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A terrorist’s suicide and the matter of hell

Where does the recently deceased Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi currently reside?

( Seleznyov)

The death of terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi raises some important questions about Islamic beliefs, as well as about the motivations of terrorists.

Terrorist leaders claim that their actions are perfectly in accord with the Koran, the Hadith, the Sira (The Life of Muhammad), and traditional Islamic beliefs. They can point out, for instance, that Muhammad and his troops engaged in the very behaviors for which ISIS is now condemned—rape, sex-slavery, torture, and beheadings. They can also point to numerous passages in Islamic scriptures which present jihad against unbelievers as the highest service to Allah.

On the other hand, moderate Muslims claim that terrorists misunderstand Islam: they have perverted the faith and even betrayed it. Moderate imams insist that terror has nothing to do with Islam, and they can produce different sets of verses to prove the point.

But if terrorists are ignorant of Islam as moderates claim, why do several studies reveal that jihadists are better educated than the average Muslim? And, more to the point, why did the Washington Post refer to al-Baghdadi as an “austere religious scholar”? Well, I don’t know much about his degree of austereness, but he did have a degree—a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the University of Baghdad.

Likewise, Omar Abdel Rahman, the mastermind behind the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, had a Ph.D. in Islamic Jurisprudence from Al-Azhar University. So did Abdullah Azzam, mentor to Osama bin Laden, and the founder of MAK (later renamed al-Qaeda). And Anwar al-Awlaki, the chief propagandist for al-Qaeda and mentor to numerous terrorists, was working on a Ph.D. at George Washington University before he went full jihad.

So, the argument that terrorists are ignorant of Islam doesn’t hold water.

As is now well known, al-Baghdadi, who was appropriately dressed for the occasion in a bomb vest, blew himself up when a member of the Army K-9 corps chased him down in a tunnel. Which brings up a question about Dr. Al-Baghdadi that should be of interest to jihadis and infidels alike. The question is, where does he currently reside? In the words of the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel, “Is he in heaven, or is he in hell?”

Suicide is prohibited in Islam. According to Koran 4:29, those who take their own lives are destined for eternal hellfire. But don’t jump to the conclusion that al-Baghdadi must therefore be in hell. According to a great many Islamic scholars, suicide bombers go straight to paradise and the company of 72 eternally young virgins.

It seems like a contradiction. What’s the catch? The “catch”is that, in the Arab world, suicide bombers are not called “suicide bombers.” They are called “martyrs,” and they are highly honored. What we call a suicide bombing, they call a “martyrdom operation.” And, apparently, that makes it okay. Killing oneself for the sake of killing oneself is a sin, but, in the words of Islam scholar Daniel Pipes, “killing oneself in order to harm non-Muslims is an act of deep piety.” So the same action can be either a sin if committed out of despair, or a supreme form of jihad if committed for the sake of Allah.

But how about al-Baghdadi? Although two of his children died with him, he didn’t manage to harm any infidels, excepting the attack dog, who is expected to survive. His failure brings several questions to mind. Are good intentions enough? Or does Allah reserve brides only for successful jihadists? Should Baghdadi have waited until the American troops were within range before pulling the pin? Why didn’t he wait? Did he turn coward in the face of the approaching dog? Was he overly anxious to get to his reward? Did he kill himself mainly out of love of Allah or mainly out of lust for heavenly virgins?

These are questions that every potential jihadist should be asking himself. And the wonder is that such questions aren’t raised more often by non-Muslims, seeing that every infidel is potentially a ticket to paradise for some jihadist.

It’s often said that we are in an ideological war with Islamists. Shouldn’t we, then, take every opportunity to force Islamists to question their ideological system? The death of al-Baghdadi provides a golden opportunity to pose some questions that would help to clarify the minds of jihadists, while helping infidels come to a better understanding of Islam.

