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Understanding suicide attack: weapon of the weak or crime against humanity?


As a term and concept, "suicide" is not a new phenomenon in human history because it has affected every sphere of human life. In contemporary society, widespread suicide attacks and their lethal consequences pose a strategic threat against the security, stability and well-being of human society. While suicide, or self-annihilation in any form, is generally prohibited in all religions, some quarters try to justify it in the name of religion. Islam does not permit suicide attack in any form but allows one to strive for safeguarding basic human rights and defending the religion with freedom and tolerance. Islam strongly forbids suicide or self- killing in any form in the name of God or religion. (1) Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), during his life time neither encouraged nor even permitted any of his companions to commit suicide. Though suicide attack is absolutely foreign to Islamic history and theology, some scholars, largely from the western intelligentsia, condemn Islam and Muslims as perpetrators of suicide attacks.

Given this context, there is a need to identify the causes of suicide and examine its Islamic stance. This paper will survey the history of suicide attacks, examine the causes and factors of suicide attacks, and finally present the Islamic perspective on the issue. The paper also briefly reviews the responses of Muslim scholars with a textual analysis and inductive approach to analyze the prospects of formulating an Islamic stance on suicide attack in the current context. It is hoped that the ideas raised will ultimately contribute to understanding and clarifying the Islamic stance on suicide attacks for both Muslim and non-Muslim communities in contemporary society.

Defining Suicide

Suicide, in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2009), is an act of intentionally killing oneself or the destruction or ruin of one's own interests. In a literal sense, the word "suicide" is derived from the Latin word 'sui' or oneself and 'cidium' or killing, hence suicide means 'self-killing' or 'self-annihilation' (2). A suicide bomber is "a terrorist who blows himself up in order to kill or injure lives of people and to destroy properties. It is a calculated use of violence or threat of violence against civilians to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature" (Moten, 2011, p.37). In the Europol Report (2008), terrorism is defined as a method or tactic for attaining political goals. It is classified into six types: Ethno-nationalist and separatist, Islamic, left-wing, anarchist, right wing, and single-issue terrorism (Moten, 2011, p 37). However, the forms of suicide attack can be looked at from various angles; suicide may have psychological origins such as the difficulty of coping with depression or other mental disorders. Self-killing may be motivated by the desire to test the affection of loved ones or to punish their lack of support with the burden of guilt. It may also stem from social and cultural pressures in society such as bereavement or estrangement. From a religious perspective, one may commit suicide to protect the religion from aggression. The Jews, for instance, preferred to commit suicide rather than submit to the ancient Roman conquerors or crusading knights who intended to force their conversion. One may also resort to suicide to seek revenge on behalf of loved ones, or one may commit suicide to protect one's honor as in the case of the Japanese custom of 'seppuku' which allowed a 'samurai' to commit ritual suicide as a way of protecting honor and demonstrating loyalty. Buddhist monks and nuns also committed sacrificial suicide by self-immolation as a form of social protest (, Britannica concise Encyclopedia, 1994-2008). The point being stressed here is that while suicide has a long history, 'suicide attack', as an instrument or weapon, is a modern phenomenon, used by terrorists against humanity to attain goals that are political, religious and ideological. It is also believed that the weak use suicide attack as a weapon to shield their rights. However, suicide attacks are mostly used by terrorists for political gains or personal ambition. Indeed, it is a fact that without the cold war alliances and without support for the Mujahidin in Afganistan from the United States and Saudi Arabia, neither al-Qa'edah nor the transnational world Muslim fighters would have come into existence (3).

Brief history of suicide attacks

Research shows that the predecessors of the current wave of suicide bombers could be found throughout the history of humanity. Hassan's (2003) historical survey considered suicide attack as an ancient root of a modern method and found that the modern method of suicide attack was used by the Jewish sect of Zealots in Judea when it was occupied by Romans. (4) During the early Christian Crusades in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, some Muslim assassins were actively involved in similar activities. In the late nineteenth century, Russian anarchists and nationalists used suicide attacks as their preferred method to destroy and threaten the enemy because they regarded it as a source of legitimacy for the cause of fulfilling their rights.

During World War II, the Japanese recruited kamikaze pilots to attack American forces in the Pacific. In 1945, some 2000 kamikazes in their fully fuelled fighter planes killed some 5000 American navy soldiers when the U.S. invaded the Japanese islands. The Americans, shocked by the desperation (and perceived fanaticism) of the kamikaze attacks, helped fuel the conviction that Japan would not surrender under normal military pressure, and thus helped influence the decision to use the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The kamikazes were once the most systematized suicide fighters in history: a special type of aircraft was even designed specifically for suicide missions. (5) In the case of Turkey, the leftwing Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has used suicide attacks against Turkish targets. The largest number of suicide bombings in any conflict, at least until recently, was not in the Middle East but among the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka who are from Hindu families and adamantly opposed to religion. Among the victims of these suicide bombers was Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, whose 1991 assassin, like some of the Palestinian bombers, was a woman. Sri Lankan leaders have also been targeted. (6) Suicide attacks have also occurred in situations not directly related to religious conviction, but for some other reasons.

In the Middle East, the suicide attacks probably began in December 1981 with the attacks on the embassy of Iraq in Beirut. The large-scale suicide attack has also become all too familiar: the destruction of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in April 1983, killing nearly 300 Americans and of the U.S. Marine Barracks and French Multinational Force headquarters in October 1983 carried out by Lebanese Shiite Muslim guerillas were the first major attacks on U.S. targets and caught the Arab imagination. The Intifada or uprising of the Palestinians against the Israeli occupation of their land saw suicide bombings by the Palestinians with no end to it until today. (7) In 1996, in Saudi Arabia, there were terrorist attacks by the supporters of the so-called "al-Qaeda" in order to press the withdrawal of the American troops. In 2000, there were also terrorist attacks in Chechnya against Russian military presence and in Kashmir against Indian military presence. Of course, the events of September 11, 2001, the largest-scale of suicide attacks against civilian targets in history, followed by the recent suicide bombings in Bali and Jakarta, left the world stunned as to what lies ahead in the future. (8)

Now, suicide attacks are being used by many religious groups in the name of God, such as the Hamas in Palestine and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Most of them are not military groups but consist of civilians committed to fighting and destroying the enemy targets for safeguarding their fundamental rights and their motherland, as they claim. However, suicide or self killing is inhumane and in whatever form, destroys human life, property and dignity. In this respect, all religions want to prevent the killing of innocent civilians, children and women, who are not involved in the supposed crimes. The situation today demands a sincere attempt to identify the real causes of suicide attack by the respective authorities in order to establish peace and justice for all of humanity as servants of God.

