In light of recent revelations that the Islamic State is teaching its followers to eat non-Muslims, surely we can now all agree that, at least in this, ISIS is truly not Islamic?
Alas, no. Even the eating of “infidels” has precedents throughout Islamic history, especially as a terror tactic. Two well-documented anecdotes come to mind:
The first concerns that jihadi par excellence, Khalid bin al-Walid (d.642). Dubbed the “Sword of Allah” by Muhammad for his prowess, he holds a revered position among jihadi groups (ISIS’ black flag with white Arabic writing is a facsimile of the banner Khalid carried in battle). During the Ridda — or “apostasy wars” on several Arab tribes that sought to break away from Islam following Muhammad’s death — Khalid falsely accused Malik bin Nuwayra, a well-liked Arab chieftain, of apostasy. After slaughtering him, Khalid raped — Muslim sources call it “married” — Malik’s wife. Not content,
He [Khalid] ordered his [Malik’s] head and he combined it with two stones and cooked a pot over them. And Khalid ate from it that night to terrify the apostate Arab tribes and others. And it was said that Malik’s hair created such a blaze that the meat was so thoroughly cooked [from Muslim historian al-Tabari’s multi-volume chronicle, al-bidaya w’al nihaya (“the Beginning and the End”; Arabic excerpt here).
The second anecdote concerns the Islamic conquest of Spain. According to Muslim chronicler Ibn Abdul Hakam, after capturing a group of Christian winemakers, the Islamic invaders
made them prisoners. After that they took one of the vinedressers, slaughtered him, cut him in pieces, and boiled him, while the rest of his companions looked on. They had also boiled meat in other cauldrons. When the meat was cooked, they threw away the flesh of that man which they had boiled; no one knowing that it was thrown away: and they ate the meat which they had boiled, while the rest of the vinedressers were spectators. These did not doubt but that the Moslems ate the flesh of their companion; the rest being afterwards sent away informed the people of Andalus [Christian Spain] that the Moslems feed on human flesh, acquainting them with what had been done to the vinedresser [source].
Tarek ibn Ziyad — another jihadi extraordinaire, revered for burning his boats on reaching Spain’s shores as proof of his commitment to jihad or “martyrdom” — also had Christian captives slaughtered, cooked up, and apparently eaten in front of their fellow hostages. Then, according to Muslim historian Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Maqqari, the jihadi hero “allowed some of the captives to escape, that they might report to their countrymen what they had seen. And thus the stratagem produced the desired effect, since the report of the fugitives contributed in no small degree to increase the panic of the infidels” (The History of the Mohammedan Dynasty, p. 276).
Note that, according to all the above cited Muslim chroniclers, the jihadis engaged in these cannibalistic practices to terrorize and create panic among infidels and apostates, that is, as a form of psychological warfare. This is further highlighted when, as they often do, the chroniclers quote or paraphrase Koran verses that call for “striking terror” into the hearts of nonbelievers (e.g., 3:151, 8:12, 8:60) in juxtaposition to the savage accounts they relay.
(I watched and linked to a video some years back of a modern day Egyptian cleric also making it clear that Khalid’s actions were calculated to terrify the apostates. Although YouTube has, as usual, taken the video down by now, here’s my original translation of what he said: “People wonder how our lord Khalid could have eaten from such meat? Oh yes — he ate from it! Our lord Khalid had a very strong character, a great appetite, and everything! All to terrorize the desert Arabs [apostates]. The matter requires determination; these matters require strength — terrorism.”)
There are more and related anecdotes. During the earliest Muslim invasions of Christian Syria, one of Muhammad’s companions, ‘Ubadah bin al-Samat, told a Christian commander that “We have tasted blood and find none sweeter than the blood of Romans,” meaning Byzantines and/or Christians. Whether literal or figurative, clearly such bloodthirsty references inspire the Islamic State’s worldview as evidenced by the latter’s assertion that “American blood is best, and we will taste it soon.”
Incidentally, veneration and/or emulation of early jihadi barbarity is not limited to “radical” or extreme outfits that, so we are always told, “have nothing to do with Islam.” None other than Al Azhar — the Muslim world’s most prestigious university, which hosted Obama’s 2009 “New Beginning” speech — teaches these accounts of Muslims eating infidels. The reason is simple: such a heritage doesn’t belong to ISIS any more than it does to Al Azhar. It belongs to Islam.
A final note: one school of thought maintains that in the aforementioned historical anecdotes, Muslims did not just pretend to devour their victims; they really did. However, later Muslim chroniclers, embarrassed by the bestial savagery of their coreligionists, portrayed the cannibalism as only pretend. If true, this further validates why ISIS isn’t merely teaching Muslims to pretend to devour their infidel victims, but to eat them in reality — as when one jihadi cut out and dug his teeth into the heart of a fallen Syrian soldier, after saying “I swear to Allah, soldiers of Bashar, you dogs — we will eat your heart and livers! Allahu Akbar!” (Yes, video here.)
This may also shed light on the Daily Mail‘s unsatisfactory explanation on why ISIS is promoting cannibalism. According to Haras Rafiq, the Daily’s authority whom it describes as a “practicing Muslim,” ISIS is promoting cannibalism “if there are no food supplies available during what they describe as a time of jihad.” Under such circumstances, “terrorists were encouraged to kill non-Muslims or Muslims who do not share their version of Islam for food.”
To be sure, eating humans in times of extreme duress and starvation — or “non-halal” food — is not particularly shocking and has been committed many times, past and present, by peoples of all races and religions. One is therefore left to wonder if Rafiq is yet another in a long line of embarrassed Muslim authorities trying to rationalize away their coreligionists’ depraved practices in the name of Islam.