The Death of Gadhafi: an Islamic Perspective

Libyan men lined up for hours to view Gadhafi's body Photo: Suhaib Salem/Reuters

Asmah Sultan Mallick is a master’s student of International Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Weeks after the Colonel’s death, attention is now shifting from Moammar Gadhafi to the importance of establishing a new order for Libya and its people. It is safe to say most people are very happy that Gadhafi is gone, and gone for good. While I am just as excited as the next person and optimistic for a brighter future, I can’t help but to be disgusted by the images and videos that were publicized in the media around the demise of Gadhafi. The images were quite disturbing, an old man wiping blood from his face saying “God forbids this” while guns were being shot and chaos everywhere, then later people posing with his bloodied body all while smiling and giving the peace sign with their fingers.

The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said:

Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Have mercy on those who are on earth and the One who is in heaven will show mercy to you (Abu Dawud)

I would have liked to see Gadhafi tried and brought to justice, rather than dragged by his hair, begging people in disbelief to stop. I know many people believe Gadhafi got what he deserved and will point to the list of his cruel behavior. There is no doubt that he is accountable especially as a country’s “leader,” but I feel that the whole point is for the standard to be raised, not repeated. People should never use the standard of an enemy.

Islam gives very specific limitations to make war civilized and humane, rules from God and teachings from His Prophet (PBUH) which must be followed by Muslims in all circumstances, irrespective of the behavior of the enemy. Islam has prohibited its followers from disgracing or mutilating the corpses of enemies as was practiced in pre-Islamic Arabia.

It is narrated in a hadith: “The Prophet prohibited us from mutilating the corpses of the enemies” (al- Bukhari; Abu Dawud). This hadith was given on the occasion of the Battle of Uhud. The bodies of the martyred Muslims were mutilated by the disbelievers by cutting off their ears and noses and putting them together to put around their necks as trophies of war. Hamza, the uncle of the Prophet (PBUH), was cut open by the Quraish and his liver was pulled out and chewed by Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan, the leader of the Meccan army. The Muslims were enraged by this but the Prophet (PBUH) asked his followers not to reciprocate such treatment to the dead bodies of the enemies. Emotions obviously ran high after this incident, just as when Gadhafi was found, but the point is to break the cycle, even at the time when sheer rage takes over.

The core of my beliefs reinforces in my consciousness that we will not shift to a more enlightened state as a global community if we do not raise our standards. While it’s obviously easier said than done and I do not have a family member that was viciously killed by an unjust ruler, I have always felt it odd to celebrate a death and we have seen several significant, unjust figures die in the past year. My only hope in the future is that people can show humanity, not selectively but to all humanity-the kind that the peoples’ oppressors didn’t have.

What was your gut reaction when you saw the images of Gadhafi being dragged alive and the subsequent treatment of his corpse being viewed by the public? How are Islam’s rules regarding violent engagement similar or different from international law? Please leave your comments below.

8 thoughts on “The Death of Gadhafi: an Islamic Perspective

  1. Very thought provoking.

    As a general rule for myself, I avoid watching videos like the ones mentioned here because it’s hard to get rid of those images and often times we’re not able to do much about those events anyways. But I do read about them and this particular one re-enforces to me what one my teachers told me long time ago. All those people that complain about unjust rulers, have, within themselves, the capacity to inflict greater harm to other, but it’s just that they did not have the same power like their rulers were tested with. In this case some of those that complained about the brutality of their ruler, they resorted to worse then him (by celebrating their brutality) when they got the chance. If we don’t work to make our inner self more human, then the bestial nature shows up as as we’re tested. When we disagree with someone, at most we can back bite about them. Imagine if we had the power of Ghaddafi or Saddam Hussain, what would we do with those people?

  2. This is completely on point. I couldn’t agree more. With all the extreme views and crazy opinions, it’s so refreshing to finally read something that goes back to the core principles of Islam.
    Great post, I will definitely forward this to my friends. I just wish it was posted earlier

  3. This article is so necessary and should be widespread. Would love to hear the writer’s opinions/thoughts on other significant deaths in the middle east and otherwise.

  4. This is an excellent, very well written article. I saw none of the atrocities on television (I can only imagine that the segments were broadcast over and over again to the delight of assorted elements in the lunatic fringe), and the article actually makes me glad that I had tuned out beforehand.

  5. ASA; I totally agree with Faisal, May ALLAH be pleased with his response, why not try our brother in a court of justice; ALLAH judges us in our totallity, while we judge Based upon situations. I hope the Ummah truly begin to see the dire need of Mercy and True Justice! The Colonel or any human being doesn’t deserve such treatment from people whom say we practice civility; but I’m reminded that nothing happens unless it’s by the Permission of ALLAH. Accept it or not Islam comes to bring Civility to A Savage World let not the People whom Sacrificed so much have their Sacrifices for the upliftment of our Beautiful lifestyle be in vain, What happened in that Video was for us to see and realize how far we have Transgressed. A Shame!!

  6. What happened to him was awful, and no one deserves to be treated that way, and especially to die that way. But what shocked me the most was the exhibition of the corpse and the visits of the people–this has nothing to do with Islam or humanity at all, an I wish that we never see such news again.

  7. nice job asmah! it’s helpful to see the islamic perspective on this, especially in an environment where many might misconstrue the violence we saw in libya and in other middle eastern countries as indicative of the supposed violence in the religion of islam.

    libyans i know were not proud of the way qadhafi was treated after his death, but admit that with all the brutality and torture he caused in so many peoples lives, it was difficult to contain emotions in the moment of his capture. Still, here’s to building a better future where world leaders are held accountable for their actions!

  8. Culture of blood feuding was the foundation of their retaliation. Though the hadith is good, a greater understanding of ethics is Quranic: to not kill. Muslims continue to support–in Muslim states–the governmental (Shari’ah) right to kill its citizens, e.g., women, sexual minorities, Islamic faith minorities; then expects its citizens to not want to seek death as in this instance, is missing the root of the problem. (If they can kill a women, or gay person, or a religious minority, then it is also easy to kill anyone else that stands outside of the safety of what is believe to be “right”.) We shouldn’t gloss over blood feuding with an hadith to not mutilate when the real issue is how do you prevent war or transitions of power without bloodshed. If it is not a peaceful one, it will be a bloody one–based on human interpretation of a hadith and shari’ah.