Causes and factors of Suicide Attack

To study why suicide attacks are becoming so frequent and what motivates the perpetrators of such attacks requires an inquiry of its root causes and factors that affect social, psychological, cultural, religious and political aspects of human life. A ground-breaking study on suicide attacks found very little connection between religious fundamentalism and suicide attacks such as in the case of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a radical nationalist group adamantly opposed to religion although they are from Hindu families. (9) Research shows that there are various factors and causes involved in suicide attacks. It is obviously true that suicide is most often associated with mental illness but there are some external causes and factors, which lead maltreated and offended people to commit self-killing and self-destruction in order to show their anger and dissatisfaction with their enemies. Factors such as psychological, historical, ideological and survival emerge and give an additional twist to the complexities of suicide.

Psychological cause

Suicide attack is in fact a sort of extremism and violence. After reviewing numerous psychological studies of suicide attackers, Scott Atran has concluded that suicide attackers have no appreciable psychological pathologies. The research shows that situational factors, which are considered as sociological factors in nature, are largely the main cause of such extreme acts (10). In the context of the Middle East, the historical injustice, political subservience and a pervasive sense of social humiliations or the occupation of the land and destruction of houses are the main causes. In this regard, there are two opinions: firstly, it has an effect on the suicide attacker's actions. Secondly, it is as a response to the situation of the person's surroundings. In this case the response becomes stronger as the situation turns intense. It is opined and argued that extremism is not an inborn phenomenon of the extremists; rather it is ignited through the adverse situations they face. It is a natural response to the political, social, economical and other problems encountered. Likewise, suicide attacks are also results of the psychological tensions and stresses igniting a person towards such malicious acts.

Political and Survival Factors

Suicide acts can be committed by an individual, a group of individuals or individuals sponsored by a state or interest groups for their own interest. These acts of violence destroy lives, families, society, and nations. The example of the Tamil Tigers is directly related to political and survival factors. Hassan (2007) argued that the reason for the rise in suicide attacks over the past two decades is because frustrated people resort to terrorism, as they have lost every means of survival and the last glimmer of hope due to political oppression. This factor might explain why Palestinian youths, including women, carry out suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. In such cases, the suicide attacks can be termed as "the weapons of the weak". He believed that the suicide attacks can only be prevented through liberalization and democratization of Muslim societies, which is a key rationale used by the United States government in order to get support for the war in Iraq. (11)

Aggression and Hatred Factors

Hatred and aggression are dialectically interrelated in that one causes the other. Hatred has various manifestations such as in the form of the physical elimination of the object i.e. killing someone, in the form of devaluating the object as an act of destruction, in the form of a symbolic destruction of all objects i.e. the destruction of all relationships with other people, in the form of suicide i.e. self-killing, in the form of sadistic tendencies, i.e. sexual harassment, in the form of the assertion of hierarchical superiority and territoriality with discrimination and dominance of power, in the form of aggressive assertion of idiosyncratic acts with harshness and cruelty, in the form searching for power and dominating others, and in the form of envy, which is opposed to all virtues and goodness (12).

Sociological factors

Emile Durkheim, one of the founding fathers of Sociology, proposed this definition of suicide: "the term suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result" (13). Durkheim used this definition to separate true suicides from accidental deaths. He then collected several European nations' suicide rate statistics, which proved to be relatively constant among those nations and among smaller demographics within those nations. Thus, a collective tendency towards suicide was discovered. Of equal importance to his methodology, Durkheim drew theoretical conclusions on the social causes of suicide. He proposed four types of suicide, based on the degrees of imbalance of two social forces: social integration and moral regulation. Egoistic suicide resulted from too little social integration. Those individuals who were not sufficiently bound to social groups (and therefore well-defined values, traditions, norms, and goals) were left with little social support or guidance, and therefore tended to commit suicide on an increased basis. An example Durkheim discovered was that of unmarried people, particularly males, who, with less to bind and connect them to stable social norms and goals, committed suicide at higher rates than unmarried people. The second type, altruistic suicide, was a result of too much integration. It occurred at the opposite end of the integration scale as egoistic suicide. Self sacrifice was the defining trait, where individuals were so integrated into social groups that they lost sight of their individuality and became willing to sacrifice themselves to the group's interests, even if that sacrifice was their own life. The most common cases of altruistic suicide occurred among members of the military. (14) On the second scale, that of moral regulation, lays the other two forms of suicide, the first of which is anomic suicide, located on the low end. Anomic suicide was of particular interest to Durkheim, for he divided it into four categories: acute and chronic economic anomie, and acute and chronic domestic anomie. Each involved an imbalance of means and needs, where means were unable to fulfill needs. Each category of anomic suicide as elaborated in Kenneth (1982) can be described briefly as follows:

Acute economic anomie: sporadic decreases in the ability of traditional institutions (such as religion, guilds, pre-industrial social systems) to regulate and fulfill social needs.

Chronic economic anomie: long term diminution of social regulation. Durkheim identified this type with the ongoing industrial revolution, which eroded traditional social regulators and often failed to replace them. Industrial goals of wealth and property were insufficient in providing happiness, as was demonstrated by higher suicide rates among the wealthy than among the poor.

Acute domestic anomie: sudden changes on the micro-social level resulted in an inability to adapt and therefore higher suicide rates. Widowhood is a prime example of this type of anomie.

Chronic domestic anomie: referred to the way marriage as an institution regulated the sexual and behavioral means-needs balance among men and women. Marriage provided different regulations for each, however. Bachelors tended to commit suicide at higher rates than married men because of a lack of regulation and established goals and expectations. On the other hand, marriage has traditionally served to over-regulate the lives of women by further restricting their already limited opportunities and goals. Unmarried women, therefore, do not experience chronic domestic anomie nearly as often as do unmarried men.

