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Islam,Terrorism and Jihad ( 17 Nov 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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What Makes a Martyr in Islam?



By Huma Yusuf

November 15, 2013

Because they die fighting in defence of Islam, they are guaranteed a place in heaven. Most major roads, hospitals and bridges in Pakistan are named after them. They are the martyrs, or Shaheed.

For decades, only Pakistani soldiers killed while in service even qualified for the honour. In recent years, as more public figures have fallen victim to terrorist attacks, civilians seemed to become eligible. When Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto died in a suicide attack in 2007, she was given the honorific, despite being a woman. Many liberals also sought the title for Shahbaz Bhatti, the first federal minister for minority affairs, after his assassination by the Pakistani Taliban in 2011. But his Catholicism got in the way, and only a few supporters refer to him as Shaheed.

Earlier this month the debate took a turn for the absurd. Following the killing of the Pakistani Taliban’s chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, in a C.I.A. drone strike, Munawar Hassan, the leader of the religious party Jamaat-e-Islami, called Mehsud a martyr because he had been killed by the Americans. Fazl ur Rehman, the leader of another major religious political party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, one-upped Hassan, adding that any creature killed by the Americans should be considered a martyr, even dogs.

Anti-American sentiment can really warp logic and rhetoric in Pakistan. Hassan also argued that the army troops killed while fighting with the United States against the Taliban should not be considered martyrs because their contributions were anti-Islam.

 Johan Spanner for The New York Times A makeshift shrine marking the site of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. A poem on the poster described her “beautiful death.”


 The public relations wing of the Pakistani Army demanded an apology. But Hassan refused to back down, and has instead accused the army of meddling in politics.

The Pakistani Taliban commended Hassan for honouring their former leader. The provincial assembly in Sindh Province, which is dominated by secular liberal parties, passed a resolution condemning Hassan’s statement. The interior minister then said such controversial comments about the armed forces were “worse than poison” for the country.

The debate highlights the pitfalls of mixing politics and religion. The army, which has long used Islamic sloganeering to boost troop morale, is now under attack by parties on the far right for not being Islamic enough. And rather than sticking to security issues, the politicians who oppose extremist parties are debating theological issues — like what makes a martyr.

Huma Yusuf is a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn and was the 2010-11 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington.