Last week, Mohammed Merah, a Muslim-Frenchman killed three Jewish children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. Merah reportedly held one little girl, Myriam Monsonego, by her hair to shoot her in the head. Three days before that, Merah shot dead three French soldiers of North African heritage. Under siege in his apartment by French counter-terrorism squad, France 24 reported Merah told negotiators he was connected to al Qaeda and what he had done was “only the beginning”. He said that he was motivated by France’s ban on wearing the burqa and that “the Jews have killed our brothers and sisters in Palestine.” According to French officials, Merah expressed only one regret: “Not having claimed more victims,” and said he was proud of having “brought France to its knees.” As Merah himself confirmed it was “only the beginning,” it might be worth wondering: Why did Merah, born and raised in France to Algerian-French parents, commit such a ruthless massacre? Was he just an extreme fundamentalist who had taken Islamic teachings to the extreme, or is it basic Islamic fundamentals themselves that lead him to that? As a Muslim, and in an attempt to answer that question, I thought it prudent to look to the factual teaching of Islam on Jihad or “Holy war.”
Sahih Muslim, for example, is a historically renowned book that gathers teachings of Prophet Muhammad that are considered “Sahih,” as in “confirmed” and “authentic.”
In Sahih Muslim and in the Book of Jihad, the first chapter is entitled: “Regarding Permission to Make A Raid, Without An Ultimatum, Upon The Disbelievers Who Have Already Been Invited to Accept Islam” (Book 19, Number 4292):
“Ibn ‘Aun reported: I wrote to Nafi’ inquiring from him whether it was necessary to extend (to the disbelievers) an invitation to accept (Islam) before meeting them in fight. He wrote (in reply) to me that it was necessary in the early days of Islam. The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) made a raid upon Banu Mustaliq while they were unaware and their cattle were having a drink at the water. He killed those who fought and imprisoned others. On that very day, he captured Juwairiya bint al-Harith. Nafi’ said that this tradition was related to him by Abdullah b. Umar who (himself) was among the raiding troops.”
Merah’s un-alerted and un-provoked attack is thus perfectly with the Prophet’s teachings.
Nonetheless, where does Merah’s cold-blooded murder of children stand within the teachings of the prophet?
Chapter two of Sahih Muslim‘s book of Jihad speaks about Muhammad’s advice to his military commanders sent on expeditions (Book 19, Number 4294):
“It has been reported from Sulaiman b. Buraid through his father that when the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) appointed anyone as leader of an army or detachment he would especially exhort him to fear Allah and to be good to the Muslims who were with him. He would say: Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war, do not embezzle the spoils; do not break your pledge; and do not mutilate (the dead) bodies; do not kill the children…”
The prophet’s exhortations not to kill women and children are re-enforced in another chapter, Chapter 8: “Prohibition of Killing Women and Children in War” (Book 19, Number 4319):
“It is narrated on the authority of ‘Abdullah that a woman was found killed in one of the battles fought by the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him). He disapproved of the killing of women and children.”
Sounds humane, right? Not so fast. Right after Chapter 8 comes Chapter 9, which reads: “Permissibility of Killing Women and Children in the Night Raids Provided It Is Not Deliberate” (Book 19, Number 4321):
“It is reported on the authority of Sa’b b. Jaththama that the Prophet of Allah (may peace be upon him), when asked about the women and children of the polytheists being killed during the night raid, said: They are from them.”
Merah killed three Jewish children who were “from them,” the “evil Jews.” As Merah explained to the France 24 news channel, while he was under siege by French counter-terrorism police, it had not been his original plan to kill those children, that he was originally planning to kill another French soldier but missed him, so he took the next possible target. Was Merah thinking that this made the murders “Not deliberate”?
While Merah fulfilled his wish by taking away the lives of infidels and their children, and was killed himself after that, he still succeeded in fulfilling an equally noble goal in Islamic warfare – creating “‘Terror,’ which is more far-reaching than the actual body count.”