Islamic Martyrdom? What a bargain!

The Economy of Death in the Quran

James M. Arlandson

Yet another suicide-homicide bomber strikes Tel Aviv. A suicide car bomber in Iraq killed the most civilians (120) ever so far in a single blast. They were waiting to join the police and National Guard, signing up near a medical clinic.

Islamic suicide-homicide bombers are relentless. Many national Iraqi terrorists as well as foreign fighters who have traveled to Iraq from neighboring nations dream of achieving martyrdom. They casually walk up to mosques and a US Mess Hall in Iraq and detonate bombs strapped to their bodies under their clothing.

Muslim leaders in the West who have access to the national media tell unsuspecting Westerners that Islam is the religion of peace and that terrorists are only an aberration. While the leaders reassure us, another human bomb goes off.

Where is the truth between the two extremes?

If Islam is the religion of peace, then what inspires the terrorists? Political leaders?

Maybe. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, in a speech at Ayatollah Khomeini’s Mausoleum, June 4, 2002, supports the Palestinian suicide-homicide martyrdoms that are deliberately carried out on innocent Israelis.

Let me say to you: these stances [of American administrators on suicide bombings] will not be of any use. This quest for martyrdom is not based on emotions; it is based on belief in Islam and faith in [the] Judgment Day and faith in life after death. Anywhere Islam exists in its true sense, arrogance faces this threat.

These words of the Supreme Leader of Iran constitute a serious indictment against Islam. It should no longer be claimed that suicide-homicide bombings are supported only in the dark corners of the Islamic world; rather, the Supreme Leader himself supports this death-cult. Speaking the truth, he says that homicide bombers do not commit their atrocities out of emotions, but out of the core doctrines of Islam: the Last Day and life after death. Thus, he asserts that Islam in its "true sense"—martyrdoms by homicide bombing—threatens arrogance, that is, the US and Israel.

MEMRI TV also has a video clip and a transcript of an interview with a "martyrdom seeker" who will fight all Zionists. These "seekers" (the report speaks of 40,000) will also attack America and Great Britain, becoming human bombs.

Does the dark prince of terrorism, Osama bin Laden, inspire evil martyrdom operations?

In his 1996 Fatwa declaring war on the US, bin Laden quotes a hadith passage (Muhammad’s words and deeds outside of the Quran) that has the prophet describing heaven for the martyrs fallen in a holy war. The first moment blood gushes, they are guaranteed Islamic heaven. They receive crowns, jewels, and seventy-two dark-eyed houris or beautiful maidens, for each martyr.

[A] martyr’s privileges are guaranteed by Allah; forgiveness with the first gush of his blood, he will be shown his seat in paradise, he will be decorated with the jewels of belief, married off to the beautiful ones, protected from the test in the grave, assured security in the day of judgment, crowned with the crown of dignity, a ruby of which is better than this whole world and its entire content, wedded to seventy-two of the pure Houris (beautiful women of Paradise) and his intercession on the behalf of seventy of his relatives will be accepted.

This hadith source that bin Laden cites puts together different Quranic passages describing Islamic heaven, complete with beautiful virgins (Suras 44:51-56; 52:17-29; 55:46-78), with those describing the immediate reward of heaven for jihadist martyrs (Suras 61:10-12; 4:74; 9:111). (For multiple translations of these "virgin verses" and other sensuous descriptions of Islamic heaven, go to this site, and type in the references: 44:51-56; 52:17-29; 55:46-78.)

Where does this evil doctrine of martyrdom in a battle come from? The answer to the question is that Khamenei and bin Laden are not the deepest sources of inspiration for martyrdom bombers. If they were, we could stop terrorism quickly. Sad to report, these two evil-doers, as well the faceless human bombs, get their inspiration from the Quran itself. Islam at its core is not the religion of peace, but violence sits in the origins of Islam.

Suras 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.

To explain how the economy of this death-cult and the derived evil logic originate in the Quran, a specific exegetical method is used. First, Muslim translators are cited so that they, not Westerners, speak for their religion. Second, the historical context is outlined because it sheds light on the words in the verses themselves. Third, the literary context of each passage is summarized because the words in the targeted passages take on meaning from the surrounding verses. These second and third steps not only elucidate the meaning within the key verses, they also prevent the standard, reflexive "out of context" defense from Muslim apologists. Fourth, we interpret the verses themselves. Finally, one of the analyzed passages and another’s literary context invite a comparison with the Torah and the Gospels, so we end the article accepting this invitation.

