Why equate suicide attacks with Islam?

Published: September 8, 2010
The writer is a shift in charge at The Express Tribune 

The writer is a shift in charge at The Express Tribune [email protected]

Readers made interesting comments on my earlier article, ‘Militancy or a tribal backlash’ (August 15-16). Some welcomed it as “a sane voice” while others said it was a “naive analysis”. It wasn’t unexpected. However, I felt vindicated, frankly speaking, when General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan, conceded in a recent interview that they were faced with a “Pashtun insurgency” in Afghanistan. The Afghan insurgency cannot and should not be seen in isolation. On either side of the Durand Line, I believe, it’s the same madding insurgency, fuelled by a sense of togetherness, common tribal ethos and clanship.

There’s no denying the fact that religious extremists and jihadists are also cashing in on this anti-government sentiment in the region. The recent surge in US drone strikes in tribal regions resulted in a deadly reprisal: a series of suicide attacks across the country. But one reader commented that suicide blasts hardly looked like tribal tactics.

And to that my question would be why? Why can’t a suicide attack be a tribal tactic as well? Suicide attacks are equated somewhat wrongly with Islamic extremism and militancy. Why? Perhaps because Muslim, not Islamic, militants made much use of this asymmetric warfare tactic in recent years. Or perhaps people believe only Muslims can kill themselves for a purported Islamic cause. They are mistaken and this is a myopic view.

Some western experts claim that “suicide bombers are lured by promises of pleasure in the afterlife, financial stability for their families and eternal martyrdom”. This is a generalisation. Though some hard-line clerics do condone suicide attacks as a war tactic, they are a small minority, on the fringes, with their own contorted view of religion. Islam does not allow suicides under any circumstances. And most mainstream Islamic scholars have no qualms in putting that view across. Even in times of war, Islam forbids harming non-combatants and even trees and crops.

Needless to say Japanese Kamikazes, the architect of suicide attacks, were not Muslims. Nor were the Nazis who had planned ‘selbstopfer’ attacks on high-value enemy targets, albeit the plan never materialised. And also suicide attacks weren’t always used as a war tactic. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Middle East and Gama’a Islamiyya in Egypt used suicide attacks as a political tactic to further their agendas. In all these cases, suicide attacks were used by the weaker party as it could not fight the enemy with comparable military might. Suicide attacks became the ‘weapon’ of choice for insurgent groups the world over because they are inexpensive, simple and make a strong psychological impact. Equating suicide attacks with Islam is plain wrong. It’s a political tactic and not necessarily used for Islam or a purported Islamic cause.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (39)

  • Sep 8, 2010 - 12:56AM

    In our day and age, mostly Muslims (or RAW, CIA, Mossad Agents if thats what you believe in) are involved in suicide bombings. Yes Kamakazi pilots were also suicide bombers, no pun intended and the other examples you have given. However, the Japanese in the 1940s did not have 24hour television and the internet to magnify their narrative. Also the iconography associated with such attacks carries alot of Islamic archetypes. When muslims suicide bombers air their wills in videos, there is heavy Islamic symbolism, Quranic ayats being played in the background etc. In addition religion is framed prominently when individuals give interviews to Western journalists or even domestic journalists. They prominently refer to religion, and terms such as “jihad” which are uniquely associated with Islam. The picture is painted with an Islamic brush, how its interpreted, as you write has several interpretations.

    Or we could just say that this is a maligned and nefarious campaign against Islam and that would be the end of that. Recommend

  • faraz
    Sep 8, 2010 - 1:56AM

    Why is the suicide bomber mostly a teenager; why dont mature people carry out suicide attacks? Do you think a teenager can hold such extreme political views regarding Pushtoon nationalism? Why do suicide bombers mainly belong to madrassas? Many suicide bombers belong to Southern Punjab and Swat; these areas werent subjected to drone attacks, so why are they blowing themselves up? Is it a coincidence that suicide bombers belong to a particular sect of Islam; i have never heard of a Barelwi suicide bomber? Why do taliban kill Pushtoons if they are pushtoon nationalists? Why do they blow themselves up in Jirgas? Were the demands of Swat taliban related to American presence in Afghanistan? Why dont they go to Afghanistan and fight the Americans; our army isnt against those taliban groups? Whats the purpose of suicide attacks against Shias, darbars or minorities? Why are Punjabi taliban fighting for Pushtoon nationalism?Recommend

