By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
26 October 2016
The Quran calls martyrs as Shuhada. This
word is the plural of Shaheed and is derived from the Arabic verbal root
Shahada, which means: to 'see', to 'witness', to 'testify', to 'become a model
and paradigm'. The Qur'an uses the word Shaheed (witness) primarily for
"those who bear witness to truth” (Quran 16:89) and those who lay down
their life fulfilling a divine commandment, and secondarily for those who have
died fighting and defending their faith or family. In Islam, a Shaheed (in the
sense of a martyr) is ‘a person who bears witness to the truth’ and stands by
it firmly, so much so that not only does he testify it verbally, but he first
struggles peacefully, and then, if the situation does not change for the
better, he gives up his life for the truth, and thus attains martyrdom.
There is no denying the fact the martyrdom
has a great place in Islam. But the true Islamic martyrdom is completely
different from the self-styled jihadist concept of martyrdom, which is
synonymous with wanton killing of innocent civilians. For quite some time now,
terrorist organizations like Taliban, Al Qaida, and Boko Haram and their
theological ideologues belonging to radical strains of thought have been
misusing the Islamic doctrine of martyrdom in a bid to further their nefarious
ends. They lure poor, naive and gullible Muslim youth and indoctrinate them
into believing that serving as human bombs against non-Muslims in general as
well as ‘deviant’ Muslims will earn them the lofty position of martyrs in the
sight of God and that they would be accorded the same great rewards as promised
for the martyrs of Islam in the Quran.
Such extremist ideologues mobilize
religious sentiments by misusing the
term Istishhad (‘seeking martyrdom’) in order to seek false legitimacy for suicide-bombing, which is not
only Haraam (strongly forbidden) but also akin to Kufr (infidelity) in some cases.
Scores of articles have appeared in the
Jihadists’ publications detailing the rewards for martyrdom mentioned in the
texts of Quran and Hadith and grossly misinterpreting them by wrongly linking
the Islamic martyrdom for a noble cause to suicide-bombing and blowing oneself
up to slaughter innocents and non-combatants, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
They seek to falsely justify the horrendous acts of terrors outfit by
cherry-picking Qur’anic verses and misplacing and misinterpreting Prophetic
The Prophet often exhorted his Ummah not to
forget Hussain. This suggests that those who forget Karbala and the martyrdom
of Hussain will cause compromises in his mission. Today, Muslims who loudly
claim to be devotees of Imam Hussain and custodians of Islam and yet silently
see the radical Islamists and jihadists go on killing and bombing innocents in
the name of Istishhad are doing gross injustice to the soul of Imam Hussain as
well as the cause of his martyrdom.
The ongoing Islamic month, Muharram marks the
emergence of ‘war within Islam’. It is a turning point in the Islamic history,
as Imam Hussain, saviour of Islam from the clutches of evil, attained martyrdom
in its truest sense. But today, with Islamist terrorists rearing their ugly
heads in the guise of self-styled Mujahideen,
randomly killing and beheading innocent civilians and launching suicide
attacks on both Muslims and others and yet claiming to be “martyrs”, the noble
Islamic doctrine of martyrdom faces a plethora of questions.
While many Muslims have been strongly
condemning this heinous violence perpetrated in the name of Shahadat or
martyrdom by terrorists, there seems to be no halt to the series of
indiscriminate killings and unabated bloodshed in the name of Islam. The more
strongly Muslims condemn them, the more deadly attacks the terrorists launch.
The reason why the jihadists seem deaf and dumb to the mainstream Muslims of
the world and are getting more dangerous than ever before is that their
theological ideologues keep them going. These fanatic theological goons provide
them with more provocative doctrinal bases and religious stimuli and thus keep
boosting them in their madness.
Consider one such obnoxious instance. When
the Tahrik-e-Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud was killed, the Chairman of the
Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan, Munawwar Hasan and the JUI-F chief Fazl ur Rehman
remarked that he was a “martyr”. Fazl ur Rehman went to the extent of saying
that anyone killed by the US would be considered a “martyr”, even dogs. Such
statements issued by Muslim clerics have defamed and greatly damaged the entire
concept of martyrdom in Islam.
