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March, 2003

Thoughts On The Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings
By John Walker Lindh

(Jim Scanlon extracted the text of this essay by John Lindh from the US District Court's webite.)

In recent years, the issue of the legitimacy of suicide bombings in Islamic law has caused a considerable amount of controversy around the world. I am not a scholar, nor am I qualified to make any authoritative comments on this matter, but I have come to certain conclusions based upon my own studies. I believe that suicide bombings are not justified regardless of how desperate the conflict may be, or how limited the options of the resisting population. Killing civilians has been unanimously rejected by mainstream Muslim scholars throughout Islamic history.

Those who support the use of suicide bombs compare these acts to the heroic feats of numerous contemporaries of the prophet Muhammad, which he himself praised and encouraged. In battle with the enemies of Islam, Muslim soldiers would hurl themselves towards large groups of enemy combatants, fighting to the death with little or no hope of survival. The key difference is that these fighters were killed by the hands of their enemies; they did not actually take their lives with their own hands. A suicide bomber takes his or her own life along with those attacked, so this is clearly an act of suicide in spite of the fact that such attacks are often very effective from a military standpoint.

A primary motivation of suicide bombers is to achieve martyrdom, which is the desire of every believer in Islam. Martyrdom, however, is a status in the afterlife which only God can determine. A person cannot "martyr" himself. Even a combatant in a fully justified conflict who, hoping for martyrdom, puts himself in an extremely dangerous situation can only achieve this rank when God chooses to confer it. The belief that a person can achieve martyrdom by committing suicide represents a significant misunderstanding of this principle.

Suicide is explicitly and unconditionally condemned in the Qur'an: "[A]nd do not kill yourselves. Indeed God is most merciful with you." (Qur'an 4:27.) The prophet Muhammad has clearly explained the gravity of this sin in saying, "Indeed, whoever kills himself will be punished in the fire of hell eternally." (Related by Bukhari (5778) and Muslim (109 & 110) in different forms.) Islam does not accept the idea that the ends justify the means, even in the most desperate and most justified conflicts. "Oh you who believe--stand firmly for God, as witnesses injustice, and do not let the hatred of a people cause you to swerve from that which is right. Be just-that is closer to piety, and fear God; indeed God is well acquainted with what you do." (Qur'an 5:8.)

 

 

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