  • mehdi army
    Sep 8, 2010 - 4:14AM

    US people are burning Quran and mosques and our police & army is protecting their supply convoys. This is Allah’s wrath on Pakistani people and so called security forces. Recommend

  • Sep 8, 2010 - 6:34AM

    The theme is quite old. Recommend

  • Billoo Bhai
    Sep 8, 2010 - 8:41AM

    Because these are the guys carrying it out. How intelligent do you have to be to figure that out? No wonder Pakistan is such a shape. Recommend

  • Danish
    Sep 8, 2010 - 9:33AM

    This sounds like saying the kalashnikov was not invented by muslims, so today, if it is widely being used to kill innocent people in our country, we are not to blame for it. Who cares, where suicide bomings originated? they are presently being used by so-called muslims who think they doing doing ‘Jihad’ by killing innocent civililians. Can we please wake-up and accept it, instead of clouding it in mystery by these so-called intellectual debates?Recommend

  • Chairman of the Bored
    Sep 8, 2010 - 9:54AM

    Sorry, Mr Hussain, but if the shoe fits…Recommend

  • Angeline A
    Sep 8, 2010 - 10:06AM

    I had always been perplexed by the state of denial in which most of our religious apologists live. In this article the gentleman is trying to pin down the blame of suicide attacks at the door of those hapless people who are the victims of suicide attackers rather than their progenitors. Take the case of Arab, Chechen, Uzbek and Punjabi militants. Are they fighting for the glory of Pashtoon tribes or by any stretch of imagination are they inspired by the tribal pride of Pashtoons?
    Secondly, I don’t understand what people mean by saying ” suicide is forbidden in Islam”. Is Islam a religion that is written in Medeieval tomes of Fiqh or it is the religion that Muslims practice? How is a religion seperate from its staunch followers? i hope someone will shed light on these questions.Recommend

  • ali
    Sep 8, 2010 - 11:02AM

    one of my friend who belonged to tablighi jamaat meet a group of suicider in raiwand ijtima,they are having tokens numbers,and there family was very happy and there ameer sahib was also there—–Recommend

    Sep 8, 2010 - 12:09PM

    Suicide bombing is equated with Islam because :
    1. It is done by Muslims and mostly against Muslims.
    2. It has tacit approval of the religious parties.
    3. It is never condenmed in clear terms by the religious parties and Ulamas.
    4. It is a Muslim Phenomena.Recommend

  • vikas ranjan
    Sep 8, 2010 - 12:59PM

    Or perhaps people believe only Muslims can kill themselves for a purported Islamic cause. They are mistaken and this is a myopic view.

    Is this statement intentional or inadvertent. Who else is going to kill himself for a ‘Islamic Cause’. Do we have any examples of Jews, Christians, Budhists, Hindus etc killing themselves for ‘a purported Islamic cause’.Recommend

  • parvez
    Sep 8, 2010 - 1:44PM

    In your article what you are trying to sell to the reader is that “equating suicide attacks with Islam is plain wrong”. This is a very hard sell, your logic does not add up, You appear to say – don’t blame religion for what the people of that religion do.But Sir, they do it in the name of religion.
    Also your view that only a few hard line clerics condone suicide attacks shows either you are ill informed or that you have adopted a position in your mind to defend religion (noble stand) which does not allow you to see the bigger picture. Recommend

  • Angelos
    Sep 8, 2010 - 2:35PM


    Please read out the fatwas carried out by Ulemas of Pakistan against Suicide Bombers and you will come to know if it is condmened or not..

    It is not a Muslim phenomena, it was started in World War II…….

    Suicide bombing has nothing to do with Islam, Islam dosnt allow it nor in an way teaches it. If a guy uses it on the name of Islam, it is their fault. People approving it are not religious.Recommend

  • Neeraj, India
    Sep 8, 2010 - 6:29PM

    I wrote the following comment in response to an another article, but it appears relevant here too.

    ‘Can any moderate and right thinking Muslim here, care answer few simple questions?
    Why is it that, Islam as a religion of peace, is so susceptible to the misinterpretations that produce suicide bombers?
    You claim that there is no place for clergy in Islam, but in reality, why, mullahs appear to have an iron grip over muslim societies across the world?
    Islam renounces idol worship, alright, then why muslims show, such a deep sensitivity, towards trivial issues like caricature controversy which could have been simply ignored?’Recommend

  • Hasan
    Sep 8, 2010 - 6:34PM

    Why equate suicide attacks with Islam?

