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Saudi religious scholars come out against Al-Qaeda’s

The use of religious edicts permitting suicide attacks against Muslims

The Islamic world is divided in its opinion over suicide attacks carried out by Islamic terrorist organizations, especially when the target is other Muslims. In all of the cases, the questions that arise are, first, are suicide attacks permitted in Islam? And the second question is over the alleged reward given to the person who committed suicide, as some Muslims scholars and clerics claim that those who perpetrate suicide attacks win a place in paradise as they are shuhad?a (martyrs). However, there are those clerics and scholars who suggest that suicide attacks are an offense against Allah and those who perpetrate them go to hell.

Islam’s stance regarding suicide attacks[1]

“Suicide is a major sin in Islam,” Maher Hathout, Im?m of the Islamic Center in Los Angeles, explained. This sin is listed among the “abominations” in Reliance of the Traveler, a manual of Shar?‘ah (Islamic religious law) in the tradition of Im?m Sh?fi‘i.

The Qur’an tells Muslims “Do not kill yourselves” and warns that those who disobey will be “cast into the fire.” Even Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said that a person who commits suicide cannot go to paradise.

In fact, those who commit suicide are:

to be roasted in a fire: “Do not kill yourselves, for Allah is compassionate towards you. Whoever does so, in transgression and wrongfully, we shall roast in a fire, and that is an easy matter for Allah.” (Qur’an, Al-Nis?’ chapter, 4:29-30)
forbidden entry to Paradise: Narrated Th?bit bin Al-Dahh?k: the Prophet said, “Whoever intentionally swears falsely by a religion other than Islam, then he is what he has said, (e.g. if he says, ‘If such thing is not true then I am a Jew,’ he is really a Jew). And whoever commits suicide with piece of iron will be punished with the same piece of iron in the Hell Fire.” Narrated Jundab: the Prophet said, “A man was inflicted with wounds and he committed suicide, and so Allah said: My slave has caused death on himself hurriedly, so I forbid Paradise for him.” (Sah?h Bukh?ri, Volume 2, Book 23, Number 445).[2]
to be punished in hell by whatever they used for suicide: Narrated Abu Huraira: the Prophet said, “He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on throttling himself in the Hell Fire (forever) and he who commits suicide by stabbing himself shall keep on stabbing himself in the Hell-Fire.” (Sah?h Bukh?ri, Volume 2, Book 23, Number 446).

But this is not the whole story, as Islamists consider suicide not just a legitimate action, but a highly commendable act when undertaken in the name of Jih?d (holy war). They claim that going into war knowing with certainty that one will die is not suicide (Intih?r) but martyrdom (Istishh?d), a much-praised form of self-sacrifice in the path of God. They view it as a way to win the eternal affection of the Houris (72 beautiful young virgin ladies who takes care of Muslim men) in paradise.

Sheikh Y?suf Al-Qard?wi, a leading Islamist authority, explained the distinction: attacks on enemies are not suicide operations, but “heroic martyrdom operations” in which the act occurs not “out of hopelessness and despair, but are driven by an overwhelming desire to cast terror and fear into the hearts of the oppressors.” In other words, Islamists find suicide for personal reasons abominable, whilst suicide for Jih?d admirable.[3]

A polemic between Saudi religious scholars regarding Al-Qaeda’s suicide attacks

In the past, two well-known Saudi religious scholars, Sheikh Dr. ‘Abd Al-‘Az?z Bin S?lih Al-Jarb?‘ and Sheikh Y?suf Bin S?lih Al-‘iyari, permitted suicide attacks if carried out “in the interests of the Islamic religion”. Sheikh Al-‘iyari, a fervent supporter of Al-Qaeda, killed in June 2003 by Saudi security forces, called on Al-Qaeda activists not to surrender to the security forces and decreed that killing these forces (even though they are Muslim) is permitted because they are considered the aggressors. In a message sent by Al-‘iyari to the combatants in the Al-Batt?r training camp (Al-Batt?r – the sharp sword, which was also Al-‘iyari’s nickname), he ruled that the act of “killing the soul” (i.e. suicide) is permissible if it is done in the interest of Islam. Sheikh Al-Jarb?‘ published in 1998 a book titled “Selected Passages on Suicide to Avoid Revealing Secrets”, in which he ruled that the act of “killing the soul” is permissible in order to prevent information leaking to the security services whom Islamists regard as the enemy. Al-Jarb?‘ relied on a religious edict (Fatwa) of the former Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Muhammad Bin Ibr?h?m A?l Sheikh who argued that Muslims may kill non-Muslims (kuffars) but not Muslims. A?l Sheikh was writing in relation to the Algerian war of independence (1954-1962), when the Algerians (Muslims) were fighting for their independence from the French (non-Muslims). Sheikh Muhammad Bin Ibr?h?m A?l Sheikh argued that suicide attacks are acceptable against the French especially to prevent a one from falling into the hands of the security services who may then seeks extract information from the Mujahideen. In May 2007, Sheikh Al-Jarb?, sought to move away from this position following an al-Qa’ida attack on Saudi security forces. Al-Jarb? argued that al-Qa’ida used his words out of context. He maintained that his book focuses on a situation in which there is a conflict between a Muslims and anon-Muslims state and not between two Muslims states. Furthermore, Al-Jarb? asserted that his book was written in relation to suicide attacks against Israel, following various religious declaration and statements by members of the religious Council in Saudi Arabia in relation to using suicide terrorism against the “Israeli enemy”.[4]

