Suicide Bombing in Islam

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This article discusses suicide bombing (martyrdom operations) in Islam, and why a number of scholars have deemed it to be permissible under Islamic law.

Exceptions to norms

There are many hadith narrations and Qur'anic verses forbidding suicide, however, there are also some hadith (and one Qur'anic verse related to one of them) which indicate that killing oneself is allowed under certain circumstances. Just like Muslims are forbidden from eating pork, they are allowed to eat it in “certain circumstances”.

Main Evidence

The lady who killed herself and went to heaven

Ibn `Abbas said that the Messenger of Allah said, "On the night in which I was taken by night, a pleasant fragrance came my way, and so I said, "O Gabriel! What is this pleasant fragrance?" He said, "This is the fragrance of the hairdresser of Pharaoh's daughter, and [of the hairdresser]'s children." I said, "What is her situation?" He said, "While she was combing Pharaoh's daughter's hair one day, the comb fell from her hand, so she said, "In the name of Allah." Pharaoh's daughter asked, "[You mean] my father?" She said, "No, rather my Lord, and the Lord of your father, is Allah." She said, "Can I tell him that?" She said, "Yes.""….

{The hadith goes on to describe that a huge brass pot was heated, and it was ordered for her and her children to be cast therein.}

She requested from Pharaoh - and he acceded to her request - that her bones and her children's bones be gathered in a single cloth and buried. Her children were then thrown into the cauldron one by one before her eyes, until they got to a suckling infant, and it seemed she wavered on account of him, but he said, "O mother! Jump in, for the torture of this world is lighter than the punishment of the Hereafter." So she jumped in.
Imam Ahmad has narrated in his Musnad (1/310) [and a similar narration is in Ibn Majah (4030)

The narrators of the chain [of Imam Ahmad's version] are reliable, apart from Abu `Umar al-Dareer (though al-Dhahabi and Abu Hatim al-Razi considered him "truthful", and Ibn Hibban considered "reliable"). A similar hadith is mentioned on IslamQA, fatwa no. 39678 (where it is graded as authentic).

According to Ibn Kathir (and other Mufassirun/Qur'an commentators), as well as Yusuf al-Uyayri, who published a fatwa which used this hadith to justify suicide bombing, Quran 85:11 below is about the incident:

Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds will have gardens beneath which rivers flow. That is the great attainment.

It states that the lady went to gardens beneath which rivers flow (i.e heaven).

Ibn Kathir said about it:

Then the king said, "Whoever abandons his religion, let him go, and whoever does not, throw him into the fire. They were struggling and scuffling in the fire, until a woman and her baby whom she was breast feeding came and it was as if she was being somewhat hesitant of falling into the fire, so her baby said to her, "Be patient mother! For verily, you are following the truth!) Muslim also recorded this Hadith at the end of the Sahih.

Observations

This hadith indicates that killing yourself is allowed in Islam in certain circumstances.The lady killed herself, which benefited Islam, because many people converted to Islam after being amazed by her actions. Hence, many scholars conclude, killing yourself is ok when it is going to “benefit” Islam, like in this incident.

"The lady was going to be killed anyway"

The Pharaoh did not pass any definite death sentences, in fact it is possible to say the Pharaoh did not want to kill the lady. Ibn Kathir mentions a hadith in his tafsir that the king/pharaoh said about the lady and her people:

Then the king said, "Whoever abandons his religion, let him go, and whoever does not, throw him into the fire.

So the lady could have saved the life by “pretending” to renounce Islam, which is encouraged in Islam in situations like these (see Qur'an 16:106).

IslamQA also mentions:

"O So and so, do you have a Lord other than me?’ She said: ‘Yes, my Lord and your Lord is Allaah."

At that point the lady could have also saved her life by lying and denying she is Muslim (Quran 16:106). But she chose to die instead.

"Hadith is referring to the pre-Islamic era"

This argument states that the hadith is pre-Islamic and that Islam abrogated all pre-Islamic religions. So, it is argued, these hadith can not be used to make rulings.

Many verses in the Quran, however, relate to the pre-Islamic era, a famous one for example is “On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person - unless it for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew all mankind “ [Qur'an 5:32]. “Mischief” is understood to mean disbelief, according to Muhammad, his companions and the famous Muffasirun (like Ibn Kathir and al-Suyuti). This verse is related to the time of Adam and Eve, when Cain killed his brother Abel, so Allah sent down this verse. Many other verses and hadith refer to stories of past times and are nonetheless used to derive rulings, especially when clear evidence to the contrary is absent.

