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A Lesson on Shahadat

Blog Post 63

August 17, 2023

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 (This is Part Three of Jihad and Shahadat by Ayatullah Sayyid Mahmoud Taleqani. We will post Parts One and Two in the future, inshallah.)

 Ayatullah Sayyid Mahmoud Taleqani* (1910-1979) writes in Jihad and Shahadat, which this blog post will quote very heavily and almost exclusively, about Imam Husayn, peace be upon him, while travelling toward and at Karbala. 

“In one of the caravan stations, apparently that of Baydah, in which the army of Hurr [al- Riyahi] was present, the Imam paused and spoke these words, ‘Oh people, the Apostle of God**, peace and greetings be upon him, said ...’”

"The Imam narrated from the Apostle of God and such was the manner of the Imams when they spoke to” a mixed audience of Muslims. “They would speak on their own authority, without necessarily quoting” Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, if only Shias were present. Imam Husayn, peace be upon him, said:

“Oh people, the Apostle of God, peace and greetings be upon him, said, ‘If anyone notices a ruthless sultan encroaching upon God’s boundary, breaking His covenants, opposing the traditions of the Prophet, and behaving indecently among the people, one must stand in opposition to him, by action and word. Otherwise it is God’s right to take him to his proper place. One must first advise him, and if this fails, must use force. Whoever endorses such sultan’s actions through silence, God will take him to hell as an accomplice.’ Oh people! Watch and beware that they (this government and its followers) have chosen obedience to Satan, have forsaken God’s obedience, have manifested corruption, have abrogated God’s ordinances, have appropriated public funds, have permitted what God has prohibited and have prohibited what God has permitted.

‘“If all Muslims have chosen silence, I am the first responsible to alter this situation. You wrote to me and I received your letter and your message. Your representatives came to me. You made a covenant to help me and not to leave me alone. If you remain steadfast in your commitment and pact, you will have become mature.

"I am Husayn, son of Ali and Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet.

My life is with your lives and my family is with your families.’” 

Imam Husayn, peace be upon him, means, as Ayatullah Taleqani explains: “We do not see ourselves separate from you and expect no special treatment. We are with the people, and whatever is for the people is for us. Whatever is for us is for the people. We are all one. We do not desire to be exalted as rulers. We are one, like any other individual. Our family is like any other family.” Ayatullah Taleqani says that this attitude was seen in Imam Ali’s, peace be upon him, government. Whether he was walking in the street or shopping in the marketplace, he was seen as a regular man. Imam Ali’s house was a “typical house.” His wife and daughters received no special treatment. “This is the pattern we have to follow. This is the pattern of Islamic government and of the Islamic governor. This is not the rule of one person. This is the rule of God.”

“…In al-hukmu illa li-Allah (The rule belongs to no one except God.) government belongs to God, the Apostle and the Imam. After the Imam, it is the mujtahid and then the masses of Muslims who are all the executive power of divine law. It is for this reason that Imam Husayn says, ‘My life is with your lives and my family is with your families.’ He means: ‘Do not think that I want to sacrifice others in order to save myself and my family.’ This difference was clear between Imam Ali, peace be upon him, and Muawiyah. Muawiyah was not on the battlefront. Rather he sat “leaning on pillows and sitting on soft cushions,” eating “all sorts of edible delicacies,” laughing. “The poor people had to go and confront the swords. He would tell them, ‘Go and get killed.’ Imam Ali, on the other hand, would command for jihad, and he himself would be in the front row of the battle.”

“Let us imagine the battlefield of Siffayn. We see Muawiyah sitting in his special place, heartily laughing at the people, thinking to himself, ‘How wonderfully am I playing with these folks. Using lies, emotionalism, and false propaganda, I am decimating them in order to rule over them.’ In contrast, Imam Ali, when he commands in battle, is the first to step ahead. This is the meaning of ‘My life is with your life and my family is with your families.’

“Imam Husayn, peace be upon him, continues:

“‘If you have broken your covenant, if you feel regret for having made such a covenant with me, such is not unexpected from you. You did so with my father, my brother, and the son of my paternal uncle, Muslim. Poor is the one who relies on your covenant. If you do not fulfill your promise, you have denied yourself intellectual growth, but you have not harmed us. ‘So whoever breaks his oath, breaks it only against his own self’.‘ (48:10) Soon God will make me needless of you, and He will place me in the vicinity of His mercy.’”

