Islam and Muslims probably have the most illustrious history of martyrdom and martyrs. The Muslims, mostly taking into consideration the martyrs of the early days of Islamic history, define martyrdom in terms of the fatalistic death of those dear to Allah. And they’re right. Be it the first martyr in Allah’s cause, Sumayyah bint Khayyat, or the hundreds others after her in various battles, each of them has an inspiring lesson. Their biographies make epic inspirational reads, and give rise to a sense of their bravery, their commitment to their deen (religion), their selflessness, their spirit of sacrifice with not just their participation, but with their wealth and their lives, their loyalty to the Prophet and to Allah. These are the qualities we can only hope to emulate.
They died holding up the flag of Islam, or turning away offers of water because they had heard some other victim’s cry, or in prostration, or fighting bravely in battle or protecting their fellow companions. Blind, sick, crippled, young, even women wished to take part in the struggle to please Allah and withhold the truth.
If we read about them and their heroic lives, we can appreciate the fact that their sacrifices were what lent Islam strength, made it into what it is and helped it reach all over the world. They have been promised The Gardens of Jannah and highest of ranks. They have been called the real Mu’minoon several times in the Qur’an.The word shahada is derived from the Arabic verbal root shahada, which means to ‘see’, to ‘witness’, to ‘testify’, to ‘become a model and paradigm’. Shahada therefore literally means to ‘see’, to ‘witness’, and to ‘become a model’.
A shahid is the person who sees and witnesses, and he is therefore the witness, as if the martyr witnesses and sees the truth physically and thus stands by it firmly, so much so that not only does he testify it verbally, but he is prepared to struggle and fight and give up his life for the truth, and thus to become a martyr. In this way, and by his struggle and sacrifice for the sake of the truth, he become a model, a paradigm, and an example for others, worthy of being copied, and worthy of being followed..
And ever since then, there have been numerous people who have died in the way of Allah. Every one of them lending a hand in shaping the course of Islam through history. But the concept of shahada in Islam has been misunderstood by both Muslims and non-Muslims. As stated above, shahada is closely associated with the concept of jihad. Most non-Muslim scholars, intentionally or unintentionally, have defined jihad as only the Holy War, and thus have understood neither jihad nor shahada.
The Muslims however, often do not see the close link between continuous struggle in the cause of Allah (jihad) and martyrdom. In fact, there is no martyrdom without struggle in the cause of Allah and for the cause of the truth. We tend to believe that there are no more wars for Islam, and thus no more shuhada. Every leader, in fact, every Muslim who has tried to stand with the truth and was consequently executed by the ‘oppressive forces’ is a present day shaheed. In fact we can see such examples in our own country, of people who are counted as martyrs, without ever being a part of any violence, innocents actually. From Akhlaq and Pehlu Khan to Junaid, from Zaibunnisa and Afrazul to Asifa, will all be counted as martyrs, whose deaths were justified using the pretexts of beef eating, cattle trading, love jihad, cow protection, or simply, being a Muslim.
let’s take time to appreciate each individual who has died, and draw lessons from their stories and their lives, We are eternally in debt to those who have fought for us and died in the process, be they protecting us as Muslims or even as Indians. We salute every person who stood up for what is right. And their lives should continue to inspire and encourage us to struggle in His cause, to stand up for justice and truth and human rights. We should keep reminding ourselves of their sacrifices because as Muhammad ibn Yunus (ra) once said: I have not seen anything more beneficial for the heart than mentioning of the righteous.