For further information of above verse, see: If Anyone Slew a Person

Muhammad also praised the lady that killed herself in the incident by calling it a “beautiful/pleasant fragrance”, without pointing out that such an act would in his Sharia be prohibited, which is something he could have done and did do in other cases. For instance, while Yusuf (Jospeh) has his brothers and parents prostrate to him in the Qur'an, Muhammad is reported to have explicitly stated that such a practice (prostrating to humans or even prophets) would no longer be permissible in his (Muhammad's) time.

"The lady could not renounce Islam, it wasn’t allowed then"

Some apologists have argued that if the lady renounced her faith, she would go to hell. Because pretending to renounce your faith was not allowed then, and they mention the hadith below:

“A man from those before you would be taken and have a trench dug in the earth for him. Then he would be brought and put into that trench and a saw would be brought and put over his head. He would be cut into two halves and that would not stray him from his religion. Or he would be combed with a comb of iron between his meat and his bones and that would not sway him from his religion. By Allah, Allah will complete this matter [make this religion dominant] until a rider would ride from Sana to Hadhramaut and only have to fear Allah and the wolf for his sheep. But you people are being hasty.”
Ahmad and al-Bukhari, hadith mentioned by: “The Hijacked Caravan: Refuting Suicide Bombings as Martyrdom Operations in Contemporary Jihad Strategy”, by Ihsanic Intelligence

The person who quoted the above hadith did not quote the full hadith in full, which is:

We complained to Allah's Apostle (of the persecution inflicted on us by the infidels) while he was sitting in the shade of the Ka'ba, leaning over his Burd (i.e. covering sheet). We said to him, "Would you seek help for us? Would you pray to Allah for us?" He said, "Among the nations before you a (believing) man would be put in a ditch that was dug for him, and a saw would be put over his head and he would be cut into two pieces; yet that (torture) would not make him give up his religion. His body would be combed with iron combs that would remove his flesh from the bones and nerves, yet that would not make him abandon his religion. By Allah, this religion (i.e. Islam) will prevail till a traveller from Sana (in Yemen) to Hadrarmaut will fear none but Allah, or a wolf as regards his sheep, but you (people) are hasty.
Sahih Bukhari, book 56, no. 809

This hadith is indicating how firm the people of the past were in their belief if Allah. There is no mention that the people of the ditch were disallowed to renounce Islam.

Rewards based on intentions, and the boy who contributed to his own killing

The Prophet said, 'O people! The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions, and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended .
The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) said: Leave them, when the divine decree is made, no woman should weep. They (the people) asked: What is necessary happening, Apostle of Allah? He replied: Death. His daughter said: I hope you will be a martyr, for you have completed your preparations for jihad. The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) said: Allah Most High gave him a reward according to his intentions. What do you consider martyrdom? They said: Being killed in the cause of Allah.
The Prophet said, 'O people! The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions, and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. And he 'said to them: Take him to such and such mountain; make him climb up that mountain and when you reach its top (ask him to renounce his faith) but if he refuses to do so, then throw him (down the mountain). So they took him and made him climb up the mountain and he said: O Allah, save me from them (in any way) Thou likest and the mountain began to quake and they all fell down and that person came walking to the king. The king said to him: What has happened to your companions? He said: Allah has saved me from them. He again handed him to some of his courtiers and said: Take him and carry him in a small boat and when you reach the middle of the ocean (ask him to renounce) his religion, but if he does not renounce his religion throw him (into the water). So they took him and he said: O Allah, save me from them and what they want to do. It was quite soon that the boat turned over and they were drowned and he came walking to the king, and the king said to him: What has happened to your companions? He said: Allah has saved me from them, and he said to the king: You cannot kill me until you do what I ask you to do. And he said: What is that? He said: You should gather people in a plain and hang me by the trunk (of a tree). Then take hold of an arrow from the quiver and say: In the name of Allah, the Lord of the worlds; then shoot an arrow and if you do that then you would be able to kill me. So he (the king) called the people in an open plain and tied him (the boy) to the trunk of a tree, then he took hold of an arrow from his quiver and then placed the arrow in the bow and then said: In the name of Allah, the Lord of the young boy; he then shot an arrow and it bit his temple. He (the boy) placed his hands upon the temple where the arrow had bit him and he died and the people said: We affirm our faith in the Lord of this young man

Observations

The first hadith indicates that Muslims will be rewarded based on their intentions, including the intentions of an act they carry out, rather than just the act itself. Hence a suicide bomber who blows himself up because of what is considered a good reason in Islam (e.g. to kill enemies of Islam), then according to a straightforward reading of this hadith, he will be rewarded for that as that was his intention first and foremost.

