By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
23 October, 2015
In the Quran, the term Shuhuda is used for people who
exemplify the virtues of the religion of Islam in their conduct, deeds, in
patient perseverance and striving in the cause of Allah through the
vicissitudes of life. They uphold what is just and fair. They provide witness
or evidence of the nature of the religion of Islam through their personal
example conforming to what is best in the Religion. They are the people who
take the religion of Allah to other people through both precept and example and
are the witnesses of Allah for having communicated the message of Allah to
mankind. They establish a just and equitable system free from any kind of
oppression or coercion. These are people whom anyone would like to emulate and
by their character and conduct attract people to the religion of Islam. They
provide witness or evidence of true Islam in practice.
The Quran does not use Shuhuda for the slain or the
martyr at all. For a detailed exposition of the concept of Shuhuda, read my
article: The Role Models in the Quran.
The Role Models in the Quran covered in verse 4:69
The Siddiqin or the
Sincere Seekers of the Truth
The Shuhada or those who
provide witness or evidence to the people of the truth of Islam and of God’s
promises being true by striving sincerely in Allah’s cause.
The Saliheen or the
Righteous and the Virtuous
The martyr or those slain in the cause of Allah are
called Maqtul Fi Sabilillah. They are not called Shuhuda. There are
eleven verses in the Quran that deal with the subject of those slain in the
cause of Allah and the expression used for such people is uniformly Qutelu
Fi Sabilillah and not Shuhuda. The martyr or the Maqtul Fi Sabilillah
is not a role model in the Quran. Martyrdom is not what a Muslim seeks or a
goal that a Muslim strives for. A Muslim strives (Jahadu) in the cause
of Allah (fi Sabilillah) which may be an entirely peaceful striving or fighting
as per the need, but even when fighting, it is not a Muslim’s goal or desire to
be slain but to prevail over the oppressors to serve the cause of Allah.
Fighting in the cause of Allah was made mandatory for
all able bodied Muslims who were with the Prophet (SAW) in Medina but not on
those who had remained behind in Mecca. This was because the Muslims and Islam
faced the prospect of total annihilation at the hands of an enemy which was
numerically superior by a factor of close to fifty or more. The verse giving
permission to fight is quite revealing:
(22:39) To those against whom war is made, permission
is given (to fight), because they are wronged;- and verily, Allah is most
powerful for their aid;-
(40) (They are) those who have been expelled from their
homes in defiance of right,- (for no cause) except that they say, "our
Lord is Allah". Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another,
there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and
mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah
will certainly aid those who aid his (cause);- for verily Allah is full of
Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will).
The justification is:
They are wronged
They are those who have been expelled from their homes
in defiance of right. The permission to fight therefore only covers those who
migrated to Medina and not those Muslims who stayed behind in Mecca. This is an
important point to be noted. Those who stayed behind were not expected to indulge
in acts of war or “terrorism” to weaken the enemy from within. This point is
further strengthened by verse 8:72
They were not wronged in retaliation for another wrong
or for any justifiable reason but for the only reason that they said “our Lord
This permission extends to all people in a similar
situation since the verse makes it clear that it is Allah who checks the
oppressor with those who stand for justice to ensure that people of all faiths
and their places of worship such as monasteries, churches, synagogues, and
mosques, are protected.
Allah will aid those who fight in his cause. The cause
that is the subject here is religious persecution irrespective of the faith of
the persecuted and the persecutor.
The Muslims were reluctant to fight because of their
numerical inferiority and the prospect of what looked like certain
annihilation. The Quran mobilizes such a demoralized and numerically inferior
band of people to take up the fight with a far superior enemy to establish the
truth of verse 58:21
“Allah has decreed: "It is I and My messengers
who must prevail": For Allah is One full of strength, able to enforce His
The verses regarding fighting provide lessons in
practical psychology on how to motivate a band of people who numbered not more
than one thousand when they migrated to Medina, to fight and prevail over an
enemy determined on annihilating them numbering close to a hundred thousand.