“Is Baghdadi in hell?” The question could be posed to Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb and other prominent Islamic leaders. The point is not to get the answer but to raise the question. The Grand Imam and others may decline to answer, or they may answer in evasive or equivocal ways. No matter. The mere fact that they want to avoid the question will speak volumes. The important thing is to bring this and similar questions out in the open.

Is Baghdadi in hell? Or do Muslims worship a God who rewards the leader of a brutal band of killers, torturers and rapists with eternal bliss? Inquiring minds want to know.

But, of course, there are apparently very few inquiring minds left in the West. These are central questions, but they are the kind of questions that far too many reporters, politicians, and Catholic dialoguers take pains to avoid. There are as few establishment figures willing to ask such questions as there are moderate imams anxious to answer them. Admittedly, some imams do from time to time issue fatwas forbidding terrorism and the taking of innocent lives. But these are generally worded in such a way that enough loopholes are left for a column of jihadists to drive through.

Besides, jihadists and jihadists in the making don’t generally pay much attention to moderate imams. They do, however, spend a lot of time on the Internet exploring websites and exchanging notes with others of like mind. So, the Internet is the place to go if you want to raise the uncomfortable questions that the mainstream media refuses to raise.

As to where, exactly, one goes on the Internet, it’s not an area with which I have much familiarity; but I notice that there are a number of young, outspoken conservative YouTube commentator/personalities who wouldn’t mind broaching these subjects. In addition, there are a number of Christian apologists, such as David Wood of Acts 17 Apologetics Ministry, who interact frequently with their Muslim counterparts, and whose video blogs are followed closely by both Christians and Muslims. Of course, the FBI, Army Intelligence, and other intelligence agencies undoubtedly do know where the action is on the Internet, and for all I know they may already be exploiting the “Baghdadi in hell” meme. But I have my doubts.

However they are conveyed, these are the kinds of questions that ought to be asked in public over and over until they begin to echo and reverberate both in the minds of Muslims and naïve Westerners as well. We should especially encourage potential jihadists to question themselves. Do they really want to throw the dice? What if they muff the martyrdom operation and only manage to blow themselves up? Can they count on their capricious God to reward them for good effort? Are they undertaking the martyrdom mission primarily out of love of God or out of love of sex? Better be careful here. It’s easy to fool yourself. But Allah knows all, and he knows if your motives are pure. If your motive for taking your life is no more than the hope of promised sensual rewards, then you go to hell. It’s a tough calculation. As Clint Eastwood might put it, “Do you feel lucky?”

The goal here should be to instill doubts in the minds of Muslims about some of the more extreme beliefs that come with their faith. Hopefully, the initial question about Baghdadi’s fate will lead the would-be jihadist on to other questions. Does he really believe it’s okay to murder women here on earth so that he can have women in heaven? What kind of a person is he? Does he actually believe that God has set aside 72 virgins exclusively to serve him in paradise? Isn’t that just an adolescent day dream? Has he ever wondered if virgins in paradise isn’t just a con game designed to get him to enlist in the jihad?

If it all sounds insensitive—and highly dangerous to boot—consider that the walking-on-eggshells approach to Islam has yielded zero results and has, arguably, made the world a more dangerous place. By contrast, tough questions can open minds. They may even give a young man the chance of growing up instead of blowing up.

Like Christians, Muslims believe in hell. Unlike most Christians today, however, they worry a lot about going there. Indeed jihad is often presented to young Muslims as the surest way of wiping the slate clean, earning Allah’s favor, and avoiding hell. It’s important therefore, to try and implant some seeds of doubt about that. If even a small number of Muslims become convinced that the path of jihad is the surest road to hell, it might eventually make a world of difference.

The question about Baghdadi’s fate may also have a salutary effect on naive Christians and gullible secularists. It may come as a surprise to some of them that many Muslims believe that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is safely ensconced in paradise as a reward for his heroic deeds. Perhaps the news will help them develop a more clear- headed view of what “diversity of religions” really entails.

