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.