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abu bakr al baghdadi
Abu Bakr al Baghdadi

For the Islamic State it all boils down to the Sharia: the rules and social behaviors, economy, justice and the war. Whoever does not recognize the Sharia is automatically labelled as an infidel. The interpretation of the islamic law imposed by the caliphate is extremely restrictive and is not put into the context of the evolution of a modern society. The original words put on paper by prophet Mohamed are used and possibly see an even stricter application of their wording. This circumstance is fueled by the fanaticism of the followers of the ISIS, as well as being instrumental to the spread of the terror necessary to control a territory that, despite being geographically smaller after the recent military defeats, is still larger than what the caliphate can actually afford. Clearly this comes at a price, especially when justice has to be served. There is no room for tolerance, pity or pardon. Mistakes are punished, often with life.

The criminal code promulgated by the ISIS in December 2014 in Aleppo, at a time when Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was on the rise, lists a series of “koranic punishments”, or hudud in Arabic. They are associated to a number of “clarifications” that specify what offenders are to expect. The first crime to be mentioned is blasphemy against Islam, the prophet or Allah. The punishment is death. The code underlines how not even a late repentance will save the offender's life. The same goes for apostasy, which is also punished with death.

In case of adultery, applied to only the female counterpart of the crime, the punishment is stoning to death. Instead, if an unmarried man and a woman are caught having sex, the penalty are 100 lashes. This might seem as a form of clemency, but rest assured that one hundred lashes can almost kill a woman, while they might offer a man a chance to survive. An alternative penalty is also offered: exile. In order for a person to be convicted, at least four witnesses of the act are necessary.

One could infer that the above mentioned crime be somewhat egalitarian. However, man can find plenty of sexual satisfaction under the rule of the Islamic State through the rape of the enemy's women, or in the officially sanctioned trade of (sex) slaves. Obviously, the opposite does not apply to women living under the ISIS.

omar mateen
Omar Mateen

Sodomy and homosexuality are also punished with the death penalty for both participants. Videos released by the ISIS show gay men being thrown off a building after being kissed, a gesture that allegedly purifies their soul before the final act. Despite homophobia being widespread in the muslim and Arab world, the caliphate takes the “crime” to another level. There is no room for diversity, only death. A recent example of this approach is the attack against a gay club in Orlando, Florida, by Omar Mateen. Although it is unclear what pushed the US citizen of Pakistani origin to kill 49 people, the ISIS immediately claimed responsibility for his actions.

Verbal abuse and drinking alcohol are considered minor offenses and are punished with 80 lashes. Overall, no crime is retributed with less than 80 lashes and no more than 100. Going below that would signal some clemency, while anything beyond would simply lead to death. As far as theft is concerned, the hand is cut off, just like in other Arabic countries. Although it is not specified in the code, in case of a repeat offender a leg is severed and then the other hand. However it would be complicated to continue stealing after such a series of amputations.

Spying in favor of the infidels – although this could also be easily extended to those doing it in favor of countries sharing the same religion – clearly leads to capital punishment. This is one of the rare cases in which the death penalty is common to all wartime penal codes, in any country in the world. And the ISIS is an organization at war.

justice Isis

The document issued by the Islamic States also details what happens in case of crimes against property or people. In case of a robbery that also results in a homicide the penalty is crucifixion. This is one of the few times the code actually specifies how someone should be killed. In most of the other cases a certain degree of creativity is allowed. This freedom is probably dictated by the need to adapt the punishments and have them serve the purpose of “educating” the population. The bigger the level of cruelty, the larger the deterrent effect is an equation that is always at the top of the concerns of the prosecutors from the ISIS

In case of manslaughter the capital punishment is again required, although there is no need to crucify the culprit. Theft during a robbery requires the amputation of both the right hand and the left leg, as in the case of recidivists. If an act of banditry does not affect property, but only scares people, one is punished with exile. This is possibly the only instance in which some form of leniency is contemplated. This is because the criminal code issued by the ISIS does not include any jail time for offenders, but solely corporal or capital punishments. This is probably why a robber/bandit has his life spared.

In order to justify the convictions, koranic verses are associated to the penalties inflicted to strengthen their religious justification. A meticulous citation is sought even when, as in the case of stoning to death for women, there is some controversy over the interpretation of the verses. The entire justice system is under the control of the Sharia Council, that oversees the application of the Islamic law in the lands ruled by the caliphate. A Commission for the Sharia and a number of muftis work under the supervision of the council. However, there is also a strong interdependence with the Military Council, that runs the media outlets and issued the hudud on the propaganda sites managed by the ISIS, and the Council for Security. In other words, religious rulings affect all social, economic, military and propaganda activities of the caliphate. This is pretty obvious in the case of an entity aiming to become an Islamic state and that wants to enforce a divine form of justice.

If, taken in its entirety, the criminal code of the ISIS may appear cruel or intolerant, one should not forget that a similar approach is used in other countries enforcing Islamic law. The most blatant example is in Saudi Arabia, where capital punishments, including beheadings, are widespread. The Saudis apply a strict version of the Sharia law in the name of radical wahabi Islam. 78 executions in 2013, 90 in 2014, 158 in 2015, and in almost half of the cases they involved foreigners. Iran performed even better. In 2015, 966 people were put to death.

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