The final type of suicide is fatalistic suicide, "at the high extreme of the regulation continuum" (15). Durkheim only briefly describes this type, seeing it as a rare phenomenon in the real world. Examples include those with overregulated, unrewarding lives such as slaves, childless married women, and young husbands. Durkheim did not specify why this type is generally unimportant in his study. Durkheim felt that his empirical study of suicide had discovered the structural forces that caused anomie and egoism, and these forces were the natural results of the decline of mechanical solidarity and the slow rise of organic solidarity due to the division of labor and industrialism. Also of importance was Durkheim's discovery that these forces affected all social classes.

Effects of suicide bombing on human life

The escalating acts of suicide bombings by some misguided Muslims have had negative impacts on humanity as a whole and Islam and Muslims in particular. The horrific events of September 11, Bali bombings, London bombing and other related attacks carried out by terrorist groups have tarnished the image of Islam and posed unprecedented human sufferings. The Muslim populations throughout the world feel insecure, in the fear of a backlash against their freedom and rights. It gives a negative impression of the Muslims as being narrow-minded, violent, emotional and bloodthirsty to the non-Muslims.

Due to subsequent suicide bombings in various places, many nations have introduced strict counter-terrorism laws and measures in order to curtail further terrorist attacks. While these measures and laws are intended to protect people, they affect innocent Muslims and other civilians, travelers, migrants and other peace-loving people. Travelers with Muslim names and Middle Eastern faces are harassed at many entry points of immigration in different countries. Muslims, especially those with beard and hijab a(head cover), and even with Muslim names who wish to apply for a job are viewed with suspicion, and often treated as criminals. After 9/11, the Muslim world has become a target of major Western and American operations. Consequently, Muslims have a feeling that the U.S. and the West are the major threat to their security and well being. These perceptions and forceful actions are the root causes for suicide attack, which must be resolved through mutual understanding, respect and co-existence. These attacks have not yet given any hope or optimism for a peaceful world order for humanity.

Suicide: A Textual Analysis of the Views of the Muslim Scholars

Understanding suicide attack is essential in the present context in order to protect the image of Islam and reputation of Muslims from an Islamic perspective. The verse 67:2 of the Qur'an commands that humans are created by the order of God who gives life and death; their lives do not belong to them but are a trust given by their God, Allah. Human beings are not allowed to diminish their lives, which are the divine order, let alone to harm or to destroy. Self-killing, according to religion, in any form is prohibited, as it is inhuman and causes injustice against one's life. God/Allah prohibited the taking of a life unjustly in the Qur'an: "Do not kill anyone, which God/Allah has forbidden, except for a just cause (16). "Do not kill yourselves, for truly God has been to you Most Merciful. If any do that in rancor and injustice- soon shall we cast him into the fire" (17). Islam has made human life as sacred and hallowed, which must be safeguarded from destruction and aggression (18). Destruction of life is a great sin in Islam as the Qur'an says: "If anyone slew a person unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole of mankind, and any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people" (19). Another verse says, "O people of the Book! Exceed not in your religion, the bounds of what is proper trespassing beyond the truth, nor follow the vain desires of people who went wrong in times gone by who misled many, and strayed themselves from the even way" (20). Religious extremism or fanaticism, Muhammad Said al-Ismawi argued, is truly a misnomer and is improper (21). It is argued that extremists' false notion of their religion is the driving force behind their extremism.

The recompense of killing a person through extremism is hell and is a tremendous punishment for a Muslim. The Qur'an declares: "If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is hell, to abide therein: and the wrath and the curse of Allah (swt) are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him" (22).

In Islam, God condemns suicide and advises not to despair or lose hope and instead work for a brighter future. Prophet Jacob had advised his children: "None despairs of God's soothing mercy except the disbelieving people" (23). The Qur'an declares: "And fight in the cause of God, against those who fight against you. But do not transgress limits. Truly God loves not the transgressors" (24). Islam only permits Muslims to stand up for their rights and defend their lives, properties and freedom. It also emphasizes to resort to peace, advocate tolerance and disregard the ignorant. As mentioned in this verse of the Qur'an: "You shall spend in the cause of God; make not your own hands contribute to your destruction. But do good, God loves those who do well" (25). No matter what wrong Muslims perceive as being done against them, they must not lash out against an entire population of people. They must have faith in God as He admonishes those who oppress others and transgress beyond the bounds of what is right and what is wrong (26).

Hence regarding self-killing and self-destruction, the revealed book of God, conveys a clear message to human beings wishing to safeguard their lives and fulfill the trust of God, other fellow humans, and creatures. The key is binding ties among them and improving relationship. As mentioned in the Talmud, saving human life and understanding the real purpose, duty, and responsibility of his/her life are obligatory. Given man's responsibility to establish the kingdom of God by using his intellectual and sensorial knowledge, we believe that this fundamental perception motivates man to protect life, wealth, honor, and human dignity with peace, justice and coexistence. In the Talmud it is said, "To him who kills a single individual of Israel, it shall be reckoned as if he had slain the whole race and he who preserves a single individual of Israel, according to the Book of Allah, he preserves the whole world." (27) Furthermore, the immediate text of the same verse commands that the sanctity of human life should be safeguarded as a sacred duty.

According to Jewish laws too, suicide attack, which is considered as a serious and grave sin, is forbidden. It is not seen as an acceptable alternative even if one is being forced to commit certain cardinal sins for which one must give up one's life. Assisting in suicide and requesting such assistance is also sinful and forbidden (28). According to the theology of the Catholic Church, death by suicide is a grave and serious sin. Man's life is the property of God, a gift and trust given to man who is not authorized to kill/destroy himself/herself. It is considered as a violation of God's commands to mankind and a sinful act, similar to murder.

