Where does the doctrine of martyrdom come from?
The answer is from the Quran itself.
Suras (Chapters) 61:10-12, 4:74, and 9:111 guarantee Islamic martyrs heaven in an economic bargain. Indeed, these three references explicitly use words that connote buying and selling and signing a contract of sale, and the currency behind the deals is death by martyrdom.
Deducing claims from these verses and using the logic of evil, suicide-homicide bombers with modern and private weapons accept this bargain and throw themselves into battle against disciples of the Great Satan (the US) and the little Satan (Israel). Derived from these verses, the martyrs’ death-acts show their total surrender to Allah; they count their lives as nothing compared with their devotion to him and security in achieving heaven. So Allah is pleased—it is a done deal.
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Let’s get started.
In this passage, the Arabic word “jihad” (root is j-h-d) is the means or currency to trade in this life for the life to come.
61:10 You who believe, shall I show you a bargain that will save you from painful punishment? 11 Have faith in God and His Messenger and struggle [j-h-d] for His cause with your possessions and your persons—that is better for you, if only you knew—12 and He will forgive your sins, admit you into Gardens graced with flowing streams, into pleasant dwellings in the Gardens of Eternity. That is the supreme triumph. (M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, Oxford University Press, 2004)
Other translators agree with Haleem’s “bargain” (t-j-r) in bold print, but render the key word as follows: “profitable course” (Dawood, not a Muslim, but an Iraqi), “merchandise” (Shakir and Maulana), and “trade” (Fakhry, Hilali and Khan, and the team of scholars translating Ibn Kathir). Regardless of the various words, they still convey the central meaning of an economic exchange.
Interpreting Sura 61:10-12 reveals three themes.
First, the divine “bargain” has death as the currency behind it. What do Allah and his followers get in the exchange? The martyrs receive the forgiveness of sins and heaven, and Allah receives complete devotion to him in establishing his community and religion. Allah has sent Muhammad as his messenger with the truth—the final answer—which must win the world. Also, the bargain apparently saves even Muslims from a painful torment in hell. This image of humans suffering in hell, which includes even reluctant and disobedient Muslims like the hypocrites, occurs frequently enough in the Quran (2:81, 206; 23:103; 66:8; 20:124-126, to cite only a few); Muhammad’s prediction of it for many who disobey him demonstrates how much social control of the worst kind he exerts over his followers, many of whom waited for him to get his haircut so they could take even one hair and cherish it. The economic metaphor is effective, but diabolical in the context of warfare and fiery devotion.
Second, Muhammad guarantees martyrs a place in Islamic heaven in exchange for a struggle not only with their possessions, but also with their persons or lives. Hence, jihad in this context means more than a bloody struggle, but jihad also must include bloodshed in these three verses. They answer the misinformation spread by Muslim apologists that jihad means only and exclusively a struggle with sin in the soul. It may include that, but it must also include a bloody war in some contexts like the one for Sura 61:10-12.
Finally, in the bargain, Muhammad mixes salvation with works, which is bound to force Muslims to strive hard (j-h-d) to earn their place in heaven—pure, unadulterated grace gets lost in Islamic theology, but an unhealthy mixture of faith and works is the core belief. Hence, martyrdom is the ultimate good work; and from a psychological standpoint, doing the highest of the best deeds frees the jihadists’ minds from the torment of doubt over their eternal destiny. Today, the promise of a Garden is a strong inducement for troubled, would-be martyrs to kill themselves in their self-conceived jihad against the Great Satan, against the little Satan, and now even against the Iraqi Shi’ites, simply because their theology differs from the Sunnis.
Thus, Sura 61:10-12 can only whisper temptations in the ear of a Muslim with a radical bent and only propel him forward in the deadly economic trade of his life for the life to come in the context of jihad. Muhammad and his Quran are the deepest source of inspiration for today’s jihadists. Their path to heaven is secured by the ultimate good work mixed in with their twisted faith.
