Home / Somalian Islamic Piracy and Britain’s Uneducated Concerns

Somalian Islamic Piracy and Britain’s Uneducated Concerns

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While the dramatic rescue of American cargo ship captain Richard Phillips, recently captured by Somalian Islamic pirates, engendered relief and joy in the US, the U.K. Foreign Office, according to Times Online, instructed the Royal Navy "not to detain pirates because doing so may breach their human rights."

The Foreign Office has advised that pirates sent back to Somalia could have their human rights breached because, under Islamic law, they face beheading for murder or having a hand chopped off for theft [and that] the captured pirates could claim asylum in Britain.

While paying due respect to the U.K. government’s human rights concern for the pirates, I'd like to point out the ignorant Foreign Office officials’ utter distortion of Islamic holy laws in saying that “pirates…under Islamic law, face beheading for murder or having a hand chopped off for theft.”

In fact, piracy (of non-Muslim targets) is not at all punishable, but is instead a divinely sanctioned profession for earning one's livelihood in Islam. Prophet Muhammad himself, responding to Allah’s commands for Jihad, started raiding trade caravans and taking hostages for ransom when he became powerful and secure, after his relocation to Medina from Mecca, in 622. In the first successful raid of a Meccan caravan at Nakhla in December 623, his brigands killed one of the attendants, took two of them captive, and acquired the caravan as “sacred” booty. The captives were ransomed to generate further revenue. Muhammad, later on, expanded, with divine sanctions, this mode of Jihad to raiding non-Muslim communities around Arabia; seizing homes, properties and livestock, capturing women and children as slaves — often for ransom or selling into slavery, and imposing extortionate taxes—which sometimes involved mass slaughter of the attacked victims.

This ideal model of Jihad—including the Prophet’s disruption of trade by attacking trade caravans and taking hostages  (it is worth noting that Muhammad’s actions are of eternal relevance and must be emulated by individual Muslims at all times) — continued throughout the ages of Islamic domination, until Western powers put an end to it in the 19th century.

Starting in the 1530s and continuing over three centuries, British — as well Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian (and even American) merchant ships suffered horrible depredations by Islamic pirates in the Mediterranean waters off Barbary North Africa. Thousands of ships were captured and plundered, their crews taken captive and sold as highly-priced slaves. Up to 1.5 million white Westerners were enslaved between the 1530s and 1820s (many abducted from the coastal villages and islands of Europe). Release of these captives, who generally suffered harrowing treatment and brutalities, was sometimes obtained by European governments paying exorbitant ransoms, detailed in my book, Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism and Slavery.

And these attacks were never considered unlawful in Islam. Instead, they were carried out on the grounds of their Jihadi right and were patronized by Islamic regimes of Tripoli, Algiers and Morocco. These attacks were also fully supported, and generally led, by Islamic clerics or Sufi masters. If you are still doubtful, hear what Tripoli’s ambassador to London, Abd al-Rahman, told Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1785 on their right to raid foreign ships and to enslave their crews:

…it was written in the Quran that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their (Islamic) authority were sinners; that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners; and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.

Most importantly, all Schools of Islamic law are unanimous that Muslims have a divinely-sanctioned right to attack any non-Muslim territory or establishment aggressively, kill the men, confiscate all the assets and properties as sacred booty and reduce the women and children into slavery. Prophet Muhammad himself had engaged in these divinely sanctioned acts and the Quran explicitly sanctions them [i.e., Quran 33:26-27]. As a result, Muslim armies, in order to fulfill their divine right, traveled thousands of miles from Arabia to attack foreign lands—India in the East, Europe in the West, Africa in the North, Russia in the South—with the full support and inspiration of Islamic authorities. When this is lawful, foreign caravans or merchant ships passing through/by Muslim territories obviously become even more lawful targets.

