Iranian Ayatollah Affirms Legitimacy of Suicide Operations, Approves Killing Israeli Civilians –Including Children

The issue of martyrdom operations and their religious legitimacy has been repeatedly discussed by Iranian ayatollahs.[1] In a recent fatwa posted on his website in response to an online inquiry, Iranian Ayatollah Taqi Mesbah-e Yazdi ruled that martyrdom operations were not only legitimate but were a duty incumbent upon every Muslim.

The inquirer asked whether such operations were considered suicide and were therefore forbidden, and whether Israeli civilians, especially children, were to be regarded as illegitimate targets, like civilians elsewhere.

Ayatollah_Child_KillerIn his reply, Ayatollah Mesbah-e Yazdi expressed regret that the inquirer had apparently bought into the propaganda of the enemies of Islam, which presented martyrdom operations as suicide, and that the inquirer was wasting his time on this issue instead of focusing on “uprooting the Zionist regime” and its supporters. The Ayatollah ruled that when defending Islam and the Muslim ummah necessitated martyrdom, it was not considered suicide.

Regarding the question about Israeli civilians, he ruled that it was forbidden to harm them only if they had openly declared their opposition to their government. He said it was even permissible to target Israeli civilians used as human shields and in other cases when fighting “the aggressors,” i.e. Israel, necessitated it.

Following are the inquiry and the fatwa, which appeared in the English section of the ayatollah’s website:[2]

Martyrdom Operations Are Not Only Permissible but Obligatory

Q: “Some people say that martyrdom operations are considered suicide and that they are haram [forbidden] because they contradict Islam. They quote Hadiths, such as this one by Imam Ja’afar [Al-Sadeq]: ‘A Muslim may fight and be killed [by the enemy], but will never shed his own blood’ and ayat [Koranic verses] such as: ‘Do not kill yourselves, for Allah is compassionate towards you. Whoever [does,] does so in transgression and wrongfully. We shall roast [him] in a fire, and that is an easy matter for Allah.’ [Koran 4:29-30]

“They say this even about the martyrdom operations against military targets, such as the ones used by Hizbullah [in] Lebanon, or the ones used by the Iranian army against Saddam’s army…

“The question [is whether] martyrdom operations, in which a person detonate[s] himself [in the midst of] enemy [forces], are haram. Is it suicide? Why or why not? Please answer this question, as there is lots of discussion and confusion about this issue.”

A: “It is regrettable that the propaganda of the enemies of Islam has influenced the Muslim ummah so much that Muslims, instead of planning for the uprooting of the Zionist regime and its arrogant supporters, have occupied themselves with questioning and discussing the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ self defense, which is carried out under the most oppressive conditions imaginable.

“[Certainly], when protecting Islam and the Muslim ummah depends on martyrdom operations, it not only is allowed, but is even an obligation (wajib), as many of the [great Shi’ite] scholars and Maraje’ [sources of emulation], including [Ayatollah] Safi Golpayegani and [Ayatollah] Fazel Lankarani, have clearly announced in their fatwas. Consider the rewayah [i.e. tradition about] the prophet of Allah [i.e. Muhammad], who said: ‘Whoever is killed in defense of his belongings, he/she is [a] shahid [martyr]’ (Wasa’il al-Shi’ah, v.15, p.121).”

Only Those Israelis Who Openly Denounce Their Government Are Illegitimate Targets

Q: “Now, about [the] targeting [of] civilians in the Zionist state. Some say that according to the teaching[s] of [Ahl Al-Bayt, i.e. the Prophet Muhammad’s household] and the Koran, it isharam to target civilians in any case. They also say that Israelis are civilians like any other people, while others believe they are settlers and usurpers [rather than] civilians.

“Are the operations [carried out] by Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad against [Israeli] ‘civilians’haram? Why or why not? How about the Israeli children killed in such attacks? If it is not haram, what is the answer to those who quote the Hadith [which forbids targeting] non-combatants.”

A: “Muslims should not attack those civilians of the occupied territories who have announced their opposition to their government’s vicious crimes, except [in] situations in which they are used as human shields and [when] fighting the aggressors depends on attacking those [same] civilians.”

Q: “…Given the fact that [today] there are [weapons of] mass destruction and that it is not always easy to prevent civilian [casualties] in wars [as it was in the past], what would be the ruling about attacks that unintentionally kill civilians in wars (as in the case of the Iran-Iraq war)?

“Also, say we live in a Muslim country, and there is another country which attack[s] one of our cities with nuclear weapons and wipe[s] it out. Then this country announce[s that] it will destroy our cities one by one using nuclear weapons.

“Supposing [this same] country ha[s] all its nuclear weapons in one of their cities – would it be [permissible] for [a] Muslim country to attack this city and destroy the nuclear weapons there before they are used to annihilate the Muslims, even though [this] would [cause civilian casualties] in that city, [if] this [were] the only way to protect the lives of the Muslims?…”

A: “In the case of conflict between two Muslim nations, Muslims should assist the oppressed against the oppressor.

“But before the war is waged, initiating [preemptive attacks] depends on [whether] permission [is granted by the] velayat-e faqih [rule of the jurisprudent].

“With prayers for your success.”

End Notes: [1] For more on Iranian Shi’a’s discussion of martyrdom operations and their religious legitimacy, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Report No.439, “Iranian Women’s Magazine Shut Down for Publishing Investigative Article on Martyrdom Movement,” May 22, 2008,

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