January 20th, 2011
09:24 PM ET

Afterlife inflation: Have jihadists had to raise martyrdom incentive?

By Adam Levine, CNN

The promise of 70 or 72 virgins upon martyrdom has become a familiar expression in discussions among Islamic extremists, but a recent terror indictment raises the peculiar question of whether the incentive has been increased.

The case involves a man suspected of conspiring with a terrorist network responsible for the deaths of five U.S. soldiers in Iraq. He was arrested Wednesday in Canada, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York.

Faruq Khalil Muhammad, 38, was charged with conspiring to kill Americans abroad and providing material support to a terrorist network that conducted suicide bombings in Iraq, the statement said.

The complaint quotes from wiretaps of conversations between the defendant and the potential suicide bombers he is alleged to having aided.

In one snippet of conversation from March 2009, the defendant is encouraging a reluctant "Fighter 5" who is concerned about his mother. In the course of encouraging "Fighter 5," the complaint shows an inflation in the promise of virgins after martyrdom.

"May God give you 74 to marry. We want virgins of paradise, not the ones here," said "Fighter 5," according to the criminal complaint.

"You come short, brother," the complaint quotes Muhammad as responding. "God is more generous than that. It's supposed to be 76."

The promise of 76 is higher than even the defendant believes is traditionally due. In October 2009, according to the complaint, the defendant explains to his own mother the rewards of jihad.

"Do you know mother that when a martyr dies, he would have 7 characteristics. First, he receives forgiveness for all his sins, then he gets to see his own seat in paradise," the complaint alleges Muhamad said. "Also he gets to have 70 virgins."

So is the promised reward of martyrdom suffering from some sort of spiritual inflation? Is 70 no longer enough incentive?

"It seems to be an inaccurate and carelessly cited figure," said Dr. John Esposito, a professor at Georgetown University and author of The Future of Islam.

There is nothing in the Quran that rewards a suicide bomber, or martyr, with virgins, Esposito said.

"This has become a popular belief in some circles but is not based on scripture," Esposito explained.

The Quran does speak of "houris," dark-eyed or black-eyed virgins, noted Esposito, as a reward for men in paradise, but not specifically for martyrdom.

The number, typically 70 or 72, is not in the Quran, said Esposito, but rather comes from the oral tradition.

The focus on virgins as a reward for martyrdom is a modern phenomena said Salah Hassan, an associate professor at Michigan State University and coordinator of the school's Islam, Muslim and Journalism Education project. Interestingly, Hassan said, the virgin promise is one that is used both by jihadists to entice recruits and on the other side by those critical of Islam.

"It is polarized views sharing a particular image for different ends," Hassan said.

"They are in a way tapping into a public discourse in the U.S. because it is not widely cited by Muslims to promote jihad. It is more recent usage," Hassan said. "My sense is that is very often cited in the U.S. as a way of basically showing how vulgar Muslim piety is. To a degree that these images mean anything, they are interpretable. It is a metaphor. There is obviously not 72 virgins waiting for anybody in paradise."

Hassan said that inflated rhetoric is a hallmark of jihadist discourse, noting that the defendant is alleged to have written in an e-mail message "he is not just 100% but 1,000,000% with you. He is with you on the doctrine, the loyalty and the enmity and everything one million percent."

"These guys are obviously inflating and I am sure the rhetoric is inflated," Hassan observed. The promise of 76 is part of that exaggeration.

"The act itself is exaggerated. The idea you would blow yourself up is excessive. So it is all in excess. How would you justify an excessive thing?" said Hassan. "Muslims think (of) suicide bombing as unacceptable. It is not Muslim. It is weird extremism that looks for justification within extremism for rationales and recruits."

Brian Fishman, a terrorist analyst at the New America Foundation and researcher for the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, said, "They are rhetorically upping the ante to convince a guy who is wavering."

Fishman said the promise of virgins in exchange for martyrdom continues to be a common recruiting element in the online jihadist forums he monitors. Fishman said a much less talked-about incentive is the promise that a martyr can name 70 family members to heaven. But Fishman said the real recruiting pitch is to defend an Islamic country from an infidel force.

"Once you do that, you did a wonderful deed, you get the rewards," said Fishman.

Raising the number of post-martyrdom virgins to 76 does not reflect "a real ideological shift," concluded Fishman.

In the end, "Fighter 5" was stopped before he could complete his mission, turned back by the Tunisian government trying to cross into Libya, according to the complaint.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam

soundoff (137 Responses)
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  2. Muneef

    The awakening ;

    January 30, 2011 at 6:19 am |
    • Nyarlathotep

      You realize you're just talking to yourself, right?

