The transition from one stage to the next is a universal phenomenon. We began our physical existence in the loins of our fathers, after which we were placed in the wombs of our mothers, given birth to and have, thereafter, grown stage by stage. (Qur’an, 22:5) The next phase is to move into the hereafter through the door of death which all of us must enter.
Whilst we had no control over who our family would be and the time, location or circumstances of our birth, what we do have control over is our intentions and actions whilst in this present phase of our existence. Our goal should be to attain the pleasure of Allah so that when we die, we ‘shall be in the midst of gardens and fountains’ and told by the Angels, ‘Enter them in peace, secure.’ (Qur’an, 15:45-46) And how should we achieve this? By seeking our success from Allah, just as Prophet Musa (A) supplicated, ‘My Lord! You are our guardian; therefore forgive us and have mercy on us and You are the best of forgivers. And ordain for us good in the life of this world and in the hereafter, for surely we turn to You.’ (Qur’an, 7:155-156)
The death of any family member or friend is difficult to bear, but the death of a scholar is amongst the hardest trials. It not only affects the community but can be a loss for the whole of mankind. Prophet Muhammad (S) is narrated to have said, ‘The death of a scholar is an affliction that cannot be compensated for and a void that cannot be filled, for he is like a star that has been obliterated. Indeed the death of a whole tribe is easier to bear than the death of a scholar.’1
One of the relatives of Ayatullah Sayyid Ridha Gulpaygani narrates:
‘Sayyid [Gulpaygani] contacted us some hours before his death from his hospital bed. He said, “It seems that the doctors will not be successful in curing me. Go and search the earth opposite my teacher, Ayatullah Abd al-Karim al-Ha’iri in the haram of Lady Fatimah Ma’sumah al-Qom. You will find a space there for me.
‘I replied, “You will live long, God-willing, and return to us in good health!”
‘Ayatollah Gulpaygani responded, “No. Go to the place I have mentioned and prepare it; it may be something will happen.”
‘We went to the place and we dug the place and we didn’t expect to find any space that was empty as we knew the spaces were all already occupied by great jurists and scholars. But to our surprise, we found a space never touched and it appeared exactly two meters long as if it had already been prepared! We touched the soil and found no evidence of anyone being buried there before.
‘This was a great miracle and demonstrated the lofty position of Ayatullah Gulpaygani.’
Sayyid Hossein al-Qazwini narrates a story about his uncle, Ayatullah Sayyid Kadhim al-
Qazwini, one of 17 brothers, all of whom died in infancy:
‘When he [Sayyid Kadhim al- Qazwini] was born, his father took him to the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kadhim (A) and asked the caretaker to open the shrine so he could place the baby in the shrine for a few hours in order to seek the blessing and intercession of Imam al-Kadhim (A) before Allah so that this child may survive and praise be to Allah, he did.
‘He [Sayyid Kadhim al-Qazwini] was a great scholar and in his will, he stated that when he died, he wanted to be buried in Karbala. However, due to the tyrannical rule of Saddam, when he died, his body could not be taken to Karbala and so they buried him under the pulpit of the mosque where he used to deliver his sermons and disseminate guidance.
‘Seventeen years later, Saddam was overthrown and died and so in accordance with his (Sayyid al-Qazwini’s) will, it was decided to rebury him in Karbala. When they brought up the body, they found it to be as fresh as if he was alive!
‘They first took his body to Najaf for the visitation of Imam Ali (A) and then to Kazmayn for the visitations of Imam al-Kadhim (A) and Imam al-Jawad (A). However, due to it being very late at night, it was decided to keep his body at the shrine for a few hours until we could continue onwards. It’s amazing that his life began with a few hours at the shrine of Imam al-Kadhim (A) and it ended with a few hours at the shrine of Imam al-Kadhim (A)!
‘When the body was brought to Karbala for reburial, my father [Ayatullah Sayyid Murtadha al-Qazwini) recited the Talqin (burial rites) over his body. He says that when it came to the part where he was to hold his shoulders and shake him to say, “Listen to me and understand me,” he found that his body was so fresh, as if he had not even died!’
