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What is martyrdom and is it a goal to be a martyr within the Islamic values?

What is martyrdom and is it a goal to be a martyr within the Islamic values? Since being a martyr literally means to die, how correct, reasonable, acceptable, and applicable is it to bring martyrdom as a goal and purpose for very young people?

Since religion is a harmony of values which inspires human beings and provides them a survival guidance, isn’t it a contradiction to emphasize and consecrate death so much within this context? When we consider the discourses of the religious and political circles about martyrdom, the answers of such questions are quite clear. Martyrdom is a goal; thus “We should raise our youth with the awareness of the martyr and veteran titles”. In fact, these were the exact words of Turkish DİB (Directorate of Religious Affairs) in a martyr funeral recently.

There are many meanings of the word “martyr”.

If we set other meanings aside, martyr is a name/adjective attributed to the individual who gives his/her life in the way of Allah. Quran revealed the importance of martyrdom in many of its verses through different expressions. The most famous one and known by nearly all of the Muslims reads, “And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, “They are dead.” Rather, they are alive, but you perceive not.” On top of that, while explaining about the rewards of the people who submit to Allah and his Prophet, Quran states that the martyrs will be together with the prophets, veracious and moral ones, and martyrs, and therefore, it is very important in terms of showing the classification and place of the martyrs in presence of Allah. (4/69)

There are narrations from the hadiths explaining the situation in the afterlife, which could be described as the virtues of being a martyr, states that all of the sins of the martyrs will be forgiven, they will be given a right to intercede 70 of their relatives, be among the first people who will go into heaven, and wish to return back to the world and be a martyr again after seeing their rewards.

I believe these points I have mentioned in full, which are parts of the Quran verses and the hadiths. However, some of the questions must be answered. For example, what does “in the way of Allah” mean? Is it possible to consider the wars “in the way of Allah”, and the people who are killed in such wars “martyrs”, which are fought for the purposes of spoils, gaining dominance, gathering strength, and border expansion? Since Quran states that the wars started for the reasons such as invasions, exploitation, attacking, and dominance are not righteous, where should we put the wars fought for such reasons? (also see 2/ 205; 4/ 94; 28/ 83; 42/41-42) If I might ask within the religious literature, are the reasons listed above equal to “i’la-yı kelimetullah (fighting to aggrandize the name of Allah) and in the way of Allah”, which is stated in Quran verses and hadiths? “Nizam-i Alem” (Order of the Universe) for example, does it mean in the way of Allah?

Since we call all the people who are killed in wars by the enemy “martyrs”, wouldn’t it mean to consecrate the wars which are started for spoils, benefits, gathering strength, and expanding the area of dominance? So, aren’t the Western historians and orientalists reasonable who give the Muslims a hard time by raising the “holy war” concept? Or, is the “martyr” name given only to the people who are killed in wars “in the way of Allah?”? Can there be different reasons to consecrate the martyrdom? For example, do the wars have any effects on this process, which have been fought against the non-Muslims for 14 centuries? Could the martyrdom be among the concepts, which has a semantic shift just like jihad, where the religion and religious values are used as a power of motivation? And tens of hundreds of more questions… But all of the questions are true and must be answered correctly. The scope of the concept of martyrdom must be defined very clearly, otherwise questions such as above will be raised on one side, and on the other side, the politicians, and the ulama class who considers tagging along with them as an achievement will continue abusing the “martyrdom” concept.

As we had clearly stated in our long article series where we had searched the answer for “In the light of Islamic values, is it war or peace that is essential?”, war is the last resort between two countries, who cannot find a solution for their disputes through diplomatic channels. Mutual war, and killing-being killed are the facts which could happen after the decisions of the political will. But, through moral, political, and legal aspects, or whatever aspect you would like to approach the matter with, fighting a war is not essential, not fighting is. Being killed is not, not being killed is. Killing is not, not killing is. In the most general sense, the central concept within the Islamic values is life, not death. However, since the children of Adam, mankind unfortunately found themselves fighting with each other in the battlefields for various reasons until today.

Some people, who ignore these facts we have mentioned, rank death above life, and approach the matter from the very end by putting killing and being killed to the center and highlight martyrdom. You might read the statement “We should raise our youth with the awareness of the martyr and veteran titles” of the Head of Turkish DİB within the same meaning. However, you would expect from a person, who wears the robe of the Prophet (PBUH) and represents his post, to advise our youth to hold on to the life. Because our Prophet (PBUH) puts life above death in the center, when he had said “Heaven is under the shadow of the swords” to aggrandize martyrdom.

You might ask “how?” to me. You might also say “This statement desecrate death, and encourages people to fight”. Indeed, but if you take only this part of the hadith and ignore the whole, you could end up with this conclusion. Unfortunately, there have been politicians and scholars who had thought the same way. They had made interpretations desecrating and encouraging martyrdom and war by abbreviating the hadith or ignoring the “sebeb-I vürud” (discoursing reason of the hadiths). This is the hadith in fact: “Narrated Abdullah bin Abi `Aufa: Allah’s Apostle said: “Do not wish for an encounter with the enemy. Pray to Allah for health, welfare, and peace, and to grant you safety against the troubles and calamities; (but) when you encounter them, show patience, and know that Heaven is under the shades of the swords.” (Bukhari, Jihad, 112; Muslim, Jihad, 19; Abu Dawud, Jihad, 891)

Let’s finish the article with a short evaluation both to provide a clue about what really “in the way of Allah” means, and not to leave the questions above without an answer. The Islamic ulama justifies the wars fought to prevent the attacks which are considered to be within the persecution concept, preserve the basic rights and liberties, protect life, property, wisdom, generation, and religion, which are also called “makâsıd-ı hamse” or “zarûriyyât-ı hamse”, and entitles the people who are killed in such wars as martyrs, and survivors as veterans, and terms such wars with Quran denomination as the wars in the way of Allah.

Briefly, when we look at the actions and discourses of the Prophet (PBUH) and Quran as a whole, this is the reality we face; if there is anything to be desecrated, it is life, not death. The education of the children and citizens provided by either the parents, the religious communities, or the state institutions such as the Turkish DİB and National Education, must be built upon “life”. Life must be the center of all of the discourses, plans, and projects, not death.

Nobody should say this to me; death is a part of life. Of course it is, and it is an inevitable end for every mortal. The knowledge of dying is a tremendous information for mankind. Moreover, I can also add that the life for mankind finds value with death. If death did not exist, maybe the value of life wouldn’t have been acknowledged. However, our subject is not the explanation of these two realities of life and death on a philosophical platform. I guess everything is clear. Anything further will be a waste of words.

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Dr. Ahmet Kurucan is a an author and scholar focusing on Islamic Studies and Law.

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