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The Mind of an Islamic Terrorist

"The gates of Paradise are under the shadows of the swords."

The mind of an Islamic terrorist is difficult for a Western person to comprehend. What could lead a person to cause his or her own violent death is a question that is frequently raised. It is contrary to every human emotion that we have. Yet, we know there are hundreds of Islamic fundamentalists who are willing to kill and be killed for Allah.

An important reason is the promise that the gates of Paradise are under the shadows of the swords. During Muhammad's life, like today, there were many individuals who eagerly anticipated killing and dying in the Cause of Allah. The following is an account from the ancient classic Islamic text by Imam Muslim.

The tradition has been narrated on the authority of 'Abdullah b. Qais. He heard it from his father who, while facing the enemy, reported that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Surely, the gates of Paradise are under the shadows of the swords. A man in a shabby condition got up and said; Abu Musa, did you hear the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) say this? He said: Yes. (The narrator said): He returned to his friends and said: I greet you (a farewell greeting). Then he broke the sheath of his sword, threw it away, advanced with his (naked) sword towards the enemy and fought (them) with it until he was slain. Sahih Muslim Book 020, Number 4681

This quotation from the Sahih Muslim hadith afford us a look into the mindset of a person who desired his own death in Allah's Cause.

  1. He trusted the words of Muhammad implicitly.
  2. He was motivated by a promise of an eternal heavenly Paradise.
  3. He reassured himself that he heard correctly by asking Abu Musa. We see that he was very careful not to make a mistake, since his own life and eternal destiny were at risk. He wanted to make sure that Paradise would be achieved.
  4. He said his final farewell greeting to his friends. He did not rush to death, because he had no friends.  He had friends who understood his motivation. 
  5. He unsheathed his sword and threw the sheath away, because he was resolved not to return from the battle alive.  He chose to die in battle as a martyr in Allah's Cause. Casting aside his sword's sheath strengthened his resolve to bring about his own martyrdom. 
  6. He fought the enemy fearlessly until he was slain. 
  7. Finally, we see that Muhammad's objectives were achieved, because his followers were utterly fearless with their lives in Allah's Cause. This fearlessness struck terror in the hearts of those they attacked. 

Muhammad taught that the gates of Heaven were under the shadow of the swords, meaning that death for Allah’s sake assures entry into Paradise. The revulsion of the bloody sword of death is in juxtaposition to the blessedness of the gates of eternal joy. So, if a Muslim were to approach directly Paradise’s gate of eternal delight, then he must know that it is found under the shadows of the sharp, glistening swords of a martyr’s death in Allah’s Jihad against unbelievers.

Personally, spiritually, politically, intellectually and emotionally, the questions that an Islamic fundamentalist faces are stark indeed. Personally, he asks himself if he loves Allah more than his own life? Spiritually, he asks whether or not he is willing to sacrifice himself in Allah's Cause against Shaytan's power and the infidel's military forces? Politically, he divides the nations of the world into two warring camps. The nations under Islamic rule are termed, the Land of Peace (dar al-Islam) while the remaining nations are called, the Land of War (dar al-Harb). He asks himself if he should participate in bringing Allah's rule over the infidels and hypocrites. Intellectually, the answers to those questions are crystal clear to him. Emotionally, his only hurdle to overcome is the fear of death. Once this emotional fear is conquered, the person joyfully takes up the sword to kill and be killed in Allah's Cause, anticipating his entrance into the gates of heavenly Paradise.

Martyrdom is the only assured path to Paradise. Other pathways don’t guarantee acceptance into the gardens of sensual delights. A person may do many kind deeds during his life, but he may only hope that his deeds will be sufficient to merit entry into heaven, but they don’t guarantee success like martyrdom in the Cause of Allah. The Qur’an notes that one who strives in Allah’s cause belongs to the highest rank, and they are assured salvation.

Those who believe, and suffer exile and strive with might and main, in Allah's cause, with their goods and their persons, have the highest rank in the sight of Allah: they are the people who will achieve (salvation). al-Tawbah 9:20 (Yusuf Ali's translation)

The Sahih al-Bukhari states,

Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah's Apostle saying, "The example of a Mujahid in Allah's Cause—and Allah knows better who really strives in His Cause—is like a person who fasts and prays continuously. Allah guarantees that He will admit the Mujahid in His Cause into Paradise if he is killed, otherwise He will return him to his home safely with rewards and war booty." Volume 4, Book 52, Number 46

On the other hand, the Qur’an teaches that a Muslim’s good deeds are put into a balance (scale) to be weighed against his evil deeds. They must await the final day of Judgment to learn the outcome of their encounter with Allah’s balance.

Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy,- they will attain salvation: But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls, in Hell will they abide. 23:102-102 (Yusuf Ali’s translation) Also, see Sura 101:6-8.

We shall set up scales of justice for the Day of Judgment, so that not a soul will be dealt with unjustly in the least, and if there be (no more than) the weight of a mustard seed, We will bring it (to account): and enough are We to take account. Sura 21:47

Hence, martyrdom makes sense from an Islamic fundamentalist’s perspective. They know that death is the common lot of humanity. It is inescapable. So, rather than desperately clinging to life, they view martyrdom as an ultimate expression of their submission to Allah and Allah’s cause. They sacrifice their lives, because they love Allah, Muhammad, and eternal Paradise more than a few additional years on earth. They believe that martyrdom is the highest expression of their faith in Islam.  Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran expressed it accurately when he said, "The purest joy in Islam is to kill and be killed for Allah." 

They brandish their swords, intent upon murdering the enemies of Allah and dying while embracing the Apostle of Islam's pledge, "the gates of Paradise are under the shadows of the swords." 

Muhammad invoked Allah's name to encourage his followers to murder those who did not submit to his claims.  Yet today, Western Muslims claim that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. This was not the Islam of Muhammad.

Allah's Apostle said, "... I have been made victorious with terror ...
al-Bukhari Vol. 4, Bk 52, No. 220.

Last edited 10/01/2001
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