Monday, October 09, 2006

The Muslim Shahid as Sacrificial Intercessor: Follow-Up

West Jerusalem Bus Wreckage after Suicide Bombing
Tuesday, 18 June, 2002
Allah sorts them out?

A couple of posts ago, I asked about Bin Laden's citation of a hadith stating that a Muslim martyr's "intercession on the behalf of seventy of his relatives will be accepted." Bin Laden cites it as "Narrated by Ahmad and AtTirmithi but gives no details.

One of my commenters, who goes by the name "Erdal," offered this information on the quoted hadith:

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 English transliteration would be "Risalat al-Jihad," variously translated as "Epistle on Jihad," "Tract of Jihad," and "Essay on Jihad," as I have learned through Googling. Erdal also called "somebody who owns one of these searchable hadith databases" and reported back:
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.
Erdal also noted that his colleague with the searchable hadith database:
...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.
I am pretty ignorant of these materials, so forgive me for relying on Wikipedia ... but according to the entry on Mishkat al-Masabih:
Mishkat al-Masabih is the improved version of Masabih al-Sunnah. Al-Tabrizi essentially rendered a version of the text more preferable to those who don't posses a more advanced knowledge of the science of hadith by writing a commentary on it by the directions of 'Allamah Husayn ibn 'Abd Allah ibn Muhammad al-Tibi, and this writing is what came to be known as Mishkat al-Masabih. It contains 4434 to 5945 ahadith, divided up amongst 29 books and is considered by Sunni scholars as an important writing.

Two things strike me about this hadith. One: it's considered to be of low reliability by the classical commentators. Two: it's a highly popular hadith among jihadists.

The use of this hadith by a Salafist like Bin Laden is somewhat surprising to me, but perhaps due to my ignorance. Salafists reject all 'innovations' in Islam, e.g., venerating the graves of prophets and holy men, which is considered a form of shirk (i.e., polytheism). I would therefore expect Salafists such as Bin Laden to reject the belief that a Muslim martyr could intercede for seventy of his relatives through his self-sacrifice, which sounds to me like something that Muslims ought to consider a form of shirk, given their low Christology, which rejects the Christian veneration of Jesus as self-sacrificial redeemer, and given their own belief that each individual bears the responsibility for his or her own sins.

Still, the hadith is very popular, and for understandable reasons since it not only affirms the salvation of the Muslim martyr but also of seventy family members -- which grounds the martyrdom in society, for it is not simply the act of an individual seeking solely his own salvation but one dying for the salvation of others and thus takes on the character of altruism.

Probably Meir Hatina's article "Theology and power in the Middle East: Palestinian martyrdom in a comparative perspective" (Journal of Political Ideologies, Volume 10, Number 3, October 2005, pp. 241-267), described by the following abstract, would be worth reading on this subject:

Jihad (holy war) and self-sacrifice constituted a formative ethos for Palestinian Islam in its struggle against Israel from the early 1990s onward. They became important components of politics of identity, aimed at infusing metaphysical values into Palestinian life, while also positing a political alternative to the PLO. This paper focuses on a formative manifesto titled 'Readings in the Laws of Martyrdom' (Qira'a fi Fiqh al-Shahada). Disseminated by the Islamic Jihad in 1988, the manifesto laid down the ideological foundations of martyrdom in Palestine. With the passage of time, Palestinian 'suicide attacks' became unprecedented in scale, distinctive thereby from similar phenomena in other conflicted areas such as Lebanon, Kashmir, Chechnya, Turkey and Sri Lanka. The discussion evaluates the role of the Palestinian manifesto in the radical Islamic orbit. For this purpose, two other formative texts are also examined. The first is 'The Absent Duty', issued in 1981 by the Egyptian Jihad movement, which was responsible for President Sadat's assassination. The second is 'Manual for a Raid', issued by the al-Qa'ida organization, containing instructions for the perpetrators of the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. A comparative analysis of the three texts reveals common themes as well as variations that reflect the particular context in which each Islamic group was active.
The article is not online, but I did manage to uncover the fact that it cites "Risalat al-Jihad":
Hasan al-Banna, 'Risalat al-Jihad' (The Tract of Jihad) in (no Editor) Majmu'at Rasa'il al-Imam al-Shahid. (Collection of Tracts of the Martyr Imam) (Beirut: al-Mu'assasa al-Islamiyya, nd), p. 264.
Since it cites al-Banna, Hatina's article perhaps analyzes his use of the quote about dying for seventy family members, but even if it doesn't treat al-Banna's use, the hadith itself is so popular that Hatina must have dealt with it anyway.

