A Critique of the Use of Suicide Bombings in Islamic Jihad

2.2. The Islamic Position on Suicide Bombing

A suicide attack is an attack in which the attacker or attackers expect to die. The usual method employed in modern times involves the use of bombs either strapped upon the body of the attacker or in a vehicle which he is driving or anywhere else close to his person which, upon detonation or impact, kills the attacker and any person or persons around him/her. This a method used to cause maximum damage to the enemy with minimal loss to the instigators of the suicide attack. This is because the targets for suicide attacks are usually either heavily populated areas or important military bases.

Suicide bombings or attacks are considered as a form of tactic in warfare. Though it first emerged during World War II and became a favorite of terrorist groups and guerillas such as the Tamil Tigers. It has now, since the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11 2001, become largely recognized as a strategy used by Islamic militants such as AI-Qaeda, Hamas, and Muslims involved in the Iraqi insurgency. In support of the use of suicide bombing as a tactic by Muslims fighting an oppressive situation, despite the outright prohibition of suicide by both the Qur’an and the hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad SAW, several scholars — such as Yusuf al Qardawi, Sheikh Ahmad Qubeisi of Iraq, Sayyed Moahmmed Musawi[^26] - have equated suicide bombing with martyrdom operations. In their view, a martyr who goes into a fight with a view to destroying the enemy not knowing whether he would live or die is no different from a suicide bomber who also fights with the intention of destroying the enemy and does not care whether he lives or dies.

To legitimize suicide bombings, verses of the Qur’an and hadiths of the Prophet are used as evidences in issue. One of the foremost verses of the Quran referred to is that in Suratul Tauba where Allah SWT says;

“Verily, Allah has purchased from the believers their selves

and their wealth, in return for Heaven being theirs. They fight

in the path of Allah and they kill and are killed” [Quran, 9:111]

Reliance is placed also, on a hadith of the Prophet SAW narrated by Muslim. The Prophet narrated the story of a young boy who was sought to be killed by his king because of his faith in the religion of Islam. All attempts to kill him proved futile until the boy himself gave the king instructions to call the people of the town to a particular location, use the boy’s arrow and while invoking the name of Allah, shoot the boy. The boy was killed but the onlookers acknowledging the power of Allah accepted the religion of Islam declaring “we believe in the lord of the boy” He then ordered a ditch of fire to be built and whoever refused to denounce the religion was thrown onto the ditch. A mother holding her baby hesitated when it came to her turn but the baby spoke to her giving her courage to stay on the right path and she jumped.

In their view, the Muslims who died in this narration died in the interest of their religion and their death is not considered a suicide but they died as martyrs. They narrate various hadiths where companions of the Prophet went into battle knowing that they would probably be killed and the Prophet declared that they had died as martyrs. For example, in a hadith narrated by Ibn Abi Shaybah a companion of the Prophet, Muadh ibn Afra asked the messenger of Allah “what makes Allah laugh upon his slave and the Prophet replied “the servant immersing himself into the enemy without armor” Muadh then took off his armor and fought until he was killed. These and other hadiths and verses of the Quran have been interpreted by such scholars to justify their view that though suicide has been prohibited, jihad has some special rules which permit that which is normally prohibited. In their view, suicide bombing has become necessary as the Muslims in these oppressed nations are outclassed militarily. They don’t have the superior weaponry needed to retaliate in kind to attacks and therefore have no option but to attack with their hands or sacrifice themselves. Hence the resort to suicide attacks.

The majority of sunni[^27] scholars[^28] , on the other hand, view suicide bombing as forbidden and going against all the laws of Allah and the traditions of the Prophet. The verses of the Quran, the hadiths and the various analogies which have been used by the proponents of suicide bombing to legitimize it have been misconstrued and twisted to serve their purposes. For example the verse in Suratul Tauba where Allah SWT states that he has purchased the life of Muslims must be read to the end and not in a vacuum. The verse continues***“. .they fight in Allah’s cause so they kill (others) and are killed*** ” sunni scholars say this implies that there are only two states of dying in the battlefield. The Muslim either kills or is killed. It does not include the third option; killing oneself in the purchase of the Muslim’s life by Allah.

A number of fatwa (rulings) pertaining to the legality or otherwise of suicide bombings have been made by these sunni scholars. Attention has been drawn to the distinction, which they believe has been ignored by the proponents of suicide bombing, between the martyr who immerses himself in the enemy and is killed by them and the person who kills himself by his own hands. They have methodically analyzed and broken apart those evidences in the Qur’an and the hadiths used to legitimize suicide bombing. Regarding the story of the boy who was killed by the king and the people thrown into the ditch of fire, they died not fighting the unbelievers but were killed because they refused to apostate and they died not by their own hands but were killed by the king. To use their story to justify suicide will therefore be an erroneous analogy. Moreover, their situation occurred before the time of the Prophet Muhammad SAW and the establishment of shari’a and cannot be used to guide Muslims in present times on matters which have been already dealt with by the shari’a. The man who goes into the enemy without armor and is killed did not die by his own hand but is killed by the enemy.

By its very nature, suicide bombing necessitates the suicide bomber to, in a premeditated fashion, blow himself up with his own hand in order to have a successful mission. The martyr goes to fight the enemy accepting his death but also hoping to survive. The suicide bomber hopes not to live at all. Allah SWT says “and spend of your substance in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to your own destruction” [^29]

It must be noted that in most situations, the aim of the suicide bomber is to kill as many people as possible, apart from himself. Hence the detonation of the bomb in populated areas, thus constituting it as not only a suicide but also a murder or multiple murders. Even when the war was at its hottest with the unbelievers, the Prophet Muhammad SAW forbade the killing of women, children, the infirm or non-combatants. The suicide bomber has no consideration for this and most of the victimsare women, children or non-combatants possibly because these are the least protected. The methods used by the suicide bomber include secrecy, sneaking into the enemy camp and taking them unawares. Both stipulations in the Qur’an and traditions of the Prophet prescribe that the enemy may only be attacked after a warning has been sent to them.

The technique of suicide bombing is an “an anathema, anti-ethical and abhorrent to sunni Islam. It is considered legally forbidden, constituting a reprehensible innovation in the Islamic tradition, morally an enormity of sin combining suicide and murder and theologically an act which has consequences of eternal damnation.