Istishhad (Arabic: اِسْتِشْهَادٌ, romanizedistišhād) is the Arabic word for "martyrdom", "death of a martyr", or "heroic death".[1][2] (from the root Arabic: شهد, romanizedshahida "to witness"). One who martyrs themselves is given the honorific shaheed.[3]

Traditionally martyrdom has an exalted place in Islam.[note 1] It is widely believed among Muslims that the sins of believers who "die in the way of God" will be forgiven by Allah.[4][5][6] Shia views on martyrdom have been profoundly influenced by internal Muslim conflicts, notably Husayn ibn Ali's martyrdom at Karbala in 680, shaping it as a central belief and practice.[3]

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the term istishhad has been said to emphasize the "heroism" of sacrifice, rather than "victimization". It had been "developed...into a military and political strategy", often called "martyrdom operations",[7] that contained "a central ideological pillar and organizational ideal" of waging "active jihad against the perceived enemies of Islam".[8] Sunni Islamist figures such as Hassan Al-Banna viewed martyrdom as a duty incumbent upon every Muslim, urging them to ready themselves for it and to excel in the "art of death". Contemporary Shi'ite perspectives on martyrdom have commonly followed similar paths.[3]

The rise of many martyrs in conflicts spanning regions such as Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, Iraq, and Iran has been accompanied by extensive literature glorifying their actions.[3] Jihadist terror groups, in particular Al-Qaeda, have "employed innovative modes of action and raised suicide terrorism’s level of destruction and fatalities to previously unknown heights".[9]


Significance in afterlife

Quranic verses 3:169-171 is said to indicate that the sins of believers who "die in the way of God" will be forgiven by Allah, and transported to paradise, without having to wait for Judgement Day like other believers.[4][10][6]

At least one scholar, Shi'i cleric Sa'id Akhtar Rizvi, writes that while normally when a human being dies, their afterlife "depends on one's faith and deeds", but that "the moment a believer is slain in the way of Allah, his eternal life begins". With a martyr there is no

"uncertainty ... suspense. Allah immediately bestows on the martyr the joy, the everlasting bliss and an immortal life. ... Those whose faith in the Creator is superfluous, can never solve the mystery of martyrdom. They feel puzzled as to why the Muslims, the true believers, appear eager to die in the way of Allah. They call them 'suicide squad'. But it is not suicide. Suicide implies termination of life, while martyrdom is continuation of life."[4]

Contemporary significance

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the term istishhad has been said to have "developed...into a military and political strategy", and often be translated as "martyrdom operations".[7] The concept has also been described (by Yoram Schweitzer and Sari Goldstein Ferber) "as a means of warfare" that is "part of an overall philosophy that sees active jihad against the perceived enemies of Islam as a central ideological pillar and organizational ideal."[8] Jihadist terror groups, in particular Al-Qaeda, have "employed innovative modes of action and raised suicide terrorism’s level of destruction and fatalities to previously unknown heights".[9]

Supporters have also described martyrdom/suicide operations as a military "equalizer" whereby pious Muslim martyrs use their willingness to sacrifice for their faith and their certainty in their reward in the afterlife to counter the Western unbeliever, who has "at their disposal state-of-the-art and top-of-the-range means and weaponry to achieve their aims. [While] we have the minimum basics ... We ... do not seek material rewards, but heavenly one in the hereafter".[note 2]

Tragically, by the early twenty first century, martyrdom operations by Muslims had been turned against other Muslims. Thousands of Muslims, particularly Shia, had become victims, not just initiators, of martyrdom operations, with many civilians and even mosques and shrines being targeted, particularly in Iraq. According to Scott Atran, in just one year in one Muslim country alone – 2004 in Iraq – there were 400 suicide attacks and 2000 casualties. [12] Salafi Jihadi ideologue Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi declared "all-out war" on Shia Muslims in Iraq in response to a US-Iraqi offensive on the town of Tal Afar.[13] He described his view of the Sunni-Shia conflict in a February 2004 open letter to supporters where he argued for a cycle of attack and retaliation that would "awaken" those Sunnis who previously had not wanted a sectarian war to join his side.[note 3]

In 2007 some of the Shia ulema have responded by declaring suicide bombing haram:

"حتي كساني كه با انتحار مي‌آيند و مي‌زنند عده‌اي را مي‌كشند، آن هم به عنوان عمليات انتحاري، اينها در قعر جهنم هستند"
"Even those who kill people with suicide bombing, these shall meet the flames of hell."[15][16]


Southeast Asia

During the colonial era and up to World War II, Muslims in Aceh and Moro (what are now part of Indonesia and the Philippines) used suicide attacks their enemies (principally the Dutch, Japanese and Americans).

