From what we have already established, it has become clear to us that the Imams (‘a) were never ignorant of the martyrdom of each one of them: who would commit it, how and when. They were informed of it by Allah Who bestowed upon them of the types of knowledge whereby they comprehended the events, in addition to the heavenly tablet which descended upon their grandfather, the Supreme Saviour (S), and which they read.
Their welcoming martyrdom in a way that assisted the demise of their holy selves, or hurled them into perdition, is something that the Holy Qur’an prohibits. Safeguarding one's life and taking precautions against falling into perdition is obligatory so long as it is destined, or when it does not serve a higher purpose.
But in the presence of a purpose that is served by one exposing his life to peril, as is the case with performing jihad or in self-defense, death will claim the lives of a number of Mujtahids. Allah ordered His prophets and messengers who approached it determined to be martyred, and many of them were quite happy to do so.
A number of prophets were killed in the line of their duty; they never flinched nor relented till their holy souls departed from their bodies. A group from among the Israelites sought to worship their Lord by putting an end to their lives; He, the Great and the Almighty, said,
“So repent to your Creator and kill your own selves”. (Qur’an, Sura al-Baqara, 2:54).1
To read this verse as is [rather than in its context] will only take it out of our discussion of the topic of revelation: to warn against an imminent danger. It succeeded a verse dealing with transgression during the months regarded by the Muslims as sacred. Allah Almighty says,
“The sacred month for the sacred month and all sacred things are (under the law of) retaliation; whoever then acts aggressively against you, inflict injury on him according to the injury that he has inflicted on you, and be careful (of your duty) to Allah and keep in mind that Allah is with those who guard (themselves against evil)” (Qur’an, Sura al-Baqara, 2:194).
The prohibition of putting someone’s life in jeopardy becomes [in such a context] dependent on the polytheists attacking the Muslims during the sacred months, and when the Muslims did not have enough force to fight them back.
Taking the stand of a general prohibition of any life-threatening situation becomes a rationalizing cause that cannot be subjected to a particular situation but a specific injunction relevant to the case of the lack of a cause stronger than that of simply facing a danger. When the necessary cause is present, no injunction interferes to prohibit it, such as in the case of defending Islam.
The most Praised and Exalted One praises the believers who march to their death and struggle to promote the divine cause saying,
“Allah has bartered with the believers: their lives and wealth for Paradise; they fight in the cause of Allah, so they kill and get killed.”(Qur’an, Sura at-Tawbah, 9:111).
He also says,
“Do not reckon those who are killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Nay! They are alive with their Lord receiving their sustenance.” (Qur’an, Sura Al-e-‘Imran, 3:169).
He also says,
“Among the people is one who sells his life seeking the Pleasure of Allah” (Qur’an, Sura al-Baqara, 2:207).
Thus did the Messenger of Allah (S) declare to the members of his nation when he provided them with his valuable instructions saying, “The best of martyrs is Hamzah Ibn Abu Talib and a man who spoke a word of truth to an oppressive ruler because of which he [the ruler] killed him.”2
Muhammad Ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani is not far off from following such instructions when he sees no harm in a man assaulting a thousand of his foes and who either comes out safely or is killed in the process.
Then he says, “There is no harm in one losing his life, or is hurt, if his assault at a thousand foes strikes fear in the latter or causes them to be in disarray.” His reasoning is that such an assault is better than any harm inflicted because it serves the interest of the Muslims.3
Ibn al-’Arabi, the Malikite scholar, says, “Some scholars permit a man assault a huge army seeking martyrdom, and such an action is not regarded by them as jeopardizing one's life and exposing it to perdition because Allah, the most Exalted One, says,
‘And among men is he who barters his life for the pleasure of Allah, and Allah is Affectionate to the servants’ (Qur’an, Sura al-Baqara, 2:207),
especially if the motive behind the assault enhances the morale of the Muslims upon seeing one of them facing thousands.”4
Allah, Glory to Him, has specifically allotted certain injunctions to those who are the custodians of his legislation and His vicegerents over the nation. Most of such injunctions cannot be realized by people's aspirations, nor can they be comprehended by their reason. Among them is enjoining them to sacrifice themselves for the sake of achieving His Pleasure, Glorified and Exalted is He, and to spend all wealth, influence, and possessions in the process.
So you find them once in the depth of dungeons, or exiled, or deported, all the time suffering from apprehension and hardship, remaining against their wish silent as they are being verbally abused. This continued till they met their death.