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About William Kilpatrick 81 Articles
William Kilpatrick is the author of several books on religion and culture including Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West (Ignatius Press) and What Catholics Need to Know About Islam (Sophia Institute Press). For more on his work and writings, visit his Turning Point Project website.


  1. Of al-Baghdadi’s suicide AND failure to also kill infidels, Kilpatrick asks “are [his] good intentions enough [to get into Islamic heaven]”? On the DEADENING OF CONSCIENCE even in the West, Pope Benedict said this (Values in a Time of Upheaval, 2006):
    [First] “I have been absolutely certain that there is something wrong with the theory of the justifying force of the subjective conscience . . . Hitler may have had none (guilt feelings); nor may Himmler or Stalin. Mafia bosses may have none, but it is more likely that they have merely SUPPRESSED THEIR AWARENESS [italics] of the skeletons in their closets. And the aborted guilt feelings . . . Everyone needs guilt feelings.”

    [And second] “The loss of the ability to see one’s guilt, the falling silent of conscience in so many areas, is a more dangerous illness of the soul than guilt that is recognized as guilt . . . To identify conscience with a SUPERFICIAL STATE OF CONVICTION [caps added] is to equate it with a certainty that merely seems rational, a certainty woven from self-righteousness, conformism, and intellectual laziness. Conscience is degraded to A MECHANISM THAT PRODUCES EXCUSES [caps added] for one’s conduct, although in reality conscience is meant to make the subject transparent to the divine, thereby revealing man’s AUTHENTIC DIGNITY AND GREATNESS [caps added].”

    On such deadening of conscience, a POSSIBLY COMPATIBLE VERSE FROM THE QUR’AN reads:

    “And who doth more wrong than one who is reminded of the Signs of the Lord, but turns away from them, forgetting the (deeds) which his hands have sent forth? Verily, we have set VEILS OVER THEIR HEARTS [caps added] lest they should understand this, and over their ears, DEAFNESS, if thou callest them to guidance, even then will they never accept guidance” (Q 18:57).

    The PROBLEM, however:

    Given the WILL (not Logos) of Allah, can even these lines sometimes be read as EXCUSING and even authorizing jihad? Is intrinsic “human dignity” (and the “greatness” of a well-formed conscience and of human responsibility in accord with all of inborn Natural Law) too much of an “autonomy” apart from the “single autonomy” of a finally arbitrary Allah—and therefore blasphemy?

    As Kilpatrick reports, suicide bombers become “martyrs.”

    • Afterthought:
      Without diminishing the contradictions within Islam and the Qur’an itself, is there also this cross-cultural convergence?–in the East al-Baghdadi’s der al-Harb (House of War)as a beheading HOLY WAR; and in the West the majority Speaker (House of Congress) who brands late-term abortion/dismemberment as “SACRED GROUND” (June 26, 2013).

      Just askin’. . .maybe some double-speak expert can work things out!

  2. I have always viewed islam as more of a barbaric cult than a religion, even the moderate muslims will bow down to the jihadist under the threat heretic and beheading. Seems like the only peace the world will get from the “religion of peace” is when every non believer is either killed or enslaved. I could be wrong but from what I hear and see I don’t think so

    • The thing I have noted about “moderate” Muslims is how ambivalent the vast majority are about repudiating or even criticizing Muslim terrorists. Let’s assume the vast majority would not actually kill someone, but were the vast majority of them presented with the postulate that “Rizwan Farook was acting in the name of God when they killed all those people,” I suspect they would never dare to contradict it. How in their faith can you criticize someone who claims to be acting in the name of God? So they accept it and, no doubt, tacitly but explicitly condone it.

      • “How in their faith can you criticize someone who claims to be acting in the name of God?”
        Somehow CWR commentators and authors do this every day without a hint of irony!!
        How many Muslims have you chatted with, just out of curiosity? Moderate or otherwise.

