A recent bombing in Afghanistan brings a long-standing debate about suicide to the forefront once again. On the heels of the signing of the so-called “Agreement for Bring Peace to Afghanistan” on February 29, 2020, in Doha, Qatar, it has been business as usual as the Taliban works toward re-establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Two days ago, on April 29, a suicide bomber “sacrificed” himself for the cause, targeting an Afghan special forces base near Kabul. The Afghan government says the bomber is responsible for claiming the lives of at least three civilians and wounding over a dozen.
According to plenty of Muslim advocacy groups, politicians, professors, and countless other sympathizers of the faith, suicide bombings are prohibited in Islam because Islam prohibits suicide. If this is true, then why does the media find itself constantly reporting a barrage of bomb plots and imminent threats against U.S. forces, Israel, India, and others (including Muslim-majority countries) around the world? The perpetrators of these nefarious plots and deadly attacks are, indeed, predominately Muslims strapped with an explosive device meant to maim and kill all those within a given bomb blast. Meanwhile, the world is conditioned to believe Islam prohibits suicide — or perhaps, conditioned not talk about the gruesome attack’s association with Islam.
The Quran — the “holy” book for Muslims, the inerrant word of Allah — offers a revealing, preliminary point on self-sacrifice. The Quran’s 154th verse of chapter 2 (sūrat l-baqarah) promises paradise to the self-sacrificing martyr: “…do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, ‘They are dead.’ Rather, they are alive…” Accordingly, death in service to Allah transitions the suicide bomber from earth to paradise, granting his freedom from the trials and tribulations of a former world. It guarantees men a place in heaven with a number of carnal amenities, while women reap other heavenly rewards — which are all motivating factors for taking one’s own life in the process of slaughtering others.
Following the targeted killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC’s) elite Quds Force on January 3, 2020, retributive calls for Muslims to become self-sacrificing martyrs skyrocketed in the Middle East. In one blatant example, Abu Ali al Askari, a security official for Kata’ib Hizballah, tweeted: “I call for the opening of the door of registration for the lovers of martyrdom, to conduct martyrdom operations [suicide bombings] against the foreign Crusader forces.” Clearly motivated by the Quran’s consent of martyrdom and all that it promises, an official for one of the leading Iraqi Shi’ite terror militias in the region was calling for acts of retribution for the deaths of Soleimani and his entourage.
Sayyad Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iranian-backed Hizballah, made strikingly similar statements. In another public call for retaliation with the use of suicide bombers, Nasrallah stated: “If the resistance axis heads in this direction, the Americans will leave our region, humiliated, defeated and terrified. The suicide martyrs who forced the US out of the region before [still] remain.” Hizballah is no stranger to suicide bombing attacks, motivated by one of their most devastating attacks which killed 241 servicemen in a deafening blast at the U.S. Marine headquarters in Beirut in October 1983.
The most distinguished and highly esteemed Muslims were not exempt from these early call for Soleimani’s retaliation to be conducted in the form martyrdom operations. Remarkably, leaflets to recruit suicide bombers were distributed at the private (prestigious) Islamic Azad University in Tehran, Iran.
One of this past week’s reports from the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) shared the words of Sheikh Sadiq Al-Ghariani. Considered by the Muslim Brotherhood as the Grand Mufti of Libya, it is apparent that al-Ghariani expresses the same interpretation of the Quran as other Islamic leaders and scholars around the world. On April 15, 2020, in a video that aired on Al-Tanasuh TV (Libya), al-Ghariani justified the use of suicide bombings in accordance with Islamic law.
Al-Ghariani explains: “If detonating oneself while carrying out a fedaai operation rattles the enemy and brings upon it a crushing defeat, then it is allowed by shari’a law. Many of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions threw themselves from walls. They sacrificed themselves and died in order to breach the enemy’s ranks.”
He continues, stating: “If a person is certain that this act will cause great harm to the enemy, that it will bring defeat upon it, that it will have great impact upon it, and that this attack will reverberate and cause crushing losses to the enemy, then it is allowed by shari’a law, in light of what some of Prophet Muhammad’s companions did. However, it is not allowed in order to simply kill oneself.”
While Westerners are prohibited from or mocked for associating suicide bombings with the “religion of peace,” the Islamic doctrine of Al Wala’ Wal Bara’ (love and hate for Allah’s sake) permits suicide bombing attacks. This can be further verified in the definitive classic text of Islamic law, Reliance of the Traveller (section q2.4, paragraph 4): “There is no disagreement among scholars that it is permissible for a single Muslim to attack battle lines of unbelievers headlong and fight them even if he knows he will be killed.”
Through semantics, the jihadist’s actions can be justified, as he is not killing himself, but rather he is dying in the act of killing. Putting his life in mortal peril to the point of death (what one would consider suicide) is explicitly permitted in Sharia (based upon the Quran and Sunna), if the cause is fi sabilillah (for the sake of Allah). While blasting oneself to pieces to mutilate and kill others, jihadis are convinced they are dying in service to Allah.
Deny the world’s most devout Muslims their validation for the use of suicide bombings in an attack and one would quickly be considered an apostate in Islam. Even a Muslim could be considered an apostate for disagreeing with those who practice Islam in its original form. How do counter-terrorism specialists and national security strategists defeat this bloody tactic practiced by both Sunni and Shi’ite terrorists? It’s a question that has remained essentially unanswered for centuries and, in recent decades, has garnered greater attention from kafirs (unbelievers) around the world.
Terry Bishop specializes in a variety of topics related to the strategic influence of terrorism and subversion, counter-terrorism and national security. His many fields of interest and research include armed conflict and violence in South Asia with a specific focus on al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQS), the Taliban, and other Deobandi-linked terror groups.