Prophets of Islam often motivated and warned Muslims to abstain from committing the crime of suicide, which would deprive them of the mercy of God. Extremists who commit suicide would not enter paradise; they would deserve God's wrath and be cast into fire. Suicide bombers who carry out what was not taught or promised by their God in the Qur' an or their prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) are following false theological beliefs. As the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) stated:

In the time before you, a man was wounded. His wounds troubled him so much that he took a knife and cut his wrist and bled himself to death. Thereupon God said, "My slave hurried in the matter of his life, therefore he is deprived of the paradise (Jannah)" (29).

On the basis of the above, Islamic scholars commented that if a person is deprived of the paradise because he cannot bear the pain of his wounds and kills himself, or does so because he has suffered a loss in his business, or has failed an examination, or has been rejected by a woman or a man as well, it's even graver sin and more serious act of crime if he takes his life by suicide bombing and murders innocent civilians as well. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) illustrated how grave a sin a suicide bomber has committed:

He who throws himself down from a rock and commits suicide will be throwing himself into the fire of hell; he who drinks poison and kills himself will have the poison in his hand, drinking it forever in the fire of hell; and he who kills himself with a weapon will have that weapon in his hand, stabbing himself forever in the fire of hell (30).

The Prophet (peace be upon him) of Islam also proscribed Muslims from desiring death if any harm comes upon them. Anas narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: nobody from you should desire death being affected by harm, in this case, he should pray to Allah saying "Oh My Lord! Let me die if life is no longer blissful for me, and let me live if life is blissful for me." (31) Narrated by Abu Huriyrah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "One who chokes his own self will choke him in the hellfire, and one who stabs his own self will stab him in the hellfire too." (32) A Hadith from Bukhari and Muslim reported from Thabit ibn Oahak, where the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "One who vows for communities (millah) other than Islam, he is as he said (33), and whoever kills himself with something he will be punished with that in the hellfire, and a curse of a Mu'min is tantamount to kill him, and whoever projects a Mu'min as Kafir' (infidel) it is tantamount to killing him." (34) Thus a combatant or non combatant committing suicide in an attempt to kill unbelievers, as is happening currently, is not acceptable because it still involves a person taking his own life.

With regard to suicide/self-killing, al-Qurtubi commented on the verse 2:195 stating that majority Muslim scholars agreed that self-killing or suicide in any form or killing anyone out of worldly interest is prohibited. (35) Nasiruddin Albani argued that suicidal operations of self-killing or attempting to kill non-Muslims are prohibited for self-interest but self-sacrifice is permissible under Islamic rules of jihad for defending one's life, religion and property (36). His justification, on the basis of Hadith of the Prophet (37) (peace be upon him), is that whether the victim is Muslim or non-Muslim, the consequence would be the same. Hafiz Ibn Kathir commented on the same verse, "whosoever murders any child of Adam, inequitably and out of aggression, without any proper reason or creating chaos in the society, it is as if he killed the whole humanity". Referring to 'Abdullah Ibn 'Abbas, Ikramah and 'Aufi, who argued that whosoever kills a prophet or a just ruler, he has indeed killed the whole community and whosoever strengthens and supports a prophet or a just ruler, it is as if he saved the whole community. (38)

The word 'Tahlukah', al- Qurtubi explained, (39) means an engrossment with wealth, fleeing from the battle field and abstaining from spending in the way of Allah, which are all destructive acts. If a Muslim struggles to attain a position and an honor in society and kills his/her enemy, from Islamic perspective, he/she puts his/her life in destruction and suicide, which is not considered as struggle for the cause of God or for the cause of Islam. Al- Qurtubi referred to Barra' Ibn 'Azib who said: "al Tahlukah means disappointment of the Grace of Allah. (40) Al- Qurtubi, even disagreed with the notion of participation in jihad for Muslims who did not have inputs or supplies as this may cause hardship or burden for innocent members of society. According to a hadith, stated by Zaid bin Aslam, do not travel for jihad without inputs or supplies; because it may cause difficulties, then you will be burden for other people. (41)

Al Shawkani also held a similar view--that Muslims who attack enemies without enough strength or equipment or insufficient influence may be defeated. (42)

Zaid and Shawkani seem to be referring to two basic perceptions to find out the relationship related to suicide: (1) identification of the form of self-destruction and (2) deliberation over the word al-Tahlukah to discover a link with suicide bombing, which is self-destruction. Zaid bin Aslam said that anything that results in weakness, backwardness and defeat of Muslims or empowers the enemy is considered as Tahlukah. So Muslims should not leave their fellow Muslims in tahlukah. Moreover, every attack on the enemy in which there is no hope of success or no possibility of undermining the enemy, or no hope of any kind of boon or benefit is also considered tahlukah. But if there is any hope of achieving any of these, then it will not be considered as tahlukah. (43) Mawdudi commented on verse 5:32 that the Israelis had been commanded to refrain from murder and killing each other. (44).

With regard to the limits ordained by God, suicide attack by individuals or groups is indicative of something gravely wrong and sinful, an act of transgression and exaggeration for Muslims as the Qur'an warns not to go beyond the prescribed limits. This is clear in the verses, "These are the limits ordained by God, so do not transgress them. If any do transgress the limits ordained by God, such are the wringers" (2:229). It is also reiterated in another verse, "therefore stand firm along the straight path as you are commanded ... do not exceed the proper bounds. He sees well all that you do" (12:112). The limits, Ibn Taimiyyah argued, are the furthest boundaries of what is permissible from the allowable acts, regardless of whether they be commanded or not commanded. He further explained that extremism is to go beyond the proper limits concerning a matter, beyond what is deserving, either in praising it or disparaging it. (45) Ibn Qayyim described the limit as doing things in a moderate way, conforming to the religion, and not resorting to the minimum limit or going beyond the maximum limit (46). Ibn Hajar defined extremism as going beyond the proper limit that it can motivate a man to commit suicide (47). He commented based on a hadith (48) that everything by which a person hurts himself, even if in the long run, and for which there is no sanction in the Qur'an and Sunnah, such as walking barefoot, a vow of that nature is not to be fulfilled. (49) Al-Tabari considered transgressing the limit in Islam as an exaggeration or excessiveness (50). Such transgression is actually one of the goals of Satan because Satan violated the command of God when he was asked to bow in front of Adam. Ibn al-Qayyim elaborated that there are two types of acts in the religion of God. One concerns an act, which is through laxity and sloppiness while another through extremism and excessiveness. The first is a lax and blameworthy person who meets the minimum limit and the second is an extreme person who goes beyond the maximum limit (51). A Muslim is ordained to stand firm on the right path with balance and moderation and not to exceed the proper bounds (52). Acting moderately is considered as a type of worship, while falling short of what is obligated or bearing burden upon oneself or what is beyond one's capabilities is excessiveness and extremism (53). This transgression implies, Sayyid Qutb argued, that God wants one to remain firm in the way that has been commanded without exaggeration that would transform this religion from one of ease to one of difficulty (54).

