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The Alchemy of Martyrdom: Jihadi Salafism and Debates over Suicide Bombings in the Muslim World

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Suicide attacks by radical Islamists mainly target and harm their co-religionists. Whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan, suicide bombers are increasingly directing their blows against Muslims, including non-combatants, they label apostates, infidels or collaborators with foreign powers. The culprits for this indiscriminate carnage are primarily radical Sunnis known as Jihadi Salafists. How could these Sunni radicals square their Islamic legitimacy with three clearly established prohibitions in Islam: Do not kill yourself, do not killing non-combatants, and do not kill fellow Muslims? Jihadi Salafists circumvent these commands by redefining the meaning of piety in Islam to frame their co-religionists as apostates and heretics outside the protective umbrella of Islam. They also give primacy to human intentionality in warfare to frame self-immolation as martyrdom, not suicide. Finally, they unearth rulings by medieval scholars that permit indiscriminate tactics during warfare to protect the collective interests of Muslims. The case of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and its indiscriminate suicide bombings illustrate these justifications.

Affiliations: 1: National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School


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