Seventy people from the nearby town of Yathrib had arranged to meet the Holy Prophet sallAllahu alayhi wasallam at Mt Uqba, which lies on Makkah’s outskirts. They wished to accept Islam at his hands and they wanted to invite him to immigrate to their land of Yathrib.
The Makkans had become hostile to Prophet sallAllahu alayhi wasallam, and emigrating seemed like a very real option. The Yathribites swore allegiance to the Prophet sallAllahu alayhi wasallam and amongst them was a youngster named Jaabir. Jaabir radi Allahu anhu was hardly a teenager. He held the Prophet’s sallAllahu alayhi wasallam hands; accepted the Shahadah and swore allegiance. The Prophet sallAllahu alayhi wasallam said, May Allah Ta’aala forgive you. The Prophet sallAllahu alayhi wasallam took young Jaabir’s radi Allahu anhu hands again and said, May Allah Ta’aala forgive you. He sallAllahu alayhi wasallam took those small hands again and prayed for him again. In total, he took hold of young Jaabir’s radi Allahu anhu hands and prayed for him 25 times. (Tareekh Damishq) He obviously saw great things ahead for Sahabi Jaabir radi Allahu anhu.
Abbaas radi Allahu anhu, the uncle of Nabi sallAllahu alayhi wasallam, highlighted to the Yathribites that hosting the Prophet sallAllahu alayhi wasallam meant that they must be willing to defend him against his enemies, for he knew that the Makkans had become hostile to RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam. He knew that the Makkans would attack Yathrib. The Yathribites agreed, and RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam accepted their invite. (Seerat Ibn Hishaam)
Within months, the Prophet sallAllahu alayhi wasallam migrated to Yathrib, and the city was renamed Madinah al Munawwarah. Just as Abbaas radi Allahu anhu expected, the hostility between Makkah and Islamic Madinah, escalated into battles.
The first battle in which the Prophet sallAllahu alayhi wasallam participated was the Battle of Badr. Young Jaabir radi Allahu anhu was eager to participate, but his father, Abdullah radi Allahu anhu, restricted him to support services like serving water to the soldiers. Then in 3 AH, Sahabi Jaabir radi Allahu anhu tried again to join the Muslim army for the Battle of Uhud, but yet again his father restricted him to support services.
However in the battle of Uhud his brave father was martyred. Hypocrites amongst the Muslims used the opportunity to incite the people against the Prophet sallAllahu alayhi wasallam. They began saying to the Muslims, look how many of our people are dead. Young Jaabir radi Allahu anhu asked RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam about his father. (Tareekh Damishq) It is quite emotional to picture this brave teenager whose father has just been martyred and the hypocrites whispering to him inciting phrases like, your dad is dead, just like any other dead man. What is different or what is the benefit of him dying?
The truth is that Jaabir’s father along with the other martyrs radi Allahu anhum had been instantly elevated to a high status in Jannah. Their souls were able to move like flying birds and they were under the shade of the Magnificent Arsh. They were so pleased with their state that they said, if only we could tell our kin we are alive and enjoying the fruits of Jannah. So Allah Ta’aala said to them that He Ta’aala will inform their kin so that their kin would not be sad and they too would pursue fighting in the Way of Allah Ta’aala. (Abu Dawood, Tafseer Tabari, Dalaailin Nabuwwa li Bayhaqi)
Allah Ta’aala then revealed to RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam, ‘And do not reckon those who have been killed in the way of Allah as having died, to the contrary they are in fact alive, to their Lord they are being nourished. They are delighted with what their Lord has given them from His favour and announce the glad tidings to their descendants amongst those who have not reached them: verily there is no fear with them and they are not feeling dejected.’ (alQuraan3:169/170)
RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam recited this verse to Sahaabi Jaabir radi Allahu anhu. (Imam Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah) Whilst this verse satisfied Sahabi Jaabir’s radi Allahu anhu heart, it also fulfilled the wish of the martyrs radi Allahu anhum, in that their kin knew they were in bliss and were also inspired to achieve martyrdom. This verse also crushed the rumours of the hypocrites, that the martyrs were dead similar to others who have died.
The martyrs were buried without the traditional Ghusl and Salatul Janazah. Scholars say that this is because the traditional Ghusl and Salataul Janazah is performed on deceased Muslims, whilst the martyrs are not counted amongst the deceased; they are counted as being alive.
The martyrs are alive, but their life is superior to both the dead and the others who are alive. After Nabi Adam’s alayhis Salaam form was created, he was left lifeless for some period of time. Sahabi Ibn Abbaas radi Allahu anhum says that only when the Rooh entered his body did he become alive. (Tareekh Tabari) Thus we find that Imam Haakim radi Allahu anhu says that Allah Ta’aala makes a body alive through the Rooh. (Kitaabul Asma wa Sifat li Bayhaqi) An interesting question is, what happens when the Rooh is separated from the body?
