Sotloff Family Spokesperson’s Pathetic Challenge to IS “Caliph” Al-Baghdadi’s Jihad Orthodoxy

Mr. Barfi’s pathetic invocation of his own crude and uninformed apologetics on Islam, will do nothing to alter the ugly, mainstream doctrinal Islamic rationale for Steven S0tloff’s capture, imprisonment, and beheading.


I just viewed a very brief, but excruciating video “response” by a Satloff family representative addressed to Islamic State (IS) “Caliph” al-Baghdadi, in the wake of Steven Sotloff’s beheading. The spokesman, Barak Barfi, identified as “an Arabic scholar and resident fellow at the New America Foundation,” challenged the IS Caliph to a “debate,” ostensibly on the alleged peaceful teachings of the Koran, vis-à-vis jihad warfare.

Barfi’s Koranic challenge hinged on his invocation—and apparent “personal exegesis”—of Koran 2:190. Here are two standard English translations using pious Muslim sources:

Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors. [Pickthall]

And fight in the Way of Allah those who fight you, but transgress not the limits. Truly, Allah likes not the transgressors. [Hilali-Khan]

Notwithstanding Mr. Barfi’s panglossian gloss on Koran 2:190, what is the mainstream understanding of this verse, as put forth by Islam’s great Koranic commentators? Reproduced below is the critical conclusion of the gloss on this verse from the seminal Tafsir al-Jalalayn, meaning “The Commentary of the Two Jalals,” named after its two Egyptian authors: Al-Suyuti (1445-1505), a brilliant multidisciplinary scholar; and his mentor Jalalu’d-Din al-Mahalli (1389-1459). The great contemporary Dutch Islamologist Johannes J.G. Jansen notes in his treatise “The Interpretation of the Koran in Modern Egypt,” Tafsir al-Jalalayn remains one of the most popular as well as the most authoritative Koranic commentaries in Egypt.

This verse [2:190] was abrogated by Surat at-Tawba (the ninth chapter of the Koran [The Repentance], or by Allah’s words in the following ayat (verses)

Chapter 9 (Surat at-Tawba) of the Koran, believed by Muslims to be the final and therefore defining “revelation” of Islam’s most sacred text, is a series of aggressive, open-ended war proclamations against non-Muslims—Jews, Christians, “Magians” (Zoroastrians), and “pagan idolators,” the latter including the vast swath of Hindu, Buddhist, and Animist humanity.

Returning to the verses immediately following Koran 2:190, i.e., 2:191, 2:192, and 2:193, they read:

And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers. But if they desist, then lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong-doers. [Pickthall]

And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah is worse than killing. And fight not with them at Al-Masjid-al-Haram (the sanctuary at Makkah), unless they (first) fight you there. But if they attack you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers. But if they cease, then Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah) and (all and every kind of) worship is for Allah (Alone). But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun (the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.) [Hilali-Khan]

Again, the concluding gloss from Tafsir al-Jalalayn on verse 2:193 is pellucid about the aggressive nature of jihad for the purpose of extirpating disbelief in all but the one true faith—Islam.

Fight them until there is no more fitna (shirk; [i.e., “unbelief “ in Islam]) in existence and the din (worship) belongs to Allah alone and none but Him is worshipped.

Molla Khosrew (d. 1480) was a celebrated writer and jurist who was appointed the Ottoman Shaykh-al-Islam (leading religious authority) by Sultan Mehmed II in 1469.One of Molla Khosrew’s widely cited legal works reiterated these classical views on the evolution of mandatory, aggressive jihad warfare in the Koran, and corresponding behaviors of Islam’s prophet Muhammad:

[J]ihad is a fard al-kifaya, that is, that one must begin the fight against the enemy, even when he [the enemy] may not have taken the initiative to fight, because the Prophet . . . early on . . . allowed believers to defend themselves, later, however, he ordered them to take the initiative at certain times of the year, that is, at the end of the haram months, saying, “Kill the idolaters wherever you find them . . .” (Koran 9:5). He finally ordered fighting without limitations, at all times and in all places, saying, “Fight those who do not believe in God, and in the Last Day . . . ” (Koran 9:29); there are also other [similar] verses on the subject. This shows that it is a fard al-kifaya.

Despite Mr. Barfi’s willful denial of this disturbing reality, Steve Sotloff was unfortunately made captive—like innumerable victims before him—because of Islam’s eternal, “sacralized” jihad warfare. Even Sotloff’s brutal beheading comports with Islamic doctrine on the treatment of prisoners captured during jihad, based upon Muhammad’s own actions toward the Medinan Jewish tribe Qurayzah, whom he vanquished in one of his many sanguinary, prototype jihad campaigns

Muhammad insisted that the Qurayzah surrender unconditionally and subject themselves to his judgment. Compelled to surrender, the Qurayzah were led to Medina. The men, with their hands pinioned behind their backs, were put in a court, while the women and children were said to have been put into a separate court. A third (and final) appeal for leniency for the Qurayzah was made to Muhammad by their tribal allies the Aus. Muhammad again declined, and instead he appointed as arbiter Sa’d Mu’adh from the Aus, who soon rendered his concise verdict: The men were to be put to death, the women and children sold into slavery, the spoils to be divided among the Muslims.