Sayyid Salih al-Modarressi narrates about his grandfather, Ayatullah Sayyid Kadhim al-
‘Amongst the things he was known for, was his impeccable timing and commitment to the prayers to the extent that it was known that he would never miss the recital of the 51 units per day.
‘He had a particular affinity to the entire process of prayers, from its ablution and its preparation; he used to take the water for his ablution from his garden so as not to waste any from the house.
‘A short while before his death, my grandfather had a severe heart attack. Before he went inside the ICU unit, he asked a relative if he could use his watch. The relative took off his watch and gave it to my grandfather. One of the doctors observed the exchange and asked my father, “Why does he want a watch?” to which the my father replied, “He wants it so that he knows the exact time and can wake up for his night prayers and thus morning prayers; he’s very attached to them and will not miss them at all.”2
‘The doctor started laughing and said, “We’re going to be giving him a very strong sedative - he won’t be able to wake up for any of those prayers.” And so they gave him the sedatives.
‘This made no difference to my grandfather and as normal, before the time of dawn, he awoke to pray his night prayers despite the heavy sedation! But there was something else. My grandfather would always pray standing up, never sitting, even after the heart attack.3 That night, he prayed his night prayers, began his morning prayers and as he was standing and performing his qunut, he died! All his life’s preparations and efforts for prayers lead him to that moment!
‘He was so beloved by everyone, especially by his student, the Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Husayni Shirazi. Not only was Ayatullah Shirazi his student and family member, but also his close friend. Ayatullah Modarressi’s death affected him very badly; he cried so much for my grandfather, to the extent that he had to be picked up from the floor. My sister narrates that one night after his death, she awoke to the sound of loud wailing. She looked out of the window and saw Ayatullah Shirazi circling the courtyard of the house, crying for his loss.
‘After his death, he came in the dream of his son, my father [Ayatullah Sayyid Taqi al-Modarressi]. My father asked him about his death during the qunut. He replied, “It was like the word, ‘dhahab’ (‘go’); it was so quick, it was like between the letters ‘dh’ and ‘b’. Once I fell to the floor and the doctors rushed to me, I had left the world.”’
Sayyid Salih concludes, ‘I miss him so much.’
Allamah Tehrani narrates:
‘Our teacher, Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai had great love for his teacher Sayyid Qadhi Tabatabai. He saw himself as very small in front of him and considered Sayyid Qadhi to be a great scholar of glory and deep spiritual secrets of attaining oneness with Allah.
‘One day, I gave Allamah some attar [perfume] as a gift; he held it in his hand, looked at it and said, “Our teacher, Sayyid Qadhi, passed away two years ago; since then I have never worn any perfume.”
‘Until my last moments with Allamah Tabatabai, I used to regularly give him attar as a gift but he would never use it due to his mourning for the loss of his teacher - and this mourning lasted 36 years! What’s strange is that both of them lived until the age of 81 years!’
Ayatullah Sayyid Husayn Hamadani narrates:
‘After the demise of Sayyid Qadhi Tabatabai, there were three days of commemoration for him in the holy city of Najaf and many of the grand scholars, including Ayatullah Khoei and Ayatullah Mahdi Shirazi, attended the gatherings.
‘During this period, Ayatullah Khoei narrated:
‘“A group of scholars visited me. Amongst them was Shaykh Husayn al-Qummi and he asked me, ‘What have you heard in relation to Qadhi Tabatabai?’ I replied, ‘Many scholars had close relationships [friendships] with him.’
‘“Shaykh al-Qummi pressed the matter and reworded his question, ‘How was Sayyid Qadhi in your eyes? How did you see him?’ I replied, ‘What aspect of him do you wish to know about? His spiritual station?’ to which Shaykh al-Qummi affirmed, ‘Yes.’ ‘If what we have seen is true and is a reality with Allah, then know that Sayyid Qadhi is the sky whilst you are the earth. If not, then it is the opposite,’ I answered.”’