    Oh, I don’t know, may be because suicide bombers themselves say (either when caught or from their previously prepared video tapes) that they are doing it in the name of Islam, want to kill infidels and go to heaven? Is from the horse’s mouth not good enough for you?Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Sep 8, 2010 - 6:54PM

    The Ulemas of Deobandi and Ahle Hadees sects refuse to give fatwa against suicide bombing. These are Brelvi and Shia Ulemas who are quite vocal against suicide bombing and declare it Haram. Talibans are the followers of Deobandi sect and mainly target Brelvi and Shia ulemas and their followes. Recommend

  • Anoop
    Sep 8, 2010 - 7:43PM

    The problem is Islamic ideology has way too many interpretations. Some of them extremely violent and repressive. This dilemma is fueling militancy in the world.Recommend

  • Imran
    Sep 8, 2010 - 8:29PM

    Because the Muslims on the plane go THA THA THARecommend

  • Bangash
    Sep 8, 2010 - 9:54PM

    The tribesmen hate the Taliban, have formed committes to fight the Taliban, have had hundreds of their maliks murdered by the Taliban. FATA have been turned into a warzone by the Taliban without the permission of the tribals.

    Yet these facts do not exist for Mr Hussein who continues to insist on portraying the Taliban as some sort of tribal reaction to drone attacks and Afghan war. Some people are determined to stay in denial and keep peddling old and discredited theories.Recommend

  • tree
    Sep 8, 2010 - 10:12PM

    @mehdi army,

    I am a Muslim living in usa. No mosque is being burned! nor any Quran! There is a small faction of people against buliding a Muslim community center so close to the 9/11 sight. and one stupid Paster said he’ll burn Qurans in protest. You can’t imagen how many americans, of all colour and how many people of all profecions and religions protested him. On Paster has gone so far as to call this paster “Stuck on Stupid” on national T.V. There is a usa Army Genral along with many many of the army soilders that are all for the Mosuqe and are asking the paster to stop. This is because they say they are trying to build relations in Iraq and Afghanistan and these efforts and lives lost will be in vain if such intolerence is shown to the muslims in usa. Also the mosque is now offically being built. With the full support of the New York government.Recommend

  • Asad
    Sep 8, 2010 - 10:24PM

    You are right: suicide terrorism is not permissible in Islam.

    But can we actually expect the world to believe this when militant Islamist networks are using this war tactic to target security personnel and innocent civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Have you not seen the videos of suicide bombers before accomplishing their mission? Do you not realize that they claim to be sacrificing their lives in the name of Islam, not Pashtun insurgency or nationalism? Are you not aware of the fact that TTP has also been recruiting teenage suicide bombers from Punjab?

    The world will not try to understand the true Islamic teachings by visiting the fundamental sources of our religion: it will look at us and try to determine what Islam teaches its followers.Recommend

  • Spider Man
    Sep 8, 2010 - 10:56PM

    @ Neeraj

    Why is it that, Islam as a religion of peace, is so susceptible to the misinterpretations that produce suicide bombers?

    May be because Islam is the only religion which encourages its adherents to fight with lives and properties for the cause of justice. Tyranny, violence and injustice cannot be condoned and given free hand to spread and prevail in society as per islamic teachings. There is a great reward for the one who sacrifices his life in the cause of peace. There is nothing wrong with the concept since it instills passion to eradicate injustice n violence from society.

    Since the concept is there, anyone with ulterior motive can exploit and misinterpret it. Especially in Pakistani society, teenagers are susceptible to get misled. Thats because their immature minds are looking answers to the religious queries arising in their minds. They feel shy to discuss religion with their parents and elders. So anyone who satisfies their queries, they tend to follow him blindly. Thats why you see many teenagers executing suicide attacks.