When Hurr, by the command of Ubaydullah, stopped Imam Husayn, peace be upon him, “in the desert of Karbala, confronting him with one thousand horsemen,” Imam Husayn…wrote a message to the Shia “nobles and leaders of Kufa, (which I paraphrase): ‘This is a letter from Husayn ibn Ali to Sulayman ibn Surad, Musayyib ibn Najabah, Rifa'ah ibn Shaddad, Abdullah ibn Walin, and the other believers.’” He wrote to the Shia “leaders who were either in prison or in exile and were unable to be present to help him.” He wrote the same words that he spoke earlier (at the beginning of this blog post), beginning with “Oh people, the Apostle of God, peace and greetings be upon him, said, ‘If anyone notices a ruthless sultan encroaching upon God’s boundary... (up to this sentence) My life is with your lives and my family is with your families.”

Then Imam Husayn, peace be upon him, wrote, “For you there is a pattern in me. If you do not [remain steadfast], and you break your covenant, and annul your acceptance of my leadership, by my soul, this would come as no surprise. You did the same to my father, to my brother, and to the son of my paternal uncle, Muslim ibn ‘Aqil. The loser is the one who relies on you. You have ruined your own fortune. ‘So whoever breaks his oath, breaks it only against his own self ...’ (48:10)”

When we talk of jihad we must discuss the meaning of shahid.*** “In short, anyone who has understood this truth and divine goal and has stood for it, sacrificing his life, is called ‘shahid’ in the terminology of the Quran and jurisprudence. The shahid is the one who has experienced the shuhud (vision) of truth. The sacrifice of his own life is not based on illusion or agitation of his emotions. He has seen the truth and the goal. That is why he has chosen to wallow in the blood and the dust. Such a person does so with the intention of intimacy with God, not on the basis of fantasies and personal desires. He is above these worldly matters. He has understood the value of truth in a deserved way. This is why he annihilates himself, like a drop in the ocean of truth. This is the true meaning of the esoteric term ‘fana fi Allah’ (self-annihilation in God). Fana is not what the Sufi does in the khanaqah, shouting ‘Hu! Hu!’ and then imagining that he has reached God. The real meaning of ‘fana’ is exhibited in the following poem:

From head to toe, God’s light you’ll radiate,

If in His cause, you self-annihilate!

“If a person has reached the stage of readiness for self-annihilation through the vision of truth, for the sake of establishing truth, his title is shahid. Thus one cannot call everyone ‘shahid.’ If someone mistakenly or for a worldly and illusive cause gets killed, he has lost both worlds, this and the Hereafter. A shahid is the one who understands religion, knows his God, and believes in the Hereafter as well as in eternal life. He must realize the goal. Then because he has seen the truth, he has no fear of death. Death is easy for him. Some Sufis argue that in prayer, one has to consider one’s qutb, because the qutb is the manifestation (of God); and because man is a physical material being, he cannot perceive the absolute except via manifestations. This is a wrong notion. Of course one can perceive the absolute. [He can do so gradually and by breaking the boundaries.] In our prayer, we recite: ‘You alone we worship; You alone we ask for help. Show us the straight path, the path of those whom You have given’ property? Power?’ [No.] Here is another ayah: ‘to whom You have given blessings of ’ such-and-such. The ones to whom you have given property? Power?’ (No.) Here is another ayah:

“Whoever obeys Allah and the Messenger,

[then] they are among those whom Allah has favored,

of the Prophets, the saints, the martyrs and the righteous.

They are the best of company!” (4:69)

Al-shuhada (pl. of shahid), that is to say, the ones who die in the cause of God, have a great status. The salihun (the righteous) are those who follow them. There are altogether four groups upon whom God has completed His blessing. Those who obey God are one of these because they have experienced an internal revolution and have envisioned the truth, the shuhada, once martyred, have been guaranteed the sure gift of eternity by God.”

“Aren’t you surprised? A group of people in one corner of the world assembled. The enemy did not allow their voices to be heard. They were besieged, killed, and then mutilated. No one remained from them to bring their news to the town. But the system of creation has recorded their names and their deeds. Isn’t this a miracle? Isn’t this a vision of truth? Isn’t it for us to ponder upon? [We even know] the names of their fathers, mothers, wives, [children] and horses; [and we even know] their utterances. Everything has remained. From where has all this reached us and why have these men [and women] remained in history? It is because through self-annihilation, they traveled to eternity. The supreme movement toward perfection is based upon this principle: vegetation is eaten by the lamb; it changes into flesh and bone. Man eats the flesh of the lamb; the flesh turns into thought, energy, and faith, a chain of sacrifice toward evolution. [As Rumi has put it]:

From the inanimate I died and I became vegetation.

From vegetation I died and I became an animal.

From an animal I died and I became human.

I am not afraid of death; death has never made me lesser.

Once more I shall die as a human being,

And I shall fly as an angel;

Then once again I shall fly from the angelic,

And I will become something unimaginable.

I will become nothing, nothing, because the harp

Tells me: “Unto Him we shall return.”

