What is the Islamic perspective on suicide, which has become a social disaster in our time? What are the underlying reasons that lead a person to suicide?
Even though no explicit statement is found in the Qur’an, we can say that the prohibition against taking life is also true for a person’s taking his or her own life. Killing oneself is murder in the same way killing another person is murder. God Almighty considers taking one life equal to killing all of humanity: “He who kills a soul unless it be (in legal punishment) for murder or for causing disorder and corruption on the earth will be as if he had killed all mankind” (al-Maedah 5:32). Indeed, human life is among the five essentials people are responsible for protecting. It can even be said—as Shatibi systematically expounds on in his Muwafaqat—all of Islamic law is based upon these five essentials of protecting a person’s life, religion, property, mental health, and offspring. Protection of life is the foremost among these essentials. It is so important to protect one’s life that somebody under assault is allowed to harm the assailant in self-defense.
Breaching the Trust
Human life is an important trust from God. In other words, just as faith is a God-granted trust in the name of serving the religion, the blessing of life, which makes all of these possible, is such a trust as well. For this reason, a person’s taking his or her own life willfully means ruining this Divine bestowal through which people are commissioned to fulfill certain responsibilities.
People come to this world like recruits to an army, to undertake a responsibility. What is required of people is waiting patiently until the appointed time when they will be summoned to the Divine presence. Just as a soldier that leaves his regiment without a leave signed by his commander is considered a fugitive, a person who leaves the duty of life without a Divine command is similarly considered a fugitive deserving punishment. All of the good actions a person did in their lifetime will be wasted. In fact, even wishing that God would end one’s life due to certain sufferings is a sin; making such a wish means rebelling against the fate ordained by God Almighty. For this reason, somebody who utters such words of rebellion by mistake needs to seek Divine forgiveness in prostration as if they committed a grave sin. Given that such wishes—much less severe in comparison to taking one’s life—is so wrong, then it is a much worse disrespect toward God Almighty to commit suicide, because it is an attempt to interfere with the time of dismissal from duty without waiting for the command of God, the rightful authority. Just as He is the one who sends people into the world, He must also be the one to send them to the next world. No human is given the right for self-decided intervention.
A person can even die in the lawful defense of their life, religion, or property. Even though there may seem to be an outward human intervention, this is actually a form of passing to the next world within the command of God Almighty. The Messenger of God stated that one who is killed in defense of their property, religion, life, or family is a martyr.1 Therefore, dying in such situations is a form of taking leave from service with Divine permission. Some scholars of Islamic jurisprudence made the judgment that a person who commits suicide is like a person who renounced faith and therefore is not eligible for an Islamic Funeral Prayer. However, there is also the consideration that a person might commit suicide during a temporary state of insanity. Since people in such a state are not responsible for their actions, it is possible to carry out a Funeral Prayer with this consideration.
Sometimes, intolerable sufferings might lead one to suicide. Indeed, such an incident took place during the time of the blessed Prophet. A person named Quzman was wounded during the Battle of Uhud. To end his suffering, he committed suicide by leaning his body weight on the tip of his sword. Seeing this, the Messenger of God stated that the man is a dweller of the Hellfire. Imagine that he fought near the beloved Prophet for the defense of Medina and received a fatal wound that would make him a martyr, but this unfortunate man became a loser in a zone of winning for not being patient with the suffering. Without waiting for the Divine decree, he made the judgment for himself and thus became deserving to be a dweller of the Hellfire. What befalls a believer, however, is showing patience during such times of trouble. A person is supposed to remain patient against all odds, until they are summoned by the Divine will. In other words, one must seek what God wills even while dying.
The commandment “O you who believe! Keep from disobedience to God in reverent piety, with all the reverence that is due to Him, and see that you do not die save as Muslims (submitted to Him exclusively)” (Al Imran 3:102) also implies that people should not end their own life. However, suicide is a consequence of not submitting to God and is contrary to this commandment. In addition, just as killing oneself means ruining an entire past, suicide means ending one’s life in a very ominous way.
A Multiple Murder: Suicide Attacks
There is another form of suicide called a “suicide attack” that started in the West first and then, unfortunately, became present in some Muslim countries as well. Those who commit this act try to justify it by asserting that it is a meaningful suicide. In other words, with these attacks they undergo for the sake of their ideologies, they are pretending to ascribe a positive meaning and value to suicide as if it were possible to protect their religion with it. However, when we look into the truth of the matter, we see that such suicide bombings are no different than the suicide we previously mentioned.
Suicide attacks can even be seen as a form of murder, because just as those heedless murderers who have nothing to do with humanity and who have no idea about the true spirit of Islam go to Hell headfirst by killing themselves, they kill so many innocent people as well. Therefore, just as they will be called to account on the Day of Judgment for taking their own lives, they will have the same trouble for the people they killed—for every child, woman, man, Muslim, and non-Muslim victim one by one.
In Islam, laws and disciplines explicitly define the acts that are permissible during peace and wartime. Nobody can declare a war or decide to kill another person by himself, and nobody has the right to kill children, women, or the elderly on the opposite side during battle. This being the case, suicide attacks or other similar acts of terrorism can never be compatible with Islam. To shed light on the issue, we take the statement of the noble Prophet that a person does not commit adultery as a believer, does not drink wine as a believer, does not steal as a believer, and does not commit murder as a believer.2 We understand from this hadith that a murderer is not a believer while committing murder. In other words, a person committing these sins cannot be called a Muslim in terms of their state, intents and plans while committing them. When you study their character during these moments, what appears before you is not the portrait of a Muslim; indeed, such character cannot fit within the Islamic frame. For this reason, let us emphasize once more that a person who acts as a suicide bomber and kills innocent people, no matter what country or religious group they are from, the murder they commit has absolutely nothing to do with being a Muslim. A person taking so many lives cannot be saved in the next world. Of course, it is always possible for a person who commits those grave sins to repent and ask forgiveness from God, and the Almighty One can forgive their sins. In this case, God knows how they will be treated in the Hereafter.
On the other hand, it is a reality that such murders smear the beautiful face of Islam. The crimes, which are committed by those appearing to be Muslim and pretending to commit murder for the sake of religion, are attributed to Islam in the sight of people who do not know the original teachings of Islam. Therefore, it becomes exceedingly difficult for believers to change this mistaken image. Clearing people’s minds of this negative image will take intensive effort for many years. For this reason, no matter who commits those suicide attacks, they can be defined as twice as bad, or rather a manifold worse form of murder. A few people who were not very knowledgeable about the genuine teachings of Islam asked me once, “Is it the love of going to Paradise that leads Muslims to become suicide bombers?” I answered them saying, “If those people are acting on such a motive, then they hold a mistaken consideration, for a person who makes such an attempt does not go to Paradise but goes headfirst into the Hellfire.”
In conclusion, those horrible murders committed under the name of suicide attacks are hidden under the guise of religion, which takes the issue to much more dangerous dimensions. In this respect, let us state once more that no matter what motive and method such brutality is committed, it is a condemnable act God Almighty dislikes and is not pleased with and is never compatible with Islam whatsoever.
1. Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Diyat 22; Sunan an-Nasa’i, Tahrimu’d-Dam, 23
2. Sunan an-Nasa’i, Qasama, 48, 49