Suffice it to say, the Torah and especially the Gospels do not have this death-cult of martyrdom in military battles or in any context. The later religion of Islam, picking and choosing ideas from the two earlier religions—especially Christianity in this case—degrades and distorts the positive call to total devotion to God—the historical context makes all the differences in the world between the first two religions and the later one.

Sura 61:10-12

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.

It is difficult to pin down the historical context of Sura 61:10-12 because internal evidence directly bearing on external events is slim; the sura, after all, is only fourteen verses long. Reputable scholars, though, place the sura not long after the Battle of Uhud in March 625 (so named after a hill to the north of Medina), which pitted the Muslims against the Meccans. This battle was the Meccan riposte to the surprise victory of the Muslims over the Meccans in the Battle of Badr a year earlier in March. But in this present case, the Meccans got the better of the Islamic community. Muhammad was rumored even to be have been killed, but he was actually chased up into higher ground. The Muslim defeat stung at first, but that night, burying their dead, Muhammad realized that he did not lose substantially, so he sent a raiding party the next morning to confront the Meccans, who had stayed in the vicinity because Arab custom demanded that an army returning from battle must not appear to retreat, a sign of weakness. The leader of the Meccans was not in a position to attack, for he suffered losses too, so eventually he and his army made their way back to Mecca.

Moreover, the sura may have been revealed later than Uhud, but still in 625. In this case the Muslims are gaining ground despite the slight loss at Uhud, because they expelled the Jewish Nadir tribe from Medina in August 625 on the flimsy charge of refusal to pay blood-wit (compensation for loss of life) and a revelation that members of the tribe were attempting to assassinate him. (For more on this expulsion, refer to this article.)

The larger historical context of Sura 61:10-12, then, is warfare with the Meccans and other outsiders and internal conflict in Medina, all of which the Muslim community managed to overcome.

The literary context—the eleven verses surrounding vv. 10-12—reveal five themes. First, Muhammad scolds the hypocrites (nominal Muslims who do not jump when Muhammad cracks the whip) for promising to do things, but not following through, in the context of fighting in solid lines or ranks in the cause of Allah (vv. 3-4). This faction of "conscientious objectors" does not wish to join Muhammad in his wars. Second, it is interesting that the sura is entitled "Solid Lines" because of v. 4; Allah loves it when his soldiers line up neatly in battle. This neatness of lining up is reminiscent of Muslims lining up to pray. According to reliable hadiths, Muhammad placed orderly marks on the floor in his mosque so his Muslims would pray in rows. Third, the word "fighting" in v. 4 comes from qital (root is q-t-l), which means only warring and killing. Fourth, Muhammad appeals to Moses and Jesus as inspirations because they too encountered resistance from their followers (vv. 5-6; 14). Muhammad is just like them and better. Finally, Allah tells his prophet that it is Islam, despite the opposition, which will rule the world and rise above all other religions (vv.7-9) (For more on this "great commission" which is a distortion of the Great Commission in the Gospel of Matthew (28:18-20), refer to this article.)

Thus, the literary context of Sura 61:10-12 is warfare (q-t-l); Allah’s love of soldiers who fight in solid lines or ranks (the sura’s title); the condemnation of hypocrites who do not wish to fight, and Muhammad’s identity with Moses and Jesus, though Muhammad and his new religion triumphantly fulfill the first two leaders and their religions.

Interpreting Sura 61:10-12 reveals three unpleasant 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.

Sura 4:74

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.

Like Sura 61, the historical context of Sura 4 is difficult to discover. Three different passages reveal that the sura occurred in nearly a three-year span: after the Battle of Uhud in 625 in which Islam lost 70 holy warriors (vv. 1-35); the so-called Prayer of Fear in which Muhammad instructs his soldiers how to pray during a military campaign in 626 (v. 101-103); and during still another military expedition in 627, in which he instructs his soldiers how to perform ablutions when no water is available (sand is used) (v. 43). Whichever timeframe Sura 4:74 fits into, the overall historical context shows Muhammad establishing his community in Medina during warfare outside of the city.

The literary context of Sura 4:74 consists of warfare (q-t-l) outside of Medina and strife within Medina between Muhammad and the faction of hypocrites, some of whom want only the spoils of war, and others of whom want peace, prayer, and almsgiving. Muhammad, however, chooses the warpath, along with forced prayer and forced almsgiving, two of the Five Pillars in Islam. Peace does not reign in early Islam.