In the third hadith, we see that Allah was miraculously protecting the boy from being killed, hence it was impossible to kill him. But the boy told the King the one special way that he would be killed, a way in which Allah would not protect him. Hence he contributed to his own killing. This is considered suicide in the context, because the boy killed himself by telling the king how to kill him, otherwise it was impossible for the King to kill him as Allah was protecting the boy. We see that the intention of the boy was to get himself killed for the benefit of Islam, as after he died the people supposedly converted to Islam, as with the above story of the maidservant of the Pharaoh's family

Ibn Taymiyyah said about the incident:

"Muslim has narrated in his Sahih the story of the people of the trenches, in which the boy ordered his own killing for the benefit of the religion, and hence the four imams have allowed a Muslim to immerse himself in the enemy ranks, even if he is reasonably certain that they will kill him, provided there is benefit in that for the Muslims.
"The boy didn't kill himself"

Some apologists claim that the boy didn’t kill himself, though this appears to be difficult to maintain. Surely a suicide bomber who presses a trigger doesn't die by their own hands, but rather dies of the shrapnel or energy they cause to be emitted, though this is still deemed suicide (the same may be said of jumping off of tall structures - where the ground and gravity are responsible - and hanging oneself - where the fault lies with the rope).

In this context, the boy gave the king information about the only possible way to kill him (all other ways the king tried would not work as Allah would protect the boy). The information he gave is equivalent to that if a suicide bomber presses the button to blow himself up, or places a phone call which triggers a bomb. For when the boy told the king how to kill him, he was guaranteed to die, the boy even said “You cannot kill me until you do what I ask you to do”. So he very well knew that the information he gave was guaranteed to get him killed. Just like if bomber presses the button its guaranteed to kill him.

Muslims will not be punished for mistaken interpretation

The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) is reported to have said, “Allah has overlooked my community’s mistakes, forgetfulness, and that which they were forced into.” [Ibn Maja]
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “Allah has relieved my community of unintended errors, forgetfulness and transgressions committed under compulsion.”
Ibn Majah – Taken from the book ‘Treatise for the Seekers of Guidance’

Observations

If killing oneself is categorically forbidden in Islam, the suicide bombers who carry out the act clearly don’t believe or think that. Hence, it appears, if suicide bombing was actually forbidden, according to this report, the Muslim who carried out the act would not be punished because he made a mistake/judgmental error, and Allah will “overlook” this type of mistake.

Further Evidence

  • There was a story about a man who rushed into the enemy by himself and got killed. Some people with a companion while this hadith was being narrated connected this story with the Quran verse “make not your own hands contribute to your destructionQuran 2:195,. The companion corrected them stating that what the verse means by destruction is “abandoning Jihad” and that "the destruction refers to staying with our families and estates and abandoning Jihad." and not killing oneself for the sake of battle.
  • According to Sahih Muslim 20:4631 Muhammad said “I love that I should be killed in the way of Allah; then I should be brought back to life and be killed again in His way..."
  • A man asks Muhammad "which of men is the best?" Muhammad replies that it is the man who is always ready for battle and flies into it "seeking death at places where it can be expected." Sahih Muslim 20:4655
  • Muhammad said: “Surely, the gates of Paradise are under the shadows of the swords." After hearing that martyrdom leads to paradise, a young man pulls his sword and breaks the sheath (indicating that he has no intention of returning) then flings himself into battle until he is killed. Sahih Muslim 20:4681
  • Qur'an 9:111 says that believers are those who “kill and are killed”
    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 kill and are killed
  • Khalid ibn Walid (a companion of Muhammad) said:
    Submit to Islam and be safe. Or agree to the payment of the Jizya, and you and your people will be under our protection, else you will have only yourself to blame for the consequences, for I bring the men who desire death as ardently as you desire life.[1]
    Tabari and History of the World, Volume IV Book XII, p.463
  • Abu Bakr as Siddiqi (a companion of Muhammad) said:
    You [Khosru and his people] should convert to Islam, and then you will be safe, for if you don't, you should know that I have come to you with an army of men that love death, as you love life.[2]
    Tabari

Fatwas on suicide bombing

While some are against it, many leading scholars such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi and influential apologists Zakir Naik[3] maintain that suicide bombing is permitted in Islam.

Below is a fatwa issued by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, discussing the reasons why it is permissible for women to participate in "Martyr Operations" (e.g. suicide bombings).

Women’s participation in the martyr operations carried out in Palestine – given the status of the land as an occupied territory, in addition to a lot of sacrilegious acts perpetrated by the Jews against the sanctuaries – is one of the most praised acts of worship. Also, the act is a form of martyrdom in the Cause of Allah, and it entitles them, Insha’ Allah, to the same reward earned by their male counterparts who also die in the Cause of Allah.
. . .