What savoured all of this for them was their being informed beforehand by their greatest grandfather (S), who was told by divine inspiration, of the merits and the interests whereby the Islamic nation is served. Had they not been thus determined to offer such sacrifices, the creed would have been terribly distorted and misguidance would have crept therein.
They found themselves submitting to that with which Allah had acquainted them of His secrets. He acquainted them with the great significance with Him, the most Exalted and Praised One that He is, despite the various degrees of sacrifice they had to offer.
The Almighty ordered some of them to withhold and not to fight or to be involved in jihad while ordering others to accept to be killed and yet others to accept to be poisoned. The mystery in such variation of obligation was due to what He, Glory to Him, saw of the interests according to their relevant time.
Their bracing their death and taking poison was never due to their ignorance of what an oppressive ruler was doing to them. Rather, they were quite sure about it. They knew of their killer and his method of killing, and even of the day and time, seeking submission to the Command of their Lord, the most Exalted One, and surrendering to the divine judgment in their regard.
They are, in so doing, only carrying out all the orders they had received from the Master, Praise to Him, be they obligations or recommendations. Reason determines that a slave must obey his master and not do anything forbidden without inquiring about the interest, or the lack thereof, that necessitated it. But if the Master is wise in everything He does, according to the verse saying,
“He is not asked about what He does while they are,” (Qur’an, Sura al-Anbiyah, 21:23).
obedience to Him ought to be unconditional, without questioning the reasons behind His orders.
It is this suggested view that the critics from among renowned scholars have endorsed. If researchers keep themselves busy investigating the reasons why Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) did what put an end to their sacred lives, they will keep going right and left without actually coming out with what satisfies anyone simply because such researchers produced nothing but assumptions which do not agree with the basics or with what is most exemplary.
Traditions regarding Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) indicate that when they knew that their enemies were determined to put an end to them, or when the pain of their chains intensified, and it became obvious to them that their fate was delayed, they resorted to all possible means, including supplications which could not be rejected, or complaining to their grandfather the Prophet (S), requesting him to keep harm and calamities away from them.
Imam Abu Ja’far, al-Baqir (‘a), says, “If something distresses us and we were apprehensive of the authorities' mischief, we, Ahl al-Bayt, would say, ‘O King of everything! Bless Muhammad and his Household and do unto me such-and-such'”5
When al-Mansur became angry with Imam Abu ‘Abdullah, as-Sadiq (‘a), setting his mind to kill him, the Imam (‘a) supplicated to his Lord, the most Exalted One, pleading to Him to ease his hardship. By the grace of his supplication, the dark ominous clouds of an ill fate dissipated.
As soon as al-Mansur looked at as-Sadiq (‘a), he gladly stood up, demonstrating his pleasure at seeing him, hugged and kissed him. After that incident, al-Mansur narrated the reason why he changed his mind. He said that the Messenger of Allah (S) appeared to him in a vision standing before him stretching his open hands, uncovering his arms, looking very angry as he shielded the Imam (‘a) from him; he said to al-Mansur,
“If you harm the father of ‘Abdullah (‘a), I will certainly annihilate you.” Al-Mansur had no choice except to forgive, respect and honour the sanctity of the Imamate. Then he dispatched the Imam (‘a) back to [his and] his grandfather's home town [Medina] surrounded with royal grandeur.6
When the confinement of Imam Musa son of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq, peace be upon both of them, became quite prolonged, and the Imam was fed-up with the mistreatment meted to him, he pleaded to Allah Almighty to put an end to his suffering saying,
“O One Who releases the trees from the sand and the water, Who releases milk from between blood and secretion, Who releases the fetus from the womb and the embryo, Who releases fire from between iron and stone, Who releases the soul from between the bowels and the intestines, do release me from Harun's grip.”7
By the grace of this supplication, he was, indeed, released from the darkness of the dungeon and from the pain of the chains.
When Harun al-Rashid offered him poisoned dates to eat, the Imam (‘a) selected those that were not poisoned and ate them then gave the poisoned ones to al-Rashid's dog that died.8 He had no intention to cause the dog's death except to let the tyrant al-Rashid know that he was fully aware of his intention to kill him at a time when his demise was not yet opportune.
