Monday, December 5, 2016

Understanding the Islamic Concept of Martyrdom (Shahadat) in the Ongoing Islamic Month of Muharram

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 sayings.
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 pseudo-Islamic ‘martyrdom’. 
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 ishtishhad.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of Comparative Religion, Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences and researcher in Media and Communication Studies.
- See more at:,-new-age-islam/understanding-the-islamic-concept-of-martyrdom-(shahadat)-in-the-ongoing-islamic-month-of-muharram/d/108925#sthash.Wsz6yiHU.dpuf

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