It is, therefore, utterly ignorant on part of the U.K. Foreign Office — nay, a perversion of Islamic law — to suggest that the Jihadi pirates of Somalia would face punishment at all, let alone beheading or amputation, for carrying out a divinely sanctioned duty. Instead, it is tantamount to blasphemy, because such a statement amounts to an indictment of Prophet Muhammad’s actions, of Quranic commands, and of sacred Islamic laws.


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About M. A. Khan

  • Salaam

    British nation was and still a nation of pirates. Muslims have learned piracy from Brits.

  • Don’t forget, though, Ahmad. At that time, British piracy was justified because of Spain.

  • STM

    Well that solves it then.

    Here’s my plan for dealing with Somali water thieves.

    I suggest the Royal Navy, next time it captures a bunch of Somali pirates, heads further out to sea and leaves the pricks in a lifeboat about 500m off the coast, with no provisions – except for a copy of the UK’s human rights’ laws, which they can peruse at their leisure.

    It’ll be the will of God then as to whether they actually make it home.

    They don’t deserve to be cut any slack at all.

    As to Iftikhar’s comment: Iftikhar, give yourself an uppercut, followed by a left hook.

  • But STM,

    Why not just shoot those bastards the moment they’re approaching. The engagement policy of no weapons of any kind sounds ridiculous.

    Have you seen those little dinky pirate boats. They’re a joke.

    What’s the fucking big deal? Aggravating the situation?

    They’re all pussies.

  • M. A. Khan


    I don’t know of Muslim ships being plundered by the British, and took the crew hostage for ransom or selling them into slavery.

    Muslims were the master of the seaways of east upto the coasts of Europe until early 16th century. During that period, piracy was the main means of livelihood in most port-cities of the Islamic world.

    However, I am aware that the British took aggressive measures throughout the 19th century to raid suspected ships in the sea for their possible engagement in slave-trade. Without the British interventions, the Muslim world would still be trading in slaves.

    Yet, it does not dispute the fact that Prophet Muhammad initiated piracy and hostage taking for ransom at the birth of Islam and it is sanctioned by the laws of Allah. The British piracy, whatever it may have been, can be abolished and has been abolished, but the Islamic one, which of the divine nature, cannot. The imposition of its ban by the West is being reversed: Allah’s divine law must prevail in the end.

  • “it is sanctioned by the laws of Allah”

    Now, can you explain that, Khan? What verse(s) in the Qur’an can you refer me to?

  • M. A. Khan


    This is I have written in the article:

    “In the first successful raid of a Meccan caravan at Nakhla in December 623, his brigands killed one of the attendants, took two of them captive, and acquired the caravan as “sacred” booty. The captives were ransomed to generate further revenue.”

    This horrible act was committed in a holy month when violence & bloodshed was prohibited in the pagan Arab tradition and it was scrupulously observed. The horror act, therefore, attracted widespread condemnation from all and sundry, including Muhammad’s disciples recently converted from paganism.

    Thereupon Allah came with a defence wto give the profession an eternal divine sanction removing any scruples whatsoever:

    “They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: “Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members.” Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can. And if any of you Turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be companions of the Fire and will abide therein.”

    Note that the verse not only gave a sanction to the plundering act of trade-caravans and hostage-taking, but its last part also warned his disciples—who have expressed misgivings over the horror act—of Allah’s wrath, if the would dare abandon Muhammad (Islam).

  • Khan,

    This is the most provocative article I have yet read – not just on the BC pages but in a very long while. It totally shutters my image of you as per your last piece – a month or so ago – where the impression was you fled to the West because of the freedom and democracy it accorded you. Now, with this particular article, I see a complete turnaround.

    Your justification of piracy in Islamic law is, as I see it, an open declaration of war. Never mind the restricted context in which your whole article is couched: whether the British Foreign Office interpreted or misinterpreted your law, habits or customs concerning piracy. That’s a minor point and by and large inconsequential. But your justification of piracy – on whatever grounds – is a proposition that cannot and will not be allowed to stand.