Being hard and extremely strict upon oneself is a type of extremism that leads towards self-killing and self-destructions (55). Ibn Rajab argued for acting moderately and in a balanced manner concerning acts of worship: neither falling short of what is obligated nor bearing upon oneself what is beyond one's capabilities (56). Ibn Hajar commented on the basis of the prophetic tradition "No one overburdens himself in the religion except that it will overcome him", that no one goes overboard in religious deeds while forgetting kindness upon himself except that he will not be able to keep it up. He must discontinue such acts and protect himself from overburden or destruction (57).

Extremism as in the case of the Christian religion, produced most of the deviations such as the excessiveness about Jesus. They transferred him from the limits of prophethood to the position of 'god' other than God whom they worship like they worship Allah (58). The texts in the Qur'an directly prescribe about the exaggeration that the Jews and Christians were involved in, which distorted the real verses of the books of God. That violation caused Allah's anger upon the nation of 'Ad, Thamud and other previous nations who violated the commands of God (59). The Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) said that 'beware of going beyond the bounds of the religion. The people before you were destroyed by going to extremes in the religion' (60). The concept of suicide attack from the Islamic perspective is a religious exaggeration that destroys life and property. Being hard and extremely strict with oneself is a type of extremism that forces people to kill themselves (61). Self-killing according to religion is hardship and brings burdens upon the self. From an ethical point of view, suicide, Thomas Aquinas claimed, is an offense against self, an offense against society, and a violation of God's sovereignty (62). Augustine explained that self-killing is unlawful, which is hardship upon oneself for three reasons; first, suicide is contrary to the inclination of natural love of a man who loves himself and it is as a mortal sin contrary to the natural law and to charity which a man should have towards himself. Secondly, man, by self-killing, injures the community of which he is a part. Thirdly, since life is God' gift to man, therefore, self-killing is a kind of sin against God, unethical and immoral (63). It is a fact that the culture or the trend of self-killing and self-destruction through extremism can have a powerful impact, in that it can become either widespread or restricted depending on the prevalence of the factors producing it. Virtually throughout the history of human civilization, there has been no time free of the existence of extremism or self-destructive acts.

With regard to martyrdom, in Mughni, Ibn Qudama' argued that al-Intihar (suicide) is strictly prohibited in a situation that Muslims will not be punished by their enemies. But in situations where it is certain that Muslims will be killed by others, self-killing is allowed (64). Wahbah al-Zuhiyli in Nawaf Hail al-Takruri, argued that martyrdom is permissible because in the present circumstances, when it is not possible to confront enemies through organized warfare, then such kind of operations can contribute effectively to repulse the enemies (65). Ramadan al-Buti distinguished between suicide and martyrdom and argued that if the intention is to defeat the enemies, and not to kill them, then the concept of martyrdom is completely permissible. However, if the attacker intends to take the lives of non-Muslims, the person will be considered as committing suicide, not as a martyr. Hence he must intend to defeat or suppress his enemies, not to kill them. Allah may then save him miraculously (66).

Hasan Ayyub had declared that an individual can destroy himself for the sake of Din (religion) or for the Muslims. To him, sacrificing the life of a Muslim is permissible in order to safeguard his life, religion, home and land. But it is not permissible to destroy himself by strapping explosives to his body or things similar to that. According to the verse of tahlukah, that there are two situations: a. If a Muslim tries to kill his enemy and the enemy attempts to kill him at the same time, then if he manages to get a chance of escaping or saving his life from the enemy's jaw, he must grasp that opportunity and this is allowed for. b. Self-killing, or prior submission to die, before killing another is not permissible. (67) A Mufti of Jericho, Ismail Jamal in the daily al-Hayat al-Jadida, differentiated between self-sacrifice, which is permissible and even desirable according to Islam, and suicide, which brings the punishment of hellfire on the Day of Judgment upon the individual committing suicide. (68)

Jordanian scholars viewed martyrdom operations, which are called al-Jihad, as valid, and a Mujahid will be rewarded accordingly. Moreover, he will be honored in the same way as a martyr if he is killed. There is no way to consider it as a Tahluka because martyrs desire martyrdom and hope for rewards of martyrdom and honor from Allah. They will not be disappointed with Allah's bounty, as they are not impatient to destroy life and their hearts are replete with fear of Him. (69) On the other hand, according to them, suicide is juristically rejected and those who practice it will fall from Allah's grace. (70).

A columnist Hammam Sayed argued that one should not deem a person who commits suicide and a martyr to be of the same status. In Islam, Jihad verily is an obligation because a Muslim sacrifices his life in the way of Allah without hope of living or saving anymore in this world with the two objectives i.e. triumph and martyrdom and high appreciation and honor. (71)

Al-Istiqlal columnist Tariq Nasrallah opposed suicide bombing and commented that the conflict between Palestine and Israel was within a political context and that suicide bombing is a Palestinian reaction aimed at establishing the Palestinian state. These human missiles (the Martyrs) know only one route that reaches Jerusalem and [from there] climb to the tree in the seventh heaven and to Jannah. As can be seen, the disunity among the ulama and the overpowering political arguments of those in the Muslim media which is not based on the Qur'an and Hadith has contributed to the sorry state of affairs in the Muslim world and led to the escalation of suicide bombings. It has left the Muslim world, especially the ignorant, in a confused state, not knowing what is right or wrong, and has fueled their hatred towards the U.S., Israel and the West. The oppressed, the oppressor, the disunited Muslim ulama and Muslim media have in a way contributed to the root causes of suicide bombings. However, at the end of the day, Muslims must admit that the main reason lies with the failure to learn and follow the teachings of Islam based on the Qur'an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It is obvious that Allah (swt) and His Prophet s.a.w. forbade the act of suicide bombing but out of ignorance or sheer refusal to accept the true teachings of Islam, some Muslims simply chose to carry out what they thought or believed was right. Islam is not about what a person think is right or wrong; neither is it based on logic. It is based on the Qur'an and Hadith; anything which goes beyond that is unacceptable as mentioned in the Qur'an, "you who believe! Obey Allah (base on the Qur'an), and obey the Messenger (Muhammad)(base on his Sunnah) and render not vain your deeds." (72) And "... and if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger..." (73) In another verse too, it is explicit: "if you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and the last Day" (4:59).