In Aceh

Muslim Acehnese from the Aceh Sultanate performed suicide attacks known as Parang-sabil against Dutch invaders during the Aceh War. It was considered as part of personal jihad in the Islamic religion of the Acehnese. The Dutch called it Atjèh-moord, which literally translates to Aceh murder.[17][18] The Acehnese work of literature, the Hikayat Perang Sabil provided the background and reasoning for the "Aceh-mord" – Acehnese suicide attacks upon the Dutch,[19][20][21] The Indonesian translations of the Dutch terms are Aceh bodoh (Aceh pungo) or Aceh gila (Aceh mord).[22]


Atjèh-moord was also used against the Japanese by the Acehnese during the Japanese occupation of Aceh.[23] The Acehnese Ulama (Islamic clerics) fought against both the Dutch and the Japanese, revolting against the Dutch in February 1942 and against Japan in November 1942. The revolt was led by the All-Aceh Religious Scholars' Association (PUSA). The Japanese suffered 18 dead in the uprising while they slaughtered up to 100 or over 120 Acehnese.[24][25] The revolt happened in Bayu and was centred around Tjot Plieng village's religious school.[26][27][28][29] During the revolt, the Japanese troops armed with mortars and machine guns were charged by sword wielding Acehnese under Teungku Abduldjalil (Tengku Abdul Djalil) in Buloh Gampong Teungah and Tjot Plieng on 10 and 13 November.[30][31][32][33][34][35][36] In May 1945 the Acehnese rebelled again.[37]

The original Jawi script Acehnese language work Hikayat Perang Sabil (w:ace:Hikayat Prang Sabi, w:id:Hikayat Prang Sabi) has been transliterated into the Latin alphabet and annotated by Ibrahim Alfian (Teuku.) published in Jakarta.[38] Perang sabi was the Acehnese word for jihad, a holy war and Acehnese language literary works on perang sabi were distributed by Islamic clerics ('ulama) such as Teungku di Tiro to help the resistance against the Dutch in the Aceh War.[39] The recompense awarded by in paradise detailed in Islamic Arabic texts and Dutch atrocities were expounded on in the Hikayat Perang Sabil which was communally read by small cabals of Ulama and Acehnese who swore an oath before going to achieve the desired status of "martyr" by launching suicide attacks on the Dutch.[40] Perang sabil was the Malay equivalent to other terms like Jihad, Ghazawat for "Holy war", the text was also spelled "Hikayat perang sabi".[41] Fiction novels like Sayf Muhammad Isa's Sabil: Prahara di Bumi Rencong on the war by Aceh against the Dutch include references ro Hikayat Perang Sabil.[42] Mualimbunsu Syam Muhammad wrote the work called "Motives for Perang Sabil in Nusantara", Motivasi perang sabil di Nusantara: kajian kitab Ramalan Joyoboyo, Dalailul-Khairat, dan Hikayat Perang Sabil on Indonesia's history of Islamic holy war (Jihad).[43] Children and women were inspired to do suicide attacks by the Hikayat Perang Sabil against the Dutch.[19] Hikayat Perang Sabil is also known as "Hikayat Prang Sabi.[44] Hikayat Perang Sabil is considered as part of 19th century Malay literature.[45] In Dutch occupied Aceh, Hikayat Perang Sabil was confiscated from Sabi's house during a Police raid on September 27, 1917.[46][47][48]

