AFTERMATH OF THE 9-11 TERRORIST ATTACK:
DOES ISLAM ALLOW THE TAKING OF HOSTAGES, SUICIDE,
Within most of Islam, hostage taking, suicide, or terrorist attacks are not
permitted. They are considered a great sin. In the Qur'an, it is written that "If anyone killed a person, unless it
was for murder or spreading mischief on earth, it would be as if he killed all
of mankind. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he had saved the
lives of all mankind." (Qur'an 5:32)
Prior to the rise of a minority of extremist, radical, Fundamentalist Muslim
- The taking and maltreatment of hostages has not been permitted within
- Suicide has been generally forbidden in Islam.
- Muslims have been forbidden to attack innocent civilians; they have not
even been permitted to kill an
unarmed soldier in wartime.
Within some faith groups, (e.g. the Baha'i Faith,
Roman Catholicism, Eastern
Orthodoxy, and many Protestant denominations) one can appeal to the Pope, a
world court, a General Assembly or other authority for a valid interpretation of a
theological or moral point. Within Islam, there is no comparable religious hierarchy; the
ultimate authority lies in the Qur'an. This is the Holy Book that Muslims
believe was dictated by the angel Gabriel to Muhammad in the seventh century
Islam, like Christianity, Judaism, and other religions, is what its adherents
understand it to be. This is largely determined by what its religious leaders
interpret the Qur'an, Bible, Torah or other religious text to mean. Following the suicide attack in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983, "Radical
Muslim clerics scoured Islam's sacred texts for justifications of violence, and
found them. In the years to come, the [radical] clerics and the terrorists
widened their license. At first, it included only 'intruders' in Muslim lands:
foreign forces, embassies, and civilians. Later it was extended to include
'enemy' installations in third countries, and finally, civilians in the 'lands
of unbelief.' No moral red line could stop the escalation." 2
Such clerics remain a small but very vocal minority within Islam. Unfortunately,
the western media rarely gives a balanced presentation of Islamic thought; they
tend to over-emphasize the extreme radical Fundamentalist element, and largely
ignore moderates within Islam.
Taking of hostages within Islam:
There have been a number of major hostage takings by Muslims of Christian and
Jewish victims. In recent years, the rebels in southern Philippines have
frequently taken hostages in their drive to create an independent Islamic state.
In 1979, Iranian students took personnel at the American embassy hostage. They
held U.S. diplomats and their families for over a year.
According to StopRacism, "The highest authority in Sunni Islam
on -May 14 condemned the acts of criminals holding 21 hostages on a
Philippine island, saying Islam rejects all forms of violence." Al Azhar,
seat of Sunni Islam's most prestigious institution, issued a statement saying
that "Such acts of violence have nothing to do with Islam...The Grand Imam
[Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi] asks people to use their wisdom and
understand that it is better just to make individuals accountable for their
own actions, rather than hold a religion like Islam accountable. The Muslim
religion promotes peace, brotherhood and justice." 5
According to author Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, "To take a hostage is to
catch hold of innocent persons by availing of some opportunity and then start
bargaining from there. This practice was prevalent in ancient times but it has
now assumed a tactical form/shape. This is a great sin and cowardice and is
entirely forbidden in Islam as you tend to take revenge from persons for your
grievances other then from the concerned person/persons. To bully any innocent
person/persons on the basis of some excuse is entirely unjustified in Islam."
Suicide within Islam:
"Committing suicide is a grave sin. Many scholars view a person who has
committed suicide as someone who has turned his back on Islam altogether."
3 Muslims regard God to be the creator
of life. Thus, only God has the right to end life. A manual of Sharia (Islamic law) in
the tradition of Imam Shafi'i is called Reliance of the Traveler. It
lists suicide as among the "enormities" of all sin:
"Do not kill yourselves, for Allah is compassionate towards you.
