In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
Suicide terrorism is a relatively new phenomenon. Although most commonly associated with Muslims, it has been well documented that many non-Muslim terrorist groups have utilized the tactic of the suicide attack. Still, it is hard for most people – including the author – to understand how someone could resolve to strap a bomb on his chest and detonate it among innocent people in order to commit mass murder. For the terrorists of the Muslim flavor, they justify such action by claiming that being a suicide bomber is an act of “holy war,” and in traditional Muslim theology, the one who dies in “holy war” will become a martyr that instantly goes to Heaven.
I have thought long and hard over their religious justifications. They make absolutely no sense. First of all, murder is strictly forbidden in Islam: “And do not take a life that God has made sacred, except for just cause.” (17:33) By no stretch of the imagination is killing innocent people a “just cause.” Second, suicide is equally forbidden by the Qur’an: “And spend for the sake of God, and do not invest in ruin by your own hands. And do good, for God loves those who do good.” (2:195) The Qur’an also says, “And do not kill yourselves, for God has been merciful to you.” (4:29)
The strict prohibition against suicide is also mirrored in the prophetic literature. During one of the battles at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), there was one Muslim who fought very bravely, and the Companions (r) praised him to the Prophet (pbuh). He said, “He is of the companions of the Fire.” One of the Companions was astonished to hear the Prophet (pbuh) say this, and so he followed that brave Muslim fighter in the battle. When that fighter became injured, he killed himself.
Thus, the suicide bomber doubly betrays the principles of Islam by killing both himself and others in one fell swoop.
But, more than this, it seems there is another layer to the religious motivation of the suicide bomber: the “instant ticket” to Paradise with the press of a button. This is a distortion of centuries of Islamic tradition. The purpose of life on earth is to do one’s best to live a good life, in accordance with the commandments of God. Although Islam actively encourages worldly success, it should never distract the person from fulfilling what God has commanded: “But seek the abode of the hereafter with what God has bestowed on you, and do not forget your part in this world. And be good, as God has been good to you. And do not seek corruption on earth, for God does not love the corrupt.” (28:77)
That process of “seeking the abode of the hereafter” is not without hardship. The path to salvation is – and always has been – a difficult one. This is the essence of jihad – often mistranslated as “holy war” – which literally means “struggle.” Jihad is the struggle to rise above human temptation and do good on earth. The Prophet Muhammad even said that the battle against one’s own temptations is the “greater jihad.”
Being a devout believer is hard: you can’t do many of the things other people get to do; you can’t eat all the things other people eat; you can’t drink all the things other people drink; you can’t indulge in some of the pleasures in which other people indulge. It can be lonely at times, and it is a definite struggle. This struggle, this jihad, takes patience and perseverance. You have to be patient on the path of God.
But the reward for this patience is Heaven, as illustrated by this Qur’anic verse: “and the angels enter their presence from every gateway [saying]: ‘Peace be upon you, for you were patient; and how excellent the reward of paradise!‘” (13:23-24) To think that one can bypass the struggle to live a good life on earth – essentially “cut in line” – and go straight to heaven by becoming a suicide bomber would be laughable if it was not such a tragic line of thought that has led to the pain and suffering of scores of innocent human beings.
Perhaps some suicide bombers in some areas of the world do not subscribe to this line of thinking; there are some, I am sure, who truly have lost all hope for a meaningful life, who are in profound despair from the oppression they have suffered. Dying as a suicide bomber may be their way to free themselves from a terrible life. It is still not right. It does not justify their actions in the least; it does not make killing innocent people right. Killing innocent people – be they Jew, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, or Muslim – is never, ever right.
But, if someone walks into a mosque full of worshippers on Friday and blows himself up: it is not out of despair. It is not out of desperation. It is so that he can – in his twisted mind – speed up his journey to Heaven where his “72 virgins” are waiting for him. What a satanic mindset! His action is not “jihad in the path of God”: his action is not “holy war.” He is not a martyr, but a vile and vicious murderer. Last I checked, murderers are punished severely by God.
Getting to heaven is tough work, and it requires a lifetime of struggle against human weakness and temptation (along with God’s grace), not the press of a button on a suicide belt. That is a cowardly cop-out. If one struggles to do what is right, it gives meaning to the salutation of the angels in Paradise: “Peace be upon you, for you were patient.” That is how it has always been, and that is how it will always be.