Against the Spanish in the Philippines

In the Philippines the Moro Muslims are reported to have engaged in suicide attacks against enemies as early as the 16th century. Those who performed suicide attacks were called mag-sabil, and the suicide attacks were known as Parang-sabil. The Spanish called them juramentado. The idea of the juramentado was considered part of jihad in the Moros' Islamic religion. During an attack, a Juramentado would throw himself at his targets and kill them with bladed weapons such as barongs and kris until he himself was killed. The Moros performed juramentado suicide attacks against the Spanish in the Spanish–Moro conflict of the 16th to the 19th centuries, against the Americans in the Moro Rebellion (1899–1913), and against the Japanese in World War II.[49] The Moro Juramentados aimed their attacks specifically against their enemies, and not against non-Muslims in general. They launched suicide attacks on the Japanese, Spanish, Americans and Filipinos, but did not attack the non-Muslim Chinese as the Chinese were not considered enemies of the Moro people.[50][51][52][53] The Japanese responded to these suicide attacks by massacring all the relatives of the attacker.[54]

Contemporary use: after the Iranian Islamic Revolution

The number of suicide attacks grew enormously after 2000.[55]

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the quantity and "innovation" of Istishhad used against civilian and military targets has raised its level of "destruction and fatalities to previously unknown heights",[9] by one estimate totaling 3,699 suicide attacks in 40+ countries from 1982 to 2013.[56] This began in the 1980s with Shia revolutionaries in Iran fighting off Iraqi Baathist invaders,[57] and Hezbollah's successful expulsion of Western peacekeepers and Israeli's from Lebanon.[58] and spread to Al-Qaeda and other Sunni groups.[9]

Iran-Iraq War

Scholars believe the origins of Istishhad attacks in the late 20th and early 21st centuries lie among the Shia of the newly formed Islamic Republic of Iran following the invasion by Iraq in 1980. Vali Nasr writes that necessity may have been a motivation for use of suicidal or suicide attacks in the form of "hundreds of thousands of volunteers" attacking Iraqi lines. At least early on in the war, many of the "most seasoned officers" in Iran's military had been purged, while the hostage crisis "left Iran internationally isolated", so that "conventional means of repelling the Iraqi invasion were hard to come by."[57]

Defense of the motherland aside, Shia usually refer to the martyrdom of Hussain ibn Ali and his companions and family members in the Battle of Karbala as role models and inspiration for martyrdom as a glorious and noble death.

Many nights during the war, Iranian soldiers would wake up to see a white-shrouded figure on a white horse blessing them. These apparitions of the Twelfth Imam were professional actors sent to boost morale. The common soldiers, often peasant boys raised in an atmosphere of simple piety, would then carry the tale to their relatives and friends in the villages and small towns they called home, if they lived to make it home.[59]

Mohammed Hossein Fahmideh, a 13-year-old boy who fought in the war, is said to be the first Muslim to have participated in such an attack in contemporary history. He strapped rocket-propelled grenades to his chest and blew himself up under an Iraqi tank in November 1980. Ayatollah Khomeini declared Fahmideh a national hero and inspiration for further volunteers for martyrdom.[60][61] Other Iranian basij volunteers ran through minefields to detonate buried landmines and clear a safe battlefield path for following soldiers.

Khomeini's encouragement

"Imam" Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian Revolution, is thought to have given a broader definition of martyrdom to include istishhad/"self-martyrdom".[62] He believed martyrdom could come not only from "inadvertent" death but "deliberate" as well. While martyrdom has always been celebrated in Islam and martyrs promised a place in heaven, (Q3:169–171), the idea that opportunities for martyrdom were important has not always been so common.

Khomeini not only praised the large numbers of young Shia Iranians who became "shahids" during the Iran–Iraq War but asserted the war was "God's hidden gift",[63] or as one scholar of Khomeini put it, "a vital outlet through which Iran's young martyrs experienced mystical transcendence."[64] Khomeini explained:

"If the great martyr (Imam Husayn ibn Ali) ... confined himself to praying ... the great tragedy of Kabala would not have come about ... Among the contemporary ulema, if the great Ayatollah ... Shirazi ... thought like these people [who do not fight for Islam], a war would not have taken place in Iraq ... all those Muslims would not have been martyred."[65]

Death might seem like a tragedy to some but in reality ...