Whoever does so, in transgression and wrongfully, We shall roast in a
fire, and that is an easy matter for Allah." (an-Nisaa 4:29-30)
Narrated Thabit bin Ad-Dahhak, The Prophet said, "...whoever
commits suicide with piece of iron will be punished with the same piece of
iron in the Hell Fire."
Narrated Jundab the Prophet said, "A man was inflicted with wounds and
he committed suicide, and so Allah said: 'My slave has caused death on
himself hurriedly, so I forbid Paradise for him.' " (Sahih Bukhari 2.445)
Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, "He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on
throttling himself in the Hell Fire (forever) and he who commits suicide
by stabbing himself shall keep on stabbing himself in the Hell-Fire." (Sahih
Bukhari 2.446). 4
However, there is a unique category of suicide called "self-martyrdom"
which applied in a narrow range of circumstances in combat, and which is believed to
guarantee the believer immediate entry into Paradise. Before the 1983 suicide attack in Beirut, Lebanon, only very a few of the
most radical Fundamentalist clerics judged kamikaze-type acts to be deeds of "self-martyrdom."
incident, "an intense debate ensued over religious law, some clerics ruling
in favor of the tactic and many against." 2
In the New York Times interview of moderate Muslim academics on
Zaki Badawi, the principal of the Muslim College, in London, UK,
discussed the fate of a Muslim who commits suicide: "God will punish
him by making him commit the same act of suicide, the same cycle of
torture, on the day of judgment. If he kills himself with a dagger, his
punishment is to sink the dagger in his heart again and again."
Comments by Muslim authorities about attacks on civilians:
The New York Times interviewed a number of moderate Muslim academics
on 2001-SEP-30. All agreed that Islam forbids terrorist attacks:
Taha Jabir Alalwani is a Muslim judge who heads a council that issues
Islamic legal opinions for Muslims in North America. Reading a verse from the
Qur'an, he said: "The verse says you have a right to fight those people who
try to force you to adopt another religion or to leave your home. But America
didn't ask you to abandon your religion. America didn't deport you, or tell
you to leave your homes."
Mahmoud Ayoub is a professor of Islamic studies and comparative religion
at Temple University. He said: "The Bible has descriptions of the peaceable
kingdom, where the lamb and the lion lay down together, but it also has the
Book of Joshua about the bloody conquest of Canaan. Likewise, the Koran has
plenty of verses that talk about peace, even with Muhammad's enemies, if they
are inclined toward peace. But then there are also verses that advocate war.
And so, we have to make choices."
Sheikh Hamza Yusuf is the founder and director of the Zaytuna Institute,
an Islamic study center in Hayward, CA. He said: "The prophet [Muhammad]
clearly prohibited killing noncombatants, women and children. The prophet
prohibited poisoning wells, which I think can be applied to biological
warfare. The prophet prohibited using fire as a means to kill another being,
because only the Lord of fire can punish with fire. And the destruction of
property is prohibited. Even in war, you can't destroy other people's
However, the Qur'an has been interpreted by some Islamic clerics as
permitting attacks by Palestinians on Israelis. "Martyrdom is permissible on
the battlefield, Dr. Ayoub said. Israel is clearly a battlefield, the scholars
all said, because Israeli troops have evicted Palestinians from their homes and
shot at children. Attacking Israelis is self-defense, which, according to the
Koran, is the only acceptable justification for fighting." And, as
noted above, general attacks on "civilians in the 'lands of unbelief' "
are justified by a small minority of extreme radical Fundamentalist Muslim
Laurie Goodstein, "Scholars Call Attacks a Distortion of Islam,"
New York Times, at:
Martin Kramer, "Hijacking Islam: A religion in danger of deteriorating
into a manifesto for terror," at:
"Suicide: How does Islam view suicide?," at:
"Suicide," in Answering-Islam.org at:
"Top Islamic authority in Egypt slams Philippine hostage-takers,"
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, "Hijacking - A Crime" at:
Copyright © 2001 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2001-SEP-19
Latest update: 2001-OCT-18
Editor: B.A. Robinson