In an article in the liberal e-magazine Aafaq (www.aafaqmagazine.com ), reformist writer Mansour Al-Hadj, one of the magazine's senior reporters, described the Islamist education he received as a youth in Saudi Arabia, which stressed the culture of death and the glorification of martyrs. The same messages, he said, were conveyed by the Islamist propaganda to which he was exposed as a university student in Sudan.
Following are excerpts from his article: 
"Growing Up in Saudi Arabia, I Did Not Learn to Love Life... [But] to Love Death as a Martyr for the Sake of Allah"
"After the suicide bombings in two hotels in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, a friend of mine said to me: 'I think something's wrong with the world. Why would a person blow himself up when love of life is a natural human instinct?' I answered: 'Love of life is a natural instinct, but love of death for the sake of Allah is a creed [in Islam], by which the believer brings himself close to the Creator of Life.
"Growing up in Saudi Arabia, I did not learn to love life. On the contrary, I learned to love death as a martyr for the sake of Allah. I was taught that love of life is a characteristic of the hypocrites [i.e. insincere Muslims], and that the ones who protect their lives most keenly are the infidels, as stated in the Koran. I also learned that one who does not participate in Jihad or prepare himself for Jihad dies a hypocrite, as stated in the hadith.
"I learned that, had Allah thought this world worth as much as the wing of a mosquito, [He] would not have permitted the infidels to drink even a sip of water in it, as stated in the hadith. And I was taught that this world, which will [one day] cease to exist, is a prison for the believer, who wishes to escape it, and a paradise for the infidel, who wishes to enjoy all that is in it.
"I learned about the exalted rank that Allah bestows upon the martyr, [a rank so exalted] that his body is not washed [after death] and you do not say the prayer [for the dead] over him - for the purpose of washing is to purify the corpse, and a martyr's death in battle is itself an act of purification.
"Sheikh Saleh bin Fawzan Al-Fawzan, member of the [Saudi] Fatwa Committee and the Supreme Judiciary Council, has said: 'A shahid who dies in a battle with the infidels to promote the word of Allah should not be washed, or wrapped in any shroud other than the clothes in which was killed, because the blood that covers him is a sign of his martyrdom, and should remain on his body and not be removed by washing. When he arises on the Day of Resurrection, the blood dripping [from his body] will have the fragrance of musk. This blood is the result of obedience to Allah, and it must stay on [his body] because it is [a sign of] Allah's grace. [For the same reason,] the prayer [for the dead] must not be said over him, because Allah has honored him with martyrdom, and this [immediately] puts him on an exalted level, for Allah has said that the martyrs are [not dead, but are] "alive [and] are provided sustenance from their Lord [Koran, 3:169].""
"[In Saudi Arabia], we were also taught that every martyr has six privileges. [First of all], from the very first blow, he is absolved and can see his place in Paradise. [Second,] he is spared the torments of the grave. [Third], he is spared the great fear [of Judgment Day]. [Fourth], the crown of honor is placed on his head, each of the precious stones in it worth more than this entire world. [Fifth], he marries 72 wives from among the Virgins of Paradise. [And sixth], he can intercede on behalf of 70 of his relatives, [ensuring that they join him in Paradise after their death].
"When I was young, I enjoyed listening to Islamic hymns, like the rest of my generation, because in school and in Koran school they taught us that listening to secular songs is forbidden, and that those who listen to them and do not repent will be punished by Allah by having [molten] lead poured into their ears. This [threat] was accompanied by [all sorts of other] stories told by the preachers and clerics.
"[For example], they frightened us with a story about a young man who was listening to secular songs [on the radio] while driving his car at an insane speed. [The car] flipped over, and as he was dying, and the paramedics [arrived and] prompted him to say the shahada, but instead of repeating the shahada he repeated the words of the song [he had been listening to]. This, we learned, was proof of the unfortunate end [he would suffer] for his sin of loving music."
The Hymns We Learned Exalted the Martyrs and Urged Muslim Mothers to Welcome the Death of Their Sons
"Most Islamic hymns speak of jihad for the sake of Allah, of the Muslims' suffering throughout the world, and of the high rank that Allah bestows upon the martyr. These are hymns full of militant zeal, which stir up the emotions and the fervor of the youth, and arouse their desire to join the ranks of jihad to defend Islam and raise its banner... [Some hymns] address the mothers, urging them to accept the death of their children and take pride in their death as martyrs for the sake of Allah.
