Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Flogged by the Islamic State

An elderly man is beaten for missing prayers.
By Mona al-Mohammad
  • A woman supports her husband as they walk through Aleppo’s Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood. (Photo: Baraa al-Halabi)
    A woman supports her husband as they walk through Aleppo’s Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood. (Photo: Baraa al-Halabi)

My father is a devout Muslim who has visited Saudi Arabia several times to perform the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages in the holy city of Mecca.

Nevertheless, the Islamic State (IS) found reason to arrest and flog him.

The incident happened on May 3, 2014. That evening my father sat in his shop chatting to my uncle and a few friends who had gathered to keep him company.

The power had been off in the area all day, which meant the loudspeakers of the local mosque were not working. When the call to isha [nightfall] prayers went out, my father and his companions did not hear it.

When they realised the time, they rushed to the mosque, arriving a few minutes after prayers had started. This small delay did not go unnoticed. A young neighbour who had recently joined IS accused them of neglecting their prayers and arrested them immediately.

The young man knew my father well enough to know how religious he was, but still led him and his companions to the hisbah [morality police] to be punished appropriately.

Later that day, after my father was released, he told us what had happened at the hisbah.

When they arrived, the men were held in a small room that was so crowded they could hardly move. They were given the opportunity to perform their nightfall prayers as a group, and then were sentenced to 16 lashes each.

From his complexion and accent, my father gathered that the man carrying out their sentences was Saudi Arabian. He flogged the prisoners so harshly that one elderly man screamed out the name of the prophet Mohammad in pain. This cost him dearly.

“You heretic! How dare you plea to someone else but God?” shouted his punisher.

The elderly man’s lashes were doubled.

When it was my father’s turn to be flogged, the Saudi militant seemed to have grown weary, for his lashes were no longer so severe. A Tunisian militant supervising the procedure reprimanded him.

“Carry out the punishments properly,” he said angrily. “Whip them firmly!”

His words sparked a terrible anger in my uncle who stood watching. This was the first time anyone had mistreated my father in front of him, and he could not accept it.

“Leave him alone,” he shouted. “Let him be!”

Out of fear for my uncle, my father tried to pretend he wasn’t suffering. Eventually my uncle calmed down, but it was too late. He had dared to speak up, so his lashes were doubled too.

That night, when my father came home, his back was swollen and marked with stripes of blood.

He was unable to sleep, not from the physical pain, but from the heartache he felt.

“They humiliated us under the pretext of applying the laws of Islam, it was just terrible,” he told us, “And when I heard my brother trying to intervene and help me, something inside me broke.”

Ever since IS took control over my city Tabaqa in early 2014, it became a prime destination for jihadists from all over the world.

Tunisians, Yemenis, Egyptians, and Iraqis flocked to Syria to join IS, as well as a large number of Saudis who were appointed as ruling princes known as emirs.

Immigrants also came from France, the United States, Britain, Russia, and Korea. This group mostly carried out terrorist attacks, or were stationed at checkpoints despite the fact that they spoke little or no Arabic.

The IS uses an extremist interpretation of Islam to encourage violence and murder. Any person who dares to oppose them is considered an infidel or apostate.

Members of the organisation believe they are applying Sharia law to restore the Muslim caliphate. Although many of them are illiterate or unable to read Arabic, they blindly carry out verdicts, arresting people and flogging them.

IS applies its own unique set of rules. To ensure everyone fears them, they execute their sentences in public, usually in a main square, especially on Fridays after midday prayers.

I remember hearing a rumour one Friday that an elderly man was to be flogged at the local market square. I went there in disbelief and sure enough, found a large crowd of men, women, and even children gathered to watch.

Two IS members tied the man to a wooden board, and another man with a hood covering his face carried out the punishment.

I was sickened by what I saw. I couldn’t believe it was true. Surely I was at the cinema watching a horror movie, or perhaps I was having a nightmare. Someone needed to wake me up.

The IS member dealing out the punishment must have done it many times, for he handled his whip with skill. On this occasion however, he didn’t have the opportunity to complete his job. His first few lashes were so severe that the elderly man fainted, blood trickling down his back.

Mona al-Mohammad is the pseudonym of a Damascus Bureau contributor from Tabaqa. The 20-year-old was forced to abandon her Arabic literature university course and flee to Idlib’s countryside where she and her family are now displaced.