But thank God, a coalition of numerous
religious groups in Pakistan hailing from the Sufi Sunni tradition of Islam
issued a timely fatwa denouncing the title of ‘martyr’ for the Tehreek-e
Taliban Pakistan’s slain chief, saying he had killed thousands of innocent
people and could not be called a martyr. It is truly laudable that these Sufi
Sunni groups immediately issued two fatwas based on the collective opinion of
around 30 moderate muftis (Islamic jurists), who categorically stated that
calling a man responsible for the loss of so many lives a “martyr” went against
the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah, the practice of the Prophet
Muhammad. This was a courageous initiative against the JI’s and Taliban’s
Today, Imam Husain’s martyrdom serves as a
reminder to speak up and tell the people that the present-day
Islamists/Jihadists/Talibanis, who make false claims of being Mujahideen and
commit barbaric acts of violence while calling themselves ‘martyrs’, are
actually terrorists and that their acts go completely against the true essence
of Jihad as exemplified by Imam Hussain.
Imam Hussain refused to surrender to the
unjust and tyrannical ruler Yazid, who had deviated from the Islamic concept of
leadership through consensual democracy and had created a dictatorial dynasty.
The sacrifice of Imam Hussain is looked up as the revival of the true Islamic
doctrines and principles of freedom, democracy, fairness and justice.
In a sermon while proceeding towards
Karbala, Imam Hussain said to his followers:
O people, the
Prophet of Islam has said that if a person sees a tyrannical ruler
transgressing against Allah and oppressing people but does nothing by word or
action to change the situation, then it will be just for God to place him where
he belongs. Do you not see what low level the affairs have come to? Do you not
observe that the truth has not been adhered to and falsehood has no limits? And,
as for me, I look upon death but as a means of attaining martyrdom. I consider
life among transgressors an agony and affliction.
This is the true essence of martyrdom in
Islam, as epitomized by the noble grandson of the Prophet, Imam Husain. In
early Islamic era, the Prophet’s uncles, Hazrat Abbas and Hazrat Ameer Hamza,
who were killed in defensive battles are held to be among the greatest examples
of Islamic martyrs by both the Sunni and Shiite
schools. About martyrs the Quran (3: 169-171) says:
“Do not think of
those who have been killed in God's cause as dead. They are alive, and well
provided for by their Lord; they are joyful because of what God has bestowed on
them of His grace and they rejoice that those they left behind, who have not
yet joined them, that they shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve; rejoicing
in God's grace and bounty.”
The best way to commemorate the loss of
Imam Hussain today is to make concerted efforts to free the world from
Jihadism, terrorism, injustice, wanton killing, barbarity and other evils and
global vices being wrongly perpetrated in the name of Islam, Jihad and
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of Comparative Religion, Classical
Arabic and Islamic sciences and researcher in Media and Communication Studies.
Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic
Website, African Muslim
News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim
News, World Muslim
News, Women in Islam, Islamic
Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in
America, Muslim Women in
West, Islam Women and
The confusion about the concept of shahadah is just one of many that have left non-Muslims as well as Muslims with different views of Islam, Muslims and the holy book of Quran and Hadith compilations.
But how this came about is not hard to understand.
The problem is, the militants’ message finds resonance among angry and frustrated Muslims who do not find the same solace in scholarly wisdom. For instance, jihadist militants say, for example, that they become martyrs (Shuhada), if they commit suicide when carrying out violence. And they expect Allah to welcome them into heaven.
A few fringes of clerics have agreed with them, but progressive Islamic schoalrs like Prof. Ebrahim Moosa, strongly disagree.
“The whole idea of a martyr or shahid is that you fight until death and you give your life for God and community. But you don’t go into battle saying `I will die,'” he said. As proof, he recounts one of Prophet Muhammad’s sayings about a martyr, who is rejected by God when he arrives in heaven. God tells him: “You gave your life so people could remember you as a cause. You didn’t do it to satisfy me,” Prof. Moosa said.
As Prof. Moosa and others point out, Islam condones a “just” war and sets down rules on when and how to fight one.
The Politics of Religion and the Changing Concept of
Shuhuda over the Years