Muhammad ratified the judgment stating that Sa’d’s decree was a decree of Allah pronounced from above the Seven Heavens. Thus some six hundred to nine hundred men from the Qurayzah were led on Muhammad’s order to the Market of Medina. Trenches were dug, and the men were beheaded; their decapitated corpses were buried in the trenches while Muhammad watched. Male youths who had not reached puberty were spared. Women and children were sold into slavery, a number of them being distributed as gifts among Muhammad’s companions. According to Muhammad’s biographer Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad chose one of the Qurayzah women (Rayhana) for himself. The Qurayzah’s property and other possessions (including weapons) were also divided up as additional ‘booty’ among the Muslims. The following details have been chronicled consistently by Muslim sources: The arbiter (Sa’d Mu’adh) was appointed by Muhammad himself; Muhammad observed in person the horrific executions; Muhammad claimed as a wife a woman (Rayhana) previously married to one of the slaughtered Qurayzah tribesmen; the substantial material benefits (i.e. property, receipts from the sale of the enslaved) that accrued to the Muslims as a result of the massacre; the extinction of the Qurayzah.

Abu Yusuf (d. 798), the prominent Hanafi jurist who advised the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (d. 809), made the following observations about the Qurayzah massacre in his writings on jihad:

Whenever the Muslims besiege an enemy stronghold, establish a treaty with the besieged who agree to surrender on certain conditions that will be decided by a delegate, and this man decides that their soldiers are to be executed and their women and children taken prisoner, this decision is lawful. This was the decision of Sa’ad b., Mu’adh in connection with the Banu Qurayzahh … it is up to the imam to decide what treatment is to meted out to them and he will choose that which is preferable for religion and for Islam. If he esteems that the execution of the fighting men and the enslavement of their women and children is better for Islam and its followers, then he will act thus, emulating the example of Sa’ad b. Mu’adh.

As reported by the contemporary Islamic scholar M.J. Kister, al-Mawardi (d. 1072), another eminent Muslim jurist from Baghdad, characterized the slaughter of the Qurayzah as a religious duty incumbent on Muhammad. Kister quotes al-Mawardi as follows: “[I]t was not permitted (for Muhammad) to forgive (in a case of) God’s injunction incumbent upon them; he could only forgive (transgressions) in matters concerning his own person.” Moreover, the notion that this slaughter was sanctioned by God as revealed to Muhammad was, according to Kister, reflective of “the current (as of 1986) Sunni view about the slaughter of the Banu Qurayzah.”

W.H.T. Gardiner, a prominent early 20th century Arabic linguist, and scholar of Sufi Islam, also relying exclusively upon Muslim sources characterizing the slaughter of the Qurayza, highlights the pivotal role that Muhammad himself played in orchestrating the overall events:

The umpire who gave the fatal decision (Sa’ad) was extravagantly praised by Muhammad. Yet his action was wholly and admittedly due to his lust for personal vengeance on as tribe which had occasioned him a painful wound. In the agony of its treatment he cried out — ‘O God, let not my soul go forth ere thou has cooled my eye from the Bani Quraiza.’ This was the arbiter to whose word the fate of that tribe was given over. His sentiments were well-known to Muhammad, who appointed him. It is perfectly clear from that that their slaughter had been decreed. What makes it clearer still is the assertion of another biographer that Muhammad had refused to treat with the Bani Quraiza at all until they had ‘come down to receive the judgment of the Apostle of God.’ Accordingly, ‘they came down’; in other words put themselves in his power. And only then was the arbitration of Sa’ad proposed and accepted — but not accepted until it had been forced on him by Muhammad; for Sa’ad first declined and tried to make Muhammad take the responsibility, but was told ‘qad amarak Allahu takhuma fihim’ ‘Allah has commanded you to give sentence in their case.’ From every point of view therefore the evidence is simply crushing that Muhammad was the ultimate author of this massacre.

In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, the Muslims benefited substantially from the Qurayzah’s assets, which they seized as booty. The land and property acquired helped the Muslims gain their economic independence. The military strength of the Muslim community of Medina grew because of the weapons obtained, and the fact that captured women and children taken as slaves were sold for horses and more weapons, facilitating enlargement of the Muslim armed forces for further conquests. Conversely, the Jewish tribe of the Qurayzah ceased to exist.

Mr. Barfi’s pathetic invocation of his own crude and uninformed apologetics on Islam, will do nothing to alter the ugly, mainstream doctrinal Islamic rationale for Steven Sotloff’s capture, imprisonment, and beheading.

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