|The Ottoman Empire and its Sultan who perpetrated the Armenian genocide, was not only a temporal power; but a spiritual authority as well, as it was the Caliphate of global Muslim Ummah. One may wonder whether a spiritual authority would commit such a heinous crime. But the fact that Islam endorses genocide is an elephant in the room.
The Zombie of Armenian Genocide is haunting Turkey again. U.S. President Joe Biden officially recognized the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915-16 as “an act of genocide” recently. Mr. Biden‟s announcement on the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day obliviously infuriated Turkey who prefers to put it under the carpet. Up to 1.5 million Armenians are estimated to have been killed in the early stage of the First World War within the territories of the Ottoman Empire. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s strong man, is shamelessly denying the historical fact of the genocide.
“Genocide is [an act] directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group”-Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish lawyer, observed in his Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress, 2nd ed. (2008, p. 79). Mr. Lemkin was a university student in the 1920s when he learned about the orchestrated massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Later, Forty- nine members of Lemkin’s own family were murdered in the Holocaust. In 1944, Lemkin made up a new word to describe these crimes: genocide. Genocide is a crime against humanity and the worst of all crimes.
Article II of the Genocide Convention, adopted by the United Nations on December 9, 1948, defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such : (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. The massacre of Armenians was a perfect example of genocide.
From the Garden of Eden to the Desert of Death
“They [Armenians] were ripped from their homes (in a land where they had lived for longer than history can tell, a land so old that many speculate it was the site of the biblical Garden of Eden) and sent off on death marches across the blistering Syrian Desert. They were shot on the thresholds of the houses where they were raising their children. They were butchered with swords in gruesome ways in order to dishearten those left alive. They were starved in concentration camps, they were burned and drowned and beaten to death by the thousands, and then their corpses were stripped naked and left to rot in the open air…in short, the Ottoman Empire under the Three Pashas made every possible attempt to exterminate the Armenian race with such fervour that their actions would inspire the creation of the very word that now defines the greatest crime that can be perpetrated against civilization: genocide”- writes Matt Clayton in his The Armenian Genocide : A Captive Guide to the Massacre of Armenians by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire (2019, p.1).
The oppression of the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire was escalated during the reign of ‘the Red Sultan’, Abdul Hamid II. Around
300,000 Armenian men, women, and children were butchered by the Hamidiye, an elite military brigade raised by the Sultan, during the period of 1894 to 1896. This is known as Hamidian massacres in history. When the violence was over, the Armenian people were decimated, not only by the killings but also by the fact that the Hamidiye had forced hundreds of villages to convert to Islam or die. Later, the Young Turks led by the Three Pashas captured power from the Sultan. It was the ‘Three Pashas’ who presided over the genocide. The Young Turks pushed the agenda of ‘Turkification’ and conceived the massacre of Armenians as an effective method for it.
The Ottoman Empire and its Sultan who perpetrated the Armenian genocide, was not only a temporal power; but a spiritual authority as well, as it was the Caliphate of global Muslim Ummah. One may wonder whether a spiritual authority would commit such a heinous crime and whether Islam and its Prophet had endorsed genocide. In Islam, Sunnah is the traditions, practices, words and deeds of Muhammad, that constitute a model for Muslims to follow in war and peace, from family life to statecraft. The fact that Sunnah endorses genocide is an elephant in the room. The massacre of Bani Qurayzah (C.E.627) by Muhammad was a clear case of genocide.
The Holy Genocide
The Bani Qurayzah was a Jewish tribe inhabited in Medina during the times of Muhammad. In 627, a confederacy of Mecca led by Quraysh marched against Medina – the Muslim stronghold – and laid siege to it. It resulted in the Battle of the Trench. The Bani Qurayzah helped the defence effort of Medina by supplying spades, picks, and baskets for the excavation of the defensive trench during this battle. Martin Lings, in his eulogy, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources (2006, p.228) vividly explains the deputation of Huyay of the Bani Nadir by the Quraysh to the Bani Qurayzah to woo their support. Ka’b ibn Asad, a leader of the Bani Qurayzah, told Huyay that “thou hast brought me shame for all time… Leave me and let me be as I am”. The theory is that the Bani Qurayzah conspired with the Meccan Confederacy. But it remains apocryphal even today.
The suspected treachery raged Muhammad and on the very last day of the Battle of the Trench, Muhammad ordered an army of three thousand led by Ali to besiege the fortresses of the Bani Qurayzah. After twenty-five days of siege, the tribe was allowed to consult Abu Lubabah of the Aws tribe that had an alliance with the Bani Qurayzah. When the men asked him if they submit to Muhammad, he said “Yea,” but at the same time, he pointed to his throat as much as to warn them that in his opinion submission means slaughter (Martin Lings, ibid, p. 237). It is a clear sign of the fact that the massacre was pre-planned. Even at the cost of their lives, the tribe bravely held fast to their faith in the Torah.
Finally, the tribe opened the gates of their fortress and surrendered to Muhammad without any resistance. The men were led out with their hands bound behind their backs and space was allotted to them on one side of a camp. On another side, the women and children were assembled. Saad ibn Muadh of the Aws was summoned by Muhammad to pronounce judgment upon the hapless tribe. Saad’s judgment was “that men shall be slain, the property divided, and the women and children made captive”. The Prophet said to him: “Thou hast judged with the judgment of God from above the seven heavens” (Martin Lings, ibid, p. 240).
The menfolk of the tribe spent the night in camp where they recited the Torah and exhorted one another to firmness and patience. In the morning the Muhammad ordered trenches, long and deep and narrow, to be dug in the marketplace. The men, about seven hundred in all –according to some more to other less- were sent for in small groups, and every group was made to sit alongside the trench that was his grave. Then Ali and Zubayr and others of the younger Companions cut off their heads, each with the stroke of the sword. The women and children were divided as slaves, together with the property, amongst the men who had taken part in the siege. Muhammad took Rayhanah, the most beautiful among the captive women.
The men of the Bani Qurayzah were massacred en masse, not in their individual capacity; but only due to their ethnic identity. A whole tribe was collectively exterminated for suspected treachery allegedly committed by a few among them. Only three young men of the Bani Qurayzah were spared as they embraced Islam to save their lives. This macabre incident was genocide in every sense. In this context, a most horrible question arises: “whether humanity could be able to foreclose genocides as a religion accords the sanction to genocide?” Alas, the crime of genocide gains astronomical gravity and latitude through this religious endorsement!