        • Joe K.
          I concur with your point–not quite the “irony” you impose–but rather the difference between Islam as a religion and individual Muslims (the street-level “followers of Islam”). In partial response to your curiosity, I attach here the final comment to my book interview with CWR, found at:

          (I would like to have said more about my Muslim friend, but for his own safety in his homeland I omitted his name, the date of our meeting, his particular research grant, and his country of origin.)

          “I am delighted by a book presentation at the Prince of Peace Newman Center at the University of Washington. Afterward, I was faced by a visitor, a young Muslim graduate student. He was in Seattle to study constitutional law. He appreciated my familiarity with Islamic details and my interest in seeing Mohammed at least partly through his eyes. It was a revelation to this first-time visitor to the West that not all Americans and students are atheists! In his words: ‘It surprised me that religion—as a critical, cognitional, communal and active engagement with divinity—is, in some ways, far more alive here in the United States (the supposedly “atheistic West”) than in some of the Muslim circles that I hang around in.’”

          “Instead of dialogue between Islam and Christianity, individual witnesses to Christ or citizens in the West can have a good chat with individual followers of Islam. John Henry Newman got it exactly right: “Cor ad cor loquitor” (heart speaking to heart). On whether we live in Allah (as Islam assumes) or whether the Triune Oneness chooses to fully redeem and live in us (the “Good News” of the Gospel), St. John proclaims the Catholic “both-and”: “Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the [incarnate!] Son of God, God remains in him and he in God” (1 Jn 4:14-15).”

  3. Only God knows al-Baghdadi’s fate whether heaven or hell. Although if evil is manifest it is a form of self judgment. That one has knowingly willed evil. It’s not what we believe that makes it true and determines whether we act in good conscience. What is true determines what we believe is true and whether we act in good conscience. The reason is Man created in God’s image has the inherent ability to apprehend what is good and what is evil, the First Principle of Natural Law, to ‘Choose Good Avoid Evil’ common to all because it is inherent in all. Consequently Man whether he has heard the Gospels or not is responsible for his actions good or evil. Conscience is understood as To Act with Knowledge, first and foremost that inherent knowledge inscribed by God on the heart of Man. Benedict XVI as quoted above by P Beaulieu is correct that manifest evil persons “suppress their [inherent] awareness” of evil. Hearing the Gospels reminds Man of that inherent oft obscured knowledge covered with layers of rationalizations. Furthermore the Gospels reveal knowledge necessary for salvation, the Gift of the Holy Spirit that is not contained in human nature, knowledge that surpasses natural law such as the edict that we be prepared to lay down our life for our brother. As Christ has done for us.

  4. Islam is a man made religion and it would have fizzled out if they would not have discovered to spread it by the sword. They used this power of conquest to indoctrinate peoples to keep them obedient. There are pockets of Muslims very devout and pious who believe in a holy Prophet of their own making. St Paul reminds us : do not be deceived, immoral and murderers will not get to heaven. I have read horrific stories of Isis merciless brutalities and saw pictures of crucified men and it is said even children. The Isis elite consisted of well educated men. If you do such grave evil you likely have succumbed to Evil.

  5. Some years ago I posed a question on an Islamic website: Osama bin Laden and Mother Teresa – will they go to heaven or hell?

    The answers I got from Muslims were unanimous. Mother Teresa would go to hell. Osama bin Laden would also go to hell, but only long enough to punish him for the crimes he had committed. Once he had served his sentence he would be admitted to Paradise.

    What made the difference is that Muslims viewed Mother Teresa as a polytheist for belief in the Trinity and in Islam that is “shirk” – a sin that cannot be forgiven. On the other hand, Osama bin Laden was a mass murderer, but he was also a devout Muslim, so his sins were not “shirk” and could be forgiven after a period of just punishment. Only unbelievers receive permanent chastisement.

    After this chat I think many Muslims will view al-Baghdadi as being punished like bin Laden – for a period of time, but not for eternity.