Even then, the Quran does not glorify either war or dying in the cause of
Allah. Every verse on fighting comes with a caution or a rider such as:
Do not transgress limits;
for Allah loves not transgressors 2:190
Let there be no hostility
except to those who practice oppression 2:193
If the enemy inclines
towards peace, do you also incline towards peace, and trust in Allah 8:61
Let not the hatred of
others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that
is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye
Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight
you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly
and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just.
Does the Quran Glorify those who die fighting in the
cause of Allah?
The Muslims were reluctant to fight against such a
formidable enemy. Apart from the fear of what looked like certain death, there
were other factors that weigh with every thinking person such as:
I am in the prime of my life and have just begun to
enjoy the best part of my life. Fighting and getting killed will deprive me of
enjoying the only life one has.
I have just accepted Islam and have not done enough
good deeds to offset my bad deeds and earn a place in Heaven. I must live
longer for that and repent for all my past sins and do enough good deeds to
earn a place in heaven. Dying now would mean going to Hell.
Under the circumstances, what can be expected from a
just God who has given the command to fight and made it mandatory on all able
bodied Muslims who were with the Prophet in Medina? What is expected is that He should take care
of the legitimate concerns and reservations. The following verses must
therefore be viewed in that light:
(3:157) And if ye are
slain in the way of Allah, forgiveness and mercy from Allah are far better than
all they could amass.
(3:169) Think not of those
who are slain in Allah´s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance
in the presence of their Lord;
(170) They rejoice in the
bounty provided by Allah: And with regard to those left behind, who have not
yet joined them (in their bliss), the (Martyrs) glory in the fact that on them
is no fear, nor have they (cause to) grieve.
(171) They glory in the
Grace and the bounty from Allah, and in the fact that Allah suffers not the
reward of the Faithful to be lost (in the least).
The verses cited above are a precise response to the
normal misgivings that any man would have taking part in a war where victory
looks remote or even impossible, and death highly probable. What the verse
communicates through the slain is that they have no regrets vis-à-vis the
survivors and that they are rejoicing in the bounty of Allah. This sets at rest
all the misgivings a person may have. The verses provide details of the
“Insurance Cover” should fighting in the cause of Allah result in death. The
Insurance Cover leaves a person with no excuse to shirk from participating in a
war on the side of justice and against oppression. The Insurance is valid only
The fighting is in the cause of Allah. The only cause
of Allah for which fighting is permitted is in a legitimate war against an
oppressor and in the cause of justice.
The soldier fights to win the war and prevail over the
enemy. The Insurance is valid only if death is incidental and not actively
sought. Achieving “martyrdom” cannot be an aim. The death of a warrior does not
achieve any purpose. It is a man’s striving in the cause of Allah that helps
achieve Allah’s cause. Since death while fighting is a possibility, Allah
provides the “Insurance Cover” only for incidental deaths and not for those who
The Quran glorifies neither war nor being slain in the
cause of Allah. It only provides assurance that those who are slain in the
cause of Allah are forgiven their sins and rewarded with Heaven and that they
are left with no regrets vis-à-vis the survivors. There is no verse in the
Quran that even asks the Muslims to seek “martyrdom”.
Changes in the Concept of Shahadah
MaulanaWahiduddin Khan writes: “In the early period of Islam the word Shahadah
was used in the sense of witnessing to the Truth. As far as giving up one’s
life in God’s path is concerned, the term that was used was Qital. For
example, the Quran says (2:154):
Do not say that those who are killed in God’s cause (Yuqtalu
Fi Sabil Allah) are dead; they are alive, but you are not aware of
In line with this Quranic verse, those who are killed
in God’s cause will be called Maqtul Fi Sabilillah (one who is killed in
the cause of God). Undoubtedly, such a person will receive a great reward from
God, but if he is remembered in human language, he will be called Maqtul Fi
Sabil Allah, one who is killed in the cause of God. During the Battle of Uhud,
in the year 3 A.H., 70 companions of the Prophet were killed. This is recounted
in a tradition in the Sahih Bukhari, which says: ‘On the day of Uhud,
seventy among the companions of the Prophet were killed.’ (Sahih Bukhari,
4078). This example again shows that during the Prophet’s period, one who was
killed in God’s cause was referred to as Maqtul and not Shahid,
Is The Corruption In The Meaning Of Shuhuda On Account
Of Greek Or Persian Influence?