I'll have to look into this more closely. Thanks to Erdal for the very helpful details.

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At 4:40 AM, Blogger D.Daddio Al-Ozarka said...

Scary when you think about it.

If you can manage a pause in your excellent research, Jeffery, take a look at this post at EyesAllAround.

I came over here after reading that post--weird, huh?

I really appreciate your talent. God has blessed you with a great gift.

At 5:44 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, it is scarey, for it makes even more difficult any attempt to counter suicide bombings.

I guess that I have a God-given gift for writing, but I wish that "Providence" -- as my grandpa used call him whenever speaking of God -- had seen fit to endow me with a bit more facility in foreign languages.

Anyway, I'll take a look at the link.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:51 AM, Anonymous Erdal said...

I don't think there's something fishy about 'shirk' here, you may simply misread the 'intercession' concept. Intercession privillege is simply an honour for the intercessor (because, basically, he gets an audience with God), it doesn't do anything for the intercessee (is that a proper word?). You don't get to save 70 family members (and 70 just means "a largish, but undefined number" in most contexts) from hell and promote them to heaven, or even promote them within heaven. Not at all. Even intercessions from Mohammed can't do that (Bukhari 6:60:3 and countless other places).
Basically, you can only, and would of course only ever want to, intercede on behalf of those whose place in heaven is safe anyway. Why would a sane Muslim want to intercede on behalf of a sinner, even if he's family? It's unthinkable. The shaheed is granted the privillege to visit God as many times as there are people in his family who qualify for heaven anyway. This is the great honour. There are no shortcuts, no perks, no shirk. This is of course conveniantly , eh, underemphasized by those who promote matyrdom (of others, ususally), and either unknown (probably the majority of cases) or enough for those who do the acual martyring.

At 8:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Erdal, and I think that you must surely be right about the "shirk" part. I had begun to reconsider that point myself.

The other material is very interesting ... but perplexing. If intercession does nothing for the 'intercessee' (let's put your coinage into circulation), then I can't see that it's intercession. Maybe a different term should be used here -- a different translation from the Arabic perhaps.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Erdal said...

You are rightly perplexed, because upon re-reading my post, I think I omitted a crucial point, namely wheather the 'intercessee' is still alive. In a nutshell:

case 1: if you martyr yourself, you are totally unable to intercede on behalf of your already dead grandfather on redemption day. If he was a sinner, he goes to hell (and you are supposed to not want to intercede for him anyways)

case2: If your already dead grandfather qualifies for heaven, you can and should intercede for him on redemption day (for the honour of talking to allah, and your grandfather gets additional honour, because he got a recommendation from you, a shaheed.)

case 3: When you martyr yourself, can you intercede for a member of your family who is still alive (i.e. ask Allah to make him a better person, or ask for his illness to be cured, etc? Maybe this was the case you were thinking of, and I overlooked that one? And you're right, this is a harder one, from a salafist perspective and in light of shirk.

There certainly was disagreement about wheather a living person could ask another living person (usually a companion of the Prophet) to pray for his, or a third living persons' benefit. The practice is certainly still common. My best guess is that Salafis oppose it. I've never heard about this scenario extrapolated to shaheeds, but, come to think of it, I can see how this could happen. If this was ever resolved, I haven't heard of it.

But I've never thought of this as 'intercession'. More like 'supplication', but maybe that's just my bad English. I'm still pretty certain that the martyr/familiy-member sura talks about the case 1+2 redemption day setting, not the case 3 interventions for the benefit of the living, but I can't put my finger on why this would necessarily have to be so, at the moment.

At 12:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

These are very useful things to know, Erdal. I'll have to send this material to Strenski to ensure that he doesn't make my mistake.

On case three, I hadn't thought of this one at all (since I was only thinking about salvation), but it would fit what Christians call intercessory prayer -- except that Protestants, generally speaking, would think that the dead don't offer prayers, whereas Catholics would think that the dead do offer prayers (or at least the dead saints do).

These distinctions get rather complicated, don't they, especially when comparing different religions. I suspect that I often conceive of Islamic terms in Christian categories and get misled that way.

Jeffery Hodges

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