I’m slightly reluctant to enter the conversation around the protests following the death of George Floyd, since my writings mostly focus on Islam and the way in which the increasing Islamization of our societies threaten our freedoms. However, I recently came across an aspect of the protests that is directly relevant to this and that should not pass without comment. First, some context is needed.
On 15 July 2017 Australian-American woman Justine Damon called the Minneapolis Police (yes, the very same police department involved in the George Floyd killing!) to report what she believed was a domestic violence incident in the alley behind her home. Answering the call was one of the brightest stars of the Minneapolis police. Mohammad Noor’s appointment as a police officer was celebrated around the US as a victory for diversity in policing, as he was one the first Somali Americans to be appointed as a Minnesota police officer. Photos of him, smiling broadly, with his family (the women all in hijabs) were proudly distributed by the MPD.
However, the events of 15 July 2017 were nothing to smile about. Even as he was appointed some people in the MPD felt uneasy about Noor’s general jumpiness and his perceived lack of respect for women. He also had three pending complaints against him after just a few months on the force, one for allegedly assaulting a woman while on duty. Yet, remarkably, he was still on the beat. As Ms. Damon approached the squad car, with bare feet and in her pajamas, Officer Noor pulled his gun and shot her at virtually point-blank range without so much as a word of warning. The contrast with the Floyd incident could not be starker. No riots followed her death and the events of the day were quickly buried in the news cycle. Officer Derek Chauvin was charged with murdering George Floyd within a week. In the case of Officer Noor, it took eight months (you read that right) for him to be charged with second-degree murder. He spent that entire eight months on paid leave. Noor was eventually acquitted of second-degree murder, found guilty of the lesser charge of third-degree murder, and sent to prison for 12.5 years.
How (besides the obvious double standards) does this tie in the with Black Lives Matter protests? Well, a CNN reporter asked some Somali Minneapolis residents, participating in the George Floyd protests, what kind of justice they were looking for. One of came up with the following, rather startling, answer: “Free Muhmmad Noor!” His friend echoed this: “Free that man right now!” This is nothing short of jaw dropping. People supposedly protesting police brutality calling for the release of a policeman who brutally killed a defenseless woman.
It is easy to dismiss this reaction as the ravings of two cranks enjoying their 15 Minutes of Fame. I want to suggest, however, that there is something deeper going on here. You see, despite all the slogans flying around at the moment, Islam does not believe or teach that ‘All Lives Matter’. At least not equally so.
Shari’a (Islamic law) emphatically declares non-Muslim life to be worth less than that of Muslims. This is based on several hadiths that states that the life of a disbeliever is worth much less than of that of a Muslim. For example: “… no Muslim should be killed in Qisas (equality in punishment) for killing a Kafir (disbeliever).” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:83:50) So, it is a legal principle within Islam that a Muslim must never be executed for killing a non-Muslim since the Muslim life is more valuable. From this departure point a whole web of legal rulings were developed, assigning values to different lives.
According to the Hanbali legal school, the life of a Christian or Jew is worth half that of a Muslim, and thus the diya (blood money) awarded by modern-day Hanbali courts is half that awarded in case of Muslim’s death. The Hanafi and Maliki schools also consider the life of a Christian or Jew to be worth half a Muslim’s life, but Shafi’i schools of jurisprudence consider it to be worth a third that of a Muslim. When it comes to those who are not Christians or Jews the picture is even grimmer. The Hanafi, Maliki and Shafi’i legal schools of Sunni Islam, as well as those of Shia Islam, have considered the life of polytheists and atheists as one-fifteenth the value of a Muslim during sentencing.
Somali Muslims follow the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence. That means that our CNN interviewees would have thought that Ms. Damon’s life was worth only a third of that of a Muslim (assuming they believed she was a Christian). This worth would have been diminished even further by the fact that she was a woman, as shari’a mandates half the blood-money for the killing of a woman compared to a man. Thus, reducing her worth to one sixth of theirs. Such calculations potentially shed a rather interesting light on their calls for the release of Officer Noor. It is quite possible that they think that the punishment does not fit the crime, since Justine Damon’s death was not that big of a deal. Could it be that they believe that as a non-Muslim, and a non-Muslim woman at that, her murder should not see a Muslim languishing in jail for more than a decade?
The standard response to the statement that ‘All Lives Matter’ is to say that this is true but that there are certain lives that we should pay more attention to at this point in history. We can debate long and hard about this, but it is an incontrovertible fact that this is not a statement that devout followers of Islam can wholeheartedly endorse. Their faith teaches them that the value of lives depends on whether people follow the Muslim religion or not. There are more and more parts of Western world, including in Minneapolis, where this is fast becoming the majority opinion.
Might this be a moment to pause and think about what we are importing and allowing to flourish?
For a hard hitting look at the links between Islamic teaching and violence, please see my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam? Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot‘