British Prime Minister David Cameron stated in 2013 that this murder was a “betrayal of Islam.” Cameron further claimed that “There is nothing in Islam that justifies acts of terror.” Similar sentiments were echoed by London Mayor Boris Johnson as well as other Western political leaders and media outlets.
On 26 February 2014, Rigby’s attackers Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale were sentenced to life imprisonment for this brutal public murder. Adebolajo responded by shouting “Allahu akhbar” (God is greater). Justice Sweeney, coincidentally echoing the exact words used by the country’s Prime Minister, stated that their crime was a “betrayal of Islam.” That sounds nice, but it’s unfortunately not true. This mantra is based on wishful thinking, not facts.
As noted by the scholar Lawrence A. Franklin, the medieval Muslim warrior Saladin has long been romanticized. Yet the historical Saladin choreographed the mass execution of prisoners of war. He even personally ordered clerics in his Jihadist army to behead at least one Christian knight. Only a few prisoners saved themselves by “converting” to Islam.
For centuries Muslim writers have commented on the psychological impact of beheadings upon their enemy’s fear factor and will to resist. This is indicated by Koran 8:12: “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who have disbelieved, so strike them over the necks and smite them over all their fingers and toes.”
Professor Timothy R. Furnish explains that during nearly 1,400 years of Islamic history, beheading has been a recurring theme. A variation upon this theme would be slitting the throats of infidels, as happened to the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam in 2004.
The practice of beheading non-Muslims extends all the way back to Islam’s founder. Ibn Ishaq, the earliest biographer of Mohammad, is recorded as saying that the Prophet ordered the execution by decapitation of 700 men of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe in Medina.
Centuries later, the Turks of the Ottoman Empire were quite enthusiastic about decapitating Christian Europeans and others. Decapitation has also been used against those deemed to commit blasphemy or seen as apostates from Islam.
Over the past decades, modern Saudi Arabia has decapitated hundreds of people for alleged crimes ranging from drug running to witchcraft and apostasy.