Moreover, Muhammad splits the world in two according to believers and unbelievers in the context of warfare or q-t-l (v. 76). A believer fights (q-t-l) for God, but an unbeliever fights (q-t-l) for an unjust cause and for Satan. So the world is divided up into Dar-al-Islam (Abode of Islam) and Dar-al-Kufr (Abode of Unbelief), which belongs therefore to Dar-al-Harb (Abode of War). This means that Islam may wage war on unbelief, because this holy warfare—both q-t-l and j-h-d—eliminates the disciples of Satan, for example, citizens of the Great Satan and of the little Satan. If a civilization does not come under the control of Islam, then ipso facto it perpetuates injustice and unrighteousness, so Islam needs to subjugate it in order to purge out its bad qualities. A strategy in the gradual conquest can include aggressive martyrdom, as we will see in two Muslims’ interpretation of Sura 9:111, below.

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).

Sura 9:111

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.

The historical context of Sura 9:111 sees Muhammad returning from a military expedition against the Byzantine Empire in 630, two years before his death of a fever in 632. Muhammad heard a rumor that the Byzantines amassed an army some 700 miles to the north in Tabuk in order to attack Islam, so he led an army of 30,000 holy warriors to counter-strike preemptively. However, the Byzantines failed to materialize, so Muhammad’s expedition was fruitless, except he managed to extract (extort) agreements from northern tribes that they would not attack him and his community. They were also forced to pay a "protection" tax for the "privilege" of living under Islam. Muhammad’s military expedition qualifies as an Islamic Crusade long before the European ones. And as for the extortion of taxes, an army of 30,000 soldiers from the south must have deeply impressed the disunified, loose northern tribes, so in no way did they plan to attack Islam; thus, Muhammad’s forced tax was aggressive and hence unjust, not defensive and hence just.

The historical context of Sura 9:111, then, is warfare (q-t-l) on a large scale against the Byzantines.

The literary context of the targeted Sura 9:111 shows Muhammad scolding the hypocrites who finished building a mosque while he was away in Tabuk (vv. 107-110). They asked him to bless it when he returned to Medina, but instead he ordered it torn down. Truthfully, it is likely that they would have used it to stir up trouble within the Muslim community. In contrast to the hypocrites, in the verses after 9:111 Muhammad defines what true believers are: they do good works, bow down and prostrate themselves and forbid what is wrong (v. 112). Finally, Muslims ask their prophet if they should pray for their polytheistic relatives. He orders them not to, fabricating a story about Abraham who had prayed for his polytheist father, but who changed his mind and washed his hands of his father, after Abraham learned that he was the enemy of God. If Abraham prayed for his father only because he had made an earlier arrangement with him, but then washed his hands of him, why would Muslims pray for their relatives and ancestors (vv. 113-116)?

Thus, local verbal and political fighting (j-h-d and q-t-l); squabbling with his internal enemies like the hypocrites (cf. Sura 9:4, 73, 123); and disagreement with and correction of his uninformed Muslims who want to pray for their polytheist ancestors and relatives make up the literary context. (See this article for more information on Muhammad’s wars on the polytheists and hypocrites.)

To judge from the second and third steps (historical and literary contexts) 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.

Sura 9:111 has caught the imagination of two widely used Muslim commentators, so we should let them speak for their own religion.

Sayyid Abdul A’la Maududi (d. 1979) was an Indo-Pakistani revivalist and radical who advocated the establishment of an Islamic state on the model of the prophet’s, from the top down without depending on swaying the public to accept the Islamic state. In other words, he opposed democracy and supported a centralized and powerful theocracy. Sayyid Qutb was an Egyptian radical and godfather of modern jihadist movements today. He was tried and executed in 1966 for plotting to overthrow the Egyptian government.

Maududi emphasizes the spiritual and psychological aspects of the divine transaction. A Muslim believer must be willing to relinquish his soul and possessions for Allah. A believer "surrenders his freedom and sacrifices his desires and wishes in this present world in return for His promise of the Gardens and eternal bliss in the Next World" ... Total devotion to a deity and total surrender of desires and wishes is the heart of the human-centered message of all of the great religions of the world. And total devotion can be positive. However, in the context of warfare (qital), combining the doctrine of total surrender with martyrdom is twisted and distorted.

