​‘Crucify them!’ Muslim leaders condemn ISIS execution of Jordanian pilot

Saif al-Kasaesbeh (C), father of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, prays at the headquarters of the family's clan in the city of Karak February 4, 2015.(Reuters / Muhammad Hamed)
Secular and religious leaders in the Middle East expressed rare unity in roundly condemning the execution of captured Jordanian pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh, who was apparently burned alive in a cage by the Islamic State.

Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, and widely considered the world’s most influential Sunni Muslim cleric, condemned the “satanic” Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), calling for its members to be "killed, crucified or to have their limbs amputated" in revenge for the gruesome execution.

READ MORE: ISIS burns alive Jordanian pilot it kept hostage

The Qatar-headquartered International Association of Muslim Scholars, another leading light of Muslim thought, joined the chorus.

"The Association asserts that this extremist organization does not represent Islam in any way and its actions always harm Islam," it said in a statement.

The militant group said it switched from its usual beheading method to burning as a form of retribution – condemning al-Kasasbeh, who was captured in December, to the same suffering he supposedly inflicted upon those who were burned by the bombs dropped from his F-16.

The Islamic State, led by former Islamic scholar Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, justified its macabre, choreographed execution ceremony – captured in high-definition by professional cameramen – with sacred texts, posting a religious edict on one of its Twitter accounts.

Other Muslim theologians disagreed.

"Burning is an abominable crime rejected by Islamic law regardless of its causes," leading Saudi cleric Salman al-Odah responded on his Twitter account.

"It is rejected whether it falls on an individual or a group or a people. Only God tortures by fire."

View image | gettyimages.com

Even radical preachers thought the ostentatious brutality on display – presumably tailored to attract new recruits - was unappealing, and ultimately, counter-productive to the Islamic State’s aims of creating a caliphate that stretches through the entire Middle East.

"This weakens the popularity of the Islamic State because we look at Islam as a religion of mercy and tolerance. Even in the heat of battle, a prisoner of war is given good treatment," said Mohamed al-Shalabi, a Salafi jihadist, and a bête noire of the Jordanian government, who has spent a decade in prison for terrorist activities.

"Even if the Islamic State says Moath had bombed, and burnt and killed us, and we punished him in the way he did to us, we say, OK but why film the video in this shocking way. This method has turned society against them," he told Reuters.

Iran, Saudi Arabia in agreement

The Islamic State has no formal political allies among Islamic states, many of which regard it as an existential threat, so all political leaders criticized the execution, which may have taken place as far back as January 3.

Saudi Arabia’s recently-crowned King Salman called the execution of 26-year-old Kasasbeh “inhumane,” and called him a “martyr.”

Its Shia rival Iran used almost the same words – “un-Islamic and inhumane” – to condemn the killing, which was particularly shocking, as unlike many of the previous high-profile beheadings, the victim was himself a practicing Muslim.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, where a poll last year showed that IS enjoys greater support than anywhere else in the Muslim world, also condemned what it called “heinous crimes.”

READ MORE: Jordan executes 2 prisoners after Islamic State burns pilot to death

As a response to the death of al-Kasasbeh, Jordan, a staunch US ally, has executed two Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists, who had been on death row, and has promised an “earth-shattering” response to the jihadists. Washington has also said that it will be stepping up its bombardments of IS positions, and efforts to rescue remaining hostages held by the radicals.