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, while many other scholars have condemned the practice. Large surveys in the second decade of the 21st century have found a trend of increasing majorities who disapprove of al Qaeda and suicide attacks against civilians in most Muslim countries.[1][2]

Exceptions to norms

There are many hadith narrations and Qur'anic verses forbidding suicide. However, there are also a few hadith (and one Qur'anic passage that has been related to one of them) which some have interpreted as indicating that killing oneself is allowed under certain circumstances.

Main Evidence

The lady who was boiled or burned for her faith

Suicide bombings involve death at the attacker's own hands rather than the enemy's. The use of the following narrations to defend suicide bombings has been heavily contested. The main objections are that in both versions the woman was already being executed, and that the incidents occured in the pre-Islamic era. Moreover, the incidents are clearly intended to glorify faith when the victim could have renounced it and saved herself (similarly see Sahih Bukhari 4:56:809).

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).

A similar narration involves a woman who was forced into a burning ditch, which 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, has been related to Quran 85:4-9 about the people burned in a ditch (though does not include any detail nor mention the woman).

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.

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

An earlier part of the hadith about the ditch has also been used to defend suicide attacks. Here, a boy invites his own execution as a demonstration of faith, though unlike in suicide bombings his death does not occur at his own hands.

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

A widely shared document defending "martydom operations" in the context of the case of a female Chechen suicide bomber quotes Ibn Taymiyyah about the incident in the above hadith:

"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.

Further Evidence

One Quran verse, Quran 2:195 ("And spend in the way of Allah and do not throw [yourselves] with your [own] hands into destruction [by refraining]. And do good; indeed, Allah loves the doers of good.") has been interpreted as precluding suicide missions, though the above mentioned document cites the view of jurists that it is permissible in certain circumstances for someone to attack the enemy single handedly even if he thinks he will be killed. A number of hadiths glorify martydom. Of course, in all these cases death nevertheless occurs at the hands of the enemy rather than the person's own hands.

  • 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."
  • 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.[3]
    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.[4]

Fatwas about suicide bombing

In 2018, a book detailing a fatwa against suicide bombings was issued on behalf of 1,800 Pakistani clerics.[5] In 2010 a Pakistani-Canadian cleric, Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, issued a 600 page Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings in Urdu and English to refute the ideology of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and was endorsed by the prestigious al-Azhar University in Cairo.

A number of well known scholars such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi and influential apologists Zakir Naik[6] have maintained 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.
The Islamic Ruling on the Permissibility of Martyrdom Operations
Sheikh al-Uyayri

Shaykh Gibril Haddad of and 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.


  1. Widespread concerns about extremism in Muslim nations, and little support for it Pew Research Centrue, 2015
  2. Concerns about Islamic Extremism on the Rise in Middle East Pew Research Centrue, 2014
  3. Tabari and History of the World, Volume IV Book XII. The Mohammedan Ascendency, page 463, by John Clark Ridpath, LL.D. 1910.
  4. Dealing in Death - Steven Stalinsky - National Review, May 24, 2004
  5. Pakistan clerics issue fatwa against suicide bombings Reuters 16 January 2018
  6. Click here to watch an explanation by Zakir Naik in one of his lectures aired on PeaceTV.