Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Muslim Shahid as Sacrificial Intercessor

Designed by Tailor of Death
(Image from War Online)

I know that some of my readers know quite a lot about Islam, so perhaps one of you can tell me precisely where to find a particular hadith, cited by Osama Bin Laden, promising that a martyr can intercede for seventy of his relatives.

Here's Bin Laden's citation, found in his "A Declaration of War: Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places":
He [i.e., Muhammad] also said : "a martyr 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 (Imaan), married off to the beautiful ones, protected from the test in the grave, assured security in the day of judgement, crowned with the crown of dignity, a ruby of which is better than this whole world (Duniah)and its' entire content, wedded to seventy two of the pure Houries (beautiful ones of Paradise) and his intercession on the behalf of seventy of his relatives will be accepted". Narrated by Ahmad and AtTirmithi (with the correct and trustworthy reference).
I've borrowed this from the website of John C. Lamoreaux, Department of Religious Studies, Southern Methodist University, which has Bin Laden's entire text as a source for reference. Regretably, I could find no specific citation to Ahmad and AtTirmithi.

By Googling, I found online Alfred Guillaume's book, The Traditions of Islam: An Introduction to the study of the Hadith Literature, which has the same hadith cited in Chapter 5, "Selections from Hadith":

Al Tirmidhi and Ibn Maja report the following:

the martyr has six privileges with God: his sins are pardoned when the first drop of blood falls; he is shown his seat in paradise; he is safe from the punishment of the grave and secure from the great terror (i.e. hell); a crown of dignity is placed on his head one jewel of which is worth more than the world and all that is therein; and he is married to seventy dark-eyed virgins; and he makes successful intercession for seventy of his relatives.

Al Tirmidhi, who lived from 824 to 892 (or: 209 AH - 13 Rajab 279 AH), was a medieval collector of hadith and is clearly the same individual as the one whom the Bin Laden text cites as AtTirmithi, the two variants being simply different transliterations of the original Arabic. Anyway, I have this citation from Guillaume via a website titled Answering Islam, but it also neglects to provide the precise bibliographical details on the exact source of this hadith.

I'm curious about this particular hadith because it expresses the belief that a martyr can act as an intercessor, which means that the one can understand the martyr's death as a sort of expiatory sacrifice, i.e., a sacrifice to cleanse others of sins and thereby purify them for life in the hereafter with God.

In short, a Muslim martyr takes on the role that Christ has in Christianity, which seems odd since Muslims usually argue that the Christian concept of vicarious atonement -- i.e., Christ sacrificing himself to expiate the sins of others -- is nonsense because each individual is responsible for his or her own sins.

Be that as it may, I'm also interested in this specific hadith because I've found, again by Googling, that it's often cited in justifications for suicide bombings. For instance, Naim Ateek, in "What is theologically and morally wrong with suicide bombings? A Palestinian Christian perspective" (Cornerstone, Issue 25, Summer 2002), notes the use of this hadith (or a close variant):
In one of the sermons preached by Sheikh Isma'il al-Adwan and broadcast on Palestinian TV, the Sheikh said, "The shahid [i.e., Islamic martyr], if he meets Allah (Arabic for God), is forgiven [by] his first drop of blood; he's saved from the grave's confines; he sees his seat in heaven; he's saved from judgment day; he's given seventy two dark-eyed women; he's an advocate for seventy members of his family."
Ateek footnotes this:
Akiva Eldar, "Ask Clinton what he thinks about Camp David," in Haaretz, August 21, 2001. In an unpublished paper, Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway of Alquds University maintains that the reference to the "seventy virgins" is neither mentioned in the Qur'an nor in the most authentic compendia of Hadith. It is, however, found in Mu'jam Al-Tabarani.
These citations appear to be headed in direction other than toward Al Tirmidhi. I presume that Al-Tabarani is the Medieval Muslim collector of hadith who was born in the lifetime of Al-Tirmidhi (sometime in 260 AH). Anyway, I'm no closer to finding the foundational source.

Can anybody supply the citation ... or citations?

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At 2:44 AM, Anonymous erdal said...

