Islamic Voice
Rajab 1422
October 2001
Volume 15-10 No:178

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UNDERSTANDING QURAN


A careful Selection of Martyrs

A careful Selection of Martyrs

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

If misfortune befalls you, a similar misfortune has befallen other people as well. Such days (of fortune and misfortune) We deal out in turn among men. Allah wants to mark out those who truly believe and choose from among you such as (with their lives) bear witness to the truth – Allah does not love the wrongdoers. And Allah wants to test and prove the believers, and to blot out the disbelievers. (The House of Imran, "Aal Imran": 3:140-141)

Commentary by Sayyid Qutb
Translation: A. A. Salahi and S. A. Shamsi


We commented last month on the first part of the first of these two verses. We explained that it is a law of nature established by Allah that hardship and prosperity are tests, which distinguish true believers from hypocrites. Allah deals out days of fortune and misfortune in turn among people so that the true believers prove themselves by passing both tests. Prosperity is just as effective a test as hardship. We have also explained that although Allah knows the true position of every single human being, He does not hold him to account on the basis of his knowledge, but on the basis of his actions.

The surah reveals the divine wisdom behind the events of the battle of Uhud and why defeat was suffered by the Muslims after their spectacular victory in Badr. We pick up the thread of our commentary here at the point when Allah states that He wants to choose from among the believers certain people who with their lives bear witness to the truth. The Arabic original states that Allah wants to choose from among the believers “martyrs.” It should be remembered that in Arabic the word shaheed which denotes “martyr” also means “witness.” For rendering the meaning of the Quranic text in English, I have borrowed Mr. Asad’s translation which combines both shades of the meaning.

The way this point is expressed in the Quran is particularly remarkable: Allah wants… to choose from among you such as (with their lives) bear witness to the truth. Allah, then, picks up martyrs from among those who strive for His cause. Therefore, it is neither a tragedy nor a loss that a person is chosen to be a martyr. Indeed, it is a matter of honour because the choice is made by Allah and martyrs are given by Allah a special position near Him. Moreover, they are selected to bear witness to the truth of Allah’s message to mankind. They give their testimony in a way which cannot be contested by anyone. That testimony is to struggle to establish the truth of the divine message in human life until they die. They testify that what they have received from Allah is the truth in which they have believed and to which they have dedicated themselves, and that human life will not be set aright unless this truth is implemented by them. They further state that they themselves are certain of this to the extent that they have spared no effort in fighting falsehood and to establish the truth by moulding human society on the basis of its tenets. Their testimony is their struggle until death. The truthfulness of that testimony is irrefutable.

Every Muslim declares that he “bears witness that there is no deity save Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger.” However, he is not considered a witness unless he gives credence to his declaration by acknowledging no god other than Allah. That means that he accepts no legislation other than that which comes from Allah. If the attainment of that goal means that a Muslim should die, he is then a martyr, or a witness, chosen by Allah to make this testimony and win this noble position of a martyr.

That is the proper understanding of the remarkable Quranic statement: Allah wants… to choose from among you such as (with their lives) bear witness to the truth. It is also the meaning of the declaration that there is no deity save Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger. That is greatly different from the narrow meaning associated with this declaration in the minds of people today.

Allah does not love the wrongdoers. As often mentioned in the Quran, wrong doing or injustice is synonymous with polytheism, since association of partners with Allah is the worst form of wrong doing. In the Quran we read: To ascribe partners to Allah is indeed to do a great wrong. Al-Bukhari and Muslim relate a Hadith on the authority of Abdullah ibn Massoud in which he states that he asked Allah’s Messenger: “Which is the greatest sin of all?” The Prophet answered: “To claim a partner to Allah when He has created you.”

A martyr makes the supreme sacrifice in the way of Allah by laying down his life for the sake of what Allah likes most thereby standing testimony by his life. This act of his servant pleases Allah most.

The surah has already referred to the established pattern which determines the fate of those who describe the truth as lies. Now it states that Allah does not love the wrongdoers. This is indeed another way of making clear the fate that awaits this group of people who reject the truth and who are not loved by Allah. The statement that Allah does not love such people generates in the believers’ hearts a feeling of hatred toward wrongdoing and wrongdoers. It is a highly suitable feeling to be mentioned in association with striving hard for Allah’s cause. A believer undertakes such a struggle to combat everyone and everything that Allah hates. It is in such a combat that martyrs sacrifice themselves and make their testimony after they have been chosen for the task by no other than Allah himself.

The surah goes on to explain the lessons to be drawn from the events of battle and how they help in educating the Muslim community, purging it of foreign elements and preparing it for its nobler role so that it becomes a means which Allah may use to wipe out the disbelievers and a manifestation of His ability to crush those who reject the truth and describe it as lies: And Allah wants to test and prove the believers, and to blot out the disbelievers. Proving the quality of people is a step higher than drawing a distinction between them. This is something that is accomplished through working on people’s hearts and souls. Its aim is to bring into the open the secret element of which men’s characters are made in order to throw out any foreign elements. Thus characters become purged, clear and accept the truth without hesitation. They suffer no ambiguity or confusion.

It is often the case that man is not fully aware of himself and by what or how his character is influenced. He might not be aware of his points of strength and weakness and what has sunk into him and has become very difficult to bring out. This process of testing and proving which Allah operates through dealing out days of fortune and misfortune to people enables the believers to know themselves better, in the light of events, experiences and practical difficulties.

A man may think himself able to show dedication and to get rid of his love of material luxuries. When he is exposed to a practical test and faces up to actual events, he may discover that he still has certain unpurged traces which make it exceedingly difficult for him to withstand the sort of pressures to which he is exposed. It is far better that he becomes aware of his own weakness in order to try again to mould his character in such a way which enables him to take in his stride any pressures the advocates of Islam may have to face and to fulfill the duties Islam imposes on its followers.

Allah Himself supervised the first Muslim community which He had appointed to lead mankind. He wanted them to fulfill a certain purpose on earth. Therefore, He put them to the test in Uhud so that they could prove themselves and become able to rise to a level which made it possible for them to accomplish what Allah wanted them to accomplish.

And Allah wants… to blot out the disbelievers. This is again an established pattern in human life. When the voice of truth is heard loud and purged of all foreign elements, Allah enables it to blot out falsehood and its followers and advocates.

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