If you have any tie or link binding you to this world in love, try to sever it. This world, despite all its apparent splendor and charm, is too worthless to be loved.[66]

Khomeini never wavered from his faith in the war as God's will, and observers (such as Ayatollah Mehdi Haeri Yazdi, a grand ayatollah and former student with family ties to Khomeini) have related a number of examples of his impatience with those who tried to convince him to negotiate an end to the war even when it had become a stalemate with hundreds of thousands killed and civilian areas being attacked by missiles.[67]

Some scholars (Ervand Abrahamian) argue that the idea of martyrdom was transform by Khomeini from the traditional Shi'i belief [note 4] of "a saintly act", usually referring "the famous Shi'i saints[note 5] who in obeying God's will, had gone to their deaths";[68] to "revolutionary sacrifice" done "to overthrow a despotic political order";[69] and that Khoemini was heavily influenced by Iranian leftists individuals and groups active in the 1960s such as Ali Shariati, the Tudeh Party, Mojahedin, Hojjat al-Islam Nimatollah Salahi-Najafabadi.[69]


While martyrdom operations did not lead to victory over Iraq, in Lebanon, Hezbollah, the Shia party/militia funded and assisted by Iran, was enormously successful in its attacks. The group drove Israel out of South Lebanon, killing approximately 600 Israeli soldiers in Southern Lebanon between 1982 and 1984, (a relatively large number for a small country like Israel).[58] This "rare victory" over Israel "lionized" the group among Arabs in the region and added to "the aura of Shia power still glimmering amid the afterglow of the Iranian revolution."[58] It also drove Western peacekeepers out of Lebanon, killing 243 U.S. Marines and 58 French troops in suicide attacks;[70] blew up the American embassy in 1983, killing the Middle East experts in the CIA, and then several months later blew up the annex the survivors of the US embassy had retreated to.[58]

Spread to Sunni Muslims

The victory of Hezbollah is known to have inspired Hamas in Palestine,[71] and al-Qaeda in its worldwide bombing campaign.[72] Writing in 2006, Vali Nasr states that "until fairly recently" willingness to die for the cause" (with suicide bombing or other means) was seen as a "predominantly Shia phenomenon, tied to the myths of Karbala and the Twelfth Imam".[73]

Inspired by the success of Hezbollah, the (Sunni) Palestinian Islamist group Hamas used suicide attacks as a model for in its fight in the Palestinian Territories.[58] Hamas first carried out suicide attacks – involved strapping the body of the mission carrier with explosives – in the Israeli-inhabited towns of Afula and Khidara in the spring of 1994, it "described these operations as `amaliyat istishhadiya (martyrdom operations)" rather than the more secular a'maliyat fida'iyah (self-sacrifice operations).[7] According to Palestinian anthropologist Nasser Abufarha, istishhadi did not previously exist in the Arabic dictionary. Istishhadi is different from the notions of shahid or fida'i in that istishhadi is the idea of proactively seeking martyrdom; an idea that is not traditionally Islamic.[7][74] Hamas introduced the term istishhadi with the aim of attaching religion to self-sacrifice because Hamas believes Islam is "the most solid ideology through which to achieve the goals of the Palestinian national struggle."[74] The term 'amaliyat istishhadiya has caught on and "today, istishhad is the most frequently used term to refer to acts of sacrifice in the Palestinian resistance and is used by Islamic, secular, and Marxist groups alike".[7]

Zabiullah Mujahid, deputy minister of information and culture and spokesperson of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan announced the formation of an Istishhad battalion, which will be part of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan special forces.[75]

According to one scholar, Noah Feldman: "The vocabulary of martyrdom and sacrifice, the formal videotaped pre-confession of faith, the technological tinkering to increase deadliness—all are now instantly recognizable to every Muslim." Feldman sees a worrying trend in the steady expansion of the targets of Istishhad since its debut in 1983 when successful bombing of barracks and embassy buildings drove the U.S. military out of Lebanon.

