Suhail Khan has publicly adopted the “we love death more than you love life” formulation which has been employed by jihadists, terrorists and would-be terrorists around the world.
Suhail Khan made the following statement in his speech to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention in 1999:
This is our determination. This is the fierce determination we must resolve to bear in every facet of our lives. This is the mark of the Muslim. The earliest defenders of Islam would defend their more numerous and better equipped oppressors, because the early Muslims loved death, dying for the sake of almighty Allah more than the oppressors of Muslims loved life. This must be the case where we — when we are fighting life’s other battles….
That formulation – “we love death as you love life” – should be a familiar one to Westerners who have followed the jihadist movement over the past several years. In Islamic history, it’s attributed to the “Sword of Islam,” the title given to a military commander during the time of Islam’s violent expansion into Persian territory after Mohammed’s death. In 2004, Steve Salinsky of the National Review wrote about the origins of the concept:
This originated at the Battle of Qadisiyya in the year 636, when the commander of the Muslim forces, Khalid ibn Al-Walid, sent an emissary with a message from Caliph Abu Bakr to the Persian commander, Khosru. The message stated: “You [Khosru and his people] should convert to Islam, and then you will be safe, for if you don’t, you should know that I have come to you with an army of men that love death, as you love life.” This account is recited in today’s Muslim sermons, newspapers, and textbooks.
In recent history this formulation has been used consistently by terrorists and would-be-terrorists to describe the jihadist imperative against the West:
- National Geographic quoted Osama Bin Laden as saying, “We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us.”
- Shortly after the Madrid subway bombings of 2004, the Boston Globe reported that a videotaped al-Qaeda message included the following:
We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly 2 1/2 years after the attacks on New York and Washington. It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies…
- In a February 2008 speech, member of Hamas and the Palestinian Legislative Council Fathi Hamad said:
…[Palestinians] created a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the Jihad fighters against the Zionist bombing machine, as if they were saying to the zionist enemy, “We desire Death, as you desire Life.”
- The jihadist who murdered 13 people in November 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas, Major Nidal Malik Hassan, gave an hour-long PowerPoint presentation to his colleagues on “The Koranic World View As It Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military.” The final bullet point of one section read simply: “We love death more then [sic] you love life!”
- In January 2010, a Queens, NY man (Adis Medunjanin) tied to a suspected al Qaeda-trained terrorist exclaimed, “We love death more than you love life!” in Arabic as he sped erratically away from federal agents through local streets at up to 90 mph and crashed into another car in an apparent bid to martyr himself.
In a January 2011 letter to the ACU board, Suhail Khan defended himself with the following statement:
In the speech I referred to the early Muslims who, like the early Christian martyrs, were willing to die rather than renounce their faith in God... I was speaking to a room full of Muslim American yuppies, and was attempting to inspire them to dedicate their lives towards working for individual liberty (and against then President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno), religious freedom, to end hunger, poverty, and for peace in troubled areas of the world like, Iraq, Israel and Palestine.
The Bottom Line:
As demonstrated above, the “we love death as you live life” formulation has been used primarily as a rallying cry for contemporary jihadists. In his explanation, Khan takes advantage of his audience’s unfamiliarity with both the term and the history of Islam itself.
As its origins in expansionist, imperial jihad by “The Sword of Allah” indicate, Khan’s comparison to the tradition of Christian martyrdom is specious. Christian martyrs were willing to die rather than renounce their faith in the context of persecution and captivity at the hands of the dominant political/religious regime of the day. Conversely, Khan’s language hearkens back to a situation in which an aggressive Muslim army was imposing conversion or death upon their opponents on the battlefield. Khan’s words sound more like a call to “Muslim American yuppies” to embrace violent jihad rather than an inspiration “to end hunger, poverty, and for peace…”