Word of the week: Fida’April 22, 2010
When describing financial matters in the Islamic world, we here in the West use many euphemisms like using “charity” for zakat, or “extortion” for jizya.
When Muslims forcibly capture non-Muslims in the world today, and demand conversion to Islam or money as a condition of release, we have taken to calling those events “abductions,” “kidnappings” or “hostage-taking,” and the money demanded is a “ransom.”
Those terms are reasonably accurate descriptions of what happens to non-Muslim minorities or Western travelers in Muslim controlled parts of the world today, and I’ve used those phrases many times myself.
However, the farther one steps back, the more inadequate the term “ransom” becomes to describe what the jihadists are doing. Random House defines ransom as “the redemption of a prisoner, slave, or captured person, of captured goods, etc., for a price” (emphasis mine). In the world of the jihadists, redemption is not only “for a price,” but for Allah.
Verse 4 of Sura 47 of the Koran reads, “When ye encounter the infidels, strike off their heads till ye have made a great slaughter among them, and of the rest make fast the fetters. And afterwards let there either be free dismissals or ransomings, till the war hath laid down its burdens.”
The decision on whether to release or ransom the prisoner of war depends wholly on whatever will benefit Islam the most at the time. As Robert Spencer pointed out in his “Blogging the Qur’an” series:
The same verse goes on to call for the taking of prisoners and allowing for “either generosity or ransom” of prisoners of war. This has been enshrined in Islamic law: ‘Umdat al-Salik, a manual of Islamic jurisprudence certified by Al-Azhar University in Cairo (the most respected authority in Sunni Islam) as conforming “to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community,” lays out four options for prisoners, in line with this verse: “When an adult male is taken captive, the caliph considers the interests … (of Islam and the Muslims) and decides between the prisoner’s death, slavery, release without paying anything, or ransoming himself in exchange for money or for a Muslim captive held by the enemy” (9.14).
The term “ransom,” which carries some religious connotations in English, nevertheless expresses a primarily financial or profit motive to the abduction. The jihadists are certainly trying to raise revenues by holding non-Muslims hostage, but they are basing their actions on what they perceive to be the needs of Islam.
Using the Arabic word in 47:4, fida’an (فداء), or simply fida’ (also meaning sacrifice or redemption), may be a more appropriate term than the sanitized, secular “ransom.”
But don’t expect the mainstream media to start using the word “fida’” anytime soon to describe the demands by jihadist captors around the world today. Fida’ is a money machine for jihad and a blood bath for non-Muslims. And it all comes from the Koran.