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Imam Ali and the Passion for Martyrdom: A Glimpse Into a Magnificent Lesson

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In this article on Islam4u, we will discuss Imam Ali’s martyrdom. Allah says in the Quran:

وَلاَ تَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ قُتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ أَمْوَاتًا بَلْ أَحْيَاء عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ يُرْزَقُونَ * فَرِحِينَ بِمَا آتَاهُمُ اللّهُ مِن فَضْلِهِ وَيَسْتَبْشِرُونَ بِالَّذِينَ لَمْ يَلْحَقُواْ بِهِم مِّنْ خَلْفِهِمْ أَلاَّ خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلاَ هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ * يَسْتَبْشِرُونَ بِنِعْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللّهِ وَفَضْلٍ وَأَنَّ اللّهَ لاَ يُضِيعُ أَجْرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ

“Do not consider those who were killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision, rejoicing in what Allah has given them of His bounty, and happy for those who have not yet joined them from behind. They will have no fear, nor will they grieve. They rejoice in the grace and bounty from Allah, and that Allah will not waste the reward of the believers.”[1]

Imam Ali and Love for Martydom

The Islamic faith has given us numerous life lessons to cherish. Among them, is a profound teaching from the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali (peace be upon him), who passionately embraced the concept of martyrdom throughout his life.

After the Battle of Badr, where Imam Ali (peace be upon him) killed half of the disbelievers and participated in the other half, he remained alive, victorious, and unscathed. Despite this, he yearned for martyrdom, and after the Battle of Uhud, he approached the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family), lamenting his missed opportunity:

“By my father and mother, all praise is due to Allah, who has not seen me turn away from you or flee. By my father and mother, how was I deprived of martyrdom?!”

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) comforted him, saying, “Rejoice, for martyrdom is in your future.”[2]

Imam Ali (peace be upon him) eagerly awaited the day when he would attain martyrdom. He fought in numerous battles, yet martyrdom continued to elude him. He reminded the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) of the promise, to which the Prophet replied, “Indeed, that is true. How, then, can you be patient?”

Imam Ali (peace be upon him) responded, “O Messenger of Allah, this is not a matter of patience, but rather a cause for gratitude and good tidings.”[3]

Throughout his life, Imam Ali (peace be upon him) prayed for martyrdom, especially during times of war. Before the Battle of Siffin, he supplicated:

“O Lord of the elevated ceiling… If You grant us victory over our enemy, keep us from wrongdoing, and guide us to the truth. If they are granted victory over us, grant us martyrdom and protect us from tribulation.”[4]

Martyrdom also featured prominently in his letters, as he prayed for Allah’s blessings:

In conclusion of his letter to Malik al-Ashtar, when he appointed him as governor of Egypt, “I ask Allah, in His infinite mercy, to grant both of us happiness and martyrdom.”[5]

Imam Ali (peace be upon him) lamented the loss of his brothers and lovers of martyrdom, such as Ammar (may Allah be pleased with him), who fell in the Battle of Siffin. He said:

“...Our brothers, whose blood was spilled at Siffin, have not been harmed by being absent today… Where are my brothers who embarked on the path and adhered to the truth?… Those who committed themselves to death…[6]

Regarding those who failed him, he declared:

By Allah, if it were not for my longing to meet my enemy in martyrdom and my determination to do so, I would not wish to spend a single day with these people.”[7]

He would encourage people to fight, saying:

O people, death is inevitable for the one who stays and for the one who flees. There is no escape from death, nor can it be avoided. Whoever does not die in battle will die a natural death. The best death is in combat. By the One in Whose hand is Ali’s soul, a thousand sword strikes are easier to bear than a single death on one’s bed.”[8]

Imam Ali (peace be upon him) eagerly awaited the hour of his martyrdom. During his severe illness, he knew that it would not lead to his death, as he was awaiting the promise of martyrdom. Thus, he reassured Abu Fadhala when he feared for his life due to his ailment

O Abu Fadhala, my beloved and cousin, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family), informed me that I would not die until I am commanded, and I will not die until I am killed, and I will not die until my beard is soaked in blood.” He then touched his chin and forehead, indicating the location of his future fatal wound. “This is a decree and a promise made to me. Woe to those who fabricate lies.”[9]

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Time for Martyrdom

The time for martyrdom came, and Imam Ali (peace be upon him) eagerly awaited the month of Ramadan, knowing that it would be the month of his martyrdom. He remembered asking the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family), “What is the best deed in this month?” The Prophet replied, “O Abul Hasan, the best deed in this month is to refrain from committing sins against Allah, the Almighty.” Then the Prophet wept, and Ali asked him why he was crying. The Prophet replied:

O Ali, I cry for what will be done to you in this month.”[10]

Imam Ali (peace be upon him) awaited that blessed night when he would perform his final dawn prayer – a prayer that he had long anticipated. It was the prayer that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had spoken of, saying, “I see you praying to your Lord, and the most wretched of the first and the last will rise – the brother of the camel herder of Thamud – and he will strike you on your head, causing your beard to be dyed with blood.[11]

The Commander of the Faithful recognized that night and went to the mosque with joy in his heart. The journey of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) was destined to begin and end at the mosque – from the moment of his birth to his martyrdom. As he entered into prayer, completely absorbed in Allah, he felt the blow of martyrdom on his head. His words, expressing the outcome of his passion for martyrdom, were:

By the Lord of the Kaaba, I have succeeded!” And then he said, “By Allah, death has never surprised me, nor has it ever been unwelcome. I was like a boat on the water, seeking and finding.[12]

Qualities of the Martyrs

Why did Imam Ali have such love for martyrdom and strive for it?

