Shaykh Aminu Daurawa, Boko Haram and the Theological Discourse on Suicide Bombing

Abdulbasit Kassim
11 min readAug 19, 2017


In his lecture on 12 June 2009 titled “Open Letter to the Nigerian Government” (Part 5), Muhammad Yusuf issued the first implicit sanction for suicide bombings in the predictable showdown with the Nigerian government. He said: “Everything that you are asked to do, even if you will die, go and do it, do not come back and say: “When I went…?” No! When you go, even if you will die, go and do it. Don’t you see how they put bombs on people, instructing them to leave, so they will go and explode? And yet they are happy. You should be like that. Whatever they forbid you from doing, even if you will die, do not do it.”

It is quite evident that Muhammad Yusuf did not arrive at this theological reasoning from a vacuum. This week’s widely circulated audio lecture from Shaykh Aminu Daurawa confirms that Yusuf’s verdict once gained traction as a common ideological trend among leading Salafi clerics in the region. The ideological alteration only took effect in the aftermath of the Kanamma uprising when the Salafi clerics abandon their flirtation with the Jihadi project that was initially designed to support the jihadi campaigns abroad as opposed to the intramural jihad in Nigeria advocated by Muhammad Ali, Abu Umar, and Yusuf Ahmed.

From 2004 when Muhammad Yusuf returned from Saudi Arabia — following the successful plea for his exoneration from the Kanamma imbroglio by the Salafi clerics and Adamu Dibal, Former Deputy Governor of Borno State — up to 2009 when he was extrajudicially killed, Yusuf engaged in protracted ideological debates on different topical issues with the Salafi establishment. In all his debates, Yusuf routinely displayed his feeling of disappointment and betrayal and he could not really discern why the Salafi clerics departed from their flirtation with the Jihadi project which was once conspicuous in their lectures and covert in their transnational undertakings. All through the period of ideological debates with Muhammad Yusuf, the Salafi clerics did not renege on their theological position on suicide bombings unlike their retractions on other topical issues.

In 2010, Muhammad Yusuf’s group now popularly known as Boko Haram released a Hausa Nasheed “we are not Boko Haram, we are the people of Sunna” to redeem the group’s image among the populace. One of the verses of the Nasheed reads as follows: “We will carry out ‘martyrdom operations’ you have heard; that is the act of suicide bombing in Nigeria. We will share it to your barracks and your churches and against the Christians and ṭāghūt that are in Nigeria.” It never really came as a shock when on 16 June 2011, Muhammad Manga carried out the first suicide bombing in Nigeria at the Police headquarters. In fact, it did not come as a surprise that Boko Haram became the group with the highest number of female suicide bombers.

The theological position of Shaykh Aminu Daurawa and Boko Haram on the issue of suicide bombing can be better understood by taking a cursory glance of the global theological debates on the religious, political, and moral legitimacy on suicide bombings all of which started with the debates on Palestinian suicide bombings against Israel. In his interview with الشرق الأوسط on 21 April 2001, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia الشيخ عبد العزيز بن عبد الله آل الشيخ was questioned about the use of suicide bombing as a warfare tactic by Islamic countries subjugated through occupation. He responded by saying:

اما ما وقع السؤال عنه من طريقة قتل النفس بين الاعداء او ما اسميته بالطرق الانتحارية فان هذه الطريقة لا اعلم لها وجهاً شرعياً ولا انها من الجهاد في سبيل الله، واخشى ان تكون من قتل النفس، نعم اثخان العدو وقتاله مطلوب بل ربما يكون متعيناً لكن بالطرق التي لا تخالف الشرع.

“As for the question of how to kill oneself among the enemies or what I call the path of suicide, verily, this path I am not aware of its legitimacy in the Shari’a and it is not jihad for the sake of Allah and I fear it is merely killing oneself. Although it is permissible to kill the enemy, it must be done in ways that do not contradict the Shari’a.”

The Fatwa of الشيخ عبد العزيز بن عبد الله آل الشيخ was censured by the Palestinian religious authorities and a torrent of counter-fatwas explaining the distinction between suicide bombings and martyrdom operations were issued by Shaykh Muhammad Isma`il al-Jamal, the Mufti of Jericho; Shaykh Hamid al-Bitawi, Head of the Palestinian Islamic Scholars Association and Shaykh of al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi. The latter added a caveat that whosoever bomb themselves amongst babies, women, and the elderly, cannot be considered a martyr.

Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi also countered the fatwa from the Saudi Mufti and his views were clearly outlined in the July 2003 European Council for Fatwa and Research Conference in Stockholm with the theme “Jihad and Denying its Connection to Terror”. In the conference, Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi spoke in favor of suicide operations within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle: “The martyrdom operations carried out by the Palestinian factions to resist the Zionist occupation are not in any way included in the framework of prohibited terrorism, even if the victims include some civilians.” Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi went further to list five reasons for his position:

a) Israel is a military society so those they call civilians are in effect ‘soldiers’ in the army of the sons of Zion; b) Israel is a ‘society of invaders’ and the Palestinian jihad is a jihad of necessity not Jihad of choice even when innocent civilians are killed; c) According to Islamic law, the blood and property of people of Dar al-Harb is not protected; d) Muslim clerics have made it permissible to kill innocent Muslims who are under coercion in order to protect the greater Muslim community. Therefore, it is all the more so permissible to kill non-Muslims in order to liberate the land of the Muslims from its occupiers and oppressors; and e) The people of Palestine are, without a doubt, in a situation of extreme necessity to carry out martyrdom operations in order to unsettle their enemies and the plunderers of their land.

Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi did not stop there. He went further to also make a distinction between suicide bombings and martyrdom operations, a distinction that will later become a hallmark in the jihadi discourse on the subject. Qaradawi said: “While the [person who commits] suicide dies in escape and retreat, the one who carries out a martyrdom operation dies in advance and attack. Unlike the [person who commits] suicide, who has no goal except escape from confrontation, the one who carries out a martyrdom operation has a clear goal, and that is to please Allah.”

Other Islamic scholars that spoke in favor of suicide bombings like Dr. Nasr Farid Wasil, the former Mufti of Egypt; Shaykh Muhammad Al-Hajj Nasir, member of the International Academy of Islamic Jurisprudence in Morocco; Dr. Fathi Al-Darini, member of the Jordanian Fatwa Council; Shaykh Ahmad Al-Qubeisi, an Iraqi Sunni cleric; Shaykh Muhammad al-Zein, a Lebanese cleric;`Issam Ahmad Al-Bashir, the Former Sudanese Minister of Religious Endowments; Shaykh `Ali Gum`a, Egyptian Mufti and al-Azhar Professors, Shaykh Ahmad Umar Hashim, Dr. Muhammad Rafat Uthman, Dr. Muhammad Ibrahim Al-Fayyumi and Dr. Muhammad Rushdi followed Shaykh Qaradawi’s line of argument that suicide bombing is permissible as a warfare tactic for the Palestinians against the Israelis.

In an interview with BBC Arabic aired on 8 February 2010, Shaykh Qaradawi reiterated his support for Martyrdom operations: “I supported martyrdom operations, and I was not the only one. Hundreds of Islamic scholars supported these operations. When the Islamic Jurisprudence Council convened in Kuwait, hundreds of scholars signed their names to a fatwa [supporting such operations]. This is a necessary thing, as I told them in London. Give the Palestinians tanks, airplanes, and missiles, and they won’t carry out martyrdom operations. They are forced to turn themselves into human bombs, in order to defend their land, their honor, and their homeland.” The green light Shaykh Qaradawi and other Islamic scholars gave to suicide operations even against Israeli civilians and their statement that dialogue with the Jews will only take place through human bombs later became a gold mine for the Jihadi-Salafis. While the question of suicide bombing within the context of Palestinian-Israeli conflict was subjected to heated debates with no consensus, there were other scholars, specifically the Jihadi-Salafi scholars that took the theological support for suicide bombings further outside the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Although Shaykh Aminu Daurawa now identifies himself with a school of thought outside the Jihadi-Salafi circle, his verdict on suicide bombings is akin to the verdict issued in the following literature written by prominent Jihadi-Salafi scholars:
1. هل انتحرت حواء أم استشهدت by يوسف العييري
2. العمليات الجهادية الاستشهادية؛ حكمها، شروطها، فضلها، ثوابها by الأمين الحاج محمد أحمد
3. جواز العمليات الإستشهادية وأنها ليست بقتل للنفس by أبو قتادة الفلسطيني
4. حكم قتل أطفال ونساء الكفار في العمليات الإستشهادية by سليمان بن ناصر العلوان
5. حكم العمليات الإستشهادية by علي بن خضير الخضير
6. حكم العمليات الإستشهادية by حمود بن عقلاء الشعيبي
7. حول فتوى مفتي السعودية بشأن العمليات الاستشهادية by أبو محمد المقدسي

