zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » On fire

On fire

[ by Charles Cameron — there’s rather more going on in the burning of the Jordanian pilot than I can handle — here are some of today’s relevant highlights ]

I’ll start and close with JM Berger, who has two of the wisest contextual comments of the day to offer us:

That’s the context as I see it, though you’ll note that Tim Furnish differs, later in this post.


Two tweets give us Qur’anic justification for and against the use of fire in punishment:


The Quranic verse Zaid Benjamin quotes is given in English in his tweet. The first seven verses of Sura 85, quoted by Will McCants, read in the Arberry translation:

By heaven of the constellations, by the promised day, by the witness and the witnessed, slain were the Men of the Pit, the fire abounding in fuel, when they were seated over it and were themselves witnesses of what they did with the believers.

I would really like to see a detailed scholarly post commenting on McCants’ reading of Qur’an 85.1-7, with or without notes on related ahadith and tafsir.


Two tweets offer ahadith related to the case:



Two from Tim Furnish:


Here is Tim Furnish’s commentary, from MahdiWatch:

ISIS gruesomely burned alive Jordanian Air Force officer Mu`adh al-Kasabeh not simply to horrify or intimidate, but rather in order to exact retribution for the “Crusaders” and their Coalition allies dropping bombs and launching missiles that consumed Muslims (especially, allegedly, children) in flames. The Islamic doctrine of shifa’ al-sudur (the name of the video, note) was derived from Sura al-Baqarah [II]:179 and its idea of “legal retribution” which is supposed to lead to reconciliation between Muslims once scores have been settled in like fashion—between, presumably, ISIS and the Muslim nations (Jordan, UAE, KSA, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Oman) named in the video as helping the “Crusaders.” So, in this mindset, al-Kasabeh had to burn–not simply be decapitated. Lex talionis according to Allah.

ISIS also adduces a saying from the famous Sunni cleric Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) that desecrating bodies is allowable if it horrifies (unbelieving) enemies into ceasing their aggression against Muslims—or, in this case, against the Islamic State proper.

So, just as with beheadings and enslavement of “pagan” women, ISIS is acting in a supremely, albeit brutally, atavistic Islamic fashion (not a nihilistic one, as the President keeps saying). Only when we admit that will we (Westerners and Muslims) be on the path to refuting and eradicating ISIS.


Mark Safranski, my gracious host and the publisher of this blog, refers us to the ICRC:

Mr Orange suggests there have been previous burnings by ISI, the predecessor to IS / Daesh:

It seems to me there’s room for plenty of research as between international lawyers and experts in the history of Islamic exegesis…


Three tweets regarding the Jordanian response:



Common sense: this, from Daveed Gartenstein-Ross:

and John Horgan:

in light of which, let me add by way of requiescat:


I’ll close as I began, with JM Berger:

Let’s not feed the flames.

5 Responses to “On fire”

  1. Traderbarn Says:

    wait, reprisals are permitted? That’s what ISIS is claiming…after burning the pilot they dumped rubble on him to mimic the effect of an airstrike. Also, if Jordan is using this clause then wouldn’t they just be able to execute one prisoner?

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Trader:
    There are two principal sets of “permissions” in play here: one from the Qur’an, the other from international humanitarian law.
    Zaid Benjamin quoted one version of the Qur’anic notion of equivalence above, but there are others, and I noted Qur’an 2.194 specifically:

    For the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.

    in an old post about the themes of reciprocity and symmetry in retaliation in a speech of UBL’s. the post was titled Close reading, Synoptic- and Sembl-style, for parallels, patterns, and is still one of my all-time favorites.
    Zen linked to the section on Reprisals (Rule 145) in the ICRC’s Study on customary international humanitarian law.
    The first helps explain IS / Daesh thinking, both would have arguable application to the Jordanian response — but as to the details, I must leave them to more knowledgeable others to comment.

  3. mike Says:

    Kurdish news is reporting that ISIL has executed two Sunni Imams in Mosul for criticizing the burning of the pilot.


  4. T Says:

    Came across a commentary on Surah Buruj which further elaborates the historical context of verses 85:1-7 in the holy Quran: http://www.al-islam.org/enlightening-commentary-light-holy-quran-vol-19/surah-buruj-chapter-85
    Thought I’d share

  5. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thank you. That certainly explains why Will McCants thought it was Christians who were burning in the pit, although it’s a Shia tafsir and it would be also good to know what various Sunni schools thought of thee matter.
    It also illustrates — quite profoundly — how a text in the Qur’an may have meanings that are totally non-obvious when reading the text itself without contextual knowledge.

Switch to our mobile site