    Parents are culprit in this scenario since they don’t give time and energy to develop better and correct understanding of religion in the minds of their children. Recommend

  • Spider Man
    Sep 8, 2010 - 11:50PM

    @ Danish

    Just like inventor of kalashankov cannot be blamed for its misuse, islamic concept of Jihad cannot be blamed for its misuse.Recommend

  • parvez
    Sep 8, 2010 - 11:51PM

    Very perceptive comment made by Anoop.
    I do agree this dilemma along with other factors is fueling militancy in the world. Simple example is the illegal arms trade for mega profits is a factor, amongst others.Recommend

  • Batman
    Sep 9, 2010 - 2:41AM

    Why don’t Muslims who disagree with the militant brand of Islam stop speaking against the Militant Version and start publicizing the Non-Militant Version? I see so many people saying Islam is NOT THIS, Islam is NOT THAT, but very few people get out on the blogosphere and media to say THIS IS ISLAM…the peaceful version…the version most Muslims want the world to believe IS the REAL Islam. Why is that? Why are we always busy coming up with conspiracy theories but never have time to sit down and write down about our understanding of Islam, how we practice our religion, what are our values, what we think about America or the west in general, what do we want the world to know about us! We are just focusing on the wrong response. If someone called me names, I’d definitely not call them names and think it was the best response; nor would I start running around talking to strangers and telling them how I am not deserving of any of the names I was called. But I would live my life, loud and clear, meet people, tell them about myself, who I am, how I live, invite them into my home, and go to their homes, and then let them judge for myself whether I’m deserving of those names or not.Recommend

  • Tilsim
    Sep 9, 2010 - 3:46AM

    @ mehdi army

    It’s a church with a congregation of 50 people. How are you different to those Americans who blame all muslims for 9/11? We are not interested in people who peddle hate and fitna based on falsehoods.Recommend

  • Talha
    Sep 9, 2010 - 4:34AM

    @ Batman,

    Perhaps it is because the ones who actually do try and convey the real message of Islam, do not get much press.

    Ahmadis launched such a campaign in western countries recently.Recommend

  • Abdul Latif
    Sep 9, 2010 - 6:18AM

    Agree 100 percent with Anoop and Parvez. Indeed far too many interpretations of the Islamic ideology in the market. Some of them indeed are extremely violent and repressive. In which religion does one sect declare the other sect infidels and deserving to be killed ?. Grand Ijtehad is needed to bring uniformity in the interpretations of Islamic ideology. Every sect must be made to agree to respect each other and humanity in general. Suicides for whatever purpose should be declared forbidden by the Deobandi and Ahl e Hadis in a loud and clear manner. Preaching short cuts to heaven must be banned by all sects. Muslims should be taught to live and let live for their religion, not die or kill for it. Alas!!, the list goes on and on, but who can do it?. God can and we pray to God for it !Recommend

  • RealityCheck
    Sep 9, 2010 - 10:10AM

    @Spider Man

    You say – ‘Parents are culprit in this scenario since they don’t give time and energy to develop better and correct understanding of religion in the minds of their children.’

    Since I started following Pakistani news papers, I have never found anyone seeking or discussing the knowledge of religion or spirituality. Everyone is so sure that others are not having correct understanding of religion. The talibanis or suicide bombers are saying the same thing. As if it looks like everyone is a master and only the gullible children are listeners.

    Isn’t it important to have open discussions on such matters where views are exchanged and time and space is given to individuals to evolve their understanding? Why is everyone taking a stand on correctness of his own version? Why no one is saying that my understanding is not complete and I am open to discussion and difference of opinion? Recommend

  • jai
    Sep 9, 2010 - 10:58AM

    you’d be better off telling the suicide bombers that Islam does not condone suicide attacks instead of asking the rest of the world to not associate Islam with suicide attacks. The rest of the world is calling it as they see it because these suicide bombers have themselves created that association by doing it in the name of Islam.Recommend

  • Kashif Hasan
    Sep 9, 2010 - 12:12PM

    Naveed Sahib! you are absolutely right in isolating Suicide Bombing from Islam, but your voice can never be louder than Western Media, who is assissting its militant wings in War against terrorism which is actually collision of civilizations and in this regard Islamic Civilization is at top of the their list, so they are successful and will enjoy more success unless there are differences and enmities among the followers of Islam.Recommend

  • Anoop
    Sep 9, 2010 - 2:07PM

    There is also a problem of association. All the countries that declare themselves Islamic have a repressive ideology in their basic principles and have laws that discriminate. I am not just talking of Pakistan but countries like Saudi Arabia. It is the holy land and the kind of atmosphere they have created through their laws is sickening. People look up to that country but, according to me, they shouldn’t. Just because their land is holy, they dont become holy.

