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June 27, 2001 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 61

The Joy of the Mothers of Palestinian 'Martyrs'

June 27, 2001 | By Aluma Dankowitz
Palestine | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 61

The religious devotion of suicide bombers before they embark on their attacks, the joy shown even by children who express their will to become "martyrs", and the customary jubilation of mothers and families when hearing of their sons' deaths reveal how deep rooted in Islamic history the concept of "Martyrdom" (Shahada) and its affect on the Intifada.

The Palestinian press repeatedly exalts the religious status of the martryr [Shahid] for the sake of Allah. The Chief Mufti of the PA Police, Sheik Abd Al-Salam Skheidm, for example, specified in 1999, long before the Intifada, the rewards the Shahid earns according to the Islamic tradition: From the moment his first drop of blood spills, he feels no pain and he is absolved of all his sins; he sees his seat in heaven; he is spared the tortures of the grave; he is spared the horrors of the Day of Judgment; he is married to [70] black eyed [women]; he can vouch for 70 of his family members to enter paradise; he earns the crown of glory whose precious stone is worth all of this world."[1]

With the outbreak of the Intifada, the descriptions of the Shahids’ virtues have increased in the Palestinian media: funerals of Shahids are described as weddings[2] and thousands come "to congratulate"[3] the family and "celebrate" the "wedding."

A week before the latest Tel-Aviv suicide bombing, the Mufti of the PA, Sheik Ikrima Sabri, discussed this issue in a Friday sermon at the Al-Aqsa mosque: "the Muslim loves death and martyrdom, just as you [Jews] love life. There is a great difference between he who loves the Hereafter and he who loves this world. The Muslim loves death [and he seeks] Martyrdom.[4]

Sheik Abd Al-Halim ’Ayyash from Jerusalem explained that "a Shahid has a high rank and value in Islam, in both this world and the Hereafter. The strive for Martyrdom is a desired virtue in Islam, but not every soul is capable of it, because someone who strives for Martyrdom must have a high degree of faith, religious determination, devotion, and loyalty to supreme religious and national causes."[5]

In Islamic history there are many examples of the jubilation in Martyrdom. Sheik Shaker Al-Natsheh from Jerusalem recalled the case of the poet Al-Khansaa who, before converting to Islam, cried until she became blind when she heard of her brother's death; but, once she converted to Islam, she rejoiced when she heard of her four sons' deaths in the battle of Al-Qadesyia.[6] Sheik Sabri mentioned in his sermon the sublime way in which the Prophet [Muhammad] had instructed his followers to react to Martyrdom: "Before the [Muslim] army returned to Al-Madina, the Prophet went to the house of Ja’far [bin Abi Taleb who was martyred] and asked his wife to wash her children and dress them with clean garments..."[7]

The religious concept of Martyrdom is evident in statements attributed by the media to relatives of Shahids, and to the Shahids themselves. Sa'id Al-Hotari who committed the suicide bombing in Tel-Aviv, left a will which expresses faith in the divine reward that awaits him: "There is nothing greater than being martyred for the sake of Allah, on the land of Palestine. Cry in joy, my mother, hand out candy, my father and brothers, for your son awaits a wedding with the black-eyed in heaven..."[8] The mother of 14 year-old Muhammad Sha’rawi tells of her son who was killed in the clashes: "He had sought martyrdom and found it... He always said he would die as a Shahid and asked me not to cry for him or be sorry, because he was going to Heaven."[9] The father of 13 year-old Muhammad Hils said that his son "kept talking all the time about Martyrdom. He used to talk with his friends about the benefits of Martyrdom and the high status of the Shahids by their God."[10] Also, the sister of Lutfi Mas’ud who was killed 40 days after his brother, Mahmoud, explained that her tears "are tears of anger towards the murderer [who killed her brother] and not tears of sorrow, because one should not be sorry for a Shahid."[11]

The belief that a Shahid is rewarded with eternal life next to Allah derives from the Koran: "Consider not those who have died for the sake of Allah as dead but rather as alive, who are being nurtured by their Lord."[12] The belief that a wedding with the black-eyed awaits the Shahid in the heavens explains, in part, the customary jubilation that accompanies the news of his death. This phenomenon has provoked claims in the West that Palestinian mothers are happy with the death of their sons, and prompted some Palestinian explanations.

Sheik Abd Al-Halim ’Ayyash says: "The family of the Shahid, and especially his mother, are sorry, are in pain, and even crying... [after all] death is death. However, when the dead is a Shahid, the issue is somewhat different. The Shahid has secured himself, and possibly his family too, a place in Heaven... In other words, this dead person is not like others who die. It has nothing to do with the human aspect of this issue, since sorrow is sorrow. The jubilation that accompany's the funerals of Shahids do not sincerely express the psychological state of the Shahid's parents, and especially his mother's. Death always causes pain and sorrow and the jubilation may [mean] an acceptance of Allah's verdict."[13]

In an article titled "The Tears of Sorrow and the Cries of Happiness", columnist Hussein Abu Tawahna explains how the mother can combine these two contradictions: "The Al-Aqsa Intifada is a struggle in which a physical aspect and an emotional aspect mix. Physically, when a son, a brother, or a husband is martyred, the tears flow because of the [pains of] the departure. The belief is that a man who is martyred is, in fact, alive and exists next to his Lord. Therefore, the tears are for the departure and the jubilation is for the reward [that awaits the Shahid]."[14]

