The Ideology of Martyrdom: Heavenly Informed Fearlessness in Islamic Revolution

  August 04, 2021   Read time 2 min
The Ideology of Martyrdom: Heavenly Informed Fearlessness in Islamic Revolution
Martyrdom is one of the key and fundamental notions that played a vital role in the very constitution of Islamic Revolution. Martyrdom ensured the fearlessness of the brave activists who struggled to topple the oppressive Shah regime.

Another theme of Shi'ism in general that we may refer to before passing on to the particular case of Iran, is the importance given to the concept of martyrdom. Martyrdom is not in any way a monopoly concern of the Shi'a. It is a common value of all Muslims, having its archetype in the example given by certain Companions of the Prophet (upon whom and whose family be peace). Nonetheless, it has acquired a certain particular flavor and importance in the context of Shi'ism.

This has been through the martyrdom of Imam Husain who, we can say, after the Prophet (upon whom and whose family be peace) and after Hazrat Ali (upon whom be peace) the first Imam is doubtless the most important figure in the religious consciousness of the Shi'a. The fact that he met his death in battle, that he attained martyrdom, is seen by the Shi'a not simply as a fact of history; it is seen as a fact of profound and continuing spiritual significance. In the person of Imam Husain (upon whom be peace) the whole fate of humanity when faced with overwhelming and tyrannical power is seen to have crystallized in a single significant incident, and the commemoration of this incident year after year is not merely a matter of pietistic commemoration.

It is not a question of remembering a certain event in human history; it is, at least implicitly, a selfidentification with Imam Husain and the determination to participate to some degree, through emotion and intention, with Imam Husain (upon whom be peace) in a struggle for justice against the overwhelming powers of tyranny. In the course of the Revolution in Iran one of the interesting slogans that was constantly raised, and which shows clearly the importance of Imam Husain not only for the religious but the political consciousness of the Shi'a, was: “Every day is Ashura, and every place is Karbala.” In other words, wherever the Muslim is, is a field of struggle where the forces of justice and legitimacy are confronted by the forces of tyranny. Every day of his life is a day of battle in which he should seek either triumph or martyrdom. In addition to the important theme of the absence of the legitimate political authority, the refusal to bow before the existing political authority in the name of public order, joined to this we have an important contribution with the concept of martyrdom, as exemplified in particularly tragic and significant fashion by Imam Husain (upon whom be peace).

The combination of these two themes, the rejection of de facto authority and the belief in the virtue of martyrdom, has given Shi'ism, particularly at certain points in its history, an attitude of militancy that has been sadly lacking in a large number of Sunni segments of the Muslim Ummah. To summarize it and to quote yet another slogan of the Revolution in Iran, it has been said that the mihrab (prayer-niche) of the Shi'a is a mihrab of blood. That is, throughout the history of the Shi'a, in their confrontation with the powers of illegitimacy, they have been pushed to martyrdom and to self-sacrifice.

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