Fatwa on Burning as Capital Punishment in Islam
According to Memri Special Dispatch No. 5976 (February 26, 2015), the Qatari government's website presented a fatwa in June 2009 that was relevant to the Islamic State's recent action in burning a Jordanian pilot to death: "Execution By Burning Is Permitted Under Certain Circumstances." This fatwa was linked to two others, one from 2006 and the other from March 2009. My quotes below reflect all three fatwas in answer to the question raised:
Question:This is strange reasoning. Muhammad said not to burn someone with fire as capital punishment. Abu Bakr burned someone with fire as capital punishment. Yet, the action of Abu Bakr was justified because the ban on burning was explained as not absolute, but as restraint to show humility before Allah, for Allah punishes with fire. Therefore . . . Abu Bakr didn't need to show humility toward Allah?
Is it permissible to punish a Muslim, Sunni or Shi'ite, by burning him? Please inform me, because I received an email about a Muslim being burned, and I answered the person who sent me the email [with a quote from the hadith]: 'only the God of fire may punish with fire.' But he opposed my position to the point that I started to doubt its correctness.'
According to the shari'a, punishment by fire is forbidden, regardless of a person's status, for it is written in the hadith: 'only the God of fire may punish with fire'... [So] this deed is a sin that is forbidden because of the injustice it involves . . . . How can we reconcile the Prophet's ban on burning with fire with [Caliph] Abu Bakr's burning of Iyas bin 'Abd Yalil during the Ridda Wars? . . . . The Prophet's ban is valid. According to the honorable hadith, the Prophet said: 'only the God of fire may punish with fire' . . . . [R]eligious scholars were divided on whether this ban is absolute, or is only meant to [instill] humility [towards God]. [Shafi'i jurisprudent] Ibn Hajar [Al-'Asqalani] said in his book Fath Al-Bari: "This ban is not meant to prohibit [burning], but only to [instill] humility. The actions of the Prophet's Companions indicate that burning is permissible . . . . [Caliph] Abu Bakr punished criminals by burning in the presence of the Prophet's Companions, and [the Prophet's Companion] Khalid Ibn Al-Walid [also] burned people from among the apostates . . . . The story about Abu Bakr's burning of the believer Iyas bin 'Abd Yalil is recounted in the books of biography and history. [It is said:] 'Iyas bin 'Abd Yalil came to Abu Bakr and said to him: Give me weapons so I can fight the apostates. [Abu Bakr] supplied him with weapons and appointed him commander, but [Iyas] turned against the Muslims . . . . Abu Bakr discovered this, and sent people to arrest [Iyas] and fetch him. Abu Bakr ordered to light a fire in the Medina mosque, and then he pitched [Iyas] into it, swaddled in cloths.'
Of course, we all know what's going on in this reasoning. Muhammad can't be wrong, nor can one of the four rightly guided caliphs, so if one of those caliphs directly contradicts Muhammad, the sharp contradiction has to be blunted. But as we see, the manner of dealing with the contradiction in this instance merely shifts the problem to another, even more serious level, lack of humility toward Allah.
Logically, therefore, Abu Bakr showed arrogance toward Allah.