The author asked Sayyid Hossein al-Qazwini about the assassination attempt on his father, Ayatullah Sayyid Murtadha al-Qazwini. He relates: ‘This was in 2006. He had just finished his nightly majlis at the haram of Imam Husayn (A) and we left together. Sayyid Mothafar [al-Qazwini] and I were in a car behind and he was in the car ahead - and at that time he did not have any bodyguards.
‘As we drove, two motorbikes passed us, one on each side; there were two on each bike, one to drive and one to shoot. As one approached in line with my father’s car, he opened fire. We heard it and thought that maybe a tire had popped, when the car ahead suddenly halted and did a U-turn, pulling level with us and told us that my father had been shot.
‘We didn’t know what had happened - where he had been shot, how bad it was. Our cars returned toward the Haram and when we arrived at the hospital, we found him [Ayatullah Murtada al-Qazwini] literally drenched in his own blood. The bullet had hit his wrist, shattered twelve of his bones, exited from his wrist and hit him again in his thigh, before exiting and hitting the door. What’s amazing is that neither at the time of being struck or at any time thereafter, did he cry out in pain but rather he was continuously reciting, “La ilaha illallah.”’4
At this point, Sayyid Mothafar al-Qazwini said with tears in his eyes, ‘I remember seeing my grandfather in the hospital at this moment. He was covered in so much blood I thought he must have been shot in the chest. He turned to me and said, “When I was shot, I thought Allah had accepted my supplication to die as a martyr,” and with these words, I lost it. Sayyid Hossein was calm but I broke down completely.’ 5
Sayyid Hossein continues, ‘After his departure from the hospital, my father decided to go to Iran for the ziyarah of Imam al- Ridha (A). Due to the condition of his wrist, the doctor advised him not to leave his arm down as the blood would rush to it, causing it to swell. Rather, it should remain in a sling, upright. My father decided to perform an istikharah for this matter. He opened the Holy Qur’an and the verse read, “And do not keep your hand tied to your neck nor extend it to the full extent.”’6
Sayyid Ahmad Khomeini narrates about the martyrdom of his brother:
‘It was early morning, about 5 a.m., when I stirred from my sleep, having felt someone shaking my legs. I opened my eyes to see that Imam [Khomeini] was standing there and he said, “Get up and go to Mustafa’s house; they have asked for you to go there.”
‘On entering the building, I saw my brother being held by the arms and legs in order to be carried downstairs. I placed the palm of my hand on his forehead and saw that it was still warm so we put him into the taxi; I held him in my arms until we reached the hospital. After performing a medical examination, the doctor said he had died.’
Sayyidah Ma’sumah Ha’iri Yazdi, Sayyid Mustafa’s wife explains, ‘That morning, when Mustafa’s breakfast was taken to him, he was found in a sitting position but his head had dropped down. I saw something crimson in colour, both on his hands and on his chest. When we took him to the hospital, we were informed he had died two hours earlier, from poisoning.’
Sayyid Ahmed continues:
‘I returned home not knowing what to tell the Imam but realised that I had no choice but to somehow tell him of what had happened to his son. The Imam saw me through a window of the room in which I was standing; he called out my name and I went to him. “Is Mustafa dead?” he asked me. I became deeply upset, broke down in tears and said nothing.
‘As the Imam sat there with his hands placed on his knees, he repeated three times, “Indeed we belong to Allah and unto Him we shall return.”
‘Even after hearing of his son’s martyrdom, the Imam never allowed his daily routine to be altered in any way. As his son’s corpse was being taken to be buried in Najaf, the Imam, in accordance with his daily routine, attended both the noon and evening congregational prayers, after which he went to the home of his deceased son, to console those there. Here, he enjoined everyone present, to be strong and in addressing Sayyid Mustafa’s mother, he said, “The Lord Almighty had once given us something in trust and now He has taken it back from us. I shall be patient and you are to do the same, your patience being for the sake of Allah.”
‘The scholars of the hawzah in Najaf had intended to hold a forty day long memorial for Sayyid Mustafa but the Imam told them, “Lectures must not be suspended. The honourable gentlemen of the clergy must resume work as normal.” Then addressing the students, he advised, “You are to edify those who are still living and are not to show a lack of tolerance at these times. Attend to your lectures and your religious studies and concern yourselves with self-development and purifying your souls.”