But when it was time for the Imam (‘a) to die, and Allah called upon him to return to Him, he ate the poisoned dates which al-Rashid had given him knowing that they were, indeed, poisoned. Having eaten them, he raised his hands and supplicated saying, “Lord! You know that had I eaten such dates before today, I would have put an end to my life!” So he ate of them and his fate had its way.9
Upon such a basis, Imam Abul-Hasan, ‘Ali al-Hadi (‘a), ordered Abu Hashim al-Ja’fari to send a man to a most sacred spot of al-Ha'ir to supplicate to Allah to heal him, saying that Allah Almighty loved to be invoked there.10
His objective was to point out that nothing happens in the system of the universe except what naturally flows, and except natural laws. Or he may have intended to attract our attention to the benefits of supplicating to Allah when calamities overtake one of His servants and when catastrophes surround him.
What supports this view is that al-Rabi’, slave of al-Mansur al-Dawaniqi, learned by heart the supplication composed by Imam as-Sadiq (‘a) when he met with al-Mansur who had angrily decided to annihilate him. Al-Rabi’ saw with his own eyes how al-Mansur met the Imam (‘a) with utmost respect instead of carrying out his evil intention against him.11
It is upon the same basis that the chosen one, Imam al-Hasan (‘a) son of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a), used to sometimes seek healing from his grandfather's soil, and sometimes he would follow the instructions of his physician, and yet some other times he would follow the advice of those who had undergone a similar experience12 despite his knowledge that his sickness was not fatal and that he knew when such fate would come to pass.
But he wanted to let people know that combatting ailments is done through ordinary indispensable means so that such means may be implemented. But when it was time for him to depart, he did not do any of that out of his submission to destiny. This happened when Ja’da daughter of al-Ash’ath offered him poisoned sour milk. It was very hot, and al-Hasan (‘a) was fasting.13
He raised his hands to the sky and supplicated saying, “We belong to Allah, and to Him is our return. Praise to Allah for the meeting with Muhammad, the Master of all Messengers, with my father the master of all wasis, with my mother the Head of all women of the world, with my uncle Ja’far who flies in Paradise, with al-Hamzah, the Master of Martyrs.”14
Having said so, he drank the sour milk then said to her, “He [Mu’awiyah, his assassin] fooled you and made fun of you. Allah will expose both you and him to shame.”15
As the Imam spoke those words, the woman shook like a palm leaf braving a storm.
Imam al-Riďa (‘a) had informed his companions that he would be assassinated by al-Ma’mun, and that they had to be patient till then.16 Imam Abu Ja’far, al-Jawad (‘a), said to Isma’il Ibn Mahran, when he saw that the latter was upset upon al-Ma’mun ordering the Imam (‘a) to meet with him, “He [al-Ma’mun] was never my friend, but I will return from this trip.”
But when he ordered him to meet with him again, the Imam (‘a), said to Isma’il Ibn Mahran, “In this meeting will I have to face my death,” ordering him to take orders from his successor Imam al-Hadi (‘a), his son, who became the nation's Imam following the assassination of his father.17
So when Umm al-Fadl [daughter of al-Ma’mun, who also was the Imam’s wife] gave him a poisoned handkerchief, he did not hesitate to use it, thus submitting to destiny and obeying the order of his Master, all Praise is due to Him. Yes, he only said the following words to her then: “Allah has afflicted you with infertility without a cure and with an affliction which you will never be able to hide.” She was instantly afflicted with an ailment in the most delicate of her five senses.
The Commander of the Faithful (‘a) had already provided the name of “Ibn Muljim” as that of his assassin; this is a fact regarding which no two persons dispute with one another. When Ibn Muljim came to swear the oath of allegiance to the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) then went away, the Imam (‘a) said, “Anyone who wishes to see the face of my killer should look at this one.”
“Why do you not kill him?,” the Commander of the Faithful (‘a), then the caliph, was asked. “How strange,” he (‘a) answered, “that you should suggest I must kill the one who shall kill me!”18
He meant that that man killing him was an already determined destiny and an unavoidable fate, and that his being killed by Ibn Muljim was an irreversible divine decision; so, how could he contradict the divine will and undo what is destined to happen?
It is to this meaning that Imam as-Sadiq (‘a), refers when he once said to Uqbah al-Asadi: “Had the Imams (peace be upon them) persisted in their supplication to Allah to annihilate all the tyrants in the world, He would have responded favourably to their pleas, and it would have been easier for Him than a string of beads which someone cuts through, but we do not want anything except what Allah wants.”19
Through these straightforward proofs, the veil wrapping the truth is uncovered; therefore, facts appear most gloriously and place themselves before the brilliant researcher surrounded with a halo of truth and conviction. He, therefore, becomes convinced that the Imams of guidance were familiar with how fate fared and what imminent destiny was, the one which could not be avoided and whereby it afflicted them with catastrophes.