First the targets were American soldiers, then mostly Israelis, including women and children. From Lebanon and Israel, the technique of suicide bombing moved to Iraq, where the targets have included mosques and shrines, and the intended victims have mostly been Shiite Iraqis. The newest testing ground is Afghanistan, where both the perpetrators and the targets are orthodox Sunni Muslims. Not long ago, a bombing in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, killed Muslims, including women, who were applying to go on pilgrimage to Mecca. Overall, the trend is definitively in the direction of Muslim-on-Muslim violence. By a conservative accounting, more than three times as many Iraqis have been killed by suicide bombings in the last 3 years as have Israelis in the last 10. Suicide bombing has become the archetype of Muslim violence—not just to frightened Westerners but also to Muslims themselves.[76]

The Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism recorded a total of 3,699 suicide attacks in over 40 countries from 1982 to 2013.[56]

Martyrdom operation

See also: Martyrdom video

Militant groups term attacks on military or civilian targets in which the attacker is expected to die, most frequently by detonation of a bomb, as "martyrdom operations". The term is usually used by Muslim militants, although non-Muslim groups, such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, have also engaged in suicide attacks. Islamist militants prefer the term "martyrdom operation" to "suicide attack", as suicide is forbidden under classical Islamic law. While combat inherently involves a risk of death, a "martyrdom operation" implies a deliberate act leading to death as part of the attack.

Acts of istishhad are governed by Islamic legal rules associated with armed warfare or military jihad. The rules governing jihad, literally meaning struggle but often called "holy war" by non-Muslims, are covered in exquisite detail in the classical texts of Islamic jurisprudence.[76] In orthodox Islamic law, jihad is a collective religious obligation on the Muslim community, when the community is endangered or Muslims are subjected to oppression and subjugation. The rules governing such conflicts include not killing women, children or non-combatants, and leaving cultivated or residential areas undamaged.[76][77][78]

For more than a millennium, these tenets were accepted by Sunnis and Shiites; however, since the 1980s militant Islamists have challenged the traditional Islamic rules of warfare in an attempt to justify suicide attacks despite clear contradictions to established Islamic laws.[76][77]

Religious-scholarly debate

Some Western and Muslim scholars of Islam find suicide attacks to be a clear violation of classical Islamic law.[79] Nevertheless, the militant groups that carry out "martyrdom operations" believe that their actions fulfill the obligation of jihad, and some clerics support this view.

Against suicide attacks

Suicide bombings as acts of terrorism have spurred some Muslims to provide scholastic refutations of suicide bombings and to condemn them. For example, Ihsanic Intelligence, a London-based Islamic think tank, published a study on suicide bombings that concluded, "suicide bombing is anathema, antithetical 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".[80]

Oxford-based Malaysian jurist Shaykh Afifi al-Akiti, issued his fatwa forbidding suicide bombing and targeting innocent civilians:

"If the attack involves a bomb placed on the body or placed so close to the bomber that when the bomber detonates it the bomber is certain [yaqin] to die, then the More Correct Position according to us is that it does constitute suicide. This is because the bomber, being also the Maqtul [the one killed], is unquestionably the same Qatil [the immediate/active agent that kills] = Qatil Nafsahu [killing oneself, i.e., suicide]."[81][note 6]

In January 2006, a Shiite marja cleric, Ayatollah al-Udhma Yousof al-Sanei decreed a fatwa against suicide bombing declaring it as a "terrorist act" and the Saudi grand mufti as well as other Sunni scholars similarly denounced suicide attacks regardless of their offensive or defensive characterization.[76][85][86]

Scholar Bernard Lewis states, "At no time did the classical jurists offer any approval or legitimacy to what we nowadays call terrorism. Nor indeed is there any evidence of the use of terrorism as it is practiced nowadays".[77] Similarly, Noah Feldman writes that the Islamic reasoning of suicide attackers is not convincing as martyrdom in Islam typically refers to another person killing a Muslim warrior, not the warrior pushing "the button himself". In addition, "The killing of women and children has proved harder to explain away as a permissible exercise of jihad." This "illustrates the nature of the difficulty of reconciling suicide bombing with Islamic law".[76]

