8 September 2010
I was dismayed to read the article "Wrong, imam - hell is the place for suicide bombers" by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on page 18 of the 3 September 2010 Manchester edition of the Jewish Telegraph. The same article with the title "No Holds Barred: Suicide bombers in heaven?" and dated 31 August 2010 is available on the website of the Jerusalem Post.
The imam in question is Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the Cordoba House / Park 51, the proposed Islamic cultural centre two blocks from Ground Zero in New York that is meeting so much opposition from certain quarters in the USA. Rabbi Boteach picks up on Imam Rauf's answer to Barbara Walters in a television interview in 2006. I don't have the original interview, but Rabbi Boteach quotes it as follows:
When you detonate explosives attached to your torso, decapitating people on a bus or disemboweling little children at a kindergarten, do you go to heaven or hell?
In response to the question, Rauf said, “One of the things we are taught is never to say somebody will go to hell or somebody will go to heaven. It is up to God to decide.”
Rabbi Boteach finds this answer completely unacceptable, and clearly regards Imam Rauf as prevaricating on the question. I bear no animosity to Rauf, but find his piety in refusing to speculate as to the final celestial resting place of cold-blooded mass murderers both amoral and disingenuous. Rabbi Boteach has no hesitation in taking decisions on God's behalf:
Then allow me to play God for a moment.
Suicide bombers go to hell. Period.
There. That’s settled. Their souls are dispatched to the darkest reaches of the blackest netherworld, where they suffer for all eternity in the anal cavities of the universe, separated forever from God.
Rabbi Boteach is impartial, since he also makes a point of similarly condemning Baruch Goldstein who murdered 29 Muslims in the Hebron Mosque while they prayed. However his article misunderstands Imam Rauf's answer so badly that it verges on being misleading. Most readers will conclude that Imam Rauf was temporising, when all he was doing was giving the strict Islamic response to the question asked.
I believe that almost all Muslims would give the same answer as Imam Rauf; only God decides who goes to heaven or hell. It is the only answer I can give.
As I did not see the television interview, I don't know if Imam Rauf was given the opportunity to expand upon the answer. Rabbi Boteach implies that what is printed above is the full answer, and as I have said Rabbi Boteach uses the answer to disparage Imam Rauf.
In my opinion, the answer's only failing is incompleteness. While I cannot say with certainty of any living or recently deceased person whether they will go to heaven or to hell, I am free to have a personal opinion. It is my unambiguous view that suicide bombers deserve to go to hell. However, only God can take that decision.
I have no way of knowing what he will decide in the case of any particular individual; all I can have is my personal opinion. However I don't see any reason why I should not express that opinion. As apparently happened with Imam Rauf, if a Muslim is reluctant to share his or her personal opinion on the issue, they can too easily be misrepresented as being ambivalent about the most heinous terrorism such as took place on 9/11 (2001) or 7/7 (2005).
As well as writing this piece, I have emailed a letter to the Jewish Telegraph for publication and submitted a web comment on the Jerusalem Post website, making the same points within their allotted word limits.
Each of us changes the world every day. We can choose to make it a better place.