We can find the answer to that in the Quran, wherein Allah Ta’aala says: ‘Allah cause selves to expire during one’s death and the one that is not to die is in its state of sleep so He seizes the one for whom death was decreed and the other is sent back until a particular later moment, certainly in this is a true sign for those who contemplate.’ (alQuran 39:42)
Hadrath Saeed bin Jubayr radi Allahu anhu says that in this verse, Allah Ta’aala informs us that the soul of the dead is seized and that of the sleeping returns when they awaken. Khalif Ali bin Abi Taalib radi Allahu anhu says that when one sleeps the soul comes out of the body and it returns when one awakens. (Tafseer Qurtubi)
This means that Allah Ta’aala gives us two scenarios wherein the Rooh comes out of the body, the first being where Allah Ta’aala makes the angel of death take hold of the Rooh and removes it totally from the body. Such a person is known as dead. Imam Ghazzali says that in such a person the person’s Rooh, Nafs and his body are separated from each other. The Nafs of the person is actually his being and would face the consequence of the grave. (Ihya) The body becomes lifeless and decomposes. If the person was an unbeliever then his Rooh would be constricted at his grave. Whilst if he was a believer then the Rooh would travel as it wishes. (Hadith related by Haafidh Ibn Mubarak and Ibn Abi Shayba) Qadhi Ayadh explains that the Rooh of those believers who are amongst the Shuhada would be able to travel anywhere, be it in Dunya, the skies or even the upper limits of Jannah. Whilst the Rooh of those believers who would be free from punishment, would be allowed to travel to some parts of the skies and all of Dunya, whilst the remaining Rooh’s of the believers would be allowed to travel within Dunya, each until Qiyaamah.
The second scenario that this verse of Quran gives, is whereby the Rooh leaves the body but it still has a connection to the body. The example given in this verse is a sleeping person who dreams. Although the Rooh of the sleeping person leaves his body, he is still alive.
This is the type of relationship that the martyrs have with their Rooh. Their Rooh has left their body, but it maintains a connection with the body and this keeps the body of the martyrs alive. The Rooh may also return to the body, just as it can to a sleeping person. The difference between the martyrs and the sleeping person, is that the Rooh of the martyr comes and goes as he intends, whilst a sleeper generally has no control over this, for, as quoted above, RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam did say that the soul of the deceased Believers go where they wish.
RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam stood at the graves at Uhud and said, Oh Allah verily Your servant and Your Prophet bears testimony that these are Shuhadaa and that he who visits them or makes Salaam upon them, they will return it to him until Qiyaamah. (Imam Bayhaqi in his Dalaailin Nabuwwa)
This Hadith suggests, that either we visit these blessed graves or if we do not or are unable to, then we should make Salaam to the Shuhada. And in response the Shuhada will respectively visit us or make Salaam to us until the Day of Qiyaamah. And to this, Nabi sallAllahu alayhi wasallam says, he bears testimony.
The Shuhaada hearing and replying to our Salaam, as well as them visiting us, makes us understand that they are indeed alive. Their being able to perpetually reply to and visit a multitude of different people, gives us an idea of the capability that Allah Ta’aala has blessed the martyrs. The question might arise that we don’t hear their Salaam nor do we see them visiting us. The Quran explains, ‘And do not say of those killed in the way of Allah, as having died, to the contrary they are in fact alive and however you do not perceive.’ (alQuran 2:154)
So this verse clarifies that although the martyrs will do the acts that the living do, we would generally not perceive it. However in certain circumstances, Allah Ta’aala has blessed some of the pious to actually notice the actions of the martyrs.
alUttaaf alMukhzoomi radi Allahu anhu, one of the early Muslims, says that when his aunt visited the graves of the martyrs at Uhud, she made Salaam to them. She heard a clear reply coming from the grave. A reply as clear as the day is from the night. (Dalaailin Nabuwwa li Bayhaqi). All this is living proof of Allah’s Ta’aala words: ‘And do not reckon those who have been killed in the way of Allah as having died, to the contrary they are in fact alive’ (alQuran 3:169)
After RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam had recited this verse to young Sahaabi Jaabir radi Allahu anhu, he was very pleased about his father’s condition and it inspired. He says that thereafter he took part in each battle with RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam. Many years later, he too was martyred in an assassination in Iraq. Whilst his body was being prepared for burial, Hadrath Muhummud alMunkdri (a Tabaeen) radi Allahu anhu said, I entered unto (Sahabi) Jaabir bin Abdullah and he had passed away, so I said to him: Recite to RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam Salaam from me. (Masnad Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal)
Here again we see a Tabaii practicing on the Quranic verse that the Shuhadaa are alive. Although he had ‘passed away’, Hadrath Muhummud alMunkdri radi Allahu anhu spoke to Sahaabi Jaabir radi Allahu anhu and he asked him to convey Salaam to RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam. This means that despite Sahaabi Jaabir radi Allahu anhu being buried in Iraq, he would be able to meet and convey Salaam to RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam.
It is interesting that when speaking about the martyrs, RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam referred to them as Shuhadaa. Shuhadaa actually means witnesses, but since RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam called them Shaheed (plural Shuhadaa), ‘martyr’ has been incorporated into dictionaries as one of the meanings of the word Shaheed.