As Charles Kimball, the University of Oklahoma's Director of Religious Studies, pointed out that Islam "clearly prohibits suicide" by citing "the hadith materials, which are the authoritative sayings and actions of the prophet, Muhammad, includes many unambiguous statements about suicide: one who 'throws himself off a mountain' or 'drinks poison' or 'kills himself with a sharp instrument' will be in the fire of Hell. Suicide is not allowed even to those in extreme conditions such as painful illness or a serious wound".[87] Other Islamic groups such as the European Council for Fatwa and Research cite the Quran'ic verse Al-An'am 6:151 as a prohibition against suicide: "And take not life, which Allah has made sacred, except by way of justice and law".[88] Dr. Hassan Ali El-Najjar says that the hadith unambiguously forbid suicide.[89]

Proponents of suicide operations

Islamist militant organisations (including Al-Qaeda, ISIL, Hamas and Islamic Jihad) continue to argue that suicide operations are justified according to Islamic law.[90][91] Irshad Manji, in a conversation with one leader of Islamic Jihad noted their ideology.

"What's the difference between suicide, which the Koran condemns, and martyrdom?" I asked. "Suicide," he replied, "is done out of despair. But remember: most of our martyrs today were very successful in their earthly lives." In short, there was a future to live for—and they detonated it anyway.

Another rationale provided for why istishhad is not against Islamic law is that the civilians caught in the crossfire "were destined to die". The Saudi exile Muhammad al-Massari explains that any civilian killed in an attack on the enemy "won't suffer [but instead]…becomes a martyr himself".[92] During the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah apologized for an attack on Nazareth that killed two Israeli-Arab children—but said the two children should be considered "martyrs".[93]

Further justifications have been given by Iranian cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, "when protecting Islam and the Muslim community depends on martyrdom operations, it not only is allowed, but even is an obligation as many of the Shi'ah great scholars and Maraje', including Ayatullah Safi Golpayegani and Ayatullah Fazel Lankarani, have clearly announced in their fatwas".[94] Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran showered those who performed martyrdom operations during the Iran–Iraq War and against Israel with accolades. Indeed, Sayyed Abbas al-Musawi, the second Secretary General of Hezbollah and student of Khomeini, created a supplication that became popular among the Hezbollah youths and fighters.[95]

Other clerics have supported suicide attacks largely in connection with the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Sunni cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi has supported such attacks by Palestinians in perceived defense of their homeland as heroic and an act of resistance.[96] Shiite Lebanese cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, the spiritual authority recognized by Hezbollah, is reported to have similar views.[76]

After the 7 July 2005 London bombings, journalist Mona Eltahawy published an op-ed in the Washington Post noting the fact that there were "22 imams and scholars who met at London's largest mosque to condemn the bombings but who would not criticize all suicide attacks", such as Sayed Mohammed Musawi, the head of the World Islamic League, who said "there should be a clear distinction between the suicide bombing of those who are trying to defend themselves from occupiers, which is something different from those who kill civilians, which is a big crime".[97] After the knighting of Salman Rushdie in June 2007, Pakistan's acting Minister of Religious Affairs Muhammad Ijaz-ul-Haq publicly justified and called for a suicide attack against him.[98]

There have been conflicting reports about the stances of Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy (who was then the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar- he is now deceased) and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb (who was then the Grand Mufti of Egypt and is now the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar). Shortly after the September 11 attacks Sheikh Tantawy issued a statement opposing suicide attacks.[99] However, a translation from Al Azhar website quotes him as supporting suicide attacks on Jews in Israel as part of the Palestinian struggle "to strike horror into the hearts of the enemies of Islam".[100] Yet, in 2003 he was quoted again as saying "groups which carried out suicide bombings were the enemies of Islam", and that all suicide attacks were sinful including those against Israelis. His comments condemning all suicide attacks were echoed by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Lebanese cleric Husam Qaraqirah.[101]

According to the Iranian Islamic theologian Mohammad-Bagher Heydari Kashani, "We had 36,000 student martyrs [in the Iran-Iraq War], 7,070 of whom were under the age of 14. [...] "They were a source of pride for us, and we must thank God for them."[102]