The martyr operations is the greatest of all sorts of Jihad in the Cause of Allah. A martyr operation is carried out by a person who sacrifices himself, deeming his life less value than striving in the Cause of Allah, in the cause of restoring the land and preserving the dignity. To such a valorous attitude applies the following Qur’anic verse: “And of mankind is he who would sell himself, seeking the pleasure of Allah; and Allah hath compassion on (His) bondmen.” (Al-Baqarah: 207)

But a clear distinction has to be made here between martyrdom and suicide. Suicide is an act or instance of killing oneself intentionally out of despair, and finding no outlet except putting an end to one’s life. On the other hand, martyrdom is a heroic act of choosing to suffer death in the Cause of Allah, and that’s why it’s considered by most Muslim scholars as one of the greatest forms of Jihad.
. . .

In the same vein, the public welfare should be given priority to the personal one, in the sense that if there is a contradiction between the private right and the public one, the latter must be given first priority for it concerns the interest of the whole Ummah. Given all this, I believe a woman can participate in this form of Jihad according to her own means and condition. Also, the organizers of these martyr operations can benefit from some believing women as they may do, in some cases, what is impossible for men to do.
Palestinian Women Carrying Out Martyr Operations
Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, IslamOnline, November 6, 2006

Here is another excerpt taken from a longer fatwa (15 pages in length) by Muslim scholar Sheikh al-Uyayri, explaining in depth why suicide bombings and killing of civilians (including Muslims) via the use of them as "human shields" is permissible in Islam.

We have arrived at the conclusion that martyrdom operations are permissible, and in fact the Mujahid who is killed in them is better than one who is killed fighting in the ranks, for there are gradations even among martyrs, corresponding to their role, action effort and risk undertaken. Then, we explained how martyrdom operations are the least costly to the Mujahideen and most detrimental to the enemy. We have heard, as you must have, that most scholars today permit such operations; at least 30 Fatawa have been issued to this effect. We explained how this issue is derived from the issue of plunging single-handedly into the enemy ranks; something which is praiseworthy by the agreement of jurists. We then further stated that we preferred the view that such an action is permissible even if martyrdom is the only goal, although it is certainly not the optimal practice. Martyrdom operations should not be carried out unless certain conditions are met:

1. One's intention is sincere and pure - to raise the Word of Allah.
2. One is reasonably sure that the desired effect cannot be achieved by any other means which would guarantee preservation of his life.
3. One is reasonably sure that loss will be inflicted on the enemy, or they will be frightened, or the Muslims will be emboldened.
4. One should consult with war strategy experts, and especially with the amber of war, for otherwise he may upset plan and alert the enemy to their presence.

If the first condition is absent, the deed is worthless, but if it is satisfied while some others are lacking, then it is not the best thing, but this does not necessarily mean the Mujahid is not shaheed.

We also explained how causing a death carries the same verdict as actual killing. Hence one who plunges without armour into the enemy ranks, being certain of death, just like one who engages in a martyrdom operation, is effectively causing his own death, but they are praiseworthy because of the circumstances and intention, and hence are not considered to have committed suicide. We also clarified that [according to the majority] the identity of the killer does not have an effect on whether the Mujahid will be considered shaheed. This dispels the wavering arising from the fact that the Mujahid is taking his own life. Thus, such operations could take on any of the five Shar`i verdicts depending on intention and circumstances. Finally, we clarified that taking one's own life is not always blameworthy; rather it is contingent on the motives behind it. So, we conclude that one who kills himself because of his strong faith and out of love for Allah and the Prophet, and in the interests of the religion, is praiseworthy.

Shaykh Gibril Haddad of SunniPath.com and LivingIslam.com said about the hadith of the man who rushed into the enemy by himself seeking death (an act that was praised), regarding “Suicide Warfare”

In light of the above paradigms, if, by immersing himself into enemy ranks, a fighter brings about his own death, such self-immersion is legally the same as bringing about his own death by his own hand. In this respect there is no legal difference between the direct hand of the self-detonating suicide fighter and the proxy hand of the outnumbered fighter entering the fray [battle, fight] alone.

See Also

  • Suicide - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Suicide

References

  1. Tabari and History of the World, Volume IV Book XII. The Mohammedan Ascendency, page 463, by John Clark Ridpath, LL.D. 1910.
  2. Dealing in Death - Steven Stalinsky - National Review, May 24, 2004
  3. Click here to watch an explanation by Zakir Naik in one of his lectures aired on PeaceTV.