  6. The observations made in this article apply only because, in most media outlets, there is censorship of anything that goes against the narrative, and ignoring Muslim terrorism is part of the narrative. Many of us do know moderate, lovely, community-minded Muslims, who live in harmony in a Christian culture. This is not to the point, as the article is correct- in the case of a Caliphate, these moderate Muslim would be the first to be term apostates. The reality, as is stated honestly (and refreshingly) on this web-site, Islam is a cult of the sword. They practice forced conversions and the murder of those who apostatise. They persecute other religions when they have the power to do so. The Islamic terrorists are not ‘extremists’- they are following the precise dictates of the Qu’ran. However, none of this is ever said – my saying this, either with my friends socially or publicly, would get me labelled ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic’. If I wrote to our local paper saying this, it would not be published. In an era that identifies itself as ‘empowering women’, there is a collective silence about Islamic treatment of women, there is no publicity of the massive, genocidal killings conducted most cruelly and with impunity in Muslim countries (as referred to by Edith Wohldmann, above). I too, have seen photographs of crucified men, none of which are published in the secular press or even the Catholic press. Is this a result of fear? I do not understand it.

  7. “Professor Kilpatrick’s work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation.” Gives enough hints that something is a miss in this carefully crafted opinion piece better categorized as political advertisement and it is a fake political ad.

    While Professor Kilpatrick builds a false narrative with misleading minutia, Dr. Roberts shows us the forest from the trees.

    * First, neocons, ilk of Shillman, did their best to keep Bernie Sanders out of the Democratic party’s nomination so their agent Clinton could steal the election in the last go round. Then they tried to derail candidate Trump’s campaign (see The National Review article from Jan 22, 2016 against him.) If you read it again it sounds similarly polemic to writing of Professor Kilpatrick. Here is what those neocons wrote against President’s candidacy:

    “Trump’s political opinions have wobbled all over the lot. The real-estate mogul and reality-TV star has supported abortion, gun control, single-payer health care à la Canada, and punitive taxes on the wealthy. (He and Bernie Sanders have shared more than funky outer-borough accents.) ”

    * Now that President Trump has mostly killed off Neocon’s pet project, ISIS ( MAGA. Should save Billion$$ for spending at home), they are using some of the not so upright politicians against him.

    Gilad Atzmon is an upright Israeli born Jew who really loves America and seems to be ashamed of what his fellow religious men and women have done. He shares his feelings:

    “Jews may feel that they are stained as a group by problematic characters such as Weisntein, Epstein and Maxwell. They may feel polluted by Israeli politics and the intensive Zionist lobbying that plunders billions of American taxpayers dollars every year.

    “As the White House seems to turn its back on the Neocons’ immoral interventionism, some Jews may be discomfited by the fact that the Neocon war mongering doctrine has been largely a Jewish project. As Haartez writer Ari Shavit wrote back in 2003: “The war in Iraq was conceived by 25 neoconservative intellectuals, most of them Jewish…” Maybe some Jews now understand that the Zionist shift from a ‘promised land’ to the Neocon ‘promised planet’ doesn’t reflect well on the Jews as a group.”

    Gilad calls for self-examination like Herzl the first Zionist did:

    “US Jews may want to follow the early Zionists, such as Theodor Herzl, who turned guilt into self-examination. Herzl was deeply disturbed by anti-Semitism but this didn’t stop him from digging into its causes. “The wealthy Jews control the world, in their hands lies the fate of governments and nations,” Herzl wrote. He continued, “They set governments one against the other. When the wealthy Jews play, the nations and the rulers dance. One way or the other, they get rich.” Herzl, like other early Zionists, believed that Jews could be emancipated from their conditions and even be loved globally by means of a cultural, ideological and spiritual metamorphosis with the aspiration of ‘homecoming.’ Herzl and his fellow early Zionists were clearly wrong in their proposed remedy for the Jewish question, but were absolutely spot on in their adherence to self-reflection and harsh self-criticism.

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