by Dr. Nesia Shemer
The world has been shocked by the Islamic State's atrocities, watching with horror as religious minorities in Iraq are forced to choose between Islam and death. Its cruel and inhumane tactics also involve starvation and mass killing of civilians who refuse to fall in line with its ideology.
The organization has posted gruesome footage showing the beheading of American journalists, and if you believe their threats, they have more in the pipeline. The Islamic State is a Salafist-jihadist organization that adheres to a very strict interpretation of Islamic scriptures. It believes the Quran and the Hadith (the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad that have been passed down from one generation to the next) should be understood in their most literal sense and as narrowly as possible, just like the followers of Muhammad would have acted in the seventh century.
The brutality of this organization has had an unsettling effect on the West. For students of Islamic history, though, the latest developments are anything but shocking.
Muhammad's relations with the Jews of Medina, a town in the Arabian peninsula, are a case in point. In 622, after the residents of Mecca rejected Muhammad's teachings and tried to assassinate him, he fled to nearby Medina. At the time, the city was composed of five tribes, three of which were Jewish. At first, Muhammad exercised tolerance toward the Jews and even incorporated many Jewish rituals into Islam, hoping this would have them convert. He would ultimately become the dominant figure in the city, but he would not be able to win over the Jews. Finally, some two years after arriving in the city, he presented the Jews with a choice: either embrace Islam or flee.
Two Jewish tribes -- Banu Qaynuqa and Banu Nadir -- refused to convert and were expelled from the city. Their property was seized and distributed among the Muslims. Another Jewish tribe, Banu Qurayza, fared much worse because it was accused of collaborating with Muhammad's enemies. The men were sentenced to death, with the women and children sold as slaves. Their property became plunder and spoil for the Muslims.
Ibn Hisham, whose writings on the life of Muhammad are considered authoritative, described the executions as follows: "And then the messenger of Allah (Muhammad) separated them and banned them from the city, at the home of Bint al-Harith, a woman from the tribe of al-Najar. Then the messenger of Allah left for the Medina market and dug trenches there. He then brought the Jews, one group after another, and beheaded them in the trenches."
This brief story was designed to shed light on the origins of this brutal practice. This killing method is used to terrorize others, but it also serves as a clear warning to others lest they misbehave.
But we must look at the bigger picture. The Islamic State took advantage of the demise of Arab regimes. It was also helped by the false Western narrative -- in fact, a flawed paradigm -- that the Arab Spring would herald the much-desired democratic transformation.
The international community and Israel must come to grips with the fact that we are dealing with terrorists who are unwilling to compromise on their ideology.
We are duty-bound to devise a strategy to counter them in an effective way.
Dr. Nesia Shemer teaches in the Middle Eastern Studies Department at Bar-Ilan University.
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