Jihad as Penance
2:153 O you who believe, seek assistance through forbearance and prayer. Allah is with the steadfast.
2:154 And do not says of those who are killed for the Cause of Allah that they are dead. They are alive, but you are unaware [of them].
The concept of jihad (holy war) and the promise of a great reward for killing and dying for Allah have fascinated Islamic scholars and writers from the earliest military conquests carried out during the life, and after the Prophet’s death, to this day.
4:74 So let those who sell the present for the life to come fight in the Way of Allah. Whoever fights in the Way of Allah and is killed or conquers, We shall accord him a great reward.
The earliest known writer on jihad, according to Cook, is Abdallah b. al-Mubarak author of the Kitab al-Jihad (Book of Holy War). From his interpretation of Koranic verses such as verse 4:74 and his study of the sayings and examples of the Prophet Muhammad – including a statement about the sword wiping away sins – he made the following observations about the redemptive value of killing and dying in the name of Allah.
The slain [in jihad] are three [types of] men. A believer, who struggles with himself and his possessions in the path of God, such that when he meets the enemy [in battle] he fights them until he is killed. This martyr (shahid) is tested, [and is] in the camp of God under His throne; the prophets do not exceed him [in merit] except by the level of prophecy.
[Then] a believer, committing offences and sins against himself, who struggles with himself and his possessions in the path of God; such that when he meets the enemy [in battle] he fights until he is killed. This cleansing wipes away his offences and his sins – behold the sword wipes [away] sins! – and he will be let into heaven by whatever gate he wishes. …
[Then] a hypocrite who struggles with himself and his possessions in the path of God; such that when he meets the enemy [in battle] he fights until he is killed. This [man] is in hell since the sword does not wipe away hypocrisy.
David Cook, cf. Ibn al-Mubarak Understanding Jihad, p.14.
Later writings would expand on this concept that killing and being killed “in the path of Allah” has two redeeming features: atonement for your sins and rank in heaven.
In the Christian gospels, Jesus of Nazareth shed his blood to redeem the sins of mankind; in the Islamic variation, it is the shedding of one’s own blood while killing the enemies of Allah that wipes away sins (the exception being one who dies in “the path of Allah” but whose loyalty was not always constant – the hypocrite).
There is a man who fights in the path of Allah and does not want to kill or be killed, but is struck by an arrow. The first drop of blood from him is atonement for every sin he has committed; for every drop he sheds he gains levels in paradise.
The second type of man is one who fights desiring to kill but not to be killed, and is struck by an arrow. The first drop of blood from him is for every sin; for every drop he sheds he gains a level in paradise until he bumps Abraham’s knee.
The third type of man is one who fights in the path of Allah desiring to kill and be killed and is struck by an arrow. The first drop of blood from him is atonement for every sin; he will come to the Day of Resurrection with a drawn sword [able to] intercede.
David Cook, cf. Ibn al-Mubarak Understanding Jihad, p.15.
This belief in the atonement properties of killing and dying for Allah and the way you died having an influence on your ranking in heaven, could, according to the author of Understanding Jihad, have been responsible for “inspiring the conquest of so much territory and achieving what the early Muslims achieved.”
Killing and the way you die atoning for one’s sins is also, in my estimation, responsible for the willingness of men and women to sacrifice themselves in suicide attacks that claim both theirs and the lives of the assumed enemies of Allah. It is doubly effective since it appeals to both the constant, exemplary believer and the born-again believer.
The exemplary believer, who has led a life according to the dictates of the Koran and the Prophet’s Sunnah, by his murderous self-immolation not only offers a last honour and proof of his loyalty to Allah and His Messenger but is also assured of a higher ranking in heaven.
The born-again believer, on the other hand, can in one irrational destructive act, atone for an entire life of sinful behaviour including pre-meditated murder and gain immediate, unrestricted access to Paradise. Add to this, the appeal to the sexually obsessed who do it for a promise of unlimited sex with virginal girls and “blushing maidens” in heaven and it’s a wonder that there are not more Muslims willing to take on the role of the grim reaper.
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, "Allah welcomes two men with a smile; one of whom kills the other and both of them enter Paradise. One fights in Allah's Cause and gets killed. Later on Allah forgives the killer who also get martyred (In Allah's Cause)."
Allah may have wanted the believers to kill and die on his behalf and be handsomely rewarded for doing so, but he does not want them to get themselves killed fighting each other.
4:29 O believers, do not consume your wealth illegally, unless there be trading by mutual agreement among you; and do not kill yourselves. Allah is indeed merciful to you!
If only the next verse in this series was also a warning to the believers not to act aggressively against those who don’t share their religious obsessions.
4:30 And whoever acts aggressively and wrongfully, We shall cast him in the Fire; this being an easy matter for Allah.