    I don’t know whether you realize the implications, but you have just added the needed fuel to the fire. It seems to me, Khan, than in the article prior you argued for the war of civilizations. Well, if such is the position of Islam, you’re sure as hell going to get it; and it’s Islam that’s going to be squashed to the point it will never recover.

    I thought you’re reasonable. But no Muslim, it seems, can be none other than a fanatic.

  • Khan,

    I have written my comment before I got yours. Perhaps there are some things in it to ameliorate my position, perhaps not.

    If there is something I don’t understand about the drift of your piece or misread it in any way, let me know. But I can’t help but feel that the position you’re espousing is one of total and irrevocable conflict. And under the circumstances, I feel the discussion is useless.

    So the ball is in your court, Khan.


  • M. A. Khan


    Concerning your calling me a “fanatic” of whatever pole, I am interested in only clarifying the truth against its gross perversion.

    Had the same statement—that “the pirates deserve beheading or amputation under Islamic law—been made by anyone in Islamic capitals during the time of Muhammad or until the 18th century, the person himself would have been beheaded forth with (probably with exception under some rare deviant rulers). And that is a fact!

  • M. A. Khan


    The UK Foriegn Office made a theological statement, which I discussed on theological terms. If you want to discuss it in nontheological ground, such as based on your personal thoughts, it is meaningless. In that case, better we stop this exchange, leaving the ball at midle-point of the court.

  • I stated that I understand the restricted context of your article – namely the British Foreign Office misinterpreting the Islamic law; so clarification of that point is all good and well. But my point concerns your seeming approval of piracy on a regular basis and regardless of circumstances, and that flies in the face of all “peace-loving” nations and international law. And it’s sanctioned, as you say, by the Prophet.

    So this is the point of my question. And it seems that you, the good Muslim that you are, are in no position to disapprove of this practice.

  • M a rk

    The author edits Islam-watch.org. You might want to take a look if you haven’t already.

  • M a rk

    …so, get it now?

  • Which is to say, apart from the theological context in which your discussion is couched, what is your view?

    I have no problem, personally, with this or that exegesis of the Qur’an as to the true meaning of this verse or that. That’s neither here nor there. But you seem to be endorsing the idea, and that’s regardless of the British FO’s blatant mistake. And it is this what I’m getting at.

  • Yes, Mark, I’ve seen it. But that wasn’t the picture I formed of Khan the first time around.

  • M a rk

    He is not endorsing piracy in the article.

  • Well, it’s sure comes awfully close to me. Why bring up the Prophet then and the chapter and verse? Perhaps he’s not doing it directly, but it seems to be he’s walking a tightrope.

  • M. A. Khan


    I didn’t impute any judgement or onion on the issue. Whatever picture you made of me is the production of your imagination.

    I was only interested in straitening a fact. I believe, when you know the crux of a problem, you will know how to solve it. And that is part of the job of the policy-makers—the UK FO being one of them.

    Ciao on this topic…

  • And Mark, I said “seeming approval,” so why not let Khan answer for himself. I do have a fucking right to ask. And he may or may not answer.

    Thank you for trying to be helpful.

  • Well, that’s fine, Khan. But I do see a major problem when you say that we can discuss the matter only in theological terms; but once we move outside the realm of theology, then the discussion is useless or meaningless.

    I don’t buy this dichotomy and neither should you. So you can understand, I hope, why I was pressing to move on beyond theology, into the realm of geopolitics, the here and now, the world we both live in and share. Personally, I’m less interested in what the Qur’an has to say on this matter than in your own opinion.

    You know, of course, that you can opt out of this discussion, anytime, once you say that what the Qur’an and you say must, by the nature of things, be indistinguishable, and I’ll respect that. But until I hear you say it, you understand why I must ask.

  • Excuse me. Does anyone know how to repair an infinite improbability drive?

    It’s reading ’tilt’.

  • Not that shit again.

  • You have to press the button marked ‘do not press this button’.

  • M a rk

    I’m afraid so.

  • Great. Now everybody checks in incognito.

