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Measures taken by the Imams regarding the means of their martyrdoms

Adapted from: "The Uprising of Ashura and Responses to Doubts" by: "‘Ali Asghar Ridwani"

In a previous discussion, although we considered the topic of Imam al-Husayn’s (as) divine knowledge about his martyrdom, it is possible that this question has not been fully answered as regards the other Imams.

The question which remains is, “Why did the Imams take measures which they knew would finally lead to their own deaths? For example, if they knew that the food they were taking contained deadly poison which was meant to kill them, why then did they eat that food?

Do their actions, just like the uprising of Imam al-Husayn (as), result in blessings and graces which persuaded them to undertake such action? Considering that he knew that Ibn Muljam was lying in ambush for him in the Mosque of Kufah, why did Imam ‘Ali (as) go to the mosque? And why did Imam al-Hasan (as) and Imam al-Rida (as) eat the food they were given although they knew that the food they were taking was poisonous? Is this not suicide? Does this not amount to self-destruction?
There are a number of ways to respond to the above question:

1. Regarding the nature of the knowledge of the Imams, there is debate about whether their knowledge is intuitive [huduri] or acquired [husuli]. In addition, there is a question of whether the knowledge of an imam depends upon his will or whether it is always present with him without requiring him to use his will or exert any effort to get it? That is to say, do the Imams know things whenever they wish to know them, especially in external issues?

According to the opinions of some religious scholars and on the authority of hadiths, the knowledge of the Imams about the hidden [ghayb] is dependent upon their own wills [mashiyyah].

2. Even if the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (as) have complete awareness about events that will come to pass, and supposing their understanding about the reality of things and events is intuitive knowledge, not dependent on their own free will, they still cannot trespass or violate the destiny of Allah because they depend on Allah and follow His divine will and decree in all matters.

Shaykh Yusuf Bahrani, in the book “Al-Durrah al-Najafiyyah”, says, “The reason the Ahl al-Bayt (as) were pleased to be killed either by poison or by the sword, or by means of any other hardship imposed upon them by the oppressors, even when they had the power to repel these events, is that they knew that their actions were pleasing to Allah, the Exalted.

Therefore, their actions do not amount to self-destruction and perdition. The mentioned verse is about an instance where Allah has forbidden undertaking a certain action. On the contrary, we know that the measures undertaken by the Ahl al-Bayt (as) were all a source of Allah’s satisfaction.”

3. Because the martyrdoms of none of the Shi‘ah Imams was futile or fruitless, and because their martyrdoms all had significant social benefits, we can therefore compare their martyrdoms with the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (as).

Their martyrdoms: a) helped people recognize their enemies better; that is why some of their martyrdoms resulted in uprisings and revolts against usurper governments; b) were causes of social awareness in the ummah during their time and awoke the people from indifference and apathy; c) caused people gather together to commemorate their death anniversaries, and in this way helped people get to know and understand their virtues and spiritual perfections better. Gathering to commemorate the death anniversaries of the Infallible Imams (as), in itself, has a lot of blessings and graces for the awareness of the Muslim World in any age or time.

Because the origin of their martyrdoms is in itself a great blow against the body of Islam and the Muslims and is a cause of deprivation of the favors and graces resulting from their presence in the ummah, it is therefore appropriate to hold ceremonies to commemorate them and participate in mourning ceremonies.

4. ‘Allamah Hilli, commenting on the action Imam ‘Ali (as) took by going to the Mosque of Kufah where he would become martyred on the nineteenth of the holy month of Ramadan, says, “It is possible for me to say that Imam ‘Ali (as) knew about his martyrdom on that night. He knew where he was going to be killed.

But his duty cannot be compared to our duty; there is a difference between what measures he is charged with undrertaking and the measures we are charged with undertaking. It is possible that giving the blood of his heart generously in the way of Allah is incumbent for him, in the same way that steadfastness is incumbent upon the holy soldier who is fighting in Allah’s way, even though his steadfastness may lead to his death.”10


10. Mir’at al-‘Uqul, vol. 3, p. 126, as narrated by ‘Allamah Hilli.


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