In this verse the Arabic switches from jihad to qital (q-t-l), and this word means warring, fighting and killing with swords, and it again becomes the currency for fatally selling or trading this life for the Hereafter.
4:74 Let those of you who are willing to trade the life of this world for the life to come, fight [q-t-l] in God’s way. To anyone who fights [q-t-l] in God’s way, whether killed [q-t-l] or victorious, We shall give a great reward. (Haleem)
Other translations of the key word “trade” (sh-r-a) in bold print read as follows: “sell” (Hilali and Khan, Fakhry, Yusuf Ali, Maulana, Pickthall, Shakir), “exchange” (Dawood), “barter” (Ahmed Ali) and “barter away” (Maududi), all of which have an economic connotation.
The interpretation of Sura 4:74 is simple.
First, the trade or selling of one’s life forms the currency in which one conducts the trade with the deity. Allah demands a Muslim’s whole life in the context of warfare. As a return payment, he gives the martyr Islamic heaven. In this scenario Allah receives the establishment of his true religion and guidance.
Second, the short verse piles on violent and bloody qital in various forms, three times. This word clearly does not mean a struggle with sin only in the soul, to say the least.
Next, a qitalist fights in God’s cause or way, and two results ensue: either he lives to fight another day so that maybe he can be martyred, or he dies in battle and securely goes to Islamic heaven, completing the ultimate good work.
Finally, in a religious system (Islam) that requires an unspecified quantity of good works, today’s jihadists and qitalists have a strong psychological pull on their troubled minds to kill themselves in martyrdom. This lifts their burden of insecurity over their eternal destiny. They are inspired by their Founder who fought in sacred bloody battles (historical reality) and by his sacred book that conveniently endorses his sacred bloody battles (textual reality).
Muhammad continues using qital (q-t-l) in its various forms as the currency for his death-cult:
9:111 God has purchased the persons and possessions of the believers for the Garden—they fight [q-t-l] in God’s way: they kill [q-t-l] and are killed [q-t-l]—this is a true promise given by Him in the Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur’an. Who could be more faithful to his promise than God? So be happy with the bargain you have made: that is the supreme triumph. (Haleem)
Some translators agree with Haleem’s key words “purchased” (sh-r-a) and “bargain” (b-aa-c), but others use “bought” (Maulana, Yusuf Ali, Maududi, Fakhry, Pickthall, et al.), and one uses “pledge” for “bargain” (Shakir). With the possible exception of Shakir’s translation, which raises the commitment beyond just a bargain, all of these translations still remain within an economic semantic field.
Thus, in Suras 61:10-12, 4:74, and 9:111, it should be clear by now that Muhammad’s community in Medina does not experience very long stretches of peace, and this fact colors the very origins of Islam and what goes into the Quran. Islam at its core is not the religion of peace, contrary to the standard line fed to the unsuspecting West.
To sum up the essence of Suras 61:10-12, 4:74, and 9:111, the doctrine of Islamic martyrdom has been placed in economic terms in the historical context of aggressive warfare. A Muslim sells his life through martyrdom in a holy war in a bargain with Allah. In return, the believer gets the guaranteed reward of Islamic heaven. For the deity’s part, he uses the surrender to spread his true religion around the world. Allah will establish Islam and get the ultimate victory. This guarantee appeals to Muslims today, who sell their lives in martyrdom against the “Great Satan” (America) and the “little Satan” (Israel). Allah asks his fighters to “rejoice” in the bargain they have made with him, that is, to be inspired by it.
Still another reward for martyrs: They will get virgins, as seen in this post and especially this post that contrasts heaven with Islamic “heaven” (both offsite and written by someone else).
The formula is simple (but not simplistic):
Total Surrender + Martyrdom in a Holy War =
Guaranteed Purchase of a Place in Islamic Heaven
This post is an edited version of the longer original, here, written by yours truly, which includes the textual and historical contexts of each verse, and a contrast with martyrdom in the New Testament.