Last Monday in the Russian city of Volgograd, a 30-year-old woman from Dagestan named Naida Akhiyalova boarded a bus. Akhiyalova, a convert to Islam, soon afterward exploded a jihad-martyrdom suicide bomb vest, killing herself, murdering six other people, and injuring over 30 more. The vest, as it turned out, was a gift from Akhiyalova’s 22-year-old husband, Dmitry Sokolov, himself also a convert to Islam.
Nothing says “I’m just not that into you” quite like giving your wife a suicide vest. The immediate explanation for Sokolov’s gift to his bride was that he had grown disenchanted with a wife eight years his senior, and found a convenient means to get her out of the way – however much his marriage to an older woman resembled that of Muhammad to Khadija, his first wife, who was fifteen years older than the prophet of Islam.
However, that scenario doesn’t account for why Sokolov didn’t just say the triple talaq (“I divorce you”), which would have rid him of Akhiyalova quickly, easily, and painlessly. Nor does it explain why Akhiyalova was apparently willing to get on the bus, even though she knew it would be her last ride.
Not much is known about her at this point, but it may be that she was a true believer. There are, after all, numerous precedents. On June 21, 2005, a 21-year-old Muslim woman named Wafa Samir al-Biss tried to kill herself and murder as many infidels as possible at an Israeli checkpoint, but her explosive vest failed to detonate. She recounted later that day that her “dream was to be a martyr. I believe in death.”
The idea of believing in death comes from the Qur’an, in one of its many verses hectoring the Jews: “Say, ‘O you who are Jews, if you claim that you are allies of Allah, excluding the [other] people, then wish for death, if you should be truthful’” (62:6). An American Muslim from California who recently traveled to Syria to fight with al-Qaeda jihadists against the Assad regime declared:
What America hates, I love. What they love I hate. They love Dunya [earthly life]. I hate the Dunya. They love life. I love death.
This is commonplace among jihadists, and this sentiment affects even the family unit. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s wife advised Muslim women: “I advise you to raise your children in the cult of jihad and martyrdom and to instill in them a love for religion and death.”
Raised in this culture of death, Wafa Samir al-Biss explained on the day her jihad failed: “Today I wanted to blow myself up in a hospital, maybe even in the one in which I was treated. But since lots of Arabs come to be treated there, I decided I would go to another, maybe the Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv. I wanted to kill 20, 50 Jews.” She was disconsolate about her failure, weeping and expressing a peculiarly Palestinian inversion of murderer’s remorse: “I don’t want my mother to see me like this. After all, I haven’t killed anyone…will they have pity on me?”
Wafa Samir al-Biss was released from prison in 2011 as one of 477 Palestinian prisoners exchanged for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. She was unrepentant: “This is an honorable thing and I would be a suicide bomber three times over if I could.”
Wafa had spent the previous six years in an Israeli prison that held other women who failed in their attempts to explode themselves and kill a crowd of Zionists in the process. One of them, 20-year-old Ayat Allah Kamil, explained that her motivation was purely Islamic. She tried to explode a suicide vest, she said, “because of my religion. I’m very religious. For the holy war [jihad] there’s no difference between men and women shahid [martyrs].” Ayat thought that if she had managed to kill herself and murder some infidels in the process, she would be “the chief of the 72 virgins, the fairest of the fair.”
Hamas encourages such beliefs. On December 30, 2008, its television station, Al-Aqsa TV, aired a series of statements by female jihadists who pledged to carry out suicide attacks. One said: “I swear by Allah that I will turn my body parts into a fire that will burn the occupation soldiers, if they move towards my house. My beloved people, if Allah supports you, no one will be able to overcome you. We are confident of the support of Allah. There are thousands of martyrdom-seeking women like me, waiting for the occupier.”
Another woman, brandishing a rifle, quoted the Qur’an: “Allah said: ‘Prepare against them what force and steeds of war you can, to strike terror in the hearts of the enemies of Allah and your own enemies’” (8:60). She added: “My honorable people, have more forbearance and steadfastness. Your daughters march by your side on the path of Jihad and martyrdom.”
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However, not all of the women in the Israeli prison to which Wafa Samir al-Biss was sent had attempted a jihad suicide attack because they were true believers. Their guard explained: “There are 30 of them, between 17 and 30 years old, some of them are married and others aren’t, some of them have children. Their stories come out of the Thousand and One Nights. Some of them did it to make amends for a relative who was a collaborator, others to escape becoming victims of honor killings.”
Indeed. On January 12, 2004, the most celebrated female jihad suicide bomber, a 21-year-old mother of two named Reem Riyashi, murdered four Israelis at a checkpoint between Israel and Gaza. Photographs of Riyashi holding a Qur’an in one hand and a rifle in the other have become iconic of jihadists, and she is celebrated as a heroine among Palestinians. However, it came out not long after her murders that she was having an affair with Abdel Nasser Abu Shokeh, a Hamas leader in Gaza. Her husband found out, and like Dmitry Sokolov, encouraged her to take the path of jihad — in this case, to atone for the shame she had brought to him.
We may never know if Naida Akhiyalova committed her murders out of a commitment to Islam, or to cleanse her family’s besmirched honor. In either case, however, the love of death and murder that her act betrays is going to become an ever more familiar feature of life in the West. And as our cultural denial about what gives rise to this perverse love continues and deepens, more and more people with a healthy love for life, like those people who were unfortunate enough to be on the bus Naida Akhiyalova boarded, will fall prey to it.