‘On his first visit to his son’s grave, whilst encircled by a large crowd of people, the Imam simply sat on the ground and placed his hands upon the grave to recite Surat al-Fatihah. He then turned to those present and suggested that they recite a prayer for the other scholars who were buried nearby.’
On Saturday, 5 April, at around 8:30 p.m., the Chief of Security in Najaf and his workers, came to the house of Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, saying, ‘Our responsibility is to take you to Baghdad to meet with Saddam.’ Ayatullah al-Sadr replied, ‘If you’re commanded to arrest me, then yes, I will come with you wherever you wish.’ The Chief responded, ‘Yes, it is an arrest.’ To this, Ayatullah al-Sadr responded, ‘Wait for me a while so that I can perform my ghusl, change my clothes and bid farewell to my family.’ He was told, ‘There’s no need for this; either today or tomorrow, you will return.’
He insisted, ‘And will you punish me if I bid farewell to my family?’ The Chief gave in, saying, ‘There’s no need for that; but go ahead as you please.’
Ayatullah al-Sadr entered the room and performed the ghusl of martyrdom, changed his clothes and performed a two-unit prayer. He then came to his daughter who was clearly distressed and distraught by the situation; he took her by the hand and brought her to his chest and caressed her.
Then he turned to his mother and pleaded for her pleasure and supplications for him and requested her permission to depart.
Then he embraced all the members of the house collectively and kissed them goodbye and so they knew from his actions that this was to be the final farewell. However, when he went to embrace his second daughter, who was 15 years old at the time, she was unable to cope - unable to carry the burden - and she started to lament and began to slap her face and cry bitterly. Ayatullah al-Sadr addressed her, saying, ‘O my sweetheart, my daughter. Indeed, every human dies and for death there are numerous reasons. So it is possible that a person dies due to illness or in his bed or for any other reason; but death in the way of Allah is the best and much more honourable.7 So if I would not be killed at the hands of Saddam and his group then I would die of illness or for other reasons. Certainly the companions of Prophet Isa (A) spread their message and were hung upon wooden crosses and they were firm in death for the sake of their obedience to Allah.
‘So do not lament too much, O my small daughter, because every one of us shall die today or tomorrow and the best of deaths is martyrdom.8 And so, my two daughters, I am pleased with what befalls me. So if this martyrdom will bear fruits even after 20 years, I am content with that.’
And when the time came for the farewell to his wife, Sayyidah Fatimah, he stood before her, embodying his previous farewell so that she too knew what was about to happen. The blood ran cold in her veins and her eyes fixated upon him in that state.
He addressed her, ‘O sister of Musa! Yesterday it was your brother9; the organiser, the partner, the beloved. And today it is me, O my garden of paradise!
‘Bear patiently. Certainly this is the allegiance of Allah. We gave Him allegiance with that which cannot be taken back and He has bought it from us.
‘O the estranged from your family and homeland! You have carried a heavy burden and ahead of you is a steep path. I ask for you a solution! For indeed, those who are as dark as the livers are at your door, waiting. There is no escape; I am going. We will meet again at the place of the Mighty Sovereign.10
‘Wait here for three days and if I don’t return, then go with my mother and our children to my brothers’ house in Kazmayn.’
She faced him, ready for his departure and his sister, Aminah bint al- Huda, was there too; she held the Qur’an in her hands and Ayatullah al-Sadr walked under it, kissed it and then departed for the last time.
After the departure of Ayatullah al-Sadr and the security forces, Ayatullah al-Sadr’s mother who was 80 years old, went to the roof of the house. She refreshed her ablution and began to complain to Allah about what had befallen them; she would do this every time her son was imprisoned.
