The term “martyr,” derived from the (Latin) root “mort, “implies” death and dying,” “Martyr” is a noun meaning “the one who dies for God and faith.” Thus a martyr is, in any case, the one who dies. The only difference between his death and that of others is to be seen in the “cause.” He dies for the cause of God, whereas the cause of the death of another may be cancer. Otherwise, the essence of the phenomenon in both cases, that is to say, death, is one and the same. As far as death is concerned it makes no difference whether the person is killed for God, for passion, or in an accident. In this sense, Christ and those killed for Christianity are “martyrs.” In other words, they were “mortals,” because, in Christendom’s the term “martyr” refers to the person who has died [as such].
But a shahid is always alive and present. He is not absent. Thus the two terms, “shahid “and “martyr.” are antonyms of each other. As it was said, the meaning of shahid (pl. shuhada), whether national or religious, in Eastern religions or otherwise, embodies the connotation of sacredness. This is right. There is no doubt that in every religion, school of thought, and national or religious attitude, a shahid is sacred. [This is true], even though the school of thought in question may not be religious, but materialistic. The attitude and feeling toward the shahid embodies a metaphysical sacredness. In my opinion, the question from whence the sacredness of a shahid comes needs hair-splitting scientific analysis. Even in religions and schools of thought in which there is no belief in sacredness and the sacred, there is however belief concerning the sanctity of a shahid. This status originates in the particular relation of a shahid to his school. In other words he develops a spring of value and sanctity. It is because, at any rate, the relationship of an individual with his belief is a sacred relationship. The same relation develops between a shahid and his faith. In the same way, yet indirectly, the same relationship develops between an adherent to a belief and its shuhada. Thus the origin of the sanctity of a shahid is the feeling of sacredness that all people have toward their school of thought, nationality, and religion. In existentialism, there are discussions which are very similar, income parts, to our discussions concerning velayat and its effects. Man has a primary “essential” character and a secondary “shaping character.” In respect to the former, every person is the same. Anyone who wears clothes exists! But in the true sense of the term, what makes one’s character, that is to say, makes him distinct from other beings, are the spiritual attributes and dimensions, feelings, instincts, and particular qualities—the things that, once a person considers them, he senses (himself) as a particular “I”.” He realizes himself, saying, “Sum” (I am).
From whence do the particular characteristics of “I” come? “I,” as a human being, after being born, developed characteristics, attributes, and positive and negative values. Gradually I developed a knowledge of myself. Where does this come from. Heidegger says, “The sum of man’s knowledge about his life’s environment makes his character, that knowledge being the conscious relation of the existence of ‘I’ with an external ‘thing’, ‘person’, or ‘thought’.” When I establish a mental and existential relationship with individuals, movements, phenomena, things, thoughts, etc., this relationship finds a reflection in me. This reflection becomes a part of my essence and shapes my character. Thus man’s character is the sum of all his relations with other characters. Consequently my virtue and vice is relative to the virtues and vices of the sum of the individuals, characters, ideas … which surround me and with which I have a relation.
This relation can be with a historical entity (if, for example, I read history). We have not had a [direct] relationship with Imam Husayn. But when we intellectually meet him through a book or words, he becomes a part of our knowledge, and then a part of our personal characteristics. In this sense, everyone exists relative to his knowledge and ideals.
Likewise, when we give a part of our existence for a cause, that part becomes a part of that cause. For example, in our mind, justice has sacredness. It is one of those values which has become a part of us thanks to our relationship and contact with it. If I donate a thousand dollars of my own money for the establishment of justice, that thousand dollars absorbs the sacredness of justice. As long as it was in my pocket, it was merely one thousand dollars. When I negate it in the way of justice, it is affirmed in another form, because it transforms into the essence of justice. Or for example, we have some money and we feed a group of poor people. If feeding the poor has the attribute of sacredness, the amount of money which has come out of our pocket for the feeding develops a particular value. In other words, it develops a non-monetary value and adopts a spiritual value. If we had spent the same amount of money for promulgation of spiritual food, [for example, for] the writing, translating, of publishing of a book, the money finds a new value depending on how sacred the act in question is. In other words, the money negates its existence in a sense, but obtains a new existence and value. In fact, money is an external measure of energy and power. If it is spent on “partying”, the energy develops a profane value or, as some may think, a sacred value! Money is like kerosene or gasoline, which can be used to move a machine or to light a lamp. Once it is spent and once it is burned, it turns into a spiritual energy, depending upon the purpose for which it has vanished. What is spent does not have an independent value. The value belongs to me who has spent it. That amount of money was a part of me. Thus the sanctity of the cause for which the money is spent reflects on me. Its value comes back to me. I earn it; because that amount of money was a portion of my existence. The hundred dollars that I have paid for the cause of justice transforms itself into “the sanctity of justice.” The sanctity of justice is transformed into “the money,” that is to say, something absolutely materialistic and economic. Likewise, if it is spent for feeding the poor, the value of such feeding transports its value to the money spent. But the same amount of money, once spent for filthy partying, does not adopt a value. It rather becomes less than its materialistic value. At this point, we reach a principle: “everything obtains a similar value to that for which it has been spent.” As it is negated, it is affirmed. In other words, as its existence is negated, its value is affirmed. In self-annihilation, it reaches the permanence of the purpose, provided that the purpose is something permanent, such as an ideal, a value, freedom, justice, charity, thought, or knowledge. Money, once spent for the sake of knowledge, goes out of one’s pocket and becomes zero; but at the same time it changes into the values of knowledge for which it is spent.