"Here the text of one of these hymns: 'Weep not and regret not, o mother of the shahid. Today your sons [have joined] the generation of anticipated victory. Tell everyone: My son gave up his life for the Lord. My son was a proud man, and for him death is life. Lucky is the heavenly bride who shall receive such a bridegroom, whose fragrance spreads all around him. We shall make you smile again, o mother of the shahid. O mother, do not weep. I am the ransom of Islam, and today my faith has called me. Refraining [from waging jihad] is forbidden. You can ask me about the gardens of Paradise, but this world is worthless rubble. We shall make you smile again, o mother of the shahid. We are bound by a covenant with Allah that we shall never accept humiliation. We come as the army of truth. We protect the lands of Islam. Allah is protecting us, so we do not fear the tyrants. We shall make you smile again, o mother of the shahid.'
"I grew up hating life. The closer I felt to Allah, and the more my love for Allah grew, the more I hated life and despised [the sinners] - those who fight Allah and his Prophet by acts of disobedience, and those who do not worship Allah in the right way, which  naturally [believed] was the Sunni way.
"I was taught that I must hate the Sufis for the sake of Allah, because they are people who follow 'forbidden innovations.' I was taught that the Shi'ite creed is [also] corrupt because they show too much reverence for the [fourth Caliph], the Imam Ali Ibn Abu Talib, and revile the Companions of the Prophet.
"As for hating the infidels and non-Muslims, [I was told that] this is fundamental to the faith, because love for Allah and love for his enemies cannot live together in the heart of a Muslim."
"Most of the Booklets in the Library of [My] KoranSchool Were... about the Jihad Fighters and the Miracles They Performed"
"In my [youth], I admired two groups of jihad fighters: the Arab and Afghan fighters who were fighting the Russians [in Afghanistan], and the Sudanese fighters. [The latter] were fighting their own brethren in Sudan, yet they called it jihad and called their fallen 'martyrs.' Like everybody else in Saudi Arabia, I read stories about the courage of the jihad fighters in Afghanistan and about the miracles they performed - how the angels fought beside them and how their bodies did not rot [when they were killed] but gave off a fragrance of musk.
"The Saudi authorities helped these jihad fighters, and [Saudi clerics issued] fatwas in their support. These stories made a great impression on us. Most of the booklets in the library of [my] Koran school were about jihad, and about the jihad fighters and the miracles they performed. I still remember how, at the end of the prayer, the mosque imams used to call [on the worshipers] to support the jihad fighters in Afghanistan."
When I Was a Student in Sudan, We All Watched a Sudanese TV Series about the Life of the Jihad Fighters and Their Virtues
"In late 1998 I began my university studies in Sudan. [At the time] I was deeply impressed by a [Sudanese] documentary called 'The Fields of Sacrifice,' which aired every Friday evening. All the students, who came from the various parts of the world to study Arabic and Islam, keenly followed this program, which showed the [daily] lives of the jihad fighters before, during, and after battle. [The show also included] enthusiastic speeches by their commanders, and hymns and poems recited by the fighters.
"I remember scenes describing the lives of [the fallen] - men in the prime of their youth who were killed in that war. I clearly remember the voice of the narrator describing the virtues of these martyrs, their words and deeds, and [I remember] how I longed to be in their place. That program made a great impression on the students. It was a dose of jihad propaganda at the end of every week. I don't know what became of it and of those who directed it after 2005, when the Islamists in Sudan signed peace treaty with those who had been called 'enemies of Allah,' but who now had become partners in the Sudanese government.
"The Islamic regime in the Sudan used to hold 'wedding celebrations' for martyrs killed in the war, in which they celebrated the martyr's marriage to the heavenly brides. These functions were attended by government representatives, who would give the family a sum of money, and the most important part of the wedding was a speech by some high-ranking official, and [also] the singing of hymns that would fire up the people who came to offer their condolences.
"The best of the Sudanese youth died victims of this Sudanese jihadist propaganda. The Islamists in Sudan exploited religion to recruit young men who were eager to die for Allah. [Sudanese] youths competed to join the jihad battalions known as 'tank killers,' seeking martyrdom and ready to blow themselves up to destroy the enemy tanks. The Sudanese politicians took pride in these fighters, saying 'the enemy has tanks but we have tank killers.'"