Hence, Maududi commits two errors, one as a commentator, the other as a theologian. He fails to deal adequately with the context of Sura 9:111—fighting in war and killing and being killed. He seems to want only the spiritual side of sacrifice and to avoid the bloody mess of martyrdom in a pitched battle. The second error is theological. He says that a believer must go on fulfilling the terms of the transaction (selling his life to Allah) "up to his last breath." In an earlier note in his commentary on Sura 9, he says that a Muslim may atone for his sins by doing acts of charity. Of the many problems with the Islamic doctrine of salvation, the main one is its ambiguity. It does not specify the quantity of good works necessary to reach heaven. As noted, when this ambiguity is mixed in with the absoluteness of martyrdom in achieving heaven, the results can be deadly. Thus, a Muslim suffering from anxiety over his failure to totally surrender reads in his Quran (61:10-12; 4:74; 9:111) that if he dies as a martyr, he reaches heaven. Why would this not motivate him?

This is apparently true of Muhammad Atta, the Egyptian terrorist who crashed a fuel-laden jet into one of Twin Towers on 9/11. In a letter to his fellow jihadists, he accurately understands the doctrine of Quranic martyrdom:

You should feel complete tranquility, because the time between you and your marriage [in heaven] is very short. Afterwards begins the happy life, where God is satisfied with you. And eternal bliss ‘in the company of the prophets, the companions, the martyrs and the good people’ ...

He also told them to tame their souls because they must have "100% obedience." But how does one define absolute obedience? Islamic martyrdom. He fulfilled the terms of the economic transaction by doing the highest and best deed imaginable: selling his life to Allah in a worldwide battle against the Great Satan, the Dar-al-Kufr (Abode of Unbelief), which is subject to warfare (Dar-al-Harb). It must also be stated that many of the Muslim martyrs may be mentally troubled, but surely some of them act with level heads. They follow a simple, rational equation:

Total surrender = martyrdom in a holy war = Islamic heaven.

For Islam, this is 100% obedience. Historically, Muhammad the Founder of Islam engaged in this warfare on Dar-al-Kufr, for example, against the polytheist Meccans and against the Christian Byzantines. Fighting them for Allah signifies total surrender, which in turn leads to Islamic heaven. How could terrorists not be inspired by their prophet and his book?

Qutb is a radical, but a straightforward radical because, unlike Maududi, he deals with the historical context of warfare in his comments on Sura 9:111; indeed he embraces it with deep emotion. "Hence the sense of dread that I now feel as I am writing these words" [of 9:111]. In a section he subtitles "A Very Special Contract," Qutb, following Muhammad, scolds the Muslims around the world who are unwilling to sacrifice their lives in the cause of Allah (code for war). His rebuke also reveals a call that echoes in the head of all jihadists of the last several generations:

The [economic] deal fills us with awe. Yet those who are claiming to be Muslims everywhere, from the far east to the far west are sitting idle, unwilling to strive hard in order to establish the fundamental truth of God’s Lordship [read: Islam] on earth, or to remove the tyranny which usurps the qualities of Lordship over human life on earth [read: non-Islamic governments]. They are unwilling to fight, kill and be killed for God’s cause ...

This excerpt reflects his ideology laced throughout his multivolume commentary. He assumes that Islam is the fundamental truth of God’s Lordship, and Muslims must be willing to fight in order to impose it on the world.

Furthermore, as Sura 9:111 says at the end of the verse, Qutb reminds his fellow jihadists that they must rejoice in the bargain; they should gladly give up their lives, which amounts to nothing compared with the virgin-rich Garden. This reflects another verse that demonstrates that the early Muslims were eager to die in battle. In the historical context of the Battle of Uhud in 625 (see above, Sura 61:10-12), Muhammad tells his jihadists: "Before you encountered death, you were hoping for it" ... (Sura 3:143). This means that martyrs are allowed to hope for death in battle, and, logically, this permits Muslim suicide-homicide bombers today to seek out a means of death in a worldwide struggle to eliminate the enemies of Allah. In fact, Sura 3:143 is precisely the verse that Muhammad Atta quotes in his letter, and he too tells his jihadists to be optimistic and cheerful.

Finally, Qutb believes that all governments that are non-Islamic are ipso facto tyrannical because they impose order apart from Allah and his revealed will in the Quran and in the Sharia, the code of law derived from the Quran and the words and deeds of Muhammad. It never occurs to Qutb that the Quran and the Sharia are tyrannical by their very nature. It is no wonder that Qutb did not endorse democracy and neither does Zarqawi, the Jordanian evil-doer who beheads innocent civilians, saying recently that democracy is evil and that he will wage a fierce war on it.