Just as money is a part of my existence, so my existence, my animal life, my instinct, and my time are parts of me. Suppose I spent an hour of my time to earn money. Because the earning of money has no value, the one hour cannot obtain any value, because I have sacrificed that hour for the sake of what does not have value or sanctity. But if I spent the same hour teaching someone something or guiding him without charging him anything, I have sacrificed that hour for a value. That hour takes on the value of the cause for which that hour was spent.
A Shahid is the one who negates his whole existence for the sacred ideal in which we all believe. It is natural then that all the sacredness of that ideal and goal transports itself to his existence. True, that his existence has suddenly become non-existent, but he has absorbed the whole value of the idea for which he has negated himself. No wonder then, that he, in the mind of the people, becomes sacredness itself. In this way, man becomes absolute man, because he is no longer a person, an individual. He is “thought.” He had been an individual who sacrificed himself for “thought” Now he is “thought” itself. For this reason, we do not recognize Husayn as a particular person who is the son of Ali. Husayn is a name for Islam, justice, imam at, and divine unity. We do not praise him as an individual in order to evaluate him and rank him among shuhada. This issue is not relevant. When we speak of Husayn, we do not mean Husayn as a person. Husayn was that individual who negated himself with absolute sincerity, with the utmost magnificence within human power, for an absolute and sacred value. From him remains nothing but a name. His content is no longer an individual, but is a thought. He has transformed himself into the very school [for which he has negated himself].
An individual who becomes a shahid for the sake of a nation, and thus obtains sacredness, earns this status. In the opinion of the ones who do not recognize a nation as the sum of individuals, but recognize it as a collective spirit above the individuals, a shahid is a spiritual crystallization of that collective spirit which they call “nation.” Likewise, when an individual sacrifices himself for the sake of knowledge, he is no longer an individual. He becomes knowledge itself. He becomes the shahid of knowledge. We praise liberty through an individual who has given himself to liberty; we do not praise “him” because he was a good person. This is not of course in contradiction with the fact that, from God’s perspective, he is still an individual, and in the hereafter, he will have a separate destiny and account. But in the society, and by the criterion of our school, we do not praise him as an individual; we praise the thought, the sacred. At this point, the meaning of the word “shahid” is all the more clear. When the belief in a sacred school of thought is gradually eroding, is about to vanish or be forgotten in a new generation due to a conspiracy, suddenly an individual, by negating himself, re-establishes it. In other words, he calls it back again to the scene of the world. By sacrificing his existence, he affirms the hitherto vanishing existence of that ideal. For this reason, he is shahid (witness, present) and mash-hood (visible). He is always in front of us. The thought also obtains presence and permanence through him. It becomes revived and obtains a soul again.
We have two kinds of shahid, one symbolized by Hamzah, the master of martyrs, and the other symbolized by Husayn. There is much difference between Hamzah and Husayn. Hamzah is a mujahid and a hero who goes (into battle) to achieve victory and defeat the enemy. Instead, he is defeated, is killed, and thus becomes a shahid. But this represents an individual shahadat. His name is registered at the top of the list of those who died for the cause of their belief.