She sat on her knees and recited the ‘Supplication of a Mother to Take Away Tribulations from Her Son,’ from Mafatih al-Jinan seeking her son’s return and begging Allah for her supplication to be fruitful as previous supplications had been. She then went into prostration and cried, ‘O Allah! You have given me him [my son] and You have granted me him. Therefore, O Allah, renew your bounty for me today. Indeed You are Mighty, Capable.’
The story of Sayyid al-Sadr and Aminah al-Sadr’s martyrdom is narrated by one of Saddam’s soldiers, an intelligence officer and newspaper reports:
‘The guards brought Sayyid al-Sadr to the Intelligence Department building chained by iron fetters. Then Saddam came in and said mockingly, “What are you doing, Muhammad Baqir? Do you intend to make a government?” Saddam started to poke him with a stick aggressively, saying, “You’re an alien, a foreigner to the land!”
‘Sayyid al-Sadr replied, “I leave the government to you,” and an argument ensued on this topic and about the Islamic revolution of Iran. Saddam became very angry and told his soldiers to torture al-Sadr and make him undergo severe persecution.
‘The torture lasted three days. Amongst other abuses, Saddam ordered Sayyid al-Sadr’s beard to be set alight and burnt, for him to undergo electrocution and suffer a nail driven into him.’
The intelligence officer narrates:
‘The elder brother of Saddam brought Aminah al-Sadr to Saddam’s palace. She was severely beaten and blood was gushing from her head and face. I heard her reciting this verse,
“Whatever mercy Allah opens for people, there is none to hold it back and whatever He withholds of it, there is none to get it after this. And He is the Mighty, the Wise.” (Qur’an, 35:2)
‘Then Saddam entered and she recited more verses, enraging Saddam, and so he beat her. Aminah al-Sadr was then brought into the room where her brother was. They brought her whilst she was unconscious, dragging her in.
‘When Sayyid al-Sadr saw her, he became very angry and wept bitterly. He called out to Saddam, “If you’re a man, untie me!”
‘Saddam then took a whip and started lashing Aminah al-Sadr himself whilst she was unconscious. Then he commanded something to be cut from her body which enraged and broke al-Sadr further.
‘“If you’re a man, leave me face to face with you and leave my sister. But you are a coward and you are around your soldiers!” al-Sadr cried.
‘Saddam held a gun to Sayyid al-Sadr, saying, “Make a fatwah to prohibit people from joining Hizb al-Da’wah and make a fatwah to permit people to join Hizb al-Ba’ath; if not I will tear off your head and cut your lineage.” Sayyid al-Sadr refused.
‘Saddam yelled at Sayyid al-Sadr, “What kind of death do you want?” He replied, “I should be slaughtered like Husayn (A) was slaughtered.”
‘Saddam commanded him to be shot. Sayyid al-Sadr removed his turban, ready to be executed and Saddam shot both of them and left the room whilst abusing them.’
Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlullah was asked, ‘If you were to speak at your own funeral in the future, may you live long, what would you say?’
He replied, ‘I would say:
‘“This man has lived his entire life open to the Message since the day he was brought to life and he worked in accordance with its principles, even during his early childhood and youth.
‘“He suffered a lot and bore many pains on the path of the Message, yet he always tried to be honest, sincere, and loyal. Despite his soul’s attempt to force him to do evil, he continued travelling the path of the Message according to his capacity, even though he faced much obstinacy and maltreatment, as missionaries usually face.
‘“Throughout his life, this man was open to Allah and always sought Allah’s mercy to be bestowed upon him.
‘“I would say to the people that they ought to study his experience for it was a vast and profound experience that encompassed the entire message. His experience was a history that possessed positive and negative aspects, yet all he did was for the sake of the Message and the Message only and perhaps people in any age would not meet a contemporary person facing such vast and prolonged strikes and shocks.
‘“Moreover, I would say to the missionaries, to understand me well, for some did not understand me during my life because of intimidation, irrational and emotional reactions and complications that may have obscured the clarity of their view. However, when one leaves this world and others feel safe from the impact of his existence on them, they would understand him better and benefit from his experience more.”’
