Theology & Religion

Excellence in Scholarship and Learning


Faith at Suicide

Lives in Forfeit – Self-Bombed and Self-Betrayed

Kenneth Cragg was first in Jerusalem in 1939, and subsequently became deeply involved in areas of faith between Semitic religions under the stress of current politics. He later pursued doctoral studies in Oxford where he first graduated and became ‘Prizeman’ in Theology and Moral Philosophy, and where he is now an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College. He was a Bishop in the Anglican Jurisdiction in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Middle East, and played ecclesiastical roles in Africa and India. A Certain Sympathy of Scriptures is a companion book to his Readings in the Qur’an (1988; 1999), and more broadly to his Faiths in Their Pronouns: Websites of Identity (2002). Other works by Bishop Cragg, and published by Sussex Academic Press, include: With God in Human Trust – Christian Faith and Contemporary Humanism; The Weight in the Word – Prophethood, Biblical and Quranic; and The Education of Christian Faith.

Purposeful suicide in contemporary Islam and the deep pathos in its frequency for religious ends is the main impulse to the topic of Faith at Suicide. The Islamic phenomenon needs to be set in a wider context which reckons with suicide’s incidence elsewhere, with its uneasy associations in martyrdom and with how it interrogates – or is interrogated by – the ethics of religious faith. The enigma of wilful suicide is no less a challenge to sanity or compassion when such faith is absent from the deed or dimly yearned for by it.

‘I am pregnant with my cause’, orators may boast. But they were never pregnant with themselves. Our birth was unsolicited on our part. We have all to reach a philosophy about our living, which is perpetually at stake and which we are free to curtail. Dark cynics have said that life is no more than forbearing not to commit suicide. While the sheer mystery of birth demands we disavow all such self-refusal, what then of those who resolve to make it forfeit for an end they must also abdicate in doing so? Selves are ‘banished and betrayed’ when weary despair registers what ill-fate itself has done to them. It is more darkly so when the precious human frame, the body’s wonder, by ‘self-bombing’ encases lethal death in and for and from itself.

This book sets out to explain how the issue of suicide belongs with the conscience of Islam today, and how suicide in all circumstances, with or without religious overtones – be they Islamic or Christian or other faith – is an inherent contradiction of our common humanity, as expressed in human birth which expressly involves us in mankind.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-110-8
Paperback Price: £14.95 / $29.95
Release Date: June 2005
Page Extent / Format: 192 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Introduction Body-Tenancy/Soul-Tenure

'Canon Fixed 'Gainst Self-Slaughter’

The Veto Rescinded

‘Eyeless in Gaza'

The Masada Mind

Suicidal Christian Martyrology

The Kiss and the Suicide of Iscariot

Understanding Gethsemane

The Suicidal in Contemporary Islam

Suicides and Shares

Faith and the Bond with Life

These Unbelieving Believers

Index of Names and Terms
Index of Themes
Biblical References
Quranic References

“Bishop Cragg offers a comparative study of suicide in the Abrahamic religions, and deep theological reflection. The second is largely rooted in religious studies, drawing on insights from critical theory and post-colonial studies. It is informed by a hermeneutics of suspicion. The author criticises Samson’s commendation in the NT, presents Judas’s suicide as no justification for anti-Judaic prejudice, and argues that some early Christians translated a readiness to suffer into a warrant for self-slaughter – a misreading, he holds, of Gethsemane. Samson’s legacy is taced through Milton and the Zionist Jabotinsky (d. 1940), who uses the saga to justify violence. Cragg then argues that Muslim suicide bombers are different in kind. Cragg’s study does not offer a genealogy of contemporary Muslim suicide bombing – which would track its incidence to Shi’ites in the Iran-Iraq war, to its adoption by Hezbollah in Lebanon, then Hamas and radical secular groups in Israel-Palestine. Instead, he worries that suicide bombers appeal to elements of Islamic scripture and early history which can be read to justify violent conflict. As ever, we are led back to exploring the nature of God as it is understood in Christianity and Islam, and how his victory is to be understood. Cragg believes that Muslims are possessed of resources and religious perspectives that could de-legitimise the zealotry of the suicide bomber – especially if they draw on the first Meccan phase of the Prophet’s life, when the commendation of truth was not yet wedded to the military pursuit of power. The urgency of the task and what is at stake is captured in a neologism, ‘fideocide’.” Church Times

“Kenneth Cragg has been at the forefront of Islamic studies and dialogue during his long lifetime. In his latest work we are again in his debt. The cult of the suicide bomber within modern Islam perplexes many Western minds and Cragg helps the reader to explore the theological issues.