I'm not very knowledgeable in ahadith and own neither an al-Tirmidhi nor a Majah, nor a commentary on any of the two. But I can add several things:

If this is in Tirmidhi (and I don't doubt it, for reasons I given below) it's probably in the "Jami'", which takes two feet of shelf space. The Jami' is readily available in Arabic (it's popular in India in particular), but has never been translated in its entirety into any western language (that I know of, at least). But I remember a book called 'Dars Tirmidhi' which is a contemporary exegesis of the "Jami'": This was translated into English (from the Urdu original).

I know next to nothing about Majah.

But the above doesn't really matter much. The quote you ask about is quite famous and widely known for a single reason only: It's in Hassan-al Banna's 'Risalat ul-Djihad' (and any any number of compilations of his writings under different titles), which have been read by millions (and have been translated a lot), unlike of course the original ahadith.

The translation into English of Bin Ladin's 'Declaration' is (I'm pretty sure about this, but wouldn't guaratee it) not the same as the one found in Al-Banna's English translation: It looks more like a literal translation done in a hurry. Guillaume's looks more familiar, but I'm not certain if it's the same word-by-word.

At 4:08 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Erdal, for the very interesting and informative comment. (I had you in mind as one of my readers who knows a lot about Islam.) Now, I understand why my Googling turned up no bibliographical details.

At any rate, I now know, reasonably well, that this is an authentic hadith, and I'll forward your information to Ivan Strenski, who might find it useful. I send him materials from time to time that I encounter through my own delvings into jihadist martyrs as 'sacrificial' deaths.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:29 AM, Anonymous erdal said...

Since you're really interested, I thought I'd call somebody who owns one of these searchable hadith databases. He says this is #1067 in a-Tirmidhi. It's narrated on the strength of the word of a certain "Al-Miqdam Ibn Madikarib" solely, and expects it to be rated quite low on the reliability scale by classical commentators.

That the one thing. The other is: He said that he doubted that Bin Ladin got this from al-Banna's book, instead he thought it very likely that he got it from the popular "Mishkat al-Masabih" (sort of a slightly dumbed down 'Best of Hadith' ordered by topic), listed there under Volume 1, No.814, the same source Banna is known to have drawn from.

At 5:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Erdal. That's even more helpful. I hope that you didn't go to too much trouble, but I certainly appreciate this.

I'll send the details to Strenski.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:03 AM, Anonymous Erdal said...

Off topic here, but I thought you might find this interesting:

1984 feeling at the Vatican, which further amends its version of the lecture: Compare:

--12 Sept. from (preliminary version):
Der Kaiser wußte sicher, daß in Sure 2, 256 steht: Kein Zwang in Glaubenssachen – es ist eine der frühen Suren aus der Zeit, wie uns die Kenner sagen, in der Mohammed selbst noch machtlos und bedroht war
This is exacly what an audio of the lecture shows him saying, too.

--present (official) version, from
Der Kaiser wußte sicher, daß in Sure 2, 256 steht: Kein Zwang in Glaubenssachen – es ist wohl eine der frühen Suren aus der Zeit, wie uns ein Teil der Kenner sagt, in der Mohammed selbst noch machtlos und bedroht war

And what came between these two versions? The pope being scolded in the arab press (and in the Times) for being uninformed about disagreement in dating that sura (and thus ignorant of Islam as a whole).
The date of the sura is of course key to its meaning. Odd, huh? Is this ex post hedging, or was the early version intended to provoke, and this later move (which constitutes the 'official version' after all) is to maintain plausible deniability? Then there are the translation issues of course, which work along the same lines. I think the Vatican is trying to pull the rug out from all the accusations by apalogizing, distancing and amending, until finally only the core question will be left standing; the core question that of course has never been addressed by the pope's Muslim critics, who instead focussed on auxillary issues; the core question "Show me...!"

At 8:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for noting this, Erdal, even if it is a little off-topic.

There should certainly be an untampered copy of the original speech online at the Vatican's website for reference.

Basic honesty calls for this.

I don't object to acknowledged alterations in more recent editions, especially since the original document was provisional and was posted with the stated aim of being edited and having footnotes added in subsequent editions.

But alterations without clear acknowledgement ... those would be deceptive.

Concerning the Pope's original intention, to provoke or not to provoke, that is the question.

Or one of the questions.

As for a debate -- better, discussion -- about the role of violence in Islam (and religion generally), I think that we do need to have it.

I just hope that the 'dialogue' doesn't lead to more violence.

Jeffery Hodges

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