Barbara Walters really covered her ground in last night’s ABC special, “Heaven: Where is it? How Do We Get There?” She, in trademark Barbara fashion, grilled priests, imams, rabbis, Hollywood movie stars, the Dalai Lama, and regular folk who claimed to have had near-death experiences and saw heaven. I was eager to catch this remarkable special, and more specifically to see what my brothers in Islam had to say about heaven. I was especially interested in what Barbara would ask of the failed “Muslim” suicide bomber jailed in an Israeli prison.
Sadly, it was all about those darn 72 virgins.
A little background, if there’s even a remote chance you don’t know of this already: Ever since 9/11, when “Islamic” terrorists gained worldwide notoriety, all we hear about is this notion that suicide terrorists are pursuing some warped version of martyrdom for the promise of 72 virgins in paradise. (By the way–72 virgins? Not stated in the Qu’ran)
It seems–judging from Barbara’s line of questioning–that the promise of 72 virgins is the reason why suicide bombers and terrorists do what they do. But to me, it seems rather far-fetched that this, and not years of radical teachings coupled with a life devoid of a viable future, is what fuels so-called “Muslim” suicide terrorists. Multiple articles written about suicide bombers elicit the same type of information: That many misguided youth who become suicide bombers are indoctrinated by years of radical teachings coupled with a life of chaos, poverty, hate, and constant warfare such that the thought of achieving paradise for being a “martyr” is reason enough strap on the bombs. Are male youth promised 72 virgins? Probably. But is this the promise that gets them to choose a violent death? I doubt it.
I’m not surprised Barbara zeroed in on this tantalizing line of questioning when she sat down with the failed suicide bomber. For all I know she asked a lot of other thoughtful and provocative questions regarding his reasons for doing what he did and what he believes heaven will be like. But journalistic television specials such as this one aim at exploring topics that interest the public in a stimulating, interesting way. People want to know about those darn 72 virgins. And so that’s the part of the interview that made it on the air.
I am so thankful that Barbara turned to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of New York City for the counterpoint to this issue of the 72 virgins. He pointed out that 72 is the Arabic equivalent for a nonspecific number, like saying “hundreds and hundreds.” More importantly, he steered the discussion away from those virgins to the important topic of how these bombers who try to be martyrs are not doing what the Qu’ran says of martyrs.
I especially applaud the Imam’s gentle withdrawal from answering the question of whether the suicide bombers will go to heaven. How can I say who goes and who doesn’t? he asked. It’s a mixed up world where “one man’s terrorists is another man’s hero.” Why don’t we try to figure that one out instead of wasting any more time on 72 virgins.