The mother of Hilal and Bilal from the village of Ya'bad who were killed on the same day describes how the religious belief helps her overcome the pain: "During the day, when I try to forget and calm myself. I follow the Koran and thank Allah and ask for forgiveness for my children, and especially when I hear that the Shahids [belong] in Heaven. I ask Allah to forgive them and recite the verses of the Koran that I know by heart. However, when I am alone even for some moments, I live with them and imagine all their movements... then I feel the pain exhausting me."[15] Another mother whose son was killed describes her feelings when she received the news of his death: "I felt deep sorrow, but the fact that my son dies as a Shahid cooled the fire in my heart and alleviated my pain."[16]

Columnist Husam Badran explains: "Martyrdom is, ultimately, a loss. However, it is a loss through distinction. The Shahid’s mother finds in this distinction a refuge, some sort of compensation for her pain and loss. She seems psychologically balanced because she believes the marytr is one of the birds of Heaven, if he dies as a child, or one of the guards of Heaven, if he died as a youth. Therefore, crying is considered shameful for the mother and family of a Shahid. She is required to accompany him with cries of jubilation to his grave, as if he is a groom who did not complete... his marriage."[17]

Farid Hamad, an Arabic language teacher, pointed to the relationship between the matrimonial processions of a Shahid and those of a groom on his wedding day. The groom is the most important person on his wedding day and the center of attention for the family and village. Of course, the Shahid has an important [social] status on his day of death. The groom leads the parade towards his bride, while the Shahid, is led through the procession as well.

According to Hamad, the cries of jubilation are an attempt to rise above the wounds and, possibly, an attempt to upset the occupation - as if the Shahid’s relatives scream in the face of the occupation: "We ignore you, we are winning." The calls of jubilation, the candies that are being handed out at the funerals of Shahids, and the sweet coffee that is given to the people, rather than bitter coffee in other funerals, are an attempt to rise above the wounds. "A Culture of Martyrdom" has developed in Islam. The Muslims strive for Martyrdom because it places a person on the level of the Prophets… It is true, that [at the beginning of Islam], there were no ceremonial jubilations when one of them was martyred, however, customs change from one period to another and from one society to another."[18]

I'tidal Al-Jariri, a psychologist and a member of the Palestinian Association for Working Women, explains that "at first, it may seem to us that the jubilation of the Shahid’s mother, wife, or sister signifies happiness for the Martyrdom - a kind of death [others also] wish to achieve. Since it is my belief that nobody wants to die and that life is precious for any person, the Shahid’s mother or wife cry in jubilation in order to comfort their souls, as if they say: "This is the kind of death any Palestinian would wish, let alone that it took place right here. Of course, society and the media play an important role as well in establishing these ceremonies. Psychologically, the Shahid’s mother feels deep sorrow and the signs of her loss become apparent after a while, when the social solidarity surrounding her disappears... The jubilation is a kind of relief. When the mother begins the cries of joy, she tries to unload feelings of anger she cannot express. This cry is very different than the cry of sorrow. Society legitimizes this kind of jubilation rather than other forms of relief... The jubilation and calling Shahids’ funerals weddings is a kind of deception of emotions in order to adapt to the common social position. The world must understand that there are certain social criteria that force the Palestinian mother to express [her joy] in this manner; some narrow-minded people may interpret this as happiness in death, but this is not the case. These cries do not express the inner emotions of the mother or wife. The Palestinian centers for psychological guidance witnessed many women who still suffer of what may be called "a loss-crisis."[19]

Author Ghassan Zaqtan, also explained that in his view the cries of jubilation and other gestures that accompany Martyrdom rituals are "a defense mechanism invented by man in order to turn the sad loss into faked happiness in an attempt to evade the great loss."[20]

*Aluma Solnick is a Research Associate with MEMRI.


[1] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida(PA) , September 17, 1999.

[2] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 13, 2001.

[3] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), November 30, 2001.

[4] Voice of Palestine Radio, May 25, 2001.

[5] Al-Youm Al-Thamin, Al-Ayyam (PA), March 15, 2001.

[6] Al-Youm Al-Thamin, Al-Ayyam (PA), March 15, 2001.

[7] Voice of Palestine Radio, May 25, 2001.

[8] Al-Risala (PA), June 7, 2001.

[9] Al-Quds (PA), December 1, 2000.

[10] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), April 10, 2001.

[11] Al-Istiqlal (PA), November 23, 2000.

[12] Koran, 3:169.

[13] Al-Youm Al-Thamin, Al-Ayyam (PA), March 15, 2001.

[14] Al-Manar (PA), December 4, 2000.

[15] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), November 18, 2000.

[16] Al-Youm Al-Thamin, Al-Ayyam (PA), March 15, 2001.

[17] Al-Youm Al-Thamin, Al-Ayyam (PA), March 15, 2001.

[18] Al-Youm Al-Thamin, Al-Ayyam (PA), March 15, 2001.

[19] Al-Youm Al-Thamin, Al-Ayyam (PA), March 15, 2001.

[20] Al-Youm Al-Thamin, Al-Ayyam (PA), March 15, 2001.

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