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New York court rejects “right to pillage”

December 8, 2013

U.S. law and practice prohibits pillaging—a prohibition that was recently reaffirmed by the New York Court of Appeals.  In a case involving an artifact that surfaced in New York that was taken from a German museum in 1945 (probably by Soviet troops) the court held that, “we decline to adopt any doctrine that would establish good title based upon the looting and removal of cultural objects during wartime by a conquering military force.”  The insightful Rick St. Hilaire has all the details here.

Pillaging is also prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.

At stark contrast to these national and international norms, traditional Islamic jurisprudence expressly authorizes such plunder, with an entire chapter of the Qur’an entitled “The Spoils” (Sura 8).  Verse 42 of that chapter reads, “And know ye, that when ye have taken anything as spoil—that to Allah belongs a Fifth of it, and to the Messenger [Muhammad] and to the Relatives, Orphans, the Poor, and the Followers of the Way…”

Abu Yusuf, author of the Kitab Al-Kharaj, the classical tax treatise of Islam, further explains that this verse “refers to the movable properties captured by Muslims from the pagans, i.e. provisions, arms and animals.  A fifth of such booty is taken out for those named by God in His Book, and the remaining four fifths are divided among the soldiers who captured it.”

Why is this contrast relevant and worth understanding within the context of terrorist financing?  Prominent Islamists such as deceased terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, the Britain-based rabble-rouser Anjem Choudary, and Sheikh Hoeweyni of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood have used the spoils provision of Islamic law to justify theft from non-Muslims in the course of waging jihad.

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