The word martyr derives from the Greek martyrios which
means both a witness and a Maqtul fi Sabilillah or one slain in the
cause of his religion or belief system.
The Quran does not use Shuhuda for Maqtul Fi Sabilillah. Shuhuda
is used for the living. A Shuhuda may die a natural death or could be slain in
the cause of Allah and become Maqtul Fi Sabilillah but a Maqtul Fi
Sabilillah does not imply Shuhuda.
The change in the meaning of Shuhuda to mean “martyr”
is a politically motivated innovation to glorify “martyrdom” and a Bid’at.
This is not a minor matter but a major Bid’at. We pray to Allah in Surah Fateha
to show us the way of those on whom is Allah’s Grace (AnʿAmtaʿAlayhim). Who these people areon whom is Allah’s Grace is made clear in verse
(4:69) All who
obey Allah and the messenger are in the company of those on whom is the Grace
of Allah (AnʿAma L-LahuʿAlayhim),- of the prophets (l-Nabiyīna), the sincere
lovers of Truth (Wal-ṣidīqīna), the witnesses (Wal-Shuhadāi), and the
Righteous who do good (Wal-ṣāliḥīna): Ah! what a
The meaning of Shuhuda as made clear by the Quran
covers three types of people:
Those who do exemplary Dawa with words and by example
and provide evidence (witness) of the true religion of Islam
Those who render exemplary justice and provide proof
(witness) of Allah’s justice
Those who are steadfast and patiently persevere
through the vicissitudes of life in the cause of Allah. Such people finally
prevail and provide proof (witness) that God’s promises are true.
There is no other meaning of Shuhuda in the Quran and
it most certainly does not mean “martyr”.
And now read Maududi’s translation of verse 4:69
And who-so-ever obeys Allah and the Messenger, shall
be with those whom Allah has blessed-the Prophets, the truthful and the martyrs
and the righteous: what excellent companions these are that one may get!
Shuhuda has not only become “martyr” but part of our prayer
in Surah Fateha recited in every Rak’at of our Salat where we are
asking Allah to show us the path of the martyr!
The path of the Siddiq and the path of the Saliheen are difficult. The
path of the true Shuhuda is also difficult. The path of the martyr is however
the easiest. Practically therefore, the martyr has become the exclusive role
model for the Muslim youth through corruption of the meaning of Shuhuda! No
wonder why it is so easy to incite Muslim youth to take to violence.
The behaviour of a Muslim in seeking martyrdom is
glorified to ensure a steady supply of those seeking “martyrdom”. What Allah
asks the Muslims is to strive in the cause of Allah in patience and with
perseverance. Doing peaceful Dawah is what is required unless there is oppression.
Both fighting and getting slain can only be incidental and not the purpose or
goal of a Muslim. Unfortunately, this Bid’at of calling the slain Shaheed has
made fighting a sought after goal with the result that the Muslims engage even
in unjust fighting and have become oppressors. Oppression is the worst from of Kufr
and fighting against such Kufr of the Muslims would in fact be Qital
Fi Sabilillah. Without doubt, those
who fight not on the side of justice are oppressors and will die as kafir. They
are those who are oppressing and killing religious minorities.