The Saudi Jihadi-Salafi Scholar, Yusuf al-`Uyayri wrote his book هل انتحرت حواء أم استشهدت on the distinction between Suicide bombings and Martyrdom operations within the context of the Chechnya conflict, specifically after the suicide operation of the Chechen woman, Hawwa Barayev and other operations carried out by Abdurrahman al-Shishani and Qadhi Mawladi. In his book, al-`Uyayri argued that:
فما أعظم الفرق بين مشرقٍ ومغرب، فالمنتحر عليه لعنة من الله وله نار جهنم، ومقته الله في كتابه وأعد له عذاباً عظيما، وهو لم يقدم على هذا إلا بسبب الجزع وعدم الصبر وضعف الإيمان أو انتفائه، أما الفدائي فإن الله يضحك منه ويرضى عنه ويرضيه وإذا ضحك ربك لأحد فلا يبأس بعدها أبدا، وما أقدم المجاهد على هذا إلا لقوة إيمانه ويقينه ولنصرة دين الله وفداء منه بنفسه لإعلاء كلمة الله،
“How great is the difference between the East and West? For the one who commits suicide because of his unhappiness, lack of patience and weakness or absence of Iman, he has been threatened with Hell-Fire and has earned the Curse of Allah. And as for the one who sacrifices himself, he has not embarked upon the operation, except due to the strength of His Iman and sincerity, and to bring victory to Islam, by sacrificing his life to raise the word of Allah.”
After citing the Quranic verses Tawbah 111, Baqarah 249, Baqarah 207 as well the story of the People of the Ditch in Surah al-Buruj to buttress his position, Yusuf al-Uyayri went further to cite scholars from each Sunni schools of thought:
قال ابن عابدين في حاشيته 4/303: لا بأس أن يحمل الرجل وحده وإن ظن أنه يقتل إذا كان يصنع شيئاً بقتل أو بجرح أو يهزم، فقد نقل ذلك عن جماعة من الصحابة بين يدي رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يوم أحد ومدحهم على ذلك، فأما إن علم أنه لا ينكي فيهم فإنه لا يحل له أن يحمل عليهم، لأنه لا يحصل بحمله عليه شيء من إعزاز الدين
“Ibn `Abidin said, ‘there is no objection against a man fighting alone, even if he thinks he will be killed, as long as he achieves something such as killing, wounding or defeating (the enemy) — for this has been reported from a number of the Companions in the presence of the Messenger of Allah on the Day of Uhud, and he praised them for it. If, however, he knows that he will not inflict any loss on them, it is not permissible for him to attack, for it would not contribute to the strengthening of the Din”
(Hāshiyah 4/303)
قال أبو حامد الغزالي رحمه الله في إتحاف السادة المتقين شرح إحياء علوم الدين 7/26: لا خلاف في أن المسلم الواحد له أن يهجم على صف الكفار ويقاتل، وإن علم أنه يقتل، وكما أنه يجوز أن يقاتل الكفار حتى يقتل جاز — أيضاً — ذلك في الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر، ولكن لو علم أنه لا نكاية لهجومه على الكفار، كالأعمى يطرح نفسه على الصف أو العاجز، فذلك حرام، وداخل تحت عموم آية التهلكة، وإنما جاز له الإقدام إذا علم أنه لا يُقتل حتى يقتِل، أو علم أنه يكسر قلوب الكفار بمشاهدتهم جرأته واعتقادهم في سائر المسلمين قلة المبالاة، وحبهم للشهادة في سبيل الله، فتكسر بذلك شوكتهم. انتهى.
“Imam Ghazali said, ‘there is no disagreement that a Muslim can single-handedly attack the rows of the infidels and fight, even if he knows he will be killed. Just as it is permissible to fight the infidel until martyrdom, that is also permissible, because that is contained in Commanding the Good and Forbidding the Evil. But, if he knows that his attack will cause no damage to the infidels then this is something which is forbidden, and it is included in the generality of the verse of self-destruction. Rather it is permissible to go forth, only when he will not be killed until he kills or he knows he will break the morale of the infidels by demonstrating to them his dancing with death, and making them believe that the rest of the Muslims similarly have little fear of death and that they love martyrdom in the path of Allah and by doing such, the enemies’ strength breaks down.” (It’hāf As-Sādah al-Muttaqīn Sharh Ihyā’ `Ulūm Ad-Dīn (7/26)
قال ابن حزم في المحلى 7/294: لم ينكر أبو أيوب الأنصاري ولا أبو موسى الأشعري أنيحمل الرجل وحده على العسكر الجرار ويثبت حتى يقتل، وقد ذكروا حديثاً مرسلاً من طريق الحسن أن المسلمين لقوا المشركين، فقال رجل يا رسول الله أشد عليهم أو أحمل عليهم؟، فقال له رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم (أتراك قاتل هؤلاء كلهم إجلس فإذا نهض أصحابك فانهض وإذا شدوا فشد)، وهذا مرسل لا حجة فيه، بل قد صح عنه عليه السلام أن رجلاً من أصحابه سأله ما يضحك الله من عبده قال: (غمسه يده في العدو حاسراً) فنزع الرجل درعه ودخل في العدو حتى قتل رضي الله عنه
Ibn Hazm said, “Neither Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari nor Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari criticized the man plunging alone into a raging enemy force and remaining steadfast until he was killed. It has been authentically narrated that a man from amongst the Companions asked the Messenger of Allah about what makes Allah laugh upon His slave, and he answered, ‘the slave immersing himself into the enemy without armor’, whereupon the man removed his armor and penetrated the enemy until he was killed. (Al-Muhallā 7/294)