      February 7, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  3. Muneef

    Another similar acts ?


    January 25, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  4. Muneef

    After life gathering;

    The Day when secrets will be put on trial, Then man will have no power or any helper. [Verses 9-10]
    That’s where we are going — resurrection on a day when all the secrets will be exposed publicly, on a day when we will have no strength, no power, and nobody to help us.
    Everyone stands alone on that day.
    We discussed prior verses about the day when graves will be dumped open, and that hearts will be peeled; here, we see another aspect — secrets will be exposed publicly.
    Ibn Katheer mentions in his tafseer a hadith from Bukhari and Muslim regarding this verse:
    Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: The Prophet said, “For every betrayer (perfidious person), a flag will be raised on the Day of Resurrection, and it will be announced (publicly) ‘This is the betrayal (perfidy) of so-and-so, the son of so-and-so.’” [Recorded in Bukhari here, here, here, and here with slight variations.]
    Imagine that! That person who you betrayed secretly, whom nobody saw you plan against … that day, not only will it be publicly announced in front of the entire human race that you did so, but to make sure that people know who’s being mentioned, you’ll have a big flag pointing you out.
    That’s Allah–the one who sees everything, hears everything, and knows everything, down to the most minute, unimaginably small level. And that is the day that we should prepare for, a day that has no doubt in it.
    Thus, tafseer of Surah Tariq.
    Touched by an Angel: Tafseer of Juz ‘Amma. By Muhammad Alshareef. 2009.
    Tafsir ibn Katheer: Summarized Version. At-Tariq. 2009.

    January 24, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  5. Muneef

    Who is your Qareen?

    January 24, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Muneef

      What is Qareen?


      January 24, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Muneef

      Qareen (Companion);
      What is a Qareen? A shaytaan, a devil, assigned to someone to mislead and misguide him. Someone to whisper to him in the light of day and the darkness of night. Allah says:
      وَمَن يَعْشُ عَن ذِكْرِ الرَّحْمَنِ نُقَيِّضْ لَهُ شَيْطَاناً فَهُوَ لَهُ قَرِينٌ
      Translation: And whoever is blinded from remembrance of Ar-Rahman, we appoint for him a qareen, and he is to him a companion. [Surah Az-Zukhruf, verse 36]
      Why is this important? You should know that you have an enemy; someone who’s always watching you, taking notes on you, recording what you do; his goal is to mislead you and misguide you and drag you into the Hellfire. That’s his full-time job, no vacation time and no breaks! Subhanallah! The Prophet says:
      مَا مِنْكُمْ مِنْ أَحَدٍ إِلَّا قَدْ وُكِّلَ بِهِ قَرِينُهُ قَالوا: وَأنتَ يَا رَسُولَ الله؟ قَالَ نَعَمْ، إِلَّا أَنَّ اللهَ أَعَانَنِي عَلَيْهِ فَأَسْلَمَ، فَلَا يَأْمُرُنِي إِلَّا بِخَيْ
      Translation: The Messenger of Allah once told his companions: Everyone of you has been assigned a companion from the Jinn. They asked: Even you, O Messenger of Allah! He replied: Yes, except that Allah has helped me against him, fa aslam. Now he only tells me to do good. [Saheeh Muslim]
      What does fa aslam mean? Scholars give it two meanings. One meaning is that the Prophet’s (صلى الله عليه و سلم) qareen became Muslim. Imam Nawawi and other scholars say, it means the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) was protected from his qareen.
      Does this mean we, too, can make du’a and give da’wah to our qareen and try to make him or her Muslim? Unfortunately, scholars say it’s specific to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
      So what’s the conclusion? Know you have an enemy. Recognize it. And struggle against it; because the one who has an enemy and struggles and overcomes him is better then one who has no enemy and is just “ok.” Think about it! For every waswasa you turn away, you get a hassanah. For every sin you change your mind on, Allah credits you a good deed. For every sin you commit, you can repent, and scholars say the one who sins and repents is better than the one who never sinned.
      So brighten up! Allah appointed you a qareen, yes; but this is a great and wonderful opportunity for you to attain mountains of deeds! Allahu akbar!
      May Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) allow us to overcome our qareens and become people of Jannah, ameen!
      Waleed Basyouni. Lecture. AlMaghrib. Rays of Faith.

      January 24, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  6. Muneef

    Just wonder why didn't Noah swat those two pair of mosquitoes?

    January 24, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  7. Muneef

    Be careful not to lose your brains


    January 24, 2011 at 6:19 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.