How Was The Change In The Meaning Of Shuhuda To Mean
References to the slain in Islamic battles are found
in many Ahadith and in Sira literature or the biographical
accounts of the Prophet. These accounts make it appear as if the early Muslims
understood the meaning of `Shuhada' as referring to those Muslims who
died in battle. However, MaulanaWahiduddin writes: “After the age of the
Prophet, the age of his companions and the generation after them are regarded
as authentic periods of Islamic history. The very same manner of referring to
people who had been slain in the path of God as Maqtul Fi Sabil Allah continued
to be followed in this period, too. But after this period, a change gradually
emerged in the use of the term Shahadah, in the same way as changes
began being made in the understanding of several other Islamic teachings, so
much so that Muslims almost forgot that the term Shahadah meant Dawah
and instead began to use the word as synonymous with martyrdom.
In later times, a new practice developed of people who
had died in battle being called Shahids or ‘martyrs’. The word Shahid
began being added to their names. So, for instance, Hasan al-Banna (the
founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, who was assassinated in 1949) began
being called as ‘Hasan al-Banna Shahid’, Sayyid Qutb (key ideologue of
the Muslim Brotherhood, who was hanged in 1966) as ‘Sayyid Qutb Shahid’,
Sayyid Ahmad (killed in 1831 in a war he declared against the Sikhs) as ‘Sayyid
Ahmad Shahid’, Shah Ismail (follower of Sayyid Ahmad, who was killed
along with him) as ‘Shah Ismail Shahid’, and so on. There were several
companions of the Prophet whose lives were also sacrificed, but in none of
their cases was the word Shahid appended to their names. So, although their
lives were sacrificed, the Caliphs Umar ibn al-Khattab, Uthman ibn
Affan and Ali ibn Abi Talib are not called ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab
Shahid’, ‘Uthman ibn Affan Shahid’ and ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib Shahid’
respectively. The names of the Prophet’s companions were always written and
mentioned along with that of their fathers (for example, Ali ibn [son of] AbiTalib),
and not with the suffix Shahid, in contrast to the practice that developed
later. Accordingly, Imam Bukhari, in his collection of hadith reports,
has a chapter containing reports of this sort, titled Bab La Yaqulufulan
Shahid, meaning ‘Chapter on Not Calling So and So a Shahid’.”
The Ahadith and Sira literature that
refer to the slain as Shuhuda and make it appear that this was how the Prophet
(SAW) and the people in his times understood its meaning, are clearly
distortions and falsehood. The glorification of the slain by adding Shaheed to
the name of the slain is also a later date innovation with the obvious
intention of glorifying “martyrdom”.
Is Suicide Bombing a Shi’ite Bid’at or Innovation?
Bernard K. Freamon
in his paper “Martyrdom, Suicide, and the Islamic Law of War: A Short
Legal History” writes “The current
justifications for self-annihilatory violence are the result of a major
reinterpretation of the theology and religious law on martyrdom and the
military jihad advanced by Shi'ite theologians and jurists in Iraq and Iran
between the mid-1960s and the late-1970s. While there are great similarities
between the Sunni and Shi'a approaches to the regulation of behaviour in war,
the Shi'a approach to martyrdom is significantly different from that of the
Sunnis. Husayn's example, with its emphasis on extreme self-sacrifice and militancy
as a weapon against tyranny and injustice, has always been among the most
important paradigms in Shi'a theology, although the “Twelvers,” the majority
Shi'a sect, did not emphasize its militant aspects for over a thousand years.
Beginning with the advent of European colonialism in the eighteenth century,
the paradigm of Husayn's martyrdom began to take an increased importance as a
normative reference point for anti-colonial activities among the Shi'a.
Although the paradigm of the normative example of Husayn ebbed and flowed as a
political rallying point for over two hundred years, it ultimately reached a
zenith when an important group of Shi'a Ulema came together in the Iraqi city
of Najaf in the 1960s. This group began to robustly revive and reinterpret the
paradigm in a way that eventually led to self-annihilatory violent behaviour by
Shi'a military jihadists, fundamentally altering the Shi'a conception of the
religious law of martyrdom.
