Shaheed vs. Shaheed
by Adnan Gill
Muslims have a long history of backstabbing and killing each other, but the authority and conviction they kill one another these days is outright astonishing. In the old days when a Muslim was killed while fighting the nonbelievers there was no confusion as to who the ‘Shaheed’/Martyr was. Regrettably, the distinction is not that obvious when one Muslim kills another. Regardless of the circumstances under which one dies, it seems, these days whenever a Muslim loses his life to another Muslim in a fight, fashionably we tend to bestow the honor and title of Shaheed upon the dead. For people, like me, with a very basic knowledge of practices and principles of Islam such a scenario is nothing short of paradoxical. The paradox becomes even more complex when two Muslims effectively kill each other and we hastily title both of them as Shaheeds.
In Islam, ’shahadat’/ martyrdom is one of the most revered ambition and honor that true believer can hold. This is because shahadat entitles the Shaheed with one of the highest rewards possible for such persons in the hereafter. Abdullah-Ibn-Umar quoted the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be Upon Him/PBUH) as saying, "Martyrs are forgiven their sins, except debts”. Muslim scholars opine, the phrase “except debts” also relates implicitly to the abuse of people’s rights, unjustified killing, and so on.
It suffices here to quote the ultimate stature Allah has promised for the martyrs. Almighty Allah says: “Think not of those, who are slain in the way of Allah, as dead. Nay, they are living. With their Lord they have provision. Jubilant (are they) because of that which Allah hath bestowed upon them of His bounty, rejoicing for the sake of those who have not joined them but are left behind: that there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve. They rejoice because of favor from Allah and kindness, and that Allah wasteth not the wage of the believers.” (Al-Imran 3: 169-71)
The magnanimity of the rewards for a Shaheed is very obvious, but what is not so obvious is who deserves to be called a Shaheed? Similarly we do not want to disgrace and disrespect a worthy titleholder by ignoring to remember him as a Shaheed.
Deeds are judged according to one's intention. We can only judge them according to what is apparent to us, but only Allah can judge their intentions. It may happen that sometimes we may regard someone a Shaheed while Allah knows that he is otherwise.
Common sense dictates when two Muslims reach a point of conflict where they end up using deadly force against each other one has to be on the right side, and the other on the weaker or wrong side. In this life there is no way for us to know for sure who will be awarded the shahadat, so all we can do is go over the teachings of Quran, and Sunnah to educate ourselves, to the best of our abilities, so we could come up with an educated guess as to who may quantify as a Shaheed.
The Quran and the Sunnah are abundant with provisions that crystallize and emphasize one of the important objectives of Islam of safeguarding people's life, property and honor. In light of this objective Islam prohibits aggression against innocent people. Al-Bukhari reported "A woman (was made to) enter (Hell) Fire because of a cat which she tied, neither giving it food nor setting it free to eat from the vermin of the earth." If we risk entering the hellfire for the cruelty to animals then imagine, what will be the fate of the suicide-bombers who often shed innocent's blood and violate their rights?
When a suicide-bomber kills himself in the process of taking lives of other Muslims, oddly the Muslim group which sent him calls the bomber a Shaheed; despite the fact, majority of times the victims of these bombers happens to be unsuspected Muslim civilians, including women and children. Ordinary Muslims often find themselves at loss as to how a suicide-bomber whose victims are also Muslims could be called a Shaheed?
However, in Islamic jurisprudence self-defense is legal, even if it leads to manslaughter, as it would then be forced, not optional. For example, unlike a suicide-bomber whose intention is to kill as many people as he can, a policeman could shoot to kill a suicide-bomber in an attempt to defend himself and the innocent people he has sworn to protect. Muslim scholars suggest that not everyone who is killed in this disorder of fighting between the two Muslim parties will be destined to the hellfire. Surely, there is a difference between a person who is killed when illegally attacking another, and a person who kills his attacker in self-defense or in the defense of innocent. Jurists are of the opinion that people should defend themselves with the lightest possible means, but if these means fall short of repelling the danger, stronger force can be used, even if it leads to the death of the assailant(s).
Recently, in a standoff between the Pakistani military and Islamic militants holed up in the ‘Lal Masjid’ dozens of lives were wasted on both sides. Lo and behold! Both sides conferred their fallen ones with the ultimate title of Shaheed. Most distinguished examples are of Lt. Col Haroon Islam and Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi. To an ordinary Muslim it has to be the most paradoxical riddle that how could a Muslim responsible for the deliberate death of another Muslim could enjoy this ultimate honor? In order to solve this riddle first we need to make a distinction between the offender and the defender.
