We hear constantly from Islamic apologists and people who ought to know better about how the Qur’an forbids suicide, as if that is the last word about suicide attacks carried out by Muslims. But when Muslims speak to their fellow Muslims, instead of to Western unbelievers anxious to be reassured that all that we are seeing is just an aberration, a misuse of Islam that will soon pass, it’s often a different story. Take this justification for suicide bombing, complete with quotes from Osama himself, found at MuslimCreed.com (thanks to nevermindlv):
“We emphasize the great importance of martyrdom operations against the enemy – operations that have inflicted great damage on the United States and Israel, which damage is unprecedented in their history, thanks to Almighty Allah.” Sheikh ul-Mujahideen Usama bin Laden (hafidhahullah).
What Are Martyrdom Operations?
Martyrdom Operations – sometimes called Fidayee attacks (see Note 1) – are those where a Muslim, a Mujahid, attacks the enemy in such a way that the death of that Muslim is (should Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala) so will it) highly likely. The history of Islam is replete with heroes who have sacrificed their own life for the Way of Life which is Al-Islam.*
In modern times, many Martyrdom Operations involve the Mujahid detonating an explosive device (attached to themselves or in a vehicle they are driving) when close to, or among, the enemy.
Not surprisingly, such attacks are feared by the enemies of Islam, and especially by those infidels who are waging war against Islam, those who are oppressing Muslims, and those who are invading Muslim lands.
Such attacks are often incorrectly called “suicide attacks” in the hope of discrediting them. In addition, some Muslims, and some Islamic scholars, have claimed that such “suicide attacks” are forbidden according to the Quran and Sunnah.
Are Martyrdom Operations Lawful?
To understand and answer this question, three things need to be understood:
(1) The criteria used to determine whether such operations are lawful and justified must and can only an Islamic one. That is, the judgment must be made according to Quran and Sunnah, and them alone. All other criteria or standards of judgment must be rejected. To do otherwise, is un-Islamic.
“And whosoever does not judge by what AllÃ¢h has revealed, such are the KÃ¢firÃ»n.” [5:44 Interpretation of meaning]
(2) The intentions of the Mujahid who undertakes the attack is important, as is the fact that their is a likelihood of the attack harming or killing enemies.
(3) In a discussion of Islamic sources – Quran and Ahadith – it is important to refer to the meaning of the Arabic, and not to rely on interpretations of meaning which use modern, and often biased, terms and words such as the English word “suicide”.
The Unlawful Nature of Killing Oneself:
There is no dispute, among scholars or among the Muslims, that it is forbidden for a person to take their own life, for personal reasons. That is, because one is overwhelmed with grief, or sorrow, or has abandoned all hope when faced with difficulties.
There are many Hadith and Quranic Ayat which make it clear that the Muslim who does such a deed will not enter Paradise because such a deed involves the abandonment of Islam: the belief that one should never totally despair; never be totally overwhelmed with misery, and never abandon trust in Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala).
The Islamic Judgment:
Those – Muslim and non-Muslim – who declare martyrdom operations unlawful, and un-Islamic, consider them to be acts of what they call “suicide”, and justify such a declaration by quoting Quranic verses and Hadith which refer to a person killing themselves.
Quite often, those who denounce martyrdom operations use translations of Hadith, or interpretations of the Holy Quran which use the word “suicide”. For instance, Ahadith similar to the following are often cited:
The Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) 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)
However, as mentioned above, the use of English words such as “suicide” in such translations is often incorrect, for such modern English words often mean and imply different things than are meant and implied by the Arabic, even though, in the West, the term “suicide” is sometimes understood as an “act, malicious or otherwise, of self-murder”. That is, as a basically selfish act done for personal reasons. (In origin the word suicide itself derives from a term for “self”.)
Perhaps a better interpretation of the above Hadith would be along the following lines:
“The person who commits Intihar by hanging themselves shall keep hanging themselves in the Hell-Fire, just as those who commit Intihar by stabbing themselves will keep stabbing themselves in the Hell-Fire.”
We shall consider two Quranic Ayat often cited by those who oppose Martyrdom Operations.
1) One Quranic Ayat which is often cited (see Note 2) is: laa taqtuluu anfusakum (4:29). This is often interpreted as meaning: “Do not kill yourselves…” However, considered in context, a more correct interpretation would be along the following lines:
“You who believe: do not unfairly squander your wealth on one another, save it be for some purpose mutually agreed upon among yourselves. Do not ruin yourself, or one another, for Allah is most Merciful toward you.”
2) Another Ayat which is cited is 4:93 which is often interpreted to mean: “Whomsoever kills a believer intentionally, their punishment is hell…” The argument used here by the opponents of Martyrdom Operations is that the Mujahid involved in a Fidayee attack is a believer, who – by their Fidayee attack – intends to and does kill themselves. However, this argument is invalid because the context clearly refers to a believer intentionally killing another believer – for instance in 4:92 Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala) says that if a believer kills a believer by mistake, then compensation must be paid.
Thus, not only are the oft-quoted Ahadith and Quranic verses quoted, and translated or interpreted, incorrectly and out of context, but they are in fact not relevant. For what it is important to understand is that killing oneself because of some personal reason – what is often called committing suicide – is quite different and distinct from martyrdom operations. That is, there is a clear distinction between Istishad (martyrdom) and Intihar (“suicide”) – in both the intention of the individual, and what results from their act.
The person who commits suicide acts out of despair, or for some personal reason, whereas the Mujahid acts out of love for Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala) and a desire to please Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala): to do what Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala) has commanded, which in the specific instance of martyrdom operations is confronting and attacking the enemies of Islam, even if this means, InshaAllah, one’s own death.
The intention of the Mujahid is – or rather should be – a pure intention, and if this is indeed the case then Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala) may well accept their martyrdom and so admit them into Paradise. A pure intention in this instance is to: (1) harm, humiliate or kill the enemy; (2) to give strength and encouragement to Muslims; (3) to weaken the resolve of the enemy; (4) to seek the reward of martyrdom, which is Paradise.
*The writer of this article is correct: such operations are a feature of Islamic history: John Paul Jones encountered suicide attacks by Muslim Turks in 1788!
“…for it was the intention of the Turks to attack us and board us, and if we had been only three versts further the attempt would have been made on the 16th [June 1788] (before the vessel of the Captain Pacha ran aground in advancing before the wind with all his forces to attack us,), God only knows what would have been the result…The Turks had a very large force, and we have been informed by our prisoners that they were resolved to destroy us, even by burning themselves, (in setting fire to their own vessels after having grappled with ours.) [note added by Jones: Before their departure from Constantinople, they swore by the beard of the Sultan to execute this horrible plan…if Providence had not caused its failure from two circumstances which no man could forsee.”]
That’s from John Paul Jones’ Letter to Prince Potemkin, June 20, 1788, from Life and Character of John Paul Jones-A Captain in the Navy of the United States, John H. Sherburne, 1825, p. 308.