This new Shi'a discourse on jihad and martyrdom
emerging from Najaf--led by Imam Ruhollah Khomeini and a brilliant Iraqi jurist
named Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, and later by Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah,
spiritual mentor of Hizbu'llah in Lebanon--rapidly proliferated throughout the
Muslim world. It became an important factor in the achievement of several
practical successes, particularly the Iranian Islamic Revolution and, sometime
later, the ejection of Israeli, French, and American forces from Lebanon. While
Sunni Islamists also worked a similar re-interpretive revival of the Sunni
sources on the military jihad during this same time in Egypt and elsewhere,
they never advocated self-annihilation and they did not achieve the kinds of
spectacular successes accomplished by the Shi'a jihadists. The Shi'a
reinterpretation of the theology and law on jihad and martyrdom, first
articulated by Khomeini and the Ulema in Najaf, and later elaborated by
Fadlallah in Lebanon, went much further than the Sunni reinterpretation and has
profoundly influenced the behaviour of all subsequent military jihadists
throughout the Islamic world.
Shi'a approach to martyrdom now dominates all Muslim conceptions of the
military jihad, whether Sunni or Shi'a. This transformation of religious
doctrine, championed by the Shi'a Ulema and emulated first by Hizbu'llah, then
by the Palestinians and later by Al Qaeda, resulted in the appearance of a new
norm of jihadist battlefield behaviour--self-annihilation--a norm that is now
accepted as a valid discharge of religious obligation under the law of the
military jihad by a great many Muslim jurists, Sunni and Shi'a. This conclusion
effectively debunks the conventional wisdom, popular in many quarters, that
self-annihilatory violence by the Palestinians and by operatives of Al Qaeda
flows from either a nihilistic sense of despair growing out of the Israeli
occupation of the West Bank and Gaza or from adherence to Wahhabism. Wahhabism
actually has very little do with the current jihadist use of self-annihilatory
violence, and that Arab and Muslim despair, while an important factor, cannot
provide a satisfactory explanation for such violence. Rather, it is the Shi'a
theology that provides the linchpin for such behaviour.”
Shi’ite Bid’at of Suicide Bombing Gets Adopted By
The Sunni militants dropped the use of the word
“suicide” and re labelled their attacks “martyrdom operations” (‘Amaliyat
Istishhadiyaa), since Islam forbids suicide. By calling suicide bombing
“martyrdom operations”, they have achieved the difficult task of legitimizing
suicide as legitimate, legal, and laudable.
We have discussed how politics has interfered with
religion to transform the meaning of Shuhuda to mean martyr in order to glorify
martyrdom and ensure a steady supply of young men willing to be martyred. They
then made seeking martyrdom a laudable goal by reinterpreting the political
killing of Hazrat Husain (RA). In the revised doctrine of martyrdom, Hussain is projected as a willing political martyr
rather than a tragic figure killed for political reasons. This has transformed
quietist Shi’ism into radicalized, proactive seekers of political martyrdom.
The Sunnis have followed the Shia example. Political
violence has thus been sanctified as holy by claiming that those who die
spearheading Islamic political violence are ‘martyrs’ or Shahids like Hazrat Hussain (RA). This
is the ultimate in distortion of the meaning of Shuhuda that has nothing
whatsoever to do with the Quran and Hadith since:
Political violence and terrorism is not a just war
A just war is waged by a just ruler for justice and
Only the slain fighting a just war is Maqtul Fi
Sabilillah entitled to God’s forgiveness.
Martyrdom is incidental and never to be sought nor
desired nor a worthwhile goal for a Muslim
Those killed indulging in political violence are
simply Maqtul and not even Maqtul Fi Sabilillah . Those killed in
suicide bombing are guilty of committing suicide.
Those targeting non-combatants and killing them are
oppressors and murderers.