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 and the little Satan. Allah asks his fighters to "rejoice" in the bargain they have made with him, that is, to be inspired by it.

Biblical Martyrdom

The literary context of Sura 61:10-12, as well as Sura 9:111, invite the readers to contrast Muhammad and the Quran with Moses and the Torah and Jesus and the Gospels. Islam claims to implement a new way of thinking about God and living under his reign, under the "blessing" of the Sharia. We answer three Muslim apologists, Qutb, Maududi, and Yusuf Ali, in their commentaries on Sura 9:111. We repeat that the Christian doctrine of salvation (grace through faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross) does not and cannot lead to deliberate martyrdom in a holy military war. Islam degrades the positive path of total devotion found in the Gospels (and the Torah). The subject of martyrdom challenges Islam’s superiority.

To begin with, Muhammad’s knowledge of the Torah was limited and confused. Attempting to clarify his prophet’s confusion, Qutb says that the Old Testament orders jihad, but that distortions have crept into these Scriptures and hence into "their concept of God and what striving for His cause means." Maududi seeks to clear up Muhammad’s confusion as well, saying that the Torah does not have a developed view of heaven (in this he may be right). But he also says that God commands the ancient Hebrews to fight, but that they degraded the original command of winning heaven; instead, the Hebrews fought to win Canaan. But Qutb is as wrong as his prophet, and Maududi in his latter claim is wrong as well. It is true that the First Law says that the ancient Hebrews under Moses should fight under specific conditions in order to purge the land of Canaan, but in no way does the Torah exalt to high heaven the cult of martyrdom in an economy of death—this is proven by the so-called "undeveloped" doctrine of heaven in the Torah. God does not purchase the ancient Hebrews in exchange for paradise. (For more on the differences between God’s wars and Allah’s wars, refer to this article.)

Furthermore, Muhammad in his "inerrant Quran" is dead wrong when he asserts that the Gospels encourage the economy of death for Jesus and his followers. True, out of the deep and authentic love of God, Jesus willingly lays down his life for the sins of the world—even for the sins of the polytheists whom Muhammad slaughters—but a martyr’s death-cult is never built up for his followers to seek out fame on earth and a place in heaven. Christ died to secure his followers’ place in heaven, so that Christians do not have to kill themselves or to die from persecution in order to get into heaven, for this would insult Christ’s unique redemption on the cross. He was the final and ultimate "Martyr," and the effect of his "Martyrdom" transfers to all believers in him.

Yusuf Ali in his commentary on Sura 9:111 (note 1362) disputes this path of salvation, asserting that the "corrupted" Christian view of the atonement of Christ’s death on the cross is rejected by Islam. What Allah wants is submission, which may include "fighting for the Cause, both spiritual and physical." In reply to Yusuf Ali, however, it is difficult to find a Muslim who understands fully what the Christian doctrine of atonement means, though it is not so difficult to grasp. If he were to grasp it, he may not dismiss it so easily as "corrupted" and hence inferior, especially when it is contrasted with fighting and killing and being killed as a martyr in Allah’s cause (9:111). For all generations of Christians from the first century until now, the New Testament, which is the original source of Christian theology, says that only Christ saves through his blood on the cross; no reservoir of human good deeds can save, and certainly not a reservoir filled with jihadist blood from warfare for a "divine" cause. Christ’s atonement on the cross is the more peaceful and the more secure way to heaven.

Next, Maududi quotes Matt. 5:10; 10:39; 19:29, all of which speak of laying down one’s life and giving up one’s possessions. He infers that the Gospels also contain passages that exhort Christians to lay down their lives in a physical way. Thus, the New Testament and the Quran match up. It is true that the New Testament verses he cites speak of a willingness to give up all material possessions for the kingdom of God and to lay down one’s life mainly in a spiritual way, and possibly in a physical death under severe and fatal persecution, but the verses are not found in the context of a bloody religious war. Rather, Jesus calls his disciples to pick up their cross and follow him (Matt. 10:38, 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23, 14:27), but he also says that they should do this daily (Luke 9:23). The image of the cross means that they must follow Jesus no matter what, on a daily basis, which precludes an earthly martyrdom, which is done only once; per contra, a "daily martyrdom" is continuous. A twisted love of physical death is not in view in those New Testament passages in the context of qital.

