Nation: An Ideology of Martyrdom

Nation: An Ideology of Martyrdom
“Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!” The Arabic pronouncement that
“God is great” sustained the Iranian revolutionaries as they
marched through the streets of Tehran in demonstrations against the
Shah. The invocation was heard again as students attacked the U.S.
embassy, and as mobs last week marched about the captured compound,
demanding death for the hostages. To what extent was the student action—and the Ayatullah Khomeini's
endorsement of it—in accordance with Islamic law? Experts differ.
Zaki Badawi, Egyptian director of the Islamic Cultural Center in
London, argues that “the demand for the return of the Shah to face
trial in Iran is in agreement with Muslim law.” Islam holds that
“no one is above the law and law is supreme. If a crime is
committed by a ruler, an emperor, he is as liable to punishment for it
as the meanest and commonest of his subjects.” As a precedent, one
Cairo expert notes that in 1964 the late King Saud of Saudi Arabia was
tried, deposed and banished by an Islamic court for conduct unbecoming
a Muslim ruler—namely, drinking, gambling and womanizing. Islamic scholars are virtually unanimous in condemning the seizure of
the hostages as contrary to the Shari'a . Says
Badawi: “There is no basis in Islam for this. Islam does not
justify the taking of hostages, and it also clearly states that one
person cannot be punished for the crimes of another.” Egyptian
President Anwar Sadat, a devout Muslim, has denounced Khomeini as a
“lunatic” and forthrightiy condemned the seizure of the
hostages. “This is not Islam,” he said. “Islam teaches love,
tolerance and mercy.” One of the ranking experts on Islamic law, at
Cairo's ancient Al Azhar University, charges that the Ayatullah's “evil
hunger for the death of a sick man is a towering crime under Islamic law.” Islam
“considers any sick or dying person with extreme humility,”
he says. Rouhollah Ramanzani, an Iranian scholar teaching at the University
of Virginia, points out that according to the Islamic code, “if an undesirable
individual enters into the Muslim domain, then that person must be protected
and escorted to the boundaries of that domain to let him out safely.” Most authorities doubted that the students would physically harm the
hostages, or that Khomeini would tolerate their torture or death. Says
Thomas Ricks, an Iranian expert at Georgetown University: “Nothing
in Islam could justify the slaughter of the hostages, and it is unthinkable that
the captors would do so, unless they were threatened by an outside attack.”
Professor Hamid Algar of the University of California at Berkeley notes that the
Shari'a permits both the exchange of hostages and their unilateral release
by captors. He also observes, however, that “one tradition is that hostages
may be kept permanently.”