Political Islam has turned the religion of Islam into
a death cult of killers and murderers by glorifying fighting and calling their
slain Shuhuda! These killers, their handlers and their Ulema are bound for Hell
and not Heaven.
The great attraction of reformist movements has been
the call to go back to the pristine Islam of the Prophet’s times and eschewing
all Bid’at or innovation that has crept into the Religion of Islam. To my mind,
the greatest Bid’at is the corruption in the meaning of Shuhuda to mean martyr
followed by legitimizing suicide bombing through the use of the euphemism
‘martyrdom operations’ or ‘Amaliyat Istishhadiyaa’. While fighting in
the cause of Allah (Qital Fi Sabilillah) is a command to fight
oppression, there is no concept of “Martyrdom Operations”.
A Muslim is asked to strive in the cause of Allah
through peaceful means or through fighting against oppression in a just war but
he is not asked to fight seeking martyrdom or to undertake martyrdom
operations! Seeking martyrdom is a major Bid’at and a recent Shi’ite innovation
achieved by reinterpreting the political killing of Hazrat Hussain (RA) as a
deliberate act on the part of Hazrat Hussain, who they now say, sought
martyrdom to register his opposition to Yazid’s usurpation of the Khilafat and
to set an example for other political dissidents to follow. His killing which
was mourned over the last 1400 years is now to be celebrated! The Sunni
militants have quietly adopted the new definitions.
While the militants have their own “embedded” Ulema,
what is surprising is that the mainstream Ulema of sects that abhor all Bid’at
and have declared war against Bid’at are silent on this major Bid’at which is
misguiding thousands of our young and showing them the path of those on whom is
Allah’s wrath and those who go astray and not the path of those on whom is
Allah’s Grace! No good can come from corrupting the religion for political ends
and the Ulema who are silent on this major Bid’at are party to the harm that is
caused to individuals, the society and to the religion of Islam.
Naseer Ahmed is
an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant
after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible
positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to NewAgeIslam.com.
It is not only Maududi
who has mistranslated shuhuda as martyr in verse 4:69. The others who have similarly
1.Pickthall, 2. Muhammad Asad, 3. Ahmed Raza Khan (Barelvi), 4. Dr. Mohammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, 5. Abdul Majid Daryabadi, 6. Ahmed Ali, 7. Aisha Bewley, 8.
Ali Quli Qarai, 9. Hamid S Aziz, 10. Muhammad Mahmoud Ghali, 11. Muhammad
Sarwar, 12. Shabbir Ahmed, 13. Syed Vickar Ahmad, 14. Umm Muhammad (Sahih
International), 15. Farook Malik, 16. Dr Munir Munshey, 17.The Monotheist Group,18. Talal A. Itani, 19. Rashad Khalifa, 20. Al_Muntakhab, 21. Amatul Rahman Omar, 22. Muhsin Khan & Muhammad al-Hilali,
23. Hasan Al-Fatih Qaribullah, 24. Faridul Haque, 25. Bijan Moeinian 26.
Shakir, 27. Sher Ali, 28. T.B. Irving
The few who retain the meaning of
Yusuf Ali: 2.Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar
3.Wahiduddin Khan 4. Abdel Haleem 5. Ali
Ünal 6. Muhammad Taqi Usmani 7. Dr. Kamal Omar 8. Bilal Muhammad 9.
Maulana Muhammad Ali 10. Muhammad Ahmed - Samira
It can therefore be
safely assumed that most Muslims equate Shuhuda with "martyrdom" and
are thereby misguided.
Action Points for Defeating the Extremist Ideology
Story of the Prophetic Mission of Muhammad (pbuh) in the Qu’ran (Concluding
What Is Kufr And Who Is A Kafir In The Quran? (Full and
Revised Text of the New Age Islam Series on the Subject)
Much discussed and debated Medinian Verses Relating to Fighting