  • Hey, Doc:

    Thanks for not jumping on me the other day when I was down and out. I know you could have but didn’t. I really appreciate it. And when I make it back to California, I’ll visit you.

  • A sign lit up saying ‘Please do not press this button again.’

  • Here’s to you, Mark, for trying to correct me in that Khan does not endorse piracy (your #17) even though I was on the cautious side saying “seemingly.”

    “The British piracy, whatever it may have been, can be abolished and has been abolished, but the Islamic one, which of the divine nature, cannot. The imposition of its ban by the West is being reversed: Allah’s divine law must prevail in the end.” Khan’s remark #5 in response to Iftikhar.

    Now, how much more subtle need I be in order to read perhapses, ifs and maybes into this statement?

  • I find it kind of surprising that neither the liberals nor the conservatives are checking in. Archie and Al may be asleep, and the good old H&C still in Siberia – but the liberals?

    Are they afraid to be critical of Khan for the fear of being illiberal? Or in the name of political correctness?

    Kudos to the BC community. I’m proud of ya.

  • Khan,

    Well, thank you for a response. Perhaps I don’t understand something, by in my Western convoluted mind, I just can’t seem to fathom a writer writing a piece and his personal opinion being left out of it. Unless we’re talking of course about the Salman Rushdie kind of thing or Orhan Pamuk (when in exile), when your life is threatened or some other such thing. In fact, I was going to email you personally in the event it would be inappropriate to ask such questions on this public site.

    So I do apologize if I’ve been rather forceful in this matter. Perhaps I should have been more mindful of the circumstances. And I do thank you for your response.



  • Petunias @ #28:

    Well, there you go. Problem solved.

    Time to visit the Nutrimatic and get a nice hot cup of something almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

  • Roger @ #26:

    I was incognito to begin with. Dr Dreadful is not the name on my California driver’s license. Mwuuuahhaha.

  • STM

    At least the British were the first to change the rules of engagement in regard to the Somali pirates to allow for more aggressive measures to combat them.

    That’s how the Royal Marines captured these idiots in the first place.

    The pirates fired at a Marines’ rigid on an interdiction mission and copped a flogging for their efforts.

    The naval party involved in this raid specialises in what it calls with great British understatement “non-compliant” boarding (in other words, “we might have to fight our way on board”).

    The officer in charge said later that by the time the Marines had fired back and got on board, the pirates were “quite compliant”.

    This, and the efforts of the other military in the area, including the recent rescue by the US Navy, shows there is at least now an intention to fight back.

    Let’s hope they keep doing so.

  • Knah,

    The link to your expanded article (see #30) got scrambled. Perhaps you can provide another one.
    Thank you.

  • M. A. Khan

    Roger, Here’s the correct link to my expanded essay: British Policy Towards Somali Pirates.

  • Much obliged, Khan, and I thank you.

  • Alex Landon

    What would be the reaction if pirates killed 34 Americans and wounded over 170 other Americans in an attack on an American ship in international waters as shown here…

    Why were Americans denied justice by their own country?

    The answer can be found here

    The information can also be found here: What happened is beyond outrageous.

    What continues to happen because a full and open investigation is denied is also beyond outrageous.

    So where is the OUTRAGE?

  • That was a very comprehensive article, Khan. I understand the touchy subject. I wish you could have published it in the first place instead of the truncated version.

  • abdansary

    M.Khan, as a Muslim and having taught maritime law for many years in a local malaysian university, I find your thesis a load of crap, quoting dogma from ‘conduct against enemy during wartime’ with armchair theology; fusing it with peacetime conduct where trade and commerce is paramount in Islam. Historically no other Muslim ancien regimes would have more experience dealing with piracy as the Malay archipelago. And if I remember rightly should a Sultan receive a report that so and so the pirate is on the loose and causing havoc, the Temenggong would be asked to hunt them down to be whipped in the palace grounds.

    M. Khan, do read ibn arabi please………