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Farhana AN and Jerrold Post The History and Evolution of Martyrdom in the Service of Defensive Jihad An Analysis of Suicide Bombers in Current Conflicts MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT THE IRAQ. WAR, EM PHASIZING NOT only the failure of US policies but also the internecine fighting among the varied groups, including Al Qaeda and Shia and Sunni militias, all of which have contributed to the carnage in a country with deep histori­ cal Islamic roots. Iraq’s important place in Islamic history as the birth­ place offitna (anarchy) has important implications and consequences to the conflict today.1According to Islamic doctrine, the word “fitna” has been translated as chaos, “time oftemptation,” war, as well as anar­ chy. A scholar of religious history, Karen Armstrong, further notes that the concept of fitna is “symbolic”; thus, battles between Muslims today have compelled some Muslims to seek a return to early Islam during the time of Prophet Muhammad (570 to 680 AD) (Armstrong, 2000: 37). Furthermore, fitna originated from the early struggles Muslims faced after the Prophet Muhammad died in 680 AD, leaving a politisocial researchVol 75 : No 2 : Summer 2008 615 cal vacuum for the newly established Muslim community. After his death, four caliphs were selected to lead the Islamic community, which then soon spread across different countries to include Iraq, Egypt, and Syria. In Iraq, the fourth imam and caliph, Ali ibn Talib, established his kingdom. There, he was poisoned by a dissenting party known as the Kharijites. Iraq is famously known by both Sunni and Shia Muslims as the location where Ali’s son, Imam Hussein, was brutally killed by a Sunni caliph, Muawiyyah, in a place called Karbala, known as “a battlefield among battlefields.” The murder of Imam Hussein is viewed as one of the most important martyrdoms in Islamic histoiy. Unlike his brother Hassan, Hussein refused to accept the rule of the new Muslim leader based in Syria. His refusal to give him allegiance resulted in Hussein’s murder. Enraged over the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, Muslims in Kufa, Iraqformed their own party, whichbecame the “Partisans of Ali” or Shia. Today, Shias reenact the martyrdom of Imam Hussein on the day when he was killed, known as the Day ofAshura (the tenth day ofthe first month ofthe Islamic calendar, Muharram). Thus, for Shias, the meaning ofshahadat (martyrdom) is understood in the context of the school of thought that embodies the struggle and death (that is, martyrdom) of Imam Hussein (Shari’ati, 1986:154). It was only after the fall of the secular Baathist Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, that Shias were permitted to openly display their grief over the loss of Ali’s family on the streets of Baghdad: it is an event in which men, women, and children actively take part in rituals of mourning, remembrance, and curses hurled at key Islamic figures who either opposed Ali at the time of his rule or did not seek vengeance for the death of his predecessor, the third caliph, Imam Uthman.2The disagreements that arose from the Muslim communities over their deaths spawned the first revolt and wars among Muslims for political power and determining the “rightful” ruler to lead the umma (global Muslim community). Imam Ali’s martyrdom has important religious consequences for the Islamic religion. The religious establishment in the Muslim world 616 social research today continues to debate the core issues within Islam: What kind of man should lead the ummah? How could Muslims who had justified the killing of other Muslims surrender to God’s will? These historically based questions give rise to another question that is a major focus of this paper: Can the history of the martyrs of early Islam be uncritically extrapolated to become the basis of emerging definitions of “martyr­ dom” and narratives of identity? As it relates to the Iraq war, the issue ofcoexistence and tolerance of different sects, ethnicities, and belief systems has been increasingly absent from Iraqi society. Taking advantage of the diverse religious and ethnic landscape, militant leaders and clerics have defined Iraq as the new battlefield. These individuals are classified as Salafi-Jihadis, an extreme offshoot of the Salafi doctrine, which practices Islam accord­ ing to...


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