This is so due to the fact that the Great Master, Glory to Him, welcomed their pleas and acquainted them with secrets and mysteries, be they good or bad. Such abundant knowledge never parted from them but was granted to them first from the One Who initiated existence in the first place, Great are His signs, and second from the Messenger of Allah (S) who also acquainted them with it, and third due to their being informed by the revealed divine tablet sent down upon their grandfather (S).
Allah Almighty surely granted them a lofty status and an immortal honour that they could not have achieved except through martyrdom and the annihilation of their sacred souls. It is for this reason that they sacrificed their precious lives in submission to the Commands of Allah Almighty and to serve the realistic interests that no humans could realize and whose particulars are not known except to the One Who knows the unknown.
We do not have to know the advantages or disadvantages in all the legislative obligations; rather, reason obligates us to obey the Great Master, Exalted is His Status, whenever He bids or forbids.
I am amazed at those who listen to the authentic traditions and willingly submit to the fact that the Imams from among the Progeny of Muhammad (S) knew what was and what will be, and with them was the knowledge of fate and the calamities, yet they are unfamiliar with the light of many traditions which clearly state that whatever those Imams said or did not say, stood or sat, was due to an order which they had received from Allah, Praise to Him, conveyed through His trustworthy Messenger of divine revelation, and that nothing small or big hid from their knowledge, nor were they ignorant of anything of it, not even the moment of their death What testifies to this fact is the following statement by Imam Abu Ja’far al-Baqir (‘a):
“I am amazed at people who accept us as their masters, making us their Imams, and describing obeying us as mandatory as obeying the Messenger of Allah (S), yet they violate their argument and indict themselves with a weakness in their conviction. So they belittle our rights and fault those whom Allah had given the proof of the uprightness of recognizing us and submitting to our commands.
I wonder why they should not adopt a contrary stand. Have you seen how Allah, the most Exalted One, mandated His servants to obey His friends without acquainting the latter with what happens in the heavens, depriving them of having access to the knowledge of what they should endure, of what helps their creed stand on firm grounds?”
Hamran said to him, “O son of the Messenger of Allah! What is your view of the consequences of the stands taken by the Commander of the Faithful (‘a), how al-Hasan and al-Husayn (‘a) revolted and how much they had to suffer at the hands of the tyrants who subdued them, killed and vanquished them?” Abu Ja’far (‘a) said to him,
“O Hamran! Allah, Praised and Exalted is He, willed that all of that should happen to them. He decreed and predestined it out of His own will, then He let it happen. Due to being already informed by the Messenger of Allah (S), ‘Ali, al-Hasan, and al-Husayn (‘a) took their stands. Due to the same knowledge, some of us remained silent.
Had they wished Allah Almighty, earnestly pleading to Him to remove the authority of the tyrants, it would have been faster than a string of beads which someone cuts through. What afflicted them was not due to any sin which they had committed, nor to any transgression whereby they disobeyed Allah; rather, it was for the achievement of a certain status and favour with Allah which He wanted them to achieve; so, do not permit yourself to be misled, O Hamran!”20
It is through the rays of this sacred tradition that we clarify obscure mysteries and divine wisdom that Allah bestowed upon certain custodians of His wali, thus granting them distinctions over all other human beings. Among such distinctions are the following:
A) Their knowledge of everything, and the fact that the knowledge from the heavens never ceased reaching them, the knowledge that contained all subjects barring none.
B) The perils to which they were exposed, and the oppression to which the leaders of oppression exposed them, were due to reasons not known except by the Omnipotent Almighty.
C) Their waging wars, their struggle, and their martyrdom while defending the divine Message, as well as their silence towards what the leaders of misguidance commit, their witnessing how the nation goes to extremes in its oppression, and their doing that which cause putting an end to their sacred lives in obedience to the commands of their Lord relevant to them, all demonstrate their willingness to submit to His will without any hesitation at all; they willingly do so, just as willingly as others carry out their obligations.
