Understanding Islam's Teachings Regarding Suicide Bombers

woman reading the Quran
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 "And fight in the way of Allah those who fight you. But do not transgress limits. Truly Allah loves not the transgressors." —Quran, Surah Al-Baqarah (2:190)

While suicide bombing is strictly forbidden in the Quran, there are countless interpretations of what the Quran says and that defy the true spirit of Allah's words. In fact, Allah says in the Quran that whoever kills themselves will be punished in the same manner of death on the day of judgment.

Islam, Allah, and Mercy

Suicide bombing is forbidden in Islam: "O ye who believe! ... [do not] kill yourselves, for truly Allah has been to you Most Merciful. If any do that in rancour and injustice, soon shall We cast him into the Fire ..." (4:29-30).

The taking of life is allowed only by way of justice (i.e., the death penalty for murder), but even then forgiveness is better: "Nor take life — which Allah has made sacred — except for just cause ..." (17:33).

In pre-Islamic Arabia, retaliation and mass murder were commonplace. If someone was killed, the victim's tribe would retaliate against the murderer's entire tribe. This practice was directly forbidden in the Quran (2:178-179). Following this statement of law, the Quran says, "After this, whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave chastisement" (2:178). In other words, no matter what wrong we perceive as being done against us, we may not lash out — or become suicide bombers — against an entire population of people.

The Quran admonishes those who oppress others and transgress beyond the bounds of what is right and just: 

"The blame is only against those who oppress men with wrongdoing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice. For such there will be a chastisement grievous (in the Hereafter)" (42:42).

Harming innocent bystanders by way of suicide bombing or other means — even in times of war — was forbidden by the Prophet Muhammad. This includes women, children, noncombatant bystanders, and even trees and crops. Nothing is to be harmed unless the person or thing is actively engaged in an assault against Muslims.

Islam and Forgiveness

The predominant theme in the Quran is forgiveness and peace. Allah is merciful and forgiving and seeks that in His followers. Indeed, most people who spend time on a personal level with ordinary Muslims have found them to be peaceful, honest, hard-working and civic-minded people.

In the fight against terrorism of all forms — including against suicide bombers — it is important to understand who or what is the enemy. Muslims can only fight against this horror if they understand its causes and motivations. What motivates a person to lash out in this violent, inhumane way? Experts have concluded that religion neither causes nor explains suicide bombing. The true motivation of such attacks is something that all of us — mental health professionals, politicians, and common people — need to understand so that we can address the issues more honestly, prevent more violence and find ways to work toward lasting peace.