for his action. Also notice just as Abu Bakr had a wall thrown down on the dead homosexual so ISIS operatives buried the Jordanian pilot by having construction material dumped on him.


The next year Surah 4 was revealed. The majority of Muslims believe this verse applies to Jews in the next life. There is however some wiggle room for literalists. Notice the verse does not mention hell. Since it does not mention hell a minority interpretation can insist that people can be burnt and after they are burnt it is permissible to find others and burn them as well. Qur’an 4:56: “Those who disbelieve in Our messages, We shall make them enter Fire. As often as their skins are burned, We shall change them for other skins, that they may taste the chastisement. Surely Allah is every Mighty, Wise.”


In this year the Sira records the events leading to the destruction and genocide of the Qurayza Jews. Ishaq:481: “The Apostle slew them [Jews of Qurayza] in their own town. With our troops he surrounded their homes. We shouted out cries in the heat of battle. The Jews were given the Scripture and wasted it. Being blind, they strayed from the Torah. You Jews disbelieved the Qur’an and yet you have tasted the confirmation of what it said. May Allah make our raid on them immortal [never-ending]. May fire burn in their quarter. They will no longer ruin our lands. You [Jews] have no place here, so be off!”

This is not from the Qur’an but states or encourages Allah to permit fire to burn where these Jews live. Fire was a standard weapon in siege warfare of late antiquity. The intent was to not only kill the Jews but destroy their habitation by fire, which was both punishing and purifying according to the Qur’an and hadiths. Since fire was desired by these Muslims in the habitat of the Jews one can conclude if some or all of these Jews burnt to death this mode of their demise would have been acceptable.


Ishaq: 515 and Tabari VIII: 122: The Prophet gave orders concerning Kinanah to Zubayr, saying, ‘Torture him until you root out and extract what he has. So Zubayr kindled a fire on Kinanah’s chest, twirling it with his firestick until Kinanah was near death. Then the Messenger gave him to Maslamah, who beheaded him.

In this instance after the destruction of the Khaybar Jews, who were from the Banu Nadir, Muhammad gave the order to burn the Jewish treasurer until he told Muhammad where he hid the treasure. We learn here that Muhammad despite his previous word and Qur’anic revelation was not adverse to burning people.


The next year Muhammad was extremely angry that Muslims first encounter against a Christian army resulted in a rout at Tabuk/Muta. He blamed this defeat like the previous defeat at Uhud in 625 on Muslim hypocrites—that is Muslims who chose not to fight in jihad. Sahih Bukhari V1B11N626 records these words from Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “No prayer is harder for the hypocrites than the Fajr and the ‘Isha’ prayers and if they knew the reward for these prayers at their respective times, they would certainly present themselves (in the mosques) even if they had to crawl.” The Prophet added, “Certainly I decided to order the Mu’adh-dhin (call-maker) to pronounce Iqama and order a man to lead the prayer and then take a fire flame to burn all those who had not left their houses so far for the prayer along with their houses.

In this hadith we learn that Muhammad is not adverse to using fire as a means of terror. This applies to Muslims who are not behaving as they should according to Muhammad. Muhammad is clearly calling for the burning of these “phony” Muslims. Failure to join the jihad against the enemies of Islam is cowardice and hypocrisy, which is viewed in these early days as equivalent to apostasy. No one was allowed to hold back from war. It was equivalent to desertion in wartime. To fight against the jihadis in alliance with unbelievers, Americans and British, is overt apostasy. With this hadith coming near the end of Muhammad’s life it is not hard to see ISIS/L operatives burning a Jordanian Pilot to death who from their point of view has left the faith. If the Jordanian Pilot was a true Muslim why was he bombing other Muslims?


This revelation is clearly applicable to Christians and Jews who are destined for hellfire. Qur’an 98:6: “Those who disbelieve from among the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] and the [all] idolaters [those who disbelieve Allah’s revelation] will be in Fire of hell, abiding therein [forever]. They are the worst of creatures [created beings].”

What is clear is that Jews and Christians are destined for the flames of hell.  This ensures that Islamic Literalists will continue to view us with contempt since we are all damned.  It also points out one year before Muhammad’s death that the Qur’an NEVER prohibits the burning alive of anyone not deemed to be a true believer.  If it did then Muhammad would fall under the same condemnation. Since all of the Qur’an escaped from Muhammad’s mouth there was little chance that any verse would condemn Muhammad’s actions.  We must conclude that Muhammad in 624 had reasons to change his mind concerning the burning of the Quraysh fighters but he never punished those who did burn others and ordered the burning of Jews later in his life.

After Muhammad died in 632 the Tarikh of Al-Tabari records a continuation of the same theme.


Below are quotes from Tabari’s History, Tabari X: 55-57

Abu Bakr’s letter to the apostates.

… So Allah guided with the truth whoever responded to Him, and the Apostle of Allah, with His permission, struck whoever turned his back to Him until he came to Islam, willingly or grudgingly.

… I have learned that some of you have turned back from your religion after you had acknowledged Islam and labored in it, out of negligence of Allah and ignorance of His command, and in compliance with the devil….

… I have sent you someone at the head of an army of the Muhajirun and the Ansar and those who follow (them) in good works. I ordered him not to fight anyone or to kill anyone until he has called him to the cause of Allah; so that those who respond to him and acknowledge (Him) and renounce (unbelief) and do good works, (my envoy) shall accept him and help him to (do right), but I have ordered him to fight those who deny (Him) for that reason. So he will not spare any one of them he can gain mastery over, (but may) burn them with fire, slaughter them by any means, and take women and children captive; nor shall he accept from anyone anything except Islam.

This should resound as tacit proof that Islam does not prohibit the burning of people who are considered apostates of Islam or who oppose Islam. After Ali burnt two people Abu Bakr burned a homosexual. Since neither was condemned and Muhammad continued the practice in the years that followed we can conclude that burning people is not prohibited by Islam.

Dear readers the only solution to this is to boldly proclaim to Muslims that a much better example lived his life with love and humility. He is one who welcomes all who recognize that we are all sinners. He harmed no one while he lived and left an empty tomb as proof of his claims to have come from the Father as a Shepherd who attends to his lost sheep and as a Shepherd who ransomed his life for his sheep. He said that all his sheep hear his voice. We are not speaking of religion but rather a relationship with Jesus the Messiah the only hope for this lost and sinful world. Islam cannot reform these acts. Only Jesus who Muslims believe is one of their Prophets can do so. Jesus said that he was more than a Prophet. The more that we boldly proclaim this the more it will become an unavoidable issue for the world. Jesus or Muhammad? Read the scriptures and decide.

Much Love   Joe




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