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Cruel and Usual Punishment:
The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law
By Nonie Darwish,
Thomas Nelson, 2008, 272 pp.

Nonie Darwish, born into an Egyptian Muslim family, wrote an earlier book, Now They Call me Infidel, which is the story of her journey from Egyptian Muslim to American Christian.

Arriving in the U.S. in 1978, she soon discovered that many Muslim immigrants from Egypt brought along a deeply felt animosity toward America. She was troubled about the fact that often their leaders not only fostered such animosity but also encouraged the faithful to push for the Islamization of their newfound homeland.

Her new book, Cruel and Usual Punishment is a thorough explanation of the background, impact, and character of Islamic (sharia) law. The book is divided into two parts. Part One deals with the roots of sharia, its effects on the family, marriage, and the role of women versus that of men. Part Two discusses sharia and the state, its impact on society, a case study of Egypt, and the implications for the West.


Darwish explains that the roots of sharia can be traced to the harsh climate and the brutal culture in which Mohammed (570-632) thrived, and in the last ten years of his life was able to obtain a position of supremacy. It was a culture, writes Darwish, which internally was based on tribal loyalty, while externally it was warlike and cruel.

Fighting other tribes and raiding their caravans loaded with traded goods was a way to survive and prosper. Mohammed is quoted as saying: “I have been awarded victory by terror, so the treasures of the earth are mine.” (Bukhari 9:87:127) Defeat meant death or slavery, and treating your neighbour as you would like to be treated yourself was a threat to the “raid your neighbour before he raids you” culture.

Mohammed was obviously a powerful and mesmerizing leader. He was also ruthless in eliminating skeptics and opponents, at one time ordering the beheading of someone who had not treated him with respect.

What made it possible for Mohammed to rise from obscurity to the head of a religious movement that within one hundred years dominated a huge swath of countries reaching from India, through the Middle East, into North Africa and even southern Europe?

The key to understanding that question, says Darwish, is that Mohammed and his successors early realized that the strictly religious components of Islam - the five pillars: the creed (shahada), prayer, charity to Muslims, pilgrimage, and fasting - were not sufficient to create and maintain loyalty. Religion had to be complemented by the force of law (sharia), that is, Islam moved “from the realm of religion to the realm of political totalitarian ideology.”

Is Islam a Religion?

Darwish points out that you can hardly call Islam a “religion” since it has enacted blasphemy laws that call for the death penalty of all who want to leave it, or insult it.

She argues that one of the blessings of religion is that it gives people a sense of freedom and comfort even amidst the cruelty of life and the harsh reality of man’s political institutions; “it does not add to such cruelty. By that standard, Islam has failed miserably.”

This is why she concludes that Islam as a whole is not a religion. Rather, it is a form of “Arab imperialism and a protectionist tool to preserve what they believe to be a supremacist Arab culture.” Without violent jihad, Mohammed could not have become the ruler of Medina; his successors could not have forced back into the fold those who wanted to leave as soon as Mohammed died; Islam could not have sustained itself in Arabia; and it would not have been able to defeat the great surrounding civilizations.

The Koran states that “There shall be no compulsion in religion.” (2:256) The problem is that there are a very large number of verses in the Koran and the Hadith which say the very opposite. In fact, the earlier freedom verses are nullified (abrogated) by the later war-like instructions. Here are a few of the warlike statements against non-Muslims:

Then take them and kill them wherever ye find them. Against such We have given you clear warrant. (Koran 4.91)

Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God’s religion reigns supreme. (2:193)

Allah’s Apostle said, “I have been ordered to fight with the people till they say, ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.” (Al-Bukhari, vol. 4, 124)

Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him. (ibid., vol. 9, 45)

The author reports that there are 35,213 Koran verses, Hadiths, sharia laws and various Muslim scriptures commanding and encouraging hatred, killing, and war aimed at non-Muslims. Although most Muslims do not act on them, even a small minority who are conditioned by the hateful propaganda driven by the Muslim scriptures are able to cause a lot of grief and destruction.

Whatever the numbers may be, it is surprising and deeply troubling that even among Muslims now living in the West, there is a high percentage that believes that those who want to leave Islam should be killed. For in the Islamic scriptures apostasy is not only a sin but also a capital offence.

Furthermore, a number of prominent Islamic teachers who promote the radical version of Islam continue to be respected among Islamic activists even in the West. They are convinced that they are called to strive for the Islamization of the West. Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi (1903- 1979.) is one of those influential Islamic theologians and thinkers who declared in blunt language what amounts to a declaration of war against all non-Muslims:

Islam wishes to destroy all states and governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and program of Islam regardless of the country or the nation which rules it…; the aim of Islam is to bring about a universal revolution.

Such firebrand language is broadcast all over the Islamic world as well as in numerous mosques and gatherings of Muslims in the Western democracies.

Afghan was liberated in 2001 from the cruel reign of the Taliban, but five years later, Abdul Rahman who had become a Christian, was sentenced to death for apostasy. Rahman was fortunate that this sentence, widely reported in the Western press, caused an international outpouring of outrage. That pressured the Afghan government to allow him to escape to the free West. But many wondered how this is possible. Is this what the Coalition forces of American and other Western military are fighting and dying for?

But they should not have been surprised because sharia courts have handed down such death sentences as a matter course in countries run by strict Islamist believers. Often, the government is not even involved, but converts are killed by their own family or their neighbours.

