Both in jest and seriously I hear about 72 virgins when a good Muslim man dies. Sounds like it objectifies women at the least. Can this be a true tenet of Islam?

One of the biggest myths is the invention of 72 virgins as a reward for suicide. This has been repeated so often by Islamophobes that most people accept it as a fact.

I recently happen to hear one of our good interfaith partner publicly implying, unknowingly or maybe facetiously, that this story is part of Islamic creed. Can’t blame him because Muslims have not been aggressive enough in countering misinformation.

It is not just the Muslims, Catholics and others have been stigmatized with false imagery of their faith in the past. Such things will continue to happen, unless we continue to speak up.

Thanks to the IFLC for initiating the ‘Question of the Week’.  As interfaith partners, we need to be knowledgeable. One way is to ‘ask’, when confronted with info that sounds weird.

So where does the reward of 72 virgins in paradise for suicide come from? Are there any Islamic teachings we can point to endorsing the concept?

When we look at the highest authority in Islam, the Qur’an, we find nothing in the scripture endorsing rewards for suicide or references to 72 virgins.

During the holy month of Ramadan I spend much time reading the holy text — I spent extra time on this one issue to get to the bottom, going through several transliterations of the Qur’an to find if someone translated an ayah (verse) confirming this, but with no luck. Nothing in the footnotes either.  In addition, I wanted to find the word ‘infidel’ in the Qur’an — no luck there either.

In my readings this month I find in the Qur’an strongest condemnation with severest punishments for those who commit suicide. Studying the second in authority in Islam, authentic Hadiths (Sayings of the Prophet that are methodically proven to connect with the Prophetic tradition and words through a chain of reliable narrators) — there again is nothing endorsing suicide  and  promise of a harem  for men in Paradise. Muslims know that the description of heaven in Hadiths and Qur’an is allegorical, no different from other holy scriptures.

Physical things of this world are used to relate things metaphysical.  Actually, afterlife rewards or punishments are technically unimaginable in our earthly existence, as much as we may have some image created in our mind about the heavenly bliss or the torture of hell, according to our particular faith.

We have some that are too eager to enlighten and spread the word about crazy Muslims killing themselves for 72 virgins. We read and hear every day about suicide bombers in Iraq and elsewhere killing themselves and taking others with them in the act. We are to believe that a religion that strongly condemns suicide, promises severe punishment in the hereafter for those who commit it, frowns upon strategy of using suicide as an instrument of war will sanction the act, especially when resulting in death of innocent.

Muslims and non-Muslim alike resort to the ultimate sacrifice if caught in a cycle of war and terror — The killing of a Gandhi by a Tamil Tiger in India is an example.

Cutting the Fuse.

Robert A. Pape and James K. Feldman have examined every suicide terrorist attack worldwide from 1980 to 2009, and the insights they have gleaned from that data fundamentally challenge how we understand the root causes of terrorist campaigns today. Through a close analysis of suicide campaigns by Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Israel, Chechnya, and Sri Lanka, the authors provide powerful new evidence that, contrary to popular and dangerously mistaken belief, only a tiny minority of these attacks are motivated solely by religion. Instead, the root cause is foreign military occupation, which triggers secular and religious people alike to carry out suicide attacks.

Thank you, Victor Begg, for answering our question this week! For more information about Victor, please click here.