Based on the above discussion, it is clear that suicide is perceived as a crime from the religious point of view. Life is not the private property of an individual and it is therefore forbidden for him to destroy it. Human life is the property of Allah and therefore it is forbidden to take a life. He who takes his own life or lives of others without permission will be punished in the fires of Hell by the command of Allah. But on the other hand, martyrdom in Islam is an Islamic obligation for the sake of Allah in order to protect life, religion, wealth and honor because when a person sacrifices his life in a mission in the way of Allah, he is deemed a martyr. However, in Islam, the lives of others can only be taken under five circumstances: a) intentional murder, b) opposition to Islam in which case there is no alternative other than fighting the person concerned, c) wrongdoing which creates chaos in the Islamic state, d) adultery, and e) apostasy. Among these five, the first three instances have been mentioned in the Qur'an while the other two are from the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). (74)

Today it is essential for Muslim scholars to make a clear declaration to all communities about the issue of suicide and martyrdom in Islam in order to safeguard humanity. Islam and Muslims condemn all types of attack carried out by individuals, groups, organizations, or states, either Muslims or non-Muslims for the purpose of gaining political, religious or ideological causes. They believe that most of the attacks or violence occurring in the present world is because of misunderstanding of religious teachings, hatred factors, aggression, state terrorism or state sponsored terrorism, all of which stem from the individual's self interest. Nothing is for the cause of religion or humanity. The Fiqh Council of North America reaffirmed in 2005 "Islam condemns the religious extremism and terrorism that targets civilian life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack, which in Islam is prohibited" (75). After the explosions that occurred in the city of Riyadh, 17 May, 2003, which took many innocent lives and destroyed property, the Council of Senior Scholars in Riyadh issued a decree that the Shari'ah of Islam protects the five fundamental rights--religion, life, wealth, honor and intellect and prohibits transgression against them. Taking a life or damaging property is not permissible for a believer in God. Whoever does it has committed a major sin as Allah has said: "and whoever kills a Muslim intentionally, then his recompense is hell-fire, he will reside there for an extensive amount of time, and Allah's anger and curses upon him, and he has prepared a great torment for him" (76). In 2007, the Muslim Council of Britain declared in a meeting of more than 200 Muslim leaders from all over the world that Islam is a religion of peace which rejects all terrorist acts as being utterly reprehensible and abhorrent. They also declared that Islam promotes peace and harmony (77). Shaikh al-Qadir, (78) who made the Islamic rulings in London in March 2010 against suicide attackers, is explicit in his condemnation of suicide bombings, kidnappings and the killing of innocents, which he describes as being absolutely against the teachings of Islam. Suicide bombers, he warns, will go to hell for their horrifying deeds.


Suicide attack is an old phenomenon though the objectives, methods, instruments and justification have changed over history. In the contemporary world, suicide attack has developed as a weapon used by anarchists to topple the government, a tool for liberation, a tool to gain imperial interests and a tool to struggle for survival. Suicide attack in any form is proscribed and prohibited in Islam and no excuse to permit it is acceptable under any circumstances. Suicide attackers could make more and better contributions to society if they eschew their deviated path of destruction and direct their efforts towards teaching the world about their cause and work with their neighbors to strengthen their stance against oppression. They can be a part of the peaceful solution, rather than be an adversary in conflicts. Other nations should find out the root of their frustration and address that with sincere cooperation, mutual understanding, human dignity and respect. Preventing suicide attacks requires the authorities and the powerful states concerned to identify sincerely the real causes, and not use terrorists for political/personal interests, and not sponsor them and finally, not to be biased. The consequences of suicide attack show that this phenomenon may not be regarded as a weapon of the weak, but as a crime against humanity.


Abdullah ibn Ahmad Ibn Qudama' al-Maqdasi, al-Mughni, vol. 9

Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Isma'il ibn Ibrahim al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Iman wa al-Nuzur (book of belief and vows), Hadith no. 6652, Dhaka: Adhuik prokashoni, BanglaBazar, vol. 1, 2002.

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Axell, A. & H. Kase, Kamikaze: Japan's Suicide Gods, New York: Longman, 2002. Beauchamp, Tom L. Ethical Issues in Death and Dying, Prentice Hall, USA, 1978. Cronin, A.K. Terrorists and Suicide Attacks. Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 2003.

Hafiz ibn al-Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur'an al-'Azim, Egypt: Dar al Yaqin, 2003, Vol. 2.

Hassan, Riaz, "Suicide Terrorism: The Use of Human Life as a Weapon" in A. R. Moten & N. M. Noor (eds.) Terrorism Democracy: The West and the Muslim World. Kuala Lumpur: Thomson, (2007).

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Md. Yousuf Ali

International Islamic University Malaysia, the Department of General Studies, Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, Jalan Gombak, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.



(1) Yusuf Al-Qaridawi, The lawful and the prohibited in Islam, (K.L.: Islamic Book Trust, 2008), 305-312.

(2) Houghton Mifflin Company, The American Heritage [R] Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifllin Company 2003).

