The very word ‘martyr’ has been hackneyed or overused these days in case of any accident or death if we are sympathetic to the victim and somehow we could emotionally relate to the circumstances of his / her death. So, the pertinent question is:
WHOEVER IS TAKEN unawares or shot dead or suddenly killed be that even for any matter of goodness on the part of the murdered one could be called a martyr?
According to the tenets of Islam, anyone killed for any cause other than in service of God’s, cannot be called a martyr. We are at liberty to claim that assassin had been cruel and the ‘good man a just man, a brave man or a reasonable or ultimately a great man’ had been unjustly killed, but he cannot be a martyr in the theological diction of Islam. We may impart or assign great value, importance and dignity to that situation but a martyr in the true and the proper sense of the term is the one who stands for Truth and Righteousness as guided by God even at the cost of his life, property including his near and dear ones.
When you say it’s someone’s ‘Wafat’, it means they have passed away/died but when you say it’s someone’s ‘Shahadat’, the only difference is that they have passed away in the path of Allah/been martyred.
However, The Shahada in Arabic literally means “the testimony” and is an Islamic faith declaring belief in the oneness of God (Tawhid) and the acceptance of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) as God’s last prophet.
A Shahid is the person who sees the truth physically and thus stands by it firmly, so much so that not only does he testify it verbally, but he is prepared to struggle and fight and give up his life for the truth that is the real Cause of Allah, and thus becomes a martyr. In this way, and by his struggle and sacrifice for the sake of the truth, he become a model, a paradigm, and an example for others, worthy of being copied, and worthy of being followed.
In one of his article a learned scholar Janab Asad Zaidi encapsulates the message of Imam Hussain (AS) and martyrdom of Karbala in the following sequence:
1) Be righteous, even if you are alone. Standing up for what is right is important, even if you have to face death with certainty. It is important for the greater good. This is the only way to defeat injustice.
2) Be just. Don’t be selective when speaking up against tyranny. It does not matter if the oppressed person is not related to you. Similarly, it doesn’t matter if the oppressor is related to you. You have to stand up for what is right.
3) Be patient. The overall goal is more important than your personal feelings. Hazrat Abbas, the brave son of Imam Ali (AS) and the younger brother of Imam Hussain (AS), was a famous warrior of his time. He drove fear into the very souls of his enemies. Yet, he kept quiet in the face of many provocations as commanded by his elder brother.
4) Be brave even when you have lost everything. Sayeeda Zainab (AS), the brave daughter of Imam Ali and the sister of Imam Hussain, was taken as prisoner after seeing her family being massacred – her loving brothers, her nephews, and her own two sons. All were killed in one day, yet, she didn’t lose focus of the goal of her brother. Tied up in ropes, she fearlessly spoke against the tyrant ruler right in his durbar/courtyard.
Never fear to speak the truth!