The answer lies in the words of Allah, “And do not think that those who were killed in the cause of Allah are dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving sustenance, rejoicing in what Allah has given them from His bounty…”[13]

The state of a martyr after their death is not one of slumber or stagnation but rather a true life in which they receive renewed sustenance from the grace of Allah.

What do they receive?

Imam al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “A martyr has seven qualities from Allah:

1- With the first drop of blood, all their sins are forgiven.

2- Their head is placed in the lap of their two heavenly spouses, who wipe the dust from their face, welcoming them, and the martyr reciprocates the greeting.

3- They are clothed in the garments of Paradise.

4- The keepers of Paradise present them with every fragrant breeze, from which they may choose.

5- They are shown their place in Paradise.

6- Their soul is told, ‘Roam freely in Paradise wherever you wish.’

7- They are allowed to gaze upon the face of Allah (mercy of Allah), which is a comfort for every Prophet and martyr.”[14]

The verse “And they rejoice for those who have not yet joined them from behind them” signifies:

1- The martyrs receive news about the remaining righteous believers in the world.

2- The continuity of brotherhood and thinking about the community, as the situation in the intermediate realm (Barzakh) is far from selfishness.

“No fear shall be upon them, nor shall they grieve.” (Quran 10:62)

Imam Ali was asked about the verse “Indeed, the friends of Allah will have no fear upon them, nor will they grieve[15]. Who are these friends? He replied, “They are a people who are sincere to Allah in their worship and look at the inner aspect of the world when people look at its outward appearance. They recognize its end when others are deceived by its immediate pleasures. They abandon from it what they know will leave them, and they kill from it what they know will cause their death.”[16]

What does a person fear? The answer is that the cause of their fear is one of two things: either they fear the occurrence of something harmful that has not yet happened, or they fear the loss of blessings.

What makes a person sad? The answer is the occurrence of something harmful, such as losing a child or losing wealth.

Based on this, the martyrs in their intermediate realm have no fear or sadness because the blessings are everlasting, and there is no sadness over losing them, as “what is with you will perish, and what is with Allah will remain.”[17]

“And they rejoice for those who have not yet joined them from behind them”[18]

Despite all the previous warmth towards the martyrs and the great blessings bestowed upon them, they rejoice in an upcoming blessing that will be realized on the Day of Judgment.

It might be the blessing of intercession, which the Noble Prophet (PBUH) mentioned: “Three intercede with Allah, and they intercede: the Prophets, then the scholars, then the martyrs.”[19]

It might also be the blessing of a position that, if the Prophets (peace be upon them) saw them in it, they would step down.

And it might be the blessing of meeting the Prophets (PBUH) and their successors (peace be upon them)…

Now you understand the meaning of the saying of the Messenger of Allah: “There is no soul that dies and has good with Allah that would wish to return to the world, nor would it wish to have the world and everything in it, except the martyr; for he wishes to return and be killed in the world, because of what he sees from the virtue of martyrdom.”[20]


References

  1. Surah Al-Imran, verses 169-171.
  2. Al-Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 40, p. 114.
  3. Al-Rayshahri, Muhammad, Mizan al-Hikmah, Vol. 5, p. 190.
  4. Nahj al-Balagha, Sermons of Imam Ali (AS), Vol. 2, p. 84.
  5. Al-Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 74, p. 265.
  6. Nahj al-Balagha, Sermons of Imam Ali (AS), Vol. 2, p. 109.
  7. Al-Rayshahri, Muhammad, Mizan al-Hikmah, Vol. 2, p. 1513.
  8. Ibid, p. 14.
  9. Al-Mar’ashi, Al-Najafi, Explanation of the Truth, edited by Shahab al-Din Al-Najafi, (n.p.), Qom, (n.d.), Vol. 8, p. 785.
  10. Al-Burujardi, Collection of Shiite Hadiths, Vol. 9, p. 21.
  11. Al-Saduq, Muhammad bin Ali, Al-Amali, p. 155.
  12. Nahj al-Balagha, Sermons of Imam Ali (AS), Vol. 3, p. 21.
  13. Surah Al-Imran, verses 169, 170.
  14. Al-Mashhadi, Muhammad, Tafsir Kanz al-Daqa’iq, edited by The Islamic Publishing Foundation, 1st ed., The Islamic Publishing Foundation, Qom, 1410 AH, Vol. 2, p. 534.
  15. Surah Yunus, verse 62.
  16. Al-Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 66, p. 319.
  17. Surah Al-Nahl, verse 96.
  18. Surah Al-Imran, verses 171.
  19. Al-Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 8, p. 34.
  20. Al-Rayshahri, Muhammad, Mizan al-Hikmah, Vol. 2, p. 1515.
  21. 5/5 - (1 vote)
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