“[As if the companions of Imam Husayn] had grown wings on the day of Ashura, as if their bodies had become too small for their spirits, one of them would beg Imam Husayn to permit him to go to the battlefield earlier than the others. Another would beg for a similar honor, saying, ‘My chest has contracted due to worldly life.’ What kind of people were they? They had wives, children, kin, and businesses as well. Zuhayr ibn Qayn al-Bijili was a man who, until a few days before, having been affected by the propaganda of the government of Muawiyah, was seeking blood-revenge for Uthman and had contempt for Imam Ali and his family. Suddenly, on the way (to Karbala) he made a decision to join the camp of Imam Husayn. What wonderful words were exchanged between them! What did he say and what did he hear? It was as if lightning destroyed all his worldly attachments. One hour ago Zuhayr had cows, lambs, and cattle. He was attached to his tribe and to his property. Now he has realized himself. He has experienced transfiguration.”

“Why are we all so depressed? Because we don’t have any goal in life; because we have no goal in our life, we think that what counts is money and power obtained by any means. Because we don’t get what we want, we are bitter…The shahid is the one who operates above this lowly world. The believer is the same. Zuhayr was depressed because he was a skeptic. He did not know the meaning of life. He didn’t know who was right, Imam Ali or Muawiyah. He was under an illusion. Worldly wishes and attachments had surrounded him. With a sudden flash of lightning, the illusion went away. The worldly attachments were cut off and

he became a shahid even before he became a martyr.

Life became easy for him. Once he had envisioned the truth, nothing else was important. Life and death were the same to him. He told his wife, Bint Amru, ‘Farewell. I am finished. You go and take care of the camels, cattle, and lambs. I give everything to you. I have found what I wanted.’ When Truth revealed itself, nothing else had any value. It was the night before Ashura. Then there came the morning of Ashura, and then the afternoon. Blood was dripping from his body, and he was very thirsty. He came to say ‘farewell’ to Imam Husayn by tapping on his shoulder and saying, ‘May my life be sacrificed for you, you guided one, you guide. You are my savior. You are my liberator. You freed me from this deceptive world.’ While blood was pouring out of his wounds, he said, ‘I am no longer worried.’…This is power!”

“Then he chants: ‘Today I shall meet your grandfather, and the wonderful Imam Ali, with whom God was pleased.’ [He is saying,] ‘The distance between me and them will vanish as soon as my soul leaves my body.’ He is so certain about the eternity of truth and the secret of humanity. [He says], ‘I am going to meet your brother and your father.’ Then he falls in front of Imam Husayn and dies. It is famous that his wife went to Kufah, waiting for her husband to return. The news reached her that they had all been killed with Imam Husayn.” She sent her servant with a burial shroud and told him to travel to Karbala and bury her husband, but when he came back, he said he could not “do it because he saw the bodies of the children of the Prophet mutilated in the middle of the sand and the blood of the warm desert of Karbala.”

There is no change nor power

except by Allah, The Sublime, The Great.****

“Sufficient enough for us is Allah

and Most Excellent is The Trustee of all Affairs!” (3:173)



*Ayatullah Sayyid Mahmoud Taleqani “was an Iranian theologian, Muslim reformer, democracy advocate and a senior Shi’a” alim. He was a contemporary of Imam Ruhollah Khomeini and a leader in the movement against Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the ex-shah of Iran. Imam Khomeini said: “Ayatollah Taleqani had different features…He was a Sayyed, he was a wise man, he was a thoughtful man and all the time thought about people. Ayatollah Taleqani was a responsible man. He stood against the Pahlavi regime…He thought directly and acted directly…He was a useful man for the nation and walked in the path of Islam.” (

**We have chosen to leave his word God intact rather than changing it to Allah since his words were delivered in Farsi and the translator has chosen to use God.

***The term “shahid” has been used here as opposed to “shaheed.” They both come from the same Arabic root of s-h-d. Shahid commonly translates to “witness” and shaheed commonly translates to “martyr in the way of Allah.” Both words denote being “a witness to Allah’s Presence and His Message by his submission to His rules of Faith and conduct,” surrendering and submitting to Allah. (Husseyn, H.)

****The image is the Arabic wording of the Hawqala. It is credited in Image Credits elsewhere on our website.

(See also our Blog Post #54 – Imam Husayn’s (a.s.) Revolution; Blog Post #44 - Justice for Children; Blog Post #43 - Arbaeen Walk; and Blog Post #12 - Islamic Revolution)



Ayatollah Taleqani in the Words of Others. (September 3, 2019). (The Cultural Website of Martyrdom and Sacrifice). Accessed from 

Ayatullah Sayyid Mahmoud Talegani. Jihad and Shahadat. Ijtihad Network. Posted by Ali Teymoori. January 8, 2018. Accessed from and The Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) - Digital Library. January 1, 1986. Accessed from and Accessed from 

Husseyn, Heba E. (August 25, 2017). Differences between the words “shahid” and “shaheed.” Accessed from