(3) Abdul Rashid Moten, "Understanding Terrorism; Contested Concept, Conflicting Perspectives and Shattering Consequences", Intellectual Discourse, vol.18, no. 1, (2010), 37-38

(4) Riaz Hassan, Suicide Terrorism: The Use of Human Life as a Weapon, in Abdul Rashid Moten & Noraini M. Noor, (eds.) Terrorism Democracy, chapter seven, (KL: Thomson Learning, 2007), 148. Ssee also J. Stern, Terror in the Name of God, (New York: Herper Collins, 2003). See also A.K. Cronin, Terrorists and Suicide Attacks, (Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 2003).

(5) Riaz Hassan, Suicide Terrorism, 148. See also A. Axell & H. Kase, Kamikaze:Japan's Suicide Gods, (New York: Longman, 2002).

(6) Riaz Hassan, Suicide Terrorism, 148-149.

(7) Riaz Hassan, Suicide Terrorism, 148-149.

(8) Riaz Hassan, Suicide Terrorism, 149.

(9) Riaz Hassan, Suicide Terrorism, 149.

(10) Riaz Hassan, Suicide Terrorism, 151.

(11) Riaz Hassan, Suicide Terrorism, 152.

(12) Mustafa Ulusoy, Hatred, as the Root of Violence, The Trap of Hatred, and. SaidNursi: A person Who Was Saved From This Trap, paper presented in Bringing Faith, Meaning and Peace to Life in a Multicultural World: The Risale-I Nur's Approach. Istanbul, (3-5 October, 2004)

(13) Kenneth Thompson, Emile Durkheim (London: Tavistock Publications, 1982), 110.

(14) Kenneth Thompson, Emile Durkheim, 110. See also G. Rirzer and D.J. Goodman, Classical Sociological Theory, (Boston, New York: McGraw Hill, 2004).

(15) Kenneth Thompson, Emile Durkheim, 113.

(16) Al-Qur'an, 17:33.

(17) Al-Qur'an, 2:195.

(18) Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam, Kamal El-Helbawy (et. trans.) (KL: Islamic Book Trust, 1995), 327-328. The Qur'an (5:32) declares for the children of Israel:

"We ordained for the children of Israel, that if anyone slew a person -unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land- it would be as if he slew the whole humanity, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he save the life of the whole people. Then there although came to them our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that many of them continued to commit mischief and aggression in the land."

(19) Al-Qur'an, 5:32.

(20) Al-Qur'an, 5:77

(21) Al-Qur'an, 5:77, Muhammad Said al-Ismawi, al-Tatrrufal-Diniwa Abduhu, (Mijallat al-Manar, no.36), 81

(22) Al-Qur'an, 4:93.

(23) Al-Qur'an, 12: 87.

(24) Al-Qur'an, 2:190.

(25) Al-Qur'an, 2:195.

(26) Al-Qur'an, 42:42.

(27) Sayyid Abu A. Mawdudi, Tafhim al-Qur'an (The Understanding of the Qur'an), Muhammad Akbar (trans.) Lahore: Islamic Publications Limited. Vol. I Surah AlNisa), 37.

(28) Talmud Bavl; Methew:27:3-5

(29) Mohammad Ibn Ismail, Sahih al-Bukhari and al-Muslim, cited in Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, 324. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also forbade any act which might lead a Muslim to commit murder or to fight, even pointing a weapon, saying, "None of you should point a weapon at his brother. Perhaps Satan may make his hand slip and the he will fall into the pit of Fire ". He even went on to say, "It is not permissible for a Muslim to frighten his brother"

(30) Muslim Ibn al Hajjaj al-Qushairi al-Nishapuri. Al-Musnadu al Sahihu bi Nakli al-Adli Sahih Muslim. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) considered fighting between two Muslims as a door to unbelief and an act of ignorant, which had been happened before Islam by people who used to wage wars and shed blood over only for a camel or a horse for years. He said,

"Insulting a Muslim is wickedness and fighting him is unbelief. And "Do not become unbelievers after I pass away, killing one another". He further said, "When two Muslims draw weapons against each other, they are at the brink of Hell. If one of them, kills the other, they both enter it together., someone asked, "0 Messenger of Allah, this one was the murderer but what was the fault of the murdered?' He replied, "He was eager to kill the other".

(31) Muhammad Ibn Ismail. Al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Mard, (Book of Disease), "Chapter on Wishing death-sick"; Hadith no.: 5671. Muslim. al-Muslim, Kitab al-Zikr wa al-Du'a'a' (Book of remembrance and supplication), Hadith no.: 2680. A similar Hadith narrated from Abu Hurrah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

"Whoever kills himself throwing from a mountain would be (continuously) thrown from mountains in the hellfire imperishably. Whoever kills himself with poison, would (always) taste that (same) poison on his hand in the hellfire. And whoever takes his life with iron (rod), that iron would pierce his stomach in the hellfire. [Bukhari and Muslim. Sahih al-Bukhari Kitab al-Tib' (the Book of Medicine), Hadith no.:5778. And Sahih Al-Muslim 'Kitab al Iman', Hadith no.:1675]

(32) Muhammad Ibn Ismail. Kitab al Jana'iz, Hadith no.: 1365.

(33) It is to swear saying like "if I do this I shall be a Christian/Jew/Hindu..." or "if I did this I am Christian/Jew/Hindu..." These types of swearing are not allowed in Islam.

(34) Muhammad Ibn Ismail. Kitab al-Iman wa al-Nuzur (book of belief and vows), Hadith no.:6652

(35) Abu 'Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ahmad Ibn Abu Bakr al-Ansari Al-Qurtubi, al-Jam 'I li Ahkam al-Qur'an Vol. 2, 261-65.

(36) Nawaf Hael al-Takruri, Al- Amaliyyat al-Istashadiyyah fi al-Mizan al-Fiqhi, (Dimashq: Dar al-Fikr, 1997), 85.

(37) Nawaf Hael al-Takruri, Al- Amaliyyat al-Istashadiyyah fi al-Mizan al-Fiqhi, 86. Prophet of Islam says that "who imitate me, he imitates Allah, and who imitates my representative, he imitates me".

(38) Isma'il bin 'Omar bin Kathir al-Quraishi Al-Busrawi (known as Hafiz ibn al-Kathir), Tafsir al-Qur'an al-'Azim, (Egypt: Dar al-Yaqin, Vol. 2, 2003), 61

(39) The meaning of tahlukah in literal sense is in Surah al-Baqarah 2: 195, 'destruction.'