In April 2007 two senior Saudi religious scholars came out against Al-Qaeda’s use of religious edicts permitting suicide attacks in general, and the use of explosive belts in particular. The two scholars, Sheikh Kh?lid Bin Su‘?d Al-Rush?d, who serves as a Q?di (Islamic judge) in the Saudi Bureau of Complaints, and Sheikh Dr. ‘Abd Al-‘Az?z Al-‘Askar, who serves as a lecturer at the Im?m Muhammad Bin Su‘?d Islamic University and a preacher at the Im?m Al-Da‘wah Mosque in Dar‘iyah, claimed that the justification used by some Al-Qaeda activists, according to which the act of suicide with an explosive belt during a confrontation with Muslims security forces is permissible in order to prevent the leaking of secrets, is unfounded and does not exempt them from the punishment of Allah and from hell. They claim that all those who end their lives with a suicide belt during a confrontation with Muslims security forces, according to Islamic law, are sentenced to hell, even if they don’t stay there forever. [5]

Sheikh Al-Rush?d claimed that “killing the soul” is considered condemnable suicide (Intih?r) and that no one has the right to do to his soul as he wishes since it is the property of Allah. According to Al-Rush?d, the act of “killing the soul” sanctified by Allah will bring upon the individual committing suicide suffering from Allah. He uses an example from the Prophet Muhammad who said about one of his companions who fought for Allah and demonstrated courage on the battle field, but rebelled against the ruler by leaning on his sword until he died because he did not bear patiently the sufferings of his injury – that he will feel Allah’s anger. Al-Rush?d rejected Al-Qaeda’s reliance on religious edicts dealing with “repelling the attacker” since he claimed that “repelling the attacker” permits killing the attacker but not “killing the soul” of the attacked. [6]

Sheikh Al-‘Askar claimed that the perception of suicide through the use of an explosive belt as an accepted matter is a misunderstanding. According to Al-‘Askar, those who blow themselves up with suicide belts are belittling the soul, which is Allah’s property, and his act is considered an explicitly condemnable suicide (Intih?r) forbidden by Allah. Similar to Sheikh Al-Rush?d, Sheikh Al-‘Askar also ruled that those who end their lives will go to hell an[7]d are not in better standing than Muhammad’s companions who fought a holy war (Jih?d) for the sake of Allah, but later on killed himself during the fighting because he could not stand the suffering from his injuries. [8]

Summary and conclusions

Ultimately, when exploring the field of how Muslim religious scholars address the question of suicide attacks, whether against Muslims or kuffirs (infidels) the sad conclusion is that there is no clear cut position. Even Muslim scholars that have the courage to deal with this controversial issue, do so in a very weak manner, which is unsatisfactory. It is abundantly clear that if the Muslim World is to deal with the question of suicide terrorism which has killed more Muslims than non-Muslims, a much better discussion over this issue must take place.



[2] Sah?h Bukh?ri – one of two most reliable collections of the Hadith (six at all). The Hadith documents the sayings and actions of the prophet Muhammad and is one of the main sources of Islamic law (second in authority to the Qur’an).


[4] ‘Adw?n, al-Ahmari, “Al-Qa‘ida’s members lean on al-Jarj?‘ and al-‘Iyari’s religious edicts” [Author’s own translation from Arabic], Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), (April 8, 2007). See:; ‘Adw?n, al-Ahmari, “Al-Jarj?‘ blames al-Qa‘ida for misusing one of his books to justify suicide attacks with explosive belts” [Author’s own translation from Arabic], Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), (May 25, 2007). See:; Without Author, “Their religious edicts permit them to become addicted (to drugs)… and permit them to commit suicide to avoid revealing secrets” [Author’s own translation from Arabic], Al-‘Arabiya Net, (April 11, 2005). See:; See, also, Y?suf Bin S?lih al-‘iyari, “Does Eve committed suicide or martyred?” [Author’s own translation from Arabic], published by “a group of the Muj?hid?n’s supporters” under the supervision of Sulaym?n Bin S?lih al-‘Alw?n, (February 2004); For Sheikh Muhammad Bin Ibr?h?m A?l Sheikh’s religious edict see: Book of Sheikh Muhammad Bin Ibr?h?m’s religious edicts, Vol. 6, Al-Jihad chapter, first edition, (Saudi governmental publisher, 1399 Hijrah – 1979), pp. 207-208.

[5] ‘Adw?n, “Al-Qa‘ida’s members lean on al-Jarj?‘ and al-‘Iyari’s religious edicts”.

[6] ‘Adw?n, “Al-Qa‘ida’s members lean on al-Jarj?‘ and al-‘Iyari’s religious edicts”.

[8] ‘Adw?n, “Al-Qa‘ida’s members lean on al-Jarj?‘ and al-‘Iyari’s religious edicts”.