D) Succumbing to destiny and sure death and reluctance to plead to the Exalted Creator to remove their causes was done so that they might win martyrdom which is the most honourable form of death in order to reach a lofty status and a high station which cannot be achieved except through this type of death
It is through providing the same explanation that Abul-Hasan, Imam al-Riďa (‘a), answered those who asked him about the reason why the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) exposed himself to being killed while knowing the exact hour of his death and the name of his killer. He (‘a), said, “All of that did, indeed, take place, but he chose that night to let fate have its way.”21
This and similar statements lead us to conclude that the reason why members of Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) walked to their death willingly is that they did so in obedience to their Lord in order to carry out the obligations relevant specifically to them; so, there is no shortcoming in their knowledge, nor can what caused their death be seen as bringing perdition to themselves or be rejected by reason. It is also the view upheld by the most renowned Shi’a scholars.
Shaikh al-Mufid, for example, is quoted in al-Ku’bari's Masa'il saying,
“We have no problem accepting the fact that an Imam may be informed in detail of what takes place and of distinguishing one thing from another, and such knowledge is conveyed by Allah Almighty. Likewise, we do not have any problem seeing how the Commander of the Faithful persevered till reaching martyrdom and surrendering to be killed, thus reaching a degree so high that nobody can reach in any other way.
He, in so doing, demonstrates his obedience to his Lord in a way none else could have. Nor can the Commander of the Faithful be described as having brought perdition upon himself or assisted others to his own detriment in a way which reason does not condone. Nor should such an action be understood by those who objected to his doing so.
We also do not have any objection to al-Husayn (‘a) being fully aware of the place where water could be found, and that it was as close to him as the distance of one yard; so, had he dug, he would have found water.
His reluctance to dig cannot be interpreted as assisting fate against his own life by abandoning seeking water where it is inaccessible to him. Reason does not see that as being far-fetched, nor as being ugly. So is the case with al-Hasan (‘a) being fully informed of the outcome of seeking reconciliation with Mu’awiyah: He had already known about it, and it was quite obvious.
But he, by doing so, postponed his being murdered, putting off the time when his followers would surrender to Mu’awiyah. That was a good reason for his survival till it was time for him to go, and it was good for the survival of many of his Shi’as and family members. An avoidance of a greater harm to the creed from it could have actually otherwise taken place. He (‘a), was fully aware of what he did; Allah Almighty had ordered him to seek obedience to Him in so doing.”
The great scholar, al-Hilli, was asked once about the reason why the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) exposed himself to being murdered. He said that “It was quite possible that he had been informed of his being killed in a particular night and place, and he was required to do what we are not; so, it was quite possible that his acceptance of death for the sake of Allah was mandatory, just as mandatory as a person waging jihad, even when such a mujtahid knew that it would in the end cause him to be killed.” 22
The great mentor, Shaikh Yousuf al-Bahrani, says,
“Their acceptance of tragedy, their being killed by the sword or by poison, and their acceptance of the affliction to which they are exposed at the hands of their oppressive foes, despite their knowledge of it and ability to avoid it, is due to their knowledge that it would cause the most Praised and Exalted One to be pleased with them, and that it was chosen for them by Him and was mandated upon them so that they would be closer to His holy Self; so, it is not of the type that causes one to harm himself with his own hands and which is prohibited by the verses of the Holy Qur’an, that was something prohibited by the One Who brought the Shari’a, a clear prohibition.
This, contrariwise, is done with the knowledge of His being pleased with it and His having decreed it. It is the opposite of the first. But they may endure something before their predestined end, so it does not put an end to their lives, nor does it supersede their fate.
Such is a danger against which they may not openly take precautions, or they may do so privately, or they may plead to Allah to remove it from them since they knew that it was not intended by Allah, the Praised One, to finish them, nor was it to bring about their fate. In short, they, peace be upon them, coped with fate and destiny according to the extent of their knowledge of both and of what the Vanquisher had chosen for them to do.”23
Such is the view also of al-Majlisi, the great scholar, al-Karkhi, the critic, and al-Hasan Ibn Sulayman al-Hilli, one of the students of the First Martyr, as well as of many others.
They, therefore, spoke with Moses (‘a) in this regard, and Moses (‘a) asked his Lord, Glory to Him, what he should do. The most Exalted Creator told him that He would send upon them darkness wherein one would not be able to see the person sitting next to him. Those who had worshipped the calf were ordered to sit at home with their heads down between their knees without trying to defend themselves either by hand or by leg, and not to raise their heads nor to change their position.
The sign of God being pleased with them would be that the darkness would be unveiled and the swords would work on them. It would only be then that God would forgive those who would be killed from among them and accept the repentance of those who would survive. Aaron and his men did so, killing as many as seventy thousand of them.