The beheadings of Steven Sotloff and James Foley by Islamic State (IS) radicals have been widely reported. The executioner says, “…our knife will continue to strike the necks of your [American] people.” Similar executions have been committed by various Islamic extremists in the Middle East and North Africa as retribution for being non-Muslim or the wrong kind of Muslim.
Striking “at the neck” is frequently mentioned in the Qur’an as an interaction with non-Muslims. “When you meet the unbelievers, strike the necks…”- Qur’an 47:4.
One Sunni exegesis, Tafsir al-Jalalayn says: “in other words, slay them — reference is made to the ‘striking of the necks’ because the predominant cause of being slayed is to be struck in the neck.” Another Muslim scholar explains that this is “to make sure they are dead and not just wounded.”
The original Caliph conquered the Jewish Qurayzah tribe. “Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches… There were 600 or 700 in all…” — Ibn Ishaq 690.
Saudi Arabia, “a kingdom that loudly proclaims its absolute fidelity to the Qur’an and Islamic [Shari’a] law,” beheaded nineteen people in the first 3 weeks in August, 2014. “The kingdom applies the death penalty for a large number of [non-lethal] crimes, including drug offenses, apostasy [abandonment of Islam], sorcery and witchcraft.”
Saudi Arabia is a traditional Islamic state that follows Shari’a law, but seems to be acting quite like IS.
“Honor killings”- murders justified for bringing dishonor to a family, e.g., for being a rape victim or alleged infidelity- have been accomplished by beheading both in the US (Aasiya Hassan, NY) and abroad, justified under Shari’a law.
What is extreme and what is traditional?