Husayn, on the other hand, is a different type. He does not go (into battle with the intention of) succeeding in killing the enemy and winning victory. Neither is he accidentally killed by a terroristic act of someone such as Wahshi. This is not the case. Husayn, while he could stay at home and continue to live, rebels and consciously welcomes death. Precisely at this moment. he chooses self-negation. He takes this dangerous route, placing himself in the battlefield, in front of the contemplators of the world and in front of time, so that [the consequence of] his act might be widely spread and the cause for which he gives his life might be realized sooner. Husayn choose shahadat as an end or as a means for the affirmation of what is being negated and mutilated by the political apparatus.
Conversely, shahadat chooses Hamzah and the other mujahidin who go for victory. In the shahadat of Husayn, the goal is self-negation for the sanctity [of that ideal] which is being negated and gradually is vanishing. At this point, jihad and shahadat are completely separate from each other. Ali speaks of the two concepts in two different contexts with two [different] philosophies. Al-Jihad ‘izzun lil Islam (“Jihad is glory for Islam.”) Jihad is an act, the philosophy of which is different from that of shahadat. Of course in jihad, there is shahadat, but the kind which Hamzah symbolizes, not the one Husayn symbolizes.
Al-Shahadat istizharan ‘alal-mujahadat (“Shahadat is exposing what is being covered up.”) Yes, such is the goal of shahadat, and thus it is always different from jihad. It is discussed in a different chapter. Jihad is glory for Islam. But shahadat is exposing what is being covered up. This is how I understand the matter. Once upon a time a truth was an appealing precept. Everyone followed it and it was sacred. All powers surrounded it. But gradually in time, because that truth did not serve the interests of a minority and was dangerous for a group, it was conspired against in order to erase it from the minds and lives of the people. In order to fill its empty place, some other issue was supplanted. Gradually the original issue was completely lost and in its place other issues were discussed. In this situation, the shahid, in order to revive the original issue, sacrifices his own life, and thus brings the demode precept back into attention by repulsion of its sham substitute. This is the very goal. At the time of Husayn, the main issue after the Prophet was that of leadership. The other issues were marginal. The main issue was: “Anyway, who is to rule and supervise the destiny of the Muslim nation?” As we know, during the entire reign of the Umayyads, this remained the issue. Uprisings, and thus the major crises of the Umayyads, all boiled down to this very issue. People would pour into the mosques at every event and would grab the neck of the caliph, asking him, “On the basis of which ayah or by what reason do you hold your position? Do you have the right or not?” Well, in the midst of such a situation, one cannot rule. No wonder then that the period of the Umayyads was no longer than a century.
During their reign, the Abbasids, who were more experienced than the Umayyads), de-politicized the people; that is to say, they made the people less sensitive to the issue of imamat (leadership) and the destiny of the society. By what means?! By clinging to the most sacred issues: worship, exegesis of the Qur’an, Kalam (theology), philosophy, translation of foreign books, promulgation of knowledge, cultivation, expansion of civilization—so that Baghdad could be an heir to all great cities and civilizations of the world and so that Muslims could become the most advanced of peoples. [But to what real end.] So that one issue should become negated and no one talk about it.
For the purpose of reviving the very issue, the shahid arises. Having nothing else to sacrifice, he sacrifices his own life. Because he sacrifices his life for that purpose, he transmits the sacredness of that cause to himself.
To God belong both the East and the West. He guides whom He will to a straight path. Thus we have made you an Ommatan Wasatan (middle community) so that you may be shuhada (witnesses) over mankind, and the Apostle may be a shahid (witness) over you. (2:142-143).
In this ayah, shahadat does not mean “to be killed.” It implies that something has been covered and is about to leave the realm of memory, being gradually forgotten by people. The shahid witnesses for this innocent, silent, and oppressed victim. We know that shahid is a term of a different kind from others. The Apostle is a shahid without being killed. without being killed, the Islamic community established by the Qur’an has the status and responsibility of a shahid. God says, ” … so that you may be shuhada over mankind …”,just as the Apostle is shahid over you. Thus the role of shahadat is more general and more important than that of being murdered. Nevertheless the one who gives his life has performed the most sublime shahadat. Every Muslim should make a shahid community for others, just as the Apostle is an ‘Osveh (pattern) on the basis of which we make ourselves. He is our shahid and we are the shuhada of humanity.