Public opinion

In addition to the views of Muslim theologians, conflicting viewpoints are apparent among the public in Muslim-majority countries. As a reporter for The Guardian notes in an article written during the Second Intifada in August 2001, the Muslim world celebrates "martyr-bombers" as heroes defending the things held sacred. Polls in the Middle East in August 2001 showed that 75% of people had been in favor of martyr-bombings.[103]

However, the Pew Research Center has found decreases in Muslim support for suicide attacks. In 2011 surveys, less than 15% of Pakistanis, Jordanians, Turks, and Indonesians thought that suicide bombings were sometimes/often justified. Approximately 28% of Egyptians and 35% of Lebanese felt that suicide bombings were sometimes/often justified. However, 68% of Palestinians reported that suicide attacks were sometimes/often justified.[104] In 2013, Pew found that "clear majorities of Muslims oppose violence in the name of Islam"; 89% in Pakistan, 81% in Indonesia, 78% in Nigeria, and 77% in Tunisia said that "suicide bombings or other acts of violence that target civilians are never justified".[105]

Militant groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad consider martyrdom as the highest form of sacrifice for the Palestinian cause, leading to acts of terrorism, including suicide bombings.[106][107] This ethos is widespread in educational materials, visual media, community events, ceremonies, and has influenced the indoctrination of children from a young age, impacting the psychological well-being of Palestinian children.[108][109]


  1. ^ For example Shi'i cleric Sa'id Akhtar Rizvi quotes Quranic verses Q3:169-171:
    • And reckon not those who are killed in Allah’s way as dead; nay, they are alive (and) are provided sustenance from their Lord; rejoicing in what Allah has given them out of His grace, and they rejoice for the sake of those who, (being left) behind them, have not yet joined them, that they shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve. They rejoice on account of favour from Allah and (His) grace, and that Allah will not waste the reward of believers.
    and interprets it to mean that "the moment a believer is slain in the way of Allah, his eternal life begins".[4]
  2. ^ Hassan, a Hezbollah fighter quoted by Hala Jaber's book[11]
  3. ^ The "cunning" Shia planned to build a state "stretching from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon" to the Gulf kingdoms, but by attacking Shia in their "religious, political, and military depth" his jihadis would "drag" the Shia "into the arena of sectarian war", and leading them to "bare the teeth of the hidden rancor working in their breasts" and so "awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger and annihilating death at the hands of theses Sabeans", i.e. Shia.[14]
  4. ^ and even from Khomeini's own belief prior to the late 1960s),[68]
  5. ^ such as the "Five Martyrs"[68]
  6. ^ A distinction can be made in religion between
    • suicidal or high risk attacks, such as the Lod Airport massacre or "reckless charge in battle", "violent actions perpetrated by people who are aware that the odds they will return alive are close to zero" (Ami Pedahzur);[82] and
    • suicide attacks whose success depends on the attacker killing themselves.[83][84]
    the first may be acceptable as martyrdom, and the second condemned as suicide.



  1. ^ J Milton Cowan, ed. (1994). Hans Wehr Arabic-English dictionary: The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (4th ed.). Urbana, IL: Spoken Language Services, Inc. p. 572.
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  4. ^ a b c d Sa'id Akhtar Rizvi. "Lecture 4: Concept of Martyrdom in Islam | Four California Lectures". A lecture delivered at Husain Day, held at New York, on Sunday, October 25, 1987. Retrieved 1 July 2023.
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  8. ^ a b Schweitzer, Yoram; Ferber, Sari Goldstein (2005). "Suicide 2. Terrorism as Ideology and Symbol". Al-Qaeda and the Internationalization of Suicide Terrorism. Institute for National Security Studies. p. 25. Retrieved 30 June 2023.
  9. ^ a b c d Schweitzer, Yoram; Goldstein Ferber, Sari (November 2005). "Executive Summary". Al-Qaeda and the Internationalization of Suicide Terrorism (PDF). Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. p. 7. Retrieved 2 July 2023.
  10. ^ Lange, Christian (2016). Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions. Cambridge United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-50637-3. p.40
  11. ^ Jaber, Hala (1997). Hezbollah: Born with a Vengeance. Columbia University Press. pp. 92–93. ISBN 978-0-231-10834-8.
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