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The Making of Islamist Suicide Bombers

The Making of Islamist Suicide Bombers

Author: Sultan Shahin
Publication: Sultan Shahin's Blog
Date: February 16, 2008
URL: http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=334408251&blogID=358476819

Is suicide compatible with Islamic teachings? The question has been debated endlessly for the last several years. The clear consensus of Islamic scholars now is that it is not. And yet extremist groups continue to use human bombs as their weapon of choice in several parts of the Muslim world. How do they manage to entice Muslims into committing such a heinous crime against humanity? The question has haunted the world ever since Muslims started using this tactic following the success of this brutal method of killing demonstrated by the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka in early 1990s.

I had the opportunity to study the phenomenon when I was researching the methodology the Pakistan Army used to motivate soldiers to commit what amounted to mass suicide in Kargil? I wrote extensively on the subject then and would like to share with my readers here some of the things I discovered.

To begin with I asked myself what books would one choose to carry while embarking on a suicide mission? Kargil was one such mission for the Pakistani soldiers. Had India not allowed them safe passage under the political compulsions of that pre-election period, they would have all got killed sooner or later. They must have known this. You cannot trifle with a major military power like India without being prepared to face its fatal consequences.

How were they motivated to commit what amounts to a mass suicide? This question is particularly relevant as they were Muslims and in Islam suicide is considered a heinous crime. Most Muslims would know that Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) refused to offer funeral prayers for just two Muslims - one who had been convicted of embezzlement of zakat (charity) funds and another who had committed suicide, though under genuinely extenuating circumstances. Indeed the Prophet had specified in the case of Amir Ibn al-Akwa who had sustained several wounds in the battle of Khyber that even if someone commits suicide to relieve himself of acute pain, his destination would still be the fires of hell.

The answer lies with the books recovered from the bunkers of dead Pakistani soldiers in Kargil. Some of these are on predictable lines - copies of Holy Quran with translation in Urdu, biographies of the Prophet, books of prayers for all occasions, Iqbal's evocative poetry and so on. These would be part of an average Muslim's travelling gear, particularly if he is embarking on what could turn out to be his last journey. But what surprised me was that they had all been published by Al-Maktaba al-Sulfia of Lahore, the publication house of Ahl-e-Sunnat wal-Jamaat, a small but particularly virulent sect which believes that all Muslims who do not belong to this sect should be done to death. It is not possible that all the soldiers of the Northern Areas Light Infantry and other sections of Pakistan Army who embarked on this suicidal venture belonged to this sect. I can only presume that these books were supplied by the Army itself.

This makes this study even more meaningful. It tells us not only about the mental make-up of the people we dealt with at Kargil but also of those we are dealing with in Kashmir, indeed even in other parts of India today. For these books were evidently part of the motivational literature Pakistan Army was using to indoctrinate its soldiers and other recruits for their suicidal missions in Kashmir.

The most popular among these books was Maut ka Manzar (The Scene of Death) by Abdur Razzaq Bhutralwi, the Imam of a mosque in Islamabad and a teacher in a Rawalpindi madrasa run by the Ahle-Sunnat wal-Jamaat sect. A 400-page book in small print, it is an eminently readable companion for those preparing to die. Some of the chapters are entitled: What is Death?, Kinds of Death, Death provides Comfort, The Place of Death is Fixed, No One Denies Death, No Escape From Death, How Death Invites you to the Appointed Place, One Goes There Happily, One Should Prepare for Death, Death is Better than Mischief, Love of this World and Fear of Death is Cowardice, Places where it is Permitted to long for Death, and so on. You get the drift. What a morbid place Kargil must have been with hundreds of people reading this book for months!

Maulana Bhutralwi is particularly suited for motivating suicidal operations. While he describes an ordinary death as an extremely painful experience, he likens martyrdom with the sting of an ant or a mosquito bite. He describes the meaning of life and death in the first chapter in these words: "Life means martyrdom which offers us a life better than the life in this world and death means worldly life which is a contemptible form of life in comparison with the life of martyrdom". So life means death and death means life. Alice's wonderland, I thought then, must have been situated between Islamabad and Rawalpindi - the route the Maulana traverses every morning between 7:00 and 8:00 to be able to reach his madrasa, Jama Rizwia, even before his pupils arrive.

But surely this won't be enough to motivate soldiers for such foolhardy ventures as Kargil. So they were given pamphlets of various Jehadi organisations telling them that the Kashmir campaign is even more sacred in the eyes of God than the campaigns at Badr or Uhud that the Prophet himself waged. How does one go about proving something as outrageous as this? The Holy Quran is immutable. It is so well-preserved that no one has been able to change even a coma or a vowel over the last 14 centuries. But interpolation is possible in the Sayings of the Prophet, the sacred Hadees. So Harkat-e-Jehad-e-Islami begins its brochure with an essay entitled "The importance of Jehad against India". It quotes Hazrat Abu Huraira as saying that "the Prophet promised me that if you die fighting Jehad against India, you would become Afzalul Shuhada, i.e., the greatest among all martyrs, and if you come back alive you will be assured of a place in Heaven no matter what else you do."

It is this concoction that is now being propagated by all Jehadi leaders like Maulana Masood Azhar or Hafiz Saeed in their fiery motivational speeches. There was no question of a Jehad being waged in the Prophet's time against far-flung India when the Arab world itself and its neighbourhood was full of enemies of Islam. From the very early days India has welcomed Islam and continues to be a haven for Islamists of all hue and colour. None of the thousands of rajas and maharajas who had to deal with Islam ever obstructed the propagation of this new ideology. India is one of the few non-Muslim majority countries that allows Muslims to conduct their life in accordance with Islamic personal laws. India is the biggest centre of Islamic literature in the world even after the Partition when Muslim-majority areas broke away to form Pakistan. No wonder, the Prophet said he had received a cool breeze from India. Allama Iqbal describes it beautifully:

Meer-e-Arab ko aaee thandi hawa jahan se;

Mera watan wohi hai, mera watan wohi hai.

There are only two references to India in the authoritative Hadees literature, i.e. Bukhari and Muslim. Both say more or less the same thing. Hazrat Umm-e-Qais bint-e-Mahsan says: "A woman came to the Prophet with her sick child. She was pressing the child's throat from two sides. The Prophet said: 'Why are you pressing the child's throat, increasing his pain. Use Indian incense (Ood-e-Hindi). It cures seven diseases including pleurisy." (Bukhari 7.616 and 7.596)

The concoctions and fabrications, however, go on. Jehad is big business. Mullahs will stop at nothing to provide cannon-fodder to the militant organisations originally spawned by Pakistan Army who may have now become a law unto themselves and are according to some recent reports engaging in Jehad against the will of their former military mentors. Indeed in some cases they are fighting the Pakistan Army and Pakistan Establishment itself.

While Jehad is being largely waged in the Middle East and Pakistan-Afghanistan region, we in India cannot remain indifferent to the dangers of extremist brainswashing. Jehadi promotional literature is circulating in India as well. It is for the Muslims to beware of people who think nothing of putting false words in the mouth of the Prophet himself. It is for our ulema to tell us if suicide is the same as martyrdom. Is life indeed death and death life in Islam? It clearly is not. But we need to keep repeating this and letting our youth know the real facts until the present phase of extremist madness has subsided.

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