We have determined that shahid connotes a “pattern, prototype, or example” on the basis of whom one rebuilds oneself. It means we should situate our Prophet in the mid-realm of culture, faith, knowledge, thought, and society, and make all these to accord with him. Once you have done so, and thus have situated yourself in the midst of time and earth, all other nations and masses should rebuild themselves to accord with you. In this way you [as a nation] become their shahid. In other words, the same role that the Apostle has played for you, you will play for others. You will play the role of the Prophet as a human and as a nation for them. It is in this sense that the locution “‘Ommatan Wasatan” (a community justly balanced) appears quite relevant to the word shahid. We usually think that ‘ummatan Wasatan refers to a moderate society, that is to say, a society in which there is not extravagance or pettiness, which has not drowned itself in materialism at the expense of sacrificing its spirituality. It is a society in which there is both spirit and matter. It is “moderate”; whereas, considering the issue of the mission of this ‘ummat, this is not essentially the meaning of wasatan in this locution. Its meaning is far superior. It means that we, as an ‘ummat, we must be the axis of time; that is to say, we must not be a group cowering in a corner of the Middle East or turning around ourselves, rather than becoming involved in crucial and vital issues, which form everything and make the present day of humanity and tomorrow’s history. We should not neglect this responsibility by engaging in self-indulgent repetition. We must be in the middle of the field. We should not be a society which is ghaib ‘ (absent. the opposite of shahid), isolated, and pseudo-Mutazilite, but we should be an’ ummat in the middle of the East and the West, between Right and Left, between the two poles, and in short, in the middle of the field. The shahid is such a person. He is present in all fields. An Ommatan Wasatan is a community that is in the midst of battles; it has a universal mission. It is not a self-isolated. closed, and distant community. It is a shahid community.
The opinion I expressed last year concerning shahadat meant that, fundamentally in Islam, shahadat is an independent issue, as are prayer, fasting, and jihad. Whereas, in the common opinion, shahadat for a mujahid of a religion is a state or destiny in which he is murdered by the enemy in jihad. Such is also correct. But what I have expressed as a principle adjacent to jihad—not as an extension of jihad and not as a degree that the mujahid obtains in God’s view or in relation to his destiny in the Hereafter—relates to a particular shahadat, symbolized by Husayn. We in Islam have great shuhada, such as our Imams, the first and foremost of whom is Ali, who is the greatest Imam and the greatest man made by Islam. Even though Ali as a shahid, we take Hamzah and Husayn as ideal manifestations of shahadat.
Hamzah is the greatest hero of Islam in the most crucial battle, Uhud (in 627). The Prophet of Islam never expressed so much sadness as he did for Hamzah, even when his own son, Abraham, died, or when some of his greatest companions were martyred. In the battle of Uhud, Hamzah became a shahid due to an inhuman conspiracy contrived by Hind (Abu Sufyan’s wife and Muawiyah’s mother) and carried out by her slave, Wahshi. The reaction of the Apostle was severe. The people of Medina praise Hamzah so much as a hero that the Saudis have accused them of worshipping him. It shows how much he is glorified, even though he was not from Medina. It was with his acceptance of Islam that Muslims straightened their stature. At the beginning of bi’Sat, Hamzah was recognized among the Quraysh as a heroic and epic personality. He was the youngest son of Abd al-Muttalib, a great hunter and warrior. After the episode in which the Quraysh insulted the Apostle and he defended the Apostle, Hamzah became inclined toward Islam. As he became Muslim, Muslims no longer remained a weak and persecuted group. Indeed, they manifested themselves as a group ready for a showdown. Afterwards, as long as there was the sword and personality of Hamzah, other personalities were eclipsed. Even the most sparkling epochal personality of Islam, that is to say, Ali, was under his influence. It is quite obvious that in the battle of Uhud, the spearhead was Hamzah, followed by Ali.
You know that when Hamzah was killed due to that filthy and womanly conspiracy, the Apostle became very angry and sad. When he attended the body of Hamzah, the ears, eyes, and nose of the latter had already been cut off. Hind had made frightening ornaments of these for herself A man who had taken an oath to drink the blood of Hamzah fulfilled his vow in Uhud. Muhammad, near the corpse of this great hero, this young and beloved son of Abdul Muttalib, and his own young uncle, spoke so angrily and vengefully that he immediately felt sorry and God warned him. Muhammad vowed that at the first chance he would burn thirty of the enemy as a blood reprisal for Hamzah. But the heavens immediately shouted at him that no one except God, Who is the Lord of fire, has the right to burn a human being for a crime. Thus the Apostle broke his vow. Since God took this sense of vengeance from him, he tried to console himself by reciting a eulogy for Hamzah.