قال شيخ الإسلام ابن تيمية رحمه الله تعالى في مجموع الفتاوى 28/540: وقد روى مسلم في صحيحه قصة أصحاب الأخدود وفيها (أن الغلام أمر بقتل نفسه لأجل مصلحة ظهور الدين) ولهذا جوز الأئمة الأربعة أن ينغمس المسلم في صف الكفار، وإن غلب على ظنه أنهم يقتلونه، إذا كان في ذلك مصلحة للمسلمين، Ibn Taymiyyah said, “And it is narrated by Muslim in his Sahih from the prophet about the story of the People of the Ditch, and in it is that the young boy ordered the killing of himself for the benefit of making the religion triumphant. And for this reason, the Four Imams permitted the Muslims to immerse into the ranks of the infidels even if he knows that most likely the enemies will kill him as long as there is a benefit for the Muslims (Majmū’ al-Fatāwā 28/540).

These and much more are the theological evidence the Jihadi-Salafis often cite to legitimize their position on suicide bombings not just within the context of Palestinian-Israeli conflict but on a global scale. Shaykh Aminu Daurawa also relied on the same evidence in his lecture. Boko Haram invoke the same corpus of literature to justify their suicide operations. By permitting suicide bombing, Shaykh Aminu Daurawa laid the ideological framework that Muhammad Yusuf would later adopt in his last public lecture in 2009. On 18 November 2016, in his interview with Shaykh Salman Awda on Hiwar TV, Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi retracted his fatwa on suicide bombing. He said: “I permitted them because the Palestinians had a need to defend themselves so that the Israelis and their supporters would not kill them. I permitted [these operations] because of this necessity, and now the necessity is over.” If Shaykh Qaradawi can humble himself to retract his fatwa on suicide bombing, it is imperative for the Salafi clerics in Northern Nigeria, not just Shaykh Aminu Daurawa, to not only do the same but also review the corpus of theological evidence which has become a gold mine for Boko Haram’s legitimation of suicide bombing.



Abdulbasit Kassim

Islam and Africana Studies. Ph.D. Candidate @RiceUniversity . Visiting Doctoral Fellow Northwestern University @NU_PAS @IslamAfricaNU