Ayatullah Fadlullah was then asked, ‘When you meet, if Allah wills, your great grandmother,
Sayyidah Fatimah al-Zahra (A), what would you say to her?’ He replied:
‘I would say to her that I have lived with you throughout my life, with all the purity that you embodied as a woman, pure in every way.
‘I have lived with you along the lines of awareness embodied in you, being the first who lived with a progressive awareness of Islam, as a responsibility you have shouldered from the lofty position of infallibility.
‘I have experienced with you, the oppression inflicted upon you, as the representative of the truth persecuted by the forces of falsehood.
‘I have lived with you as the one who recognised your infallibility and increased people’s awareness about your high position and status of flawless purity, your brave sense of responsibility and unyielding courage, as well as your knowledge that is open to all the realities of Islam.
‘I have lived with you and talked about you in a way that no one else amongst the people has ever done, whether he be of those who talked about you in an exaggerated manner or amongst those who drifted away from you.
‘I have lived with you to portray to the people the true image of the Lady of the Women of the Worlds, such that the whole of humanity cannot but respect her in all places and times and before whom this world cannot but bow. For her personality embodied greatness and majesty and loftiness in every aspect of life.’11
- 1. Al-Hindi, Kanz al-Ummal, hadith no. 28858
- 2. This action is a manifestation of the noble verse,
‘When you are secure, keep up the prayer. Surely the prayer is a time ordinance for the believers.’ (Qur’an, 4:103)
- 3. This action is a manifestation of the noble verse,
‘Attend constantly to the prayers and to the middle prayer and stand up truly obedient to Allah.’ (Qur’an, 2:238)
- 4. Known as tahlil.
- 5. According to Islamic thought, it is recommended to regularly supplicate for a noble death. For example, in the supplications of the month of Ramadhan, it is recited, ‘Grant me divinely appointed opportunity to be killed in Your way.’ Imam Zayn al-Abidin (A) supplicated, ’And make the end of our lives praiseworthy and our return to You most noble.’ (Sahifat al-Sajjadiyyah, supplication number 33, ‘Soliciting Divine Advice on Important Affairs’) and Imam al-Sadiq (A) supplicated, ‘O Allah, make me die in the manner that Muhammad and his family died.’ (Ziyarat Ashura) Imam Ali (A) is narrated to have said, ‘How many days of my life have I spent in anxious search of this reality [martyrdom] but the Lord’s will preferred it to remain concealed until at last it was revealed to me.’ (Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 152)
- 6. The first majlis recited by Ayatullah al-Qazwini in the haram of Imam Husayn (A) after the assassination attempt is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGORI5X5S4Y
- 7. This statement is a manifestation of the noble narration from Imam Ali (A) who said, ‘Indeed if you are not killed then you are going to die anyway, but I swear by the One who holds Ali’s soul in His Hand, a thousand strikes of the sword on one’s head is easier to bear than to die in one’s bed.’ (Irshad al-Qulub, vol. 1, p. 238)
- 8. This statement is a manifestation of the noble narrations of Prophet Muhammad (S) who said, ‘The most dignified way to die is to be martyred.’ (Al-Majlisi, Bihar al- Anwar, vol. 100, p. 8) and ‘Above every act of piety is yet a greater act of piety until a person is killed in the way of Allah and when he is killed in the way of Allah, there is no act of greater piety.’ (al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 348, hadith no. 4)
- 9. Imam Musa al-Sadr, considered martyred after abduction in 1978.
- 10. From the verses,
‘Certainly, the God-conscious will be in gardens and rivers, in an assembly of truth, in the presence of the Omnipotent Sovereign.’ (Qur’an, 55:54-55)
- 11. This statement is a manifestation of the noble narration from Imam Ali (A) who said, ‘O my child, even though I have not reached the age which those before me have, I have looked into their behaviour and thought over the events of their lives. I walked among their ruins until I was as one of them. In fact, by virtue of those of their affairs that have become known to me, it is as though I have lived with them from the first to the last. I have therefore been able to discern the impure from the clean and the benefit from the harm.” (Nahj al-Balaghah, letter 31) https://www.al-islam.org/nahjul-balagha-part-2-letters-and-sayings/lette...