However, scholars like Imam Nawawi, Qadhi Ayadh and ibn Shumail the linguist, researched why RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam gave martyrs the title of Shuhadaa (witnesses)? Qadhi Ayadh radi Allahu anhu, in his Iqmal Mu’lim, records that the martyrs have been called Shuhadaa (witnesses) because they are amongst those being referred to in the following verse: ‘And in this way We made you a pivotal nation so that you may be witnesses to mankind and the Messenger is a witness over you’ (alQuran 2:143)
RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam did explain about this verse. He said that on the Day of Qiyaamah, some of the people would deny that their respective Prophet alayhis Salaam had given them the Message of Allah Ta’aala. So the angels would bear testimony for each Prophet alayhis Salaam. Furthermore members if this Ummah will bear testimony. The previous Ummats would contest this, saying that how could they have witnessed this, for they were not present in our era.
Allah Ta’aala would ask the Shuhadaa (witnesses) from amongst our Ummah, how is it that you bear testimony to something that occured before your era?
The Shuhadaa of this Ummah will say, Our Lord, You sent to us a Messenger and you unveiled to us of Your Knowledge and Your Kitaab and You narrated to us that they have conveyed so we bear testimony through what has been made known to us.
Then The Lord will say: You have been truthful. (Tafseer Tabari)
So the Shuhadaa have gained this knowledge in four ways. Firstly through RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam. The interesting question is that some Shuhadaa might not have learnt the Ahadith which explain the happenings of previous era’s. Many of those involved in battle are not scholars. So how would they become acquainted with the Hadith? They would learn these Ahadith after they attained their martyrdom from RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam.
Secondly, Allah Ta’aala would unveiled from them some of His Knowledge. We can understand this from Ayatul Kursi, wherein Allah Ta’aala says: ‘none becomes acquainted with His Knowledge except as and how He wills’ (alQuran 2:255) This gives us an idea that becoming acquainted with the creation through Allah Ta’aalas knowledge, is a special privilege, a privilege that has been blessed to the martyrs.
Thirdly, Allah Ta’aala unveiled to them His Book. The Book here does not refer to the Quran, because that was exclusively revealed to RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam and nobody else is able to bear the revelation of the Quran. The Book being referred to is the Looh Mahfouz. Allah Ta’aala explains in the Quran to whom He has granted access to the Looh Mahfooz.
Allah Ta’aala says, ‘Verily It is the Quran Kareem. In a Protected Book. It is not touched except by the purified.’ (alQuran 56:77to79)
Sahaba Ibn Abbaas and Jaabir radi Allahu anhum say that ‘the Book’ being referred to is the Looh Mahfooz. (Tafseer Tabari, Tafseer Qurtubi) and regarding the term, ‘the pure’, Sahabi ibn Abbaas radi Allahu anhum says that it means those who have been purified of sins and will not relapse. (Tafseer Qurtubi, Tafseer Mawridi) This means that only those who have been purified of any misdeeds and there is no chance of them relapsing, may come in contact with the Looh Mahfooz. The martyrs are amongst this privileged ones, for Allah Ta’aala has forgiven the martyrs, except for any liability they may have with the people. (Sahih Muslim) Thus we find that they gain knowledge from this third source, namely the Looh Mahfouz.
Fourthly, the Shuhadaa would learn from what Allah Ta’aala has narrated to them. When RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam gave Sahabi Jaabir radi Allahu anhu glad tidings about his martyred father, he said, ‘Verily Allah keeps you father alive and He speaks directly to him’ (Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, Tirmidhi, ibn Majah) Allah Ta’aala narrating to the Shuhadaa, is indeed a great privilege and it signals to us the great purity that their souls have been blessed with.
Imam Ibn Jareer radi Allahu anhu relates that the souls of the martyrs reside at Sidratul Muntaha. (Tafseer Tabari) This is the furthest limit that Jibreel alayhis Salaam can go to. (Tafseer Qurtubi) When Allah Ta’aala Speaks, His instruction hangs from the Arsh and Jibreel alayhis Salaam is the first of the angels to receive the Speech of Allah Ta’aala. (Hadith related by Imam Tabraani) Thus the martyrs being stationed at Sidratul Muntaha and receiving the Divine Speech is a great privilege. In these four ways the martyrs would gain great knowledge after their martyrdom.
RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam praised the Shuhadaa saying that each Nabi alayhis Salaam is a witness over his nation and this attribute has not been given to anyone previously, except the Anbiya alayhis Salaam. (Tirmidhi, Haakim)
This allows us to understand that after their martyrdom, the spiritual state of the martyrs is elevated, for after their martyrdom they gain knowledge from Allah Ta’aala, from RasoolAllah sallAllahu alayhi wasallam and from the Looh Mahfooz. Furthermore, the Shuhadaa are able to hear and reply to our Salaam and they visit those who visit them. These actions show us how they are alive and their life is far superior to the other living and deceased persons, except the Prophets alayhis Salaam. The Quran correctly points out to us, ‘however you do not perceive (them living).’ (alQuran 2:154) Nonetheless we believe and accept this great blessing that Allah Ta’aala has given to the martyrs.