    Anyway, with education this can be corrected. But, without changing the principles that a state takes guidance from and its laws this will take a long time.Recommend

  • Ali Farooqui
    Sep 9, 2010 - 2:56PM

    Its funny when KKK were burning crosses and lynching black people no one associated Christianity or Christians with racism … when crazed BJP and shiv sena terrorists were burning women and children in Gujrat no one said Hinduism is the cause … Israel’s terrorist regime has never lead to accusations against Judaism .. but a crazed group of muslims act as they see fit and suddenly we all have to stand up and be hysterically apologetic on behalf of Islam. If Islam did equate to terrorism then the global 23% population would have wreaked constant havoc all over the world .. and if Islam denounces terrorism as I believe it does there is no need for us hang our heads in shame and give excuses and explanations. Recommend

  • Angelos
    Sep 9, 2010 - 7:36PM

    @Ali Farooqui
    you are the man…………

    Suicide bombing has nothing to do with Islam. If few thousand crackpots from 1.7 Billion are killing people on the name of religion, you cannot blame the whole…………Recommend

  • Khadim Husain
    Sep 10, 2010 - 9:02AM

    I think we must try to learn from different point of view. What author says is not new at all because Islam is way of life of Pushtoon culture. Eventhough many perform many things that are forbidden in Islam and that is part of their culture or source of earning that is prohibited by law. Todays all descendents of seculars, communists and socialists has a history of war on the name of religion. Bacha Khan was its example who worked a lot for islamic cause and his support to communists was due to his anti-imperialists stance. There are two things most pushtoon inherit, Islam as a religion and Jihad as a profession. Lot of wars in that area has created trained soldiers.
    The same peoples were Mujahideen for imperialists and Pakistan as well to fight their proxy. Suicide bombing is Islamic or non-Islamic is not a question, it is a tactic. There is no Islamic Jihad anywhere according to some Mullahs. Think is there any crusade according to christians? Yes! Israel is based on religious philosphy, they also believe that final war against Muslims would be fought at current Tel Aviv. Bush many times said that he directly received order from his christain God, Blair joined club of Catholics because those believe crusade against Muslims and Jews.
    Suicide bombing declared haram in current Islam by Mullahs on pay role of imperialists, moreover now it is targetting our security forces, otherwise if it would have happened against any sect or religion than it was not matter of Islam. Same peoples propagated that Taliban are non-circumcised. Wars are always secular, nobody read Geeta, Bible or Quran when killing others. First and second world wars, barbarism of Israel, India and Russaia are usually apparently pro-religion or against religion but those are all secular wars. The peoples who have no courage to condemn drone attack are talking about bombing Islamic or non-Islamic. The Mullahs have a history of issuing decrees in favor of anyone including imperialists. Recommend

  • Mussarat
    Sep 11, 2010 - 1:46AM

    Terrorism is not new in this region of sub-continent.

    Queen victoria was subject to seven assassination attempts. during her prolonged rule. Number of European prince and princess were killed either in assassination or terrorism. Even First US President was assassinated in Washington DC when a group of artise performing jumped from the stage pounced and stabbed Lincon for good.

    The root cause of Second World War was killing of Czar.

    It is natural every action has its reaction.

    Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. It’s a religion that stands for peace, love and respect for humanity.Recommend

  • David
    Sep 14, 2010 - 5:01AM

    If you read Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Islam, you’ll discover that suicide bombings have a long history in Islam, going back many hundreds of years.

    Today’s bombings are not jihad. They are hirabah. Recognizing this may be the first step to reducing the number and violence of them.Recommend

  • Aslam Mir
    Sep 27, 2010 - 4:52PM

    Dear Naveed Hussain
    You are right and Islam is the complete code of life and offers the solution of every problem.Recommend

  • farah
    Oct 4, 2010 - 12:17PM

    Let me just say this, If a muslim is practicing something that Islam does not teach (& in this case, actually condemned: do some RESEARCH if you don’t know this) but says that they are doing it for the sake of Islam, should the religion be blamed for it? Should we associate an act that a religion does not allow because some of its believers who are desperate or even misguided do it? is that not the same as blaming christianity for dozens of its believers’ (Priests included) cruelty to Africans in the days of slave trading?Recommend

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