Historical Primary Sources: The Case of the Christian Who Wanted to be Executed

Cases of religious dissent in courts in the Andalusian Umayyad Caliphate provide insight into how one Islamic judicial system established procedures protecting non-Muslim constituents without undermining the sovereignty of the Islamic government. See tomorrow’s blog post for historical context and case analysis.


Ibn Ḥārith al-Khushanī recorded the following case as a ḥikāya, an anonymous report: A Christian appeared before the judge Aslam b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, petitioning to be executed. But he was rebuked because he had committed no crime. The text explains that the Christian’s behaviour was motivated by his desire to die in imitation of Jesus, as an act of virtue (faḍīla), although—as our source points out—Jesus himself did not seek martyrdom. In response to the judge’s admonishment, the Christian explained that he would not in truth die. While his shibh, or likeness (i.e., a body that resembled his body), might perish, his real self would ascend to the heavens upon execution. The judge aimed to disprove this theory by ordering the Christian flogged. Thus, the judge illustrated that the Christian could indeed suffer pain and likewise would suffer death if a sword were to cut his neck.


Ibn Ḥārith said: I heard someone recounting that a Christian went [to the judge] asking to be put to death. Aslam reprimanded him asking him: “Woe unto you! Who provoked you to ask for your own death if you have committed no crime?” The stupidity and ignorance of the Christian led him to take upon himself a virtuous act (faḍīla) when nothing of the kind was attributed to Jesus, son of Mary – God bless Muḥammad and Jesus. The Christian told the judge: “You assume that if you execute me I would be the one killed.” The judge asked him: “Who else could be the one killed?” The Christian answered: “A likeness of me (shibhī) that was cast on a body is what you will execute, while my real self in that same hour will directly go to heaven.” Aslam then told him: “We lack sufficient information to have an opinion on the [outcome] that you argue for,[1]but you lack what it takes to make you realize that you are deceiving yourself. There is however a way to reveal what is right to us and to you.” The Christian asked the judge: “What could that be?” The judge Aslam summoned his court assistants (aʿwān) and told them: “Take the whip,” then ordered them to strip the Christian which they did, and then ordered them to beat him. When the Christian felt the flogging he became agitated and screamed. Aslam asked him: “On which back is the flogging taking place?” “On mine!” said the Christian. Aslam told him: “In the same way the sword will cut your neck, don’t be deluded into believing otherwise.”

Read the original Arabic.