Yesterday someone's son who was about to board a plane from Brussels to somewhere else will not come home. His mother will likely grieve his untimely death. Today someone's son who detonated a suicide vest will not come home, and his mother might or might not celebrate his timely death. Two sons, two mothers, two responses. Why the difference?
In this piece we will examine two ways that a Muslim, who otherwise completely lacks the assurance of Jesus' words "Today you will be with me in paradise," seeks to gain this assurance.
Lack of assurance in Islam:
When I asked our Muslim worker as to the destination of his Muslim relative who had just died, he replied, "When it comes to being assured of entering paradise, it's the Super Lotto. We have no guarantee of winning, we just hedge our bets by buying a lot of tickets."
Abu Bakr who was known as one of the rightly guided caliphs and had been one of the first who was promised paradise by his son-in-law Muhammad, related his own lack of assurance: "By Allah! I would not feel safe from the deception of Allah, even if I had one foot in paradise." He said this because he knew that Allah of Islam was called "the best of deceivers." (Surah 3:54)
A Muslim tradition from the Bukhari collection about the life of Muhammad is also illustrative, as he is reputed to have said: "[T]hough I am the Apostle of Allah, yet do I not know what Allah will do with me." (Bukhari Bk. 63 No.155)
In all of these cases, death is feared, because there is no person who has done enough to merit Allah's favor and has good deeds outweigh the bad. And even if s/he does, there's still no guarantee of him/her going to paradise.
As Muhammad gathered his followers, he had made promises that were "guaranteed" tickets to paradise. The first was immigration in the cause of Allah, and the second was death as a martyr due to holy war or jihad.
Two "guaranteed" tickets to the Islamic paradise:
1. Immigration in the cause of Allah
And whosoever leaves his home as an emigrant unto Allah and His Messenger, and death overtakes him, his reward is then surely incumbent upon Allah
The Islamic commentator Ibn Kathir (d. 1373) examines Surah 4:100 above, of the Koran and relates the meaning that he sees in that text.
Allah tells us that those who migrate for the sake of Allah, seeking to earn His pleasure and that which is with Him, leaving behind their homelands, families and friends, leaving their countries for the sake of Allah and His Messenger to support His religion, then they are killed, i.e., in Jihad, or they die, i.e., they pass away without being involved in fighting, they will have earned an immense reward ...
(Truly, He will make them enter an entrance with which they shall be well-pleased, and verily, Allah indeed is All-Knowing,) meaning, He is All-Knowing about those who migrate and strive in Jihad for His sake and who deserve that (reward).
Most Forbearing,) means, He forgives and overlooks their sins, and He accepts as expiation for their sins, their migration (Hijrah) and their putting their trust in Him. Concerning those who are killed for the sake of Allah, whether they are Muhajirs (migrants) or otherwise, they are alive with their Lord and are being provided for ...
Certainly the Christian reader of Ibn Kathir will see echoes of the word of Jesus, who said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30). In case this is just thought of as good theory, consider an interview with a Syrian riding a train around Christmas 2015 in Germany.
"My main goal for leaving Syria is to lead people to the acceptance of Islam"
In this video from Al Mayadeen TV, [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmRggjGkq14] the Syrian speaker shows that he is anticipating a reward for having moved to Germany with a singular goal of spreading Islam. His missionary enthusiasm comes through as he tells that he would consider his life a failure if he did not accomplish his mission, which he considers more important than his family and his country.
2. Jihad in the cause of Allah
Allah has purchased the persons and possessions of the believers for the Garden [or Paradise]—they fight [q-t-l] in Allah's way: they kill [q-t-l] and are killed [q-t-l]—this is a true promise given by Him in the Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur’an. Who could be more faithful to his promise than Allah? So be happy with the bargain you have made: that is the supreme triumph. ( Surah 9:111)
You who believe, shall I show you a bargain that will save you from painful punishment? 11 Have faith in God and His Messenger and struggle [j-h-d] for His cause with your possessions and your persons—that is better for you, if only you knew—12 and He will forgive your sins, admit you into Gardens graced with flowing streams, into pleasant dwellings in the Gardens of Eternity. That is the supreme triumph. (Haleem rendition of Surah 61:10-12)
Let those (believers) who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter fight in the Cause of Allah, and whoso fights in the Cause of Allah, and is killed or gets victory, We shall bestow on him a great reward (Surah 4:74)
The famous Islamic historian, al-Tabari spoke of jihad in the "cause of Allah" as such:
...We fight people until they believe in Allah. He who believes in Allah and His Messenger has protected his life and possessions from us. As for the one who disbelieves, we will fight him forever in the Cause of Allah. Killing him is a small matter to us. (Book 9:69)
Osama bin Ladin's promises for martyrs in the cause of jihad or holy war largely align with those of Surah 9:111; 61:10-12 and 4:74 above:
A martyr's privileges are guaranteed by Allah; forgiveness with the first gush of his blood, he will be shown his seat in paradise, he will be decorated with the jewels of belief, married off to the beautiful ones, protected from the test in the grave, assured security in the Day of Judgment, crowned with the crown of dignity, a ruby of which is better than this whole earthly world and its entire content, wedded to seventy-two of the pure, beautiful ones of paradise and his intercession on the behalf of seventy of his relatives will be accepted.
In a word: Fighting and killing unbelievers "in the Cause of Allah" comes with the 'guarantee' of the reward of entry to paradise, forgiveness of sins, honor, celestial virgins, and the ability to intercede on behalf of one's family.
As we have seen, both immigration and jihad are not for their own sake, but linked to the "cause of Allah." That is to say, it is to advance Islam and that as one Islamic source tells us, "He who fights [and we might add immigrates] in order that the Word of Allah remains the supreme, is considered as fighting in the cause of Allah." In both cases, these 'guarantees' which in reality are very much false guarantees due to the humanity of the one promising them, have motivated the Syrian to forsake many of his earthly comforts and go on a mission for Islam, and have motivated many youth to join ISIS or to cause the carnage in Brussels.
To a degree these are a back-handed challenge to the church. Does it have a missionary vision like the Syrian? Does it have youth who are more committed to laying their lives down for the sake of the Lord Jesus and His Gospel than they are at getting the next best career? Does it have adults who model a life of sacrifice for "the cause of Jesus?"