Cairo: A video purportedly showing Islamic State militants burning a captive Jordanian pilot to death brought an outpouring of grief and rage across the Middle East today, its brutality horrifying a region long accustomed to violence.
Political and religious leaders offered angry denunciations and called for blood, while at least one wept on air while talking about the killing of 26-year-old Lt Muath Al-Kaseasbeh, whose F-16 crashed in Syria in December during a US-led coalition raid on the extremist group.
The head of Sunni Islam’s most respected seat of learning, Egypt’s Al-Azhar, described the militants as enemies of God and the Prophet Muhammad, saying they deserved the Quran-prescribed punishment of death, crucifixion or the chopping off of their arms.
“Islam prohibits the taking of an innocent life,” Ahmed al-Tayeb, Al-Azhar’s grand sheik, said in a statement, adding that by burning the pilot to death, the militants violated Islam’s prohibition on the mutilation of bodies, even during wartime.
Capital punishment is used across much of the mostly Muslim Middle East for crimes like murder and drug smuggling. Death by hanging is the preferred method, but beheadings are routinely carried out in Saudi Arabia. In Iran and Pakistan, stoning to death as punishment for adultery exists in the penal code but is rarely used.
Burning to death as legal punishment, however, is unheard of in the contemporary Middle East, and a prominent Saudi cleric, Sheik Salman al-Oudah, wrote today that it is prohibited by Islam, citing what he said was a saying by the Prophet Muhammad that reserves for God alone the right to punish by fire in the after-life.
Iyad Madani, the leader of the 57-nation, Saudi-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest bloc of Muslim countries, condemned the killing.
It “utterly disregards the rights of prisoners Islam has decreed, as well as the human moral standards for war and treatment of prisoners,” a statement from Madani said. It is sad to see “the depth of malaise” in parts of the Middle East, along with the “intellectual decay, the political fragmentation and the abuse of Islam, the great religion of mercy.”
Condemnations quickly came from Gulf Arab nations, all of which are close US allies.
The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, condemned the killing and reaffirmed his nation’s commitment to fighting terrorism and extremism.
“This heinous and obscene act represents a brutal escalation by the terrorist group, whose evil objectives have become apparent,” he said.
The UAE is one of the most visible Arab members in the US-led coalition battling the Islamic State group, which also includes Jordan.