The Holy Quran says, “O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger, and those of you (Muslims) who are in authority. (And) if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you believe in Allah and in the Last Day. That is better and more suitable for final determination.” (An-Nisa: 59) This verse hardly leaves any doubt that Muslims are instructed to obey the state's authority. Following hadith reinforces this principle: “It is your duty to listen and obey your rulers whether you are in difficulty or at ease, whether willingly or unwillingly and even when you do not receive what is your right.” (Muslim: No. 1836)
Some may argue, what if the rulers have questionable character? If faced with such a scenario prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has advised, “He who sees something despicable in his ruler should bear it, for he who even slightly disassociates himself from the state system and dies in this condition shall die the death of ignorance.” (Bukhari: No. 7054)
Allah and his messenger (PBUH) have ordered us to respect and obey even our questionable Muslim rulers and have strongly advised us not to undermine state's authority. Forcibly interfering in the government's business can break our collectivity apart, and can disrupt the governance, which can result in the break up of a Muslim state. Cognizant to the fact that Islam entrusts the state with the duties of policing, it can very well be argued that those who may lose their lives while assisting the state in dispensing its policing duties holds a special stature, perhaps of a Shaheed.
Allah says: “Allah commands justice, the doing of good, and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion: He instructs you, that ye may receive admonition.” (An-Nahl 16: 90) An eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi further elaborated these instructions of Allah: “No doubt, aggression against innocent people is a grave sin and a heinous crime, irrespective of the victim's religion, country, or race. No one is permitted to commit such crime, for Allah, Most High, abhors aggression. Unlike Judaism, Islam does not hold a double-standard policy in safeguarding human rights.”
Unity among Muslims holds a paramount status in Islam. Islamic principles are crystal clear about how the Muslims are obligated to obey the orders of their rulers, because Islam understands and emphasizes in the concept of collectivity which naturally gets undermined and compromised when certain group(s) disrupt this concept by spreading violence through fiery sermons calling to pick up arms against the government. Only exception for taking down a government is provided if the ruler orders Muslims to commit a sin. There are no other exceptions to this rule even if we don't agree with our government’s domestic or foreign policies. Allah’s messenger Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Whether they like it or not, it is obligatory on the faithful to listen and to obey their rulers except when they be ordered to commit a sin. If they are ordered so, they should neither listen nor obey.” (Muslim: No. 1839)
Henceforth, it is difficult to imagine how a Muslim who intended to harm the interests of the state through injustice and/or rebellion could be the viewed as a Shaheed vs. a government official who lost his life in the process of executing his duties of defending the state and its citizens.
When certain elements challenge state’s authority by taking it upon themselves to set the world straight through their own vision they commit a grave sin. In fact, anyone who tries to undermine the principle of collectivity has been ordered to be killed by Allah’s messenger (PBUH), “You are organized under the rule of a person and someone tries to break your collectivity apart or disrupt your government, kill him.” (Muslim: No. 1852)
Only Allah knows the best, but if we are to look at the recent examples of suicide-bombings and attacks on the government forces, in the light of the Quranic verses and ahhadith quoted above, we could dare to come up with an educated conclusion, that people who spread indiscriminate violence and mischief/shur in an Islamic state stand guilty of committing grave sins.
From the Islamic point of view, it is haram (forbidden) to kill civilians and innocent souls or to destroy or burn plants, trees, etc. The Qur’an says, “…Take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus does He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.” (Al-Anam: 151)
The mischievous elements who had been dividing Muslims at the barrel of gun also try to undermine the state by assassinating the foreigners who are supposed to be the guests of the Muslim state. Clearly, the intent is not only to harm the government domestically, but also to put it at odds with other nations too. Islamic jurisprudence known as Ahd al-Aman is very clear about providing protection of life and safety to non-Muslim civilians and the foreigners in Muslim countries. Hence any attacks against their life or property are forbidden in Islam.
For those who engineer conflicts to take shortcuts to the heavens through shahadat are advised to read Quran, which says, “Nor take life, which Allah has made sacred, except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, We have given his heir authority (to demand Qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the law).” (Al-Isra: 33)
Instead of resorting to violence Muslims are instructed to resolve their differences through peaceful means. Quran is quite clear about how Muslims should resolve their differences. It says, “And if two parties of believers fall to fighting, then make peace between them” (Al-Hujurat 49:9) Then Allah further elaborates in the next verse, “The believers are naught else than brothers. Therefore make peace between your brethren” (Al-Hujurat 49:10).
In light of Allah’s commands, it becomes incumbent upon each and every Muslim to shun the extremists who try to divide Muslims and impose their views through fear and bloodshed, we need to counsel them by showing them how Allah has ordered us to resolve our differences through peaceful means and certainly not through violence.
Finally, for our benefit, Allah commands us not to let the mischievous ones force us to depart from the path of brotherhood, “Do not let your hatred of people who would debar you from the Sacred Mosque lead you into aggression; but rather help one another in furthering righteousness and piety, and do not help one another in furthering evil and aggression. Have fear of God, for God is severe in retribution.” (Al-Maidah 5:2)
Verily, Allah sees and knows all. He will certainly distinguish the true Shaheed from the wannabe.