Monday, 6 July 2009

Islam And Terrorism (Part 3)


Many Muslims are quick to point out that suicide is a sin in Islam, and that therefore Muslims who commit suicide bombings are acting at variance with the teachings of their faith. For example, Muhammad said: “He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on throttling himself in the Hell-fire forever, and he who commits suicide by stabbing himself shall keep on stabbing himself in the Hell-fire.” (Sahih Bukhari v.2, b.23, no.446)

And yet, the Qur'an also states that those who die in battle against the enemies of Islam are guaranteed a place in Paradise: “Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth, through the Law, the Gospel, and the Qur'an: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? then rejoice in the bargain which ye have concluded: that is the achievement supreme.” (9:111)

When modern jihadists commit suicide bombings, they are, in the words of this verse, slaying and being slain in the same act; therefore they believe they will receive the reward of a “martyr” in Allah's cause: the luxurious and highly sexualised delights of Paradise. Abu Abdel Aziz, a jihadist who fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia, said in a 1994 interview: “I have found that the best sacrifice we can offer for the sake of Allah, is our souls, then our possession[s].” He then quoted this verse.

The hadith are also full of praise for such martyrs:

“Allah guarantees that He will admit the Mujahid [holy warrior] in His Cause into Paradise if he is killed, otherwise He will return him to his home safely with rewards and war booty.” (Sahih Bukhari v.4, b.52, no.46)

“The Prophet said...By Him in Whose Hands my life is! I would love to be martyred in Allah's Cause and then get resurrected and then get martyred, and then get resurrected again and then get martyred and then get resurrected again and then get martyred.” (Sahih Bukhari v.4, b.52, no.54)

“A man whose face was covered with an iron mask (i.e. clad in armor) came to the Prophet and said, 'O Allah's Apostle! Shall I fight or embrace Islam first?' The Prophet said, 'Embrace Islam first and then fight.' So he embraced Islam, and was martyred. Allah's Apostle said, 'A Little work, but a great reward.' (He did very little after embracing Islam, but he will be rewarded in abundance).” (Sahih Bukhari v.4, b.52, no.63)

In fact, not only are jihadists guaranteed a place in Paradise; they are also guaranteed to reach a higher level of Paradise than anyone else:

“It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Sa'id Khudri that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said (to him): Abu Sa'id, whoever cheerfully accepts Allah as his Lord, Islam as his religion and Muhammad as his Apostle is necessarily entitled to enter Paradise. He (Abu Sa'id) wondered at it and said: Messenger of Allah, repeat it for me. He (the Messenger of Allah) did that and said: There is another act which elevates the position of a man in Paradise to a grade one hundred (higher), and the elevation between one grade and the other is equal to the height of the heaven from the earth. He (Abu Sa'id) said: What is that act? He replied: Jihad in the way of Allah! Jihad in the way of Allah!” (Sahih Muslim b.20, no.4645)

According to Islamic law, this is not suicide. Yusuf al-Qaradawi has defended suicide bombing on this basis: “Those who oppose martyrdom operations and claim that they are suicide are making a grave mistake. The goals of the one who carries out a martyrdom operation and of the one who commits suicide are completely different...The person who commits suicide kills himself for himself, because he failed in business, love, an examination or the like. He was too weak to cope with the situation and chose to flee life for death...In contrast, the one who carries out a martyrdom operation does not think of himself. He sacrifices himself for the sake of a higher goal...He sells himself to Allah in order to buy Paradise in exchange.” Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the Grand Imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar University and the closest Muslim equivalent to a pope, has also endorsed suicide bombing against Israelis – although, bizarrely, he has also condemned it.

With such high-profile Islamic authorities endorsing this act of terrorism on the grounds of traditional Islamic belief regarding martyrdom, it will be difficult to convince Muslims otherwise. After all, what pious and dedicated Muslim would not want to guarantee themselves a place in Paradise?


Acts of terrorism, including the killing of innocent civilians, decapitation of prisoners of war, and suicide bombing, are sanctioned by Islam's foundational texts. The only way these destructive and murderous acts will cease to be a threat to civilised people is if the moderate Muslim community stands up and works towards a reform of the elements of Islamic theology and law that inspire them. Failure to do so will leave the theological legitimacy in the hands of the jihadists, and the killing will continue.


  1. Here is a very interesting artilce on suicide terrorism which argues that it follows a strategic logic:

  2. The linked article makes some interesting and generally valid observations, but since it fails to examine the theological/juridical roots of Islamic suicide terrorism, it falls short of proposing any meaningful action that can be taken to prevent such violence in the future.

    Congratulations, though - that's the first genuinely constructive comment you've ever posted here. I hope it can continue in this vein.

  3. You could do a lot worse than to read Pape's book: Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.

    Chapter 12 deals with your erroneous premise, "theological/juridical roots of Islamic suicide terrorism"