A Cry from the Heart

Under sharia every detail of male-female relations is strictly regulated and enforced, robbing women of all freedom and spontaneity. Darwish calls the sharia marriage contract “the lock on the gender cage.” This document is essentially a contract that grants the male sexual intercourse rights and gives him total control over his wife or wives. (cf. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s The Caged Virgin)

Divorce is at the whim of the man, and the Koran allows for the so-called temporary marriages. Polygamy is a source of much anxiety for wives because they cannot rely on their husbands’ faithfulness, nor on the friendship of the other wives.

The chapter “Women: the Center of Oppression” describes the humiliation and abuse suffered by women under sharia law, which reduces them to virtual house slaves, being beaten or worse, stoned to death when accused of adultery or disobeying the husband or father (“honour killings”), subjected to genital mutilation with painful life-long consequences. The list goes on.

Darwish mentions one “honor killing” that touched her deeply. Her family employed a teenage maid who became pregnant by her former boss whose wife had thrown her out in the middle of the night. Nonie’s mother tried to protect the girl, but her family found out. No one said outright that she was killed, but a government agent whispered that her father and brother “took care of their honor.”

Very little was ever said, because, writes Darwish, such murder victims in that culture are treated like dead animals run over on the road. But she cannot forget the face of this beautiful young girl, who was always smiling and happy to be of service to the family during the short time she worked there.

Saudi women’s rights activist Wajiha Al-Huweidar is a brave women who has protested against the hardships imposed on women and girls in that country. She states that Saudi society is based on the enslavement of women to men, and of society to the state. She says that Saudi women have been denied everything and that they lead the lives of slave girls. She laments that “we remain in this prison and nobody ever hears of us. When will we be freed? I don’t know.”

Such an anguished cry should stir the heart of every person living in freedom.

Under sharia men have all the power within their own households. Nonetheless, Darwish explains that men are also victimized by sharia, because they, too, are forced to live under a brutal code. They really do not have power, merely the illusion of power.

To be sure, not all husbands living under sharia law are abusive. Some are faithful to one wife and build a good family atmosphere, but that happens, says Darwish, not because of their religion but in spite of it.

To treat women as inferior creatures, not to be trusted, and not to be shown “excess of affection” for that would empower them, is in a real sense to hurt the men, too. Darwish points out that sharia “ripped apart” the core of trust of the family and replaced it with hostility and anger that poison all relationships in the family. But, in addition, all relations within the broader human family, that is, society, also suffer severe damage, with disastrous and even deadly consequences.

Normally, as is still broadly understood in the West, the family is seen as the primary institution for the nurture of new life. Furthermore, it is also the soil in which such virtues as self-control, responsibility, respect, and love for others are to be nurtured. But when the family is fundamentally compromised, we should not be surprised when angry men become prey to those who preach hatred toward all non-Muslims.

Cruel and Usual Punishment provides a great deal of insight into the repercussions of subjecting the Islamic nations to an incessant outpouring of hatred toward the infidel and especially Israel. Such propaganda within a tightly controlled society has served to harden the minds and hearts of many with anger and contempt. This, and the widely accepted belief that "martyrdom" is the only sure way to go to heaven, are powerful incentives to conscript suicide terrorists in the fight against the infidels.

According to sharia, it’s all right, even obligatory, to lie in furthering Islam. That’s why the notorious and offensive Protocols of the Elders of Zion propaganda against Israel is still popular in the Muslim world. And the story that the West and the Jews are using pornography and drugs to destroy the Muslim society is widely believed.

Darwish faults the Western media for not taking the threat of Islamic jihad seriously. They have a very shallow understanding of radical Islam, and they fail in raising the awareness of the hardship and deprivation suffered by women, Christians, and other non-Muslims in sharia-ruled countries.

Often, those who warn against the threat of radical Islam in the West are denounced as Islamophobes and trouble makers. Sometimes they are forced to defend their freedom of expression because Muslims are able to use our laws in their attempt to try to silence those who dare to speak the truth. Think of Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn in Canada, and even Tarek Fatah, who is a Canadian Muslim but has also been threatened with death for opposing Muslim hate mongers. The same goes for Irshad Manji.

Free at Last

It is impossible to do justice in a brief review to this fine and insightful book about an extremely serious threat to the “peace, order, and good government” of this and every other country on this planet. It is a most timely wake-up call. Are we listening?

In reflecting on this question, it is prudent to remember Darwish’s statement that ”the problem is not so much individual Muslims as it is the Muslim scriptures commanding them to kill”.

A book of this caliber by someone who has seen close-up the destruction of life and freedom ought to be treasured and widely read. I close with the author’s moving testimony of gratitude for now being able to live and speak freely.

She asks what a Muslim does if he wants to rise above the hatred; “How did I do it?” She replies that she did not want to hate, lie, or consider non-Muslims her enemies. Nor did she want to befriend or defend killers. She left Islam because she felt secure enough in America to dare to leave “the culture of hate, the prison of Islam.” She concludes:

Without America I could never have done it; I could not have escaped from the claws of Sharia and seen the light. I earned the other side of the story, a story untold in my Muslim society of origin, which enabled me to complete a icture, a picture of people who wanted to remain faithful to Judaism and Christianity and are suffering every day in he Muslim world. I learned truths about them from the Bible, the Old and the New Testaments. And I am grateful.