On his return to Medina, the families were mourning their beloved ones; but no one was crying for Hamzah, because he had no relatives or home in Medina. He was a lonely immigrant. The Apostle, with such tender feelings, unexpected from a heroic man like him, waged a wailing complaint as to why no one cried for Hamzah, the son of Abdul Muttalib, “the hero of our family.” And behold this tender feeling, that a Medinan family came to the Apostle and gave him condolences, saying, “We will cry for Hamzah’s death and the Apostle will eulogize ours.” And he thanked them.
At any rate, in the history of Islam, for the first time, Hamzah was given the title Sayyidel-Shuhada (the Master of Shuhada). The same title was later primarily applied to Husayn. Both are Sayyed al-Shuhada, but there is a fundamental difference between their shahadat. They are of two different kinds which can hardly be compared. Hamzah is a mujahid who is killed in the midst of jihad but Husayn is a shahid who attains shahadat before he is killed. He is a shahid, not only at the place of his shahadat, but also in his own house. From the moment that Walid, the governor of Medina, asks him to swear allegiance [to Yazid] and he says, “NO !”—the negation by which he accepts his own death—Husayn is a shahid, because shahid in this sense is not necessarily the title of the one killed as such, but it is precisely the very witnessing aimed at negating an [innovative] affair. A shahid is a person who, from the beginning of his decision, chooses his own shahadat, even though, between his decision making and his death, months or even years may pass. If we want to explain the fundamental difference between the two kinds of shahadat, we must say that, in Hamzah’s case, it is the death which chooses him. In other words, it is a kind of shahadat that chooses the shahid. In Husayn’s case, it is quite the contrary. The shahid chooses his own shahadat. Husayn has chosen shahadat, but Hamzah has been chosen by shahadat.
The philosophy of the rise of the mujahid is not the same as that of the shahid. The mujahid is a sincere warrior who, for the sake of defending his belief and community or spreading and glorifying his faith and community, rises so that he may break, devastate, and conquer the enemy who blocks or endangers his path; thus the difference between attack and defense is jihad. He may be killed in this way. Since he dies in this way, we entitle him “shahid. “The kind of shahadat symbolized by Hamzah is a tragedy suffered by a mujahid in his attempt to conquer and kill the enemy. Thus the type of shahid symbolized by Hamzah refers to the one who gets killed as a man who had decided to kill the enemy. He is a mujahid. The type of shahid symbolized by Husayn is a man who arises for his own death. In the first case, shahadat is a negative incident. In the latter case, it is a decisive goal, chosen consciously. In the former, shahadat is an accident along the way; in the latter, it is the destination. There death is a tragedy; here death is an ideal. It is an ideology. There the mujahid, who had decided to kill the enemy, gets killed. He is to wailed and eulogized. Here there is no grief, for shahadat is a sublime degree, a final stage of human evolution. It is reaching the absolute by one’s own death. Death, in this case, is not a sinister event. It is a weapon in the hands of the friend who with it hits the head of the enemy. In the event that Husayn is completely powerless in defending the truth, he hits the head of the attacking enemy with his own death.
Shahadat has such a unique radiance; it creates light and heat in the world and in the cold and dark hearts. In the paralyzed wills and thought, immersed in stagnation and darkness, and in the memories which have forgotten all the truths and reminiscences, it creates movement, vision, and hope and provides will, mission, and commitment. The thought, “Nothing can be done,” changes into, “Something can be done,” or even, “Something must be done.” Such death brings about the death of the enemy at the hands of the ones who are educated by the blood of a shahid. By shedding his own blood, the shahid is not in the position to cause the fall of the enemy, [for he can’t do so]. He wants to humiliate the enemy, and he does so. By his death, he does not choose to flee the hard and uncomfortable environment. He does not choose shame. Instead of a negative flight, he commits a positive attack. By his death, he condemns the oppressor and provides commitment for the oppressed. He exposes aggression and revives what has hitherto been negated. He reminds the people of what has already been forgotten. In the icy hearts of a people, he bestows the blood of life, resurrection, and movement. For those who have become accustomed to captivity and thus think of captivity as a permanent state, the blood of a shahid is a rescue vessel. For the eyes which can no longer read the truth and cannot seethe face of the truth in the darkness of despotism and estehmar (stupification), all they see being nothing but pollution, the blood of the shahid is a candle light which gives vision and [serves as] the radiant light of guidance for the misguided who wander amidst the homeless caravan, on mountains, in deserts, along by ways, and in ditches.