Monday, 10 August 2009

How To Make A Martyr

Not that kind of martyr

Recently, I was debating with a Muslim on the subject of martyrdom in Islam. My central point was that there is a critical difference between the Christian and Islamic concepts of martyrdom. In Christianity, a martyr is one who undergoes great suffering to the point of death for the sake of their faith. This is a passive action. In Islam, however, a martyr is one who dies while KILLING OTHER PEOPLE in the name of their faith. To support this, I quoted the following verse from the Qur'an: “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)

But no, my opponent claimed - this verse isn't about killing people at all; it just means that someone who submits to Allah will be rewarded in Paradise.

My first reaction was to wonder whether he has reading comprehension troubles - the verse dose, after all, promise Paradise to those who "slay and are slain" in the way of Allah, a clause which he ignored completely. But I suppose I can grant him, temporarily, his point that when the Qur'an promises rewards to those who "slay" people, it might not really mean that. It might mean something else, all context considered. It's possible.

That's where context comes in. Historically, sura nine was revealed around the same time that Muhammad was involved in a war against the Byzantine Empire - that is, a literal war. The textual context is also important, so here is what some Muslim scholars say about this verse.

Ibn Kathir, one of the most famous and widely read Qur'anic commentators of them all, says that the promise made in this verse applies to "those who fight in the cause of Allah", and adds that "whether they were killed or they kill the enemy, or both, then Paradise will be theirs." Clearly, then, Ibn Kathir does not believe this verse refers to anything but physical combat and killing people.

The Tafsir al-Jalalayn, another popular Muslim commentary, says that those who reach Paradise are those who "shall fight in the way of God and they shall kill and be killed (this sentence is independent and constitutes an explication of the [above-mentioned] ‘purchase’; a variant reading has the passive verb come first [sc. fa-yuqtalūna wa-yaqtulūn, ‘they shall be killed and shall kill’], meaning that some of them are killed while those who remain, fight on)." Obviously, once again, this means that the Qur'an is talking about physical violence, and those who engage in it being rewarded for their efforts.

If those two commentaries are not modern enough, my final example comes from Muhammad Shafi (d.1979), who was the former Mufti of Pakistan, and wrote an influential commentary on the Qur'an that is widely read on the Indian subcontinent. And he says: "This is first verse [sic] about fighting and killing which was revealed in Mecca itself, though its implementation began after Hijrah." Fighting and killing? The ex-Mufti obviously did not get the memo.

Of course, all of these Muslims might have it wrong and my Muslim adversary may have it right. But I would then have had to ask what made this man such an authority on Islam that he could decide such a thing, even over such luminaries as those quoted above.

And that's the problem. Any Muslim who would say that martyrdom in Islam is some passive form akin to Christian martyrdom is simply ignoring centuries of Islamic tradition and history. In the hadith we find many examples of jihad warriors being promised luxurious rewards in the afterlife:

“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)
The Barbary Muslims who waged jihad against the United States in the 17oos believed that they would go to Paradise for their actions. In 1786, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, then serving as American ambassadors to France and Britain, respectively, met in London with the Tripolitan Ambassador to Britain. They were attempting to negotiate a peace treaty which would end piracy raids on America emanating from the Barbary States (modern Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya). During their discussions, they asked the Tripolitan Ambassador why the Barbary States were directing their aggression, unprovoked, at the U.S. Jefferson and Adams later summed up the Ambassador's response in their report to the Continental Congress:

“…that it was founded on the laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Qur'an, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Muslim who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise."

Where dd the Barbary pirates get this idea? And for that matter, why do so many contemporary Muslims think that suicide bombing is a legitimate Islamic act? The apologist did not address this, and only came up with inventive methods of explaining away the hadith quoted above to get out of the jam.

And once again, that's the problem. All the while Muslims fail to confront the actual doctrinal origins of suicide bombing and jihad, such acts will continue unopposed. We can't afford any more excuses. The cost of such apologetics is real, and can be measured in blood.

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