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 are:
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 is Allah”
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 Will”.
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 do 5:8
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 if:
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 seek death.
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 it.
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, or martyr.
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
(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 beautiful fellowship!
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 “Martyr” Achieved?
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.
This revived 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 Sunni Islam
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 against oppression
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.