ISSN 2477-1686


Vol. 9 No. 08 April 2023


Jihadists Commit Suicide Attacks for God, Really?



Any Rufaedah

Department of Psychology Universitas Nahdlatul Ulama Indonesia &
Division for Applied Social Psychology Research (DASPR)


The world has faced threats of suicide attacks operated by jihadi organizations for decades. It is commonly launched with a suicide vest or a full-of-detonation vehicle in enemies’ properties, bases, or territories; or as a defense tactic to avoid raids by security units. What was carried out by Fathima Jiffriya Ilham, the wife of the 2019 Easter Sri Lankan bomber Ilham Ibrahim (Scarr & Hernandez, 2019), and Solimah, the wife of Sibolga's terrorist Husain (aka Abu Hamzah) (Soeriaatmadja, 2019), to blow up themselves and their children was a strategy to resist, also as an avoidance of detainment that would force them to expose the terrorist network. Suicide bombings had been carried out in Indonesia multiple times, including ones at Surabaya churches, Surabaya police office, and Sidoarjo flat in 2018, Medan police headquarters in 2019, Makassar cathedral in 2021, and the latest incident in Astana Anyar police station, Bandung, on December 7, 2022.


Jihadists believe the tactic is not suicidal but istishadiyyah (martyrdom), which is allowed by Islam and has examples in Islamic history. In general, it is defined as a strategy to assault enemies by breaking into a specific target by sacrificing self, while common suicide is not aimed to attack anyone but ending life. Based on this interpretation, jihadists do not hesitate to promote or use it. One popular narrative they hold is that suicide attacks are committed for the sake of Allah and His religion, Islam. With the act, perpetrators wish to become a martyr and are entered into the ranks of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. Istishadiyyah during the Prophet Muhammad era are commonly used to strengthen the argument, making this method have a justification and seems to be always permitted by the Prophet.


Performing good deeds in the cause of God for sure is a noble choice, however, is it true that it is the only reason for suicide attackers? It has been questioned due to two factors. The first is about a positive image given by the jihadist community for a “martyred” jihadist. Those who died on the battlefield are commonly called shaheed (martyr), istishadiyyun (martyrdom seekers), honest brother, and a defender of Islam and Muslims. Stories of their heroic actions are commonly shared over and over. Three masterminds of the Bali bombing, Amrozi, Ali Ghufron, and Imam Samudra received such respect. Their action has been glorified and becomes an icon of the jihad movement in Indonesia, and their messages have been consumed by many sympathizers in the country.


Martyrdom seekers have even been praised when declaring their readiness to be a suicide bomber. It has occurred in ISIS and al-Qaeda (AQ), in which they celebrate their fellows who get their turn to execute a suicide operation. It means that a candidate of a “martyr” receives honors since they are alive. This positive image can strongly encourage people who have engaged in a jihadi organization to accept and employ suicide attacks as a war strategy. They wish to be remembered like their predecessors and become a role model for the next generation. The prominent psychologist Abraham Maslow explains this as a basic need of human beings, that they hope to be recognized, respected, feel valuable, and have status and prestige e for being an individual (in self-esteem level) (McLeod, 2018). It also happens to common Muslims, that they do good deeds like helping people and giving charity because of the hope to be remembered by many people after their death.


The second factor is related to unconscious motives. Sheehan (2014), in his effort to seek a robust explanation of suicide terrorism, reviewed various studies and showed that psychological elements such as traumatic experience, loss, and grievance were mentioned to exist in suicide executors. A study by Lankford, published three years earlier (2011), presented multiple data and analyses revealing that many suicide attackers appeared to do their attacks for personal goals, not for their group. He emphasized that it is possible that suicide terrorism is basically suicidal that is carried out in a group setting and procedure.


The aforementioned answers have risen many questions for suicide attackers. What if they unconsciously committed a suicide attack due to desperation in life, perceived discrimination, inability to bear economical burdens, unpleasant experiences in the past, or as a complaint expression of the current situation? How a jihadist can make sure the intention to commit a suicide jihad was pure for Allah while as a human being he/she is tied to various external situations? Further questions, what if the unconscious purpose of suicide terrorism is to show the strength of jihadism? What if it is committed because of its enormous effects to raise fear of enemies, and in fact has not defended the religion of Allah (Islam) but worsens the image of it? If so, isn’t a suicide attack an action that hinders the perpetrators from gaining paradise?




Lankford, A. (2011). Could suicide terrorists actually be suicidal? Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 34(4), 337-366.

McLeod, S. (2018, May 21). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology.

Scarr, S. & Hernandez, M. (2019, May 14). Sri Lanka attack: A network of extremism expands. Reuters. Retrieved April 2, 2023, from

Sheehan, I. S. (2014). Are suicide terrorists suicidal? A critical assessment of the evidence. Innovation in Clinical Neuroscience, 11(9-10), 81–92.

Soeriaatmadja, W. (2019, March 14). Bombs, explosives found at Indonesian house where militant's wife blew up herself and child. The Straits Times. Retrieved April 2, 2023, from