(40) Al-Qurtubi, Vol. 2, 261-65.

(41) Al-Qurtubi, Vol. 2, 261-65.

(42) Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abdullah al-Shawkani, Tafsir Fathul Qad r, Vol.1, 297.

(43) Nawaf Hael Takruri, Al- Amaliyyat al-Istashadiyyah fi al-Mizan al-Fiqhi, (Dimashq: Dar al-Fikr, 1997), 57-59.

(44) Mawdudi, Tafhim al-Qur'an. (Vol. I, Surah Al-Nisa'), 118-9.

(45) Taqi al-Din Ahmad ibn al-Taimiyyah, Majmu' al-Fatawa, vol.3, 362, see also Ibn Taimiyyah Iqtidah Sirat al-Mustaqim, vol. 1, 289

(46) Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, known as Ibn Qayyim, Mudaraj al-Salikin, (no publ. year, vol. 2), 517

(47) Al-Hafiz Shihabuddin Abul Fadl Ibn 'Ali Ibn Mohammad Ibn Hajar, Fathu al-Bari, (no publ. year, vol. 13), 278

(48) Muhammad Ibn Isma'il. Al-Kathir. "Abdullah Ibn 'Abbas narrated that while the prophet (peace be upon him) was delivering a speech there was a man who was standing. The prophet asked about him and they said that it was Abu Israil who had taken a vow to stand in the sun and not to sit, nor seek shade, nor speak and he also vowed to fast, the prophet then said: "order him to speak, seek shade and sit and let him continue his fast".

(49) Ibn Hajar, Fathu al-Bari, (vol. 11), 590

(50) Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Jarir Al-Tabari, Jam'i al-Bayan, (vol. 2), 472

(51) Ibn al-Qayyim, Mudaraj al-Salik n, vol. 2, 517

(52) Zain ad-Din, Abu al-Faraj, 'Abd ar-Rahman ibn Ahmad ibd 'Abd ar-Rahman ibn al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Abi al-Barakat Mas'ud al-Baghdadi. (Ibn Rajab was his nickname inheritd from his grandfather), al-Muijah f Siyar al-Mudalijah, p. 51.

(53) Sayyid Qutub, Fi Dhilal al-Qur'an, vol. 4, 1931, the Qur'an says: "Commit no transgression therein, lest my anger should justly descend upon you"(Taha: 81).

(54) Abu Dawud Sulayman ibn Ast'ath Azdi Sijistani. Sunan Abu Dawud, the Prophet of Islam said: "Do not be very strict on yd from ourselves for then Allah will be strict upon you. Verily, a people were strict upon themselves so Allah was strict upon them. It is the remnants of those people who are in the hermitages and monasteries", narrated Abu Yala with hasan chain.

Muhammad Ibn Isma'il. The prophet said: "Certainly, the religion is easy. No one puts hardship in the religion except that it overcomes him, seek the right path, come close and accept the good tidings. Seek help in going out in the morning and midday and something of the night time".

(55) Ibn Rajab, al-Muhijah f Siyar al-Mudalijah, 51.

(56) Ibn Hajar, Fathu al-Bar, vol.1, 94.

(57) Abdullah ibn Ahmad ibn Qudama' al-Maqdasi. Al-Mughn, vol. 9, 310-311.

(58) Muhammad al-Tahir ibn al-'Ashur, Maqasid al-Shari'ah al-Islamiyyah, 60.

(59) Ahmad ibn Shu'ayb ibn Ali ibn Sinan Abu 'Abd ar-Rahman al Nasa'i

(60) Recorded by Ahmad, ibn Khuzaimah, al-Nasai and ibn Majah. Al-Nawawi, al-Majmu', vol. 8, 138.

(61) Recorded by Abu Daud and narrated by Abu Y'ala with hasan chain. "do nit be very strict on your selves for then Allah will be strict upon you. Verily, a people were strict upon themselves so Allah was strict upon them.

(62) Tom L. Beauchamp, Ethical Issues in Death and Dying, (Prentice Hall, USA, 1978), 102

(63) Tom L. Beauchamp, Ethical Issues in Death and Dying, 102-103

(64) Ibn Qudama', al-Mughni, vol. 9, 310-311.

(65) Nawaf Hail al-Takruri, Al- 'Amaliyyat al-Istashhadiyyah fi al-Mizan al-Fiqhi, 102

(66) Nawaf Hail al-Takruri, Al- 'Amaliyyat al-Istashhadiyyah fi al-Mizan al-Fiqhi, 102

(67) Hasan Ayub, al-Jihad wa al-Fidayyah fi al-Islam, 243-244.

(68) Shaul Shay, Islamic Terror and Balkans. (Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center: International Policy Institution for Counter Terrorism, New Jersey, 2009), 10.

(69) Nawaf Hail al-Takruri, Al- 'Amaliyyat al-Istashhadiyyah fi al-Mizan al-Fiqhi. p.102.

(70) Nawaf Hail al-Takruri, Al- 'Amaliyyat al-Istashhadiyyah fi al-Mizan al-Fiqhi 98.

(71) Al-Sabil, weekly magazine, Jordan, issue: 121, year: 3, (Tuesday, 12-18 march, 1996)

(72) Al-Qur'an, 47: 33

(73) Al-Qur'an, 4: 59

(74) Mawdudi, op, cit. Vol. 1, Surah al-An'am, 170.

(75) A. Rashid Moten, Understanding Terrorism: Contested Concept, Conflicting Perspectives and Shattering Consequences, Intellectual Discourse, (International Islamic University Malaysia, vol. 18, number 1, 2010), 53.

(76) The Council of Senior Scholars gave a decree on, (Sunday 18 May, 2003).

(77) Smock, D. & Huda, Q., Islamic peacemaking since 9/11, (Washington DC: The United States Institute of Peace, 2009).

(78) Al-Qadir is a Pakistani-born Islamic scholar who condemned suicide attack with an authoritative theological explanation detailing why terrorism is not permitted.
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