Cragg points to the great contradiction when a faithful Muslim chooses the path of faith-suicide. God says to Adam in the Qur’an: ‘Be and you shall be.’ This gift of being is to be expressed in faithful obedience, islam, to the will of the creator. Those created are to be at the disposal of their maker. God’s sovereign will alone can decide the moment when breath will be withdrawn in death. To violently un-make the self in faith-suicide represents the very denial of that faith. It utterly fails to bear witness to the sovereignty of the God whom it claims to represent.

How then can such a dire act be approved by the perpetrators and their supporters? Cragg points to the particular circumstances in which Islam originated. The Prophet’s years of preaching in Mecca were ended by the Hijrah, the great withdrawal of his followers from Mecca to Medina. The message was deemed to have been rejected by the rulers of Mecca. The only way forward was deemed to be by jihad, holy war to bring about the rule of God. The House of Islam must confront the House of the Unbeliever.

The Qur’an warns the followers of Muhammad against fitnah, meaning ‘pressure on faith’, especially faint-heartedness in the issue of war. They must not shirk from battle through reluctance and fear. The word ‘fitnah moved in meaning from the sedition in a Muslim’s heart to rebellion and secret plotting by the enemies of Islam. Muslims were required to use constant vigilance and pre-emptive strikes in order to thwart sedition. Faced with overwhelming power from the House of the Unbeliever, then the Muslim must seek desperate measures to surprise and undermine it. So a case can be made for suicide-bombing as the only way for Muslims to even the odds against the enemies of Islam.
Reverting to the premise that such acts undermine the faith of Islam itself, Cragg hopes for a renewed understanding of the Qur’an by Muslims. The Qur’an, like any sacred text, is capable of differing interpretations. In India, not long after 9/11, the Muslim scholar, Wahiduddin Khan, based his Islam, a Religion of Peace on Muhammad’s saying: ‘Avoid being angry at all times.’ He wrote: ‘Never being angry is the essence of Islam. All disputes should be resolved by dialogue. Violence has no place in Islam. Islam means peace.’

In the 19th century, asserting pan-Arabism, ‘Abd al-Rahmin al-Kawakibi argued that the Ottoman caliphate was an example of shirk, an idolatrous act that supplanted the sovereignty of the creator. Cragg believes the same argument could be applied to al-Qaeda’s assertion of their cause. The vital thing, Cragg says, is to give priority to the preaching of the Prophet at Mecca over those surahs enjoining war in the later context of Medina. Islam’s best way forward in the modern world is through pleading, argument and persuasion, which means to be truly in the path of the Prophet of Mecca.

Cragg sets all this in a wider canvas that explores suicide within faith and apparent non-faith. We are reminded of Samson slaying more Philistines at his suicidal death than in life; and of the Zealots of Masada (according to Josephus), who preferred taking their own lives to captivity under Rome. Judas might be understood in similar terms, a Zealot whose hopes that a captured Jesus might behave like a victorious Messiah were dashed to pieces. What of Jesus himself, choosing to put himself in the path of death? Or of Christian martyrs, like Ignatius of Antioch, earnestly desiring to be ground by the lion’s teeth into pure bread for Christ? Empedocles on Etna desired to be reunited with the element of fire. Primo Levi could not endure the burden of being a survivor of the Shoah. Virginia Woolf despaired at the return of war.” Anvil

Books can be ordered by phone or online

Ordering in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australasia, South America and Rest of the World

Gazelle Book Services
Direct sales tel.: +44 (0)1524 528500; email:
Web ordering:

Ordering in the United States and Canada
Independent Publishers Group (IPG)
Direct sales tel.: (800) 888-4741
Web ordering:

Bookseller Ordering
Information is provided under the Resources tab.

eBook Ordering
e-Book type availability can be sourced via by book title. Kindle availability is via Amazon .com and sites.