It is also true that some of the early Christians suffer martyrdom, but, again, never in the cause of warfare; rather, they are persecuted and put to death because the listeners and local authorities are offended at their message, not because the Christians "fight in God’s way: they kill and are killed" (Sura 9:111). Stephen is the prime example and the first martyr in Christianity (Acts 6:8-8:1). He was stoned to death because he preached the truth, not because he was chopping off heads in a battle, only to have his head chopped off in turn by an enemy who had sneaked up behind him. His place in heaven was already secure before he preached or died, because Christ had saved him in his "Martyr’s" death on the cross.

True, the risen Christ predicted martyrdom for a few of his followers in the church at Smyrna (Rev. 2:10), but they did not initiate it in warfare; they were being persecuted—severely and fatally. Moreover, after their deaths, this New Testament church did not raise a small army to wage a jihad on their persecutors (as Muhammad did on his Meccan persecutors). It is better to die loving one’s executioner than to kill the executioner in rage. This stands in sharp contrast to Muhammad’s misguided belief that fighting enemies will relieve the rage that his Muslims have against them (Sura 9:15).

It is also true that some later Christians even sought out martyrdom, though not in the context of military warfare, but to win fame. Church authorities rightly rebuked them. The following cannot be repeated too often because it diametrically opposes the Islamic doctrine of salvation: only Christ’s "Martyrdom" guarantees a believer’s place in heaven; only his ultimate good work on the cross paves the way to God. Thus, the Christian does not (or should not) have a psychological inducement to kill himself or to be killed in battle to achieve heaven. He needs only trust in Christ.

So Jesus and his disciples through the first three centuries turned the world upside down by simple proclamation, not by butchering with swords (or by threatening to butcher with swords) people who opposed their ministry—the warpath of Emperor Constantine in the fourth century and the Medieval Crusaders do not set the genetic code in the very origins of Christianity in the New Testament. On the other hand, Muhammad is foundational to Islam, and he says that a martyr’s death in the cause of Allah (cause = war) guarantees heaven. The contrast between the two religions is stark. Christ’s way leads to life and the light; Muhammad’s way leads to death and darkness.

Hence, the deadly bargain of martyrdom is completely foreign to devout Christians and even to nominal Christians world over, who no longer take their faith seriously. Christians want heaven, and they are assured of it by the atoning death of Christ, once they receive his Holy Spirit—the divine, life-transforming Spirit of God, who is not the angel Gabriel as claimed in Muslim theology.

Why would a Christian choose the inferior path to heaven—the one that Muhammad teaches—death by martyrdom in a qital or war? Total devotion and surrender should not be perverted. Instead, total devotion and surrender to Christ is far better, for he produces divine love and true inner peace, and hence his real path to heaven far surpasses Muhammad’s claims and "revelations" that conveniently support his wars. Christ rose above such petty, dubious assertions and cleared the way to heaven with his Death and Resurrection.

Thus, Islam does not complete or fulfill Christianity. Rather, Muhammad’s religion is a degradation and a distortion of Christianity, devolving downwards from it.

Further reading on the Islamic ‘martyrdom operations’:

The following excerpt from a Muslim article confirms the interpretation that was presented above:

Establishing Allah’s religion on the entire earth is big responsibility that requires enormous sacrifice, preparation, energy, money, etc. Therefore, Allah made it (accepting that responsibility) an integral part of embracing Islam. By embracing Islam, we are signing a business transaction with Allah. The details of this business transaction are spelled out in Taubah 111:

(Verily, Allah has purchased of the believers their lives and their properties; for the price that theirs shall be the Paradise. They fight in Allah's Cause, so they kill (others) and are killed. It is a promise in truth which is binding on Him in the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel) and the Qur'an. And who is truer to his covenant than Allah? Then rejoice in the bargain which you have concluded. That is the supreme success) Taubah 111

The Verse above is very serious indeed. It states the relationship between Allah and the Believers. The Verse started with a verb in the past tense form. This means that the transaction has been consummated. The terms of this transaction are as follows:

Buyer: Allah

Seller: The Believers

Goods: The seller’s person, property, money, and everything he/she possesses

Price: Paradise

Payment Due Date: Upon delivery of goods

Means of Delivery: Jihad, fighting, getting killed or killing Kuffar

Allah has fulfilled his end of the bargain. Have we? Each and every one of us ought to ask himself, “Have I honored my agreement with Allah?” If the answer is no, isn’t fair to question our state of Imaan?

Copyright by James Malcolm Arlandson. Originally published at, this article was slightly edited for Answering Islam.

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