A couple of times earlier this week commenters made mention of the myth that Islam promises 72 virgins to suicide bombers or similar terrorists who die.
One person even attributed the idea to the Prophet Muhammad himself.
Well, let's have a look at this today. The short answer is that the Qur'an says nothing about 72 virgins. And if suicide bombers are sucked into this work by such a false promise, they are relying on bad theology.
There is one saying in the "Hadith," or Traditions, which is the collection of sayings and actions of the prophet, and it mentions 72 wives. But this one saying is considered not reliable. And besides, as I say, it talks about "wives," not virgins.
One of the best explanations I've found for all this is this 2002 article in the British newspaper The Guardian. What I especially like in this piece is the information at the end that a word often translated "virgin" may, in fact, mean not virgin at all but white raisin.
As regular readers of this blog know, I'm reluctant to give you references to Wikipedia because the entries there can be unreliable. With that warning, here's the Wikipedia entry on this subject. It, too, concludes that the 72 virgins myth is exactly that, a myth -- with some extenuating circumstances.
You can do your own searching on this subject on the Internet or in books, and pretty much come to the same conclusion. For instance, if you do a Google search on "72 virgins myth" you'll find, among countless other pieces, this one, which includes a fuller explanation of the "72 wives" Hadith I mentioned above.
Remember also that the Qur'an specifically forbids suicide. It does not forbid the idea that one can put one's life at risk in self-defense or the defense of one's land. But in almost any religion and culture self-defense is permitted. Not suicide bombing of innocents, but self-defense.
And as C.T.R. Hewer notes in his book Understanding Islam: An Introduction, "It is interesting to note that no matter how hard pressed the young Musliim community was in the time of the Prophet, he did not launch a suicide attack."
And in his book The Heart of Islam, Seyyed Hossein Nasr first notes that suicide "is forbidden by Islamic Law," and then adds this: "For Muslims, the difficult question on both moral and religious grounds concerns those who live under appalling oppression and in a state of despair and have no other means of defense except their bodies. Even in such cases the Islamic injunction that one cannot kill innocent people even in a war must of necessity hold."
So if such suicides are forbidden by Islam, why would those who commit such acts expect any reward in heaven, much less 72 virgins? Let's leave off with continuing to give credence to this 72 virgins nonsense.
(I found the image here today at this site: http://media.photobucket.com/image/stairway%20to%20heaven/Sharimu/Stairway-to-Heaven.jpg)
* * *
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND TOLERANCE? NOT SO MUCH
Vietnam, run by an oppressive regime, seem to be trying again to drive a stake through the heart of religion. What a sad and foolish thing. The latest instance has to do with a monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. Governments that are frightened of religion reveal much more about themselves than they do about religion.