Souls Sacrificed for Religion

By: Āyatullah Muḥammad Taqī Miṣbāḥ Yazdī

Translated by: Muhammad Reza Dorudgar & Zaid Alsalami


When Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) said “hayhāt minnā al-dhilla” this word was not moral statement or advice. It was him saying he will never subject himself to humiliation, and Islam gives him no permission to do so.

Sometimes we might discuss these issues or it might be delivered to us in such a way that we assume it is something exclusive to Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) and a part of his personal characteristic. This assumption is certainly false. This matter is not about personal taste or an individual special obligation. If the Master of martyrs (a.s.) did not accept to submit or to be humiliated, it was because his religion demanded him so. Religion has not given this command exclusively and only to the Imām, but rather it is related to all Muslims. Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) wanted to act according to the commands of religion. He wanted to inform the Muslims that you too should act in this way, and it is your obligatory duty as well.

It is not the case that Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) must not accept humiliation, but ok for other Muslims to do so. The basis for Imām Ḥusain’s movement was that if Yazīd gains power, Islamic rulings will be changed, the sanctity and nobility of Islamic law will be desecrated, and the dignity of Islam will fade away, leaving no respect for religious legislation.

When the ruler and the caliph of the Islamic ummah consumes alcohol in public without any care, it is natural that there will not remain any respect for the ruling of “prohibition of alcohol”. Although many criticisms are directed at Muʿāwiyah himself and he was very corrupt, but in public he respected the laws of Islam and kept its outer appearance.

The situation of Muʿāwiyah and circumstances of his government was different to Yazīd’s government, where at least Muʿāwiyah’s government was not as such that Islam would be wiped away. Muʿāwiyah promoted his government in the name of Islam and with the slogan of protecting Islam. He was appointed by ʿUthmān to be his governor in Shām and people at that time genuinely believed that ʿUthmān was the Prophet’s successor. This meant that Muʿāwiyah governing Shām was seen as legitimate representation of a true Islamic government. After the killing of ʿUthmān, Muʿāwiyah rose with the slogan of revenge for the caliph of the Prophet (ṣ.a.w.), and that ʿUthmān was unjustly killed and his killers must be punished. This was how Muʿāwiyah got people to sympathise with him, turning public opinion and the Muslim society towards his interests, and many people really felt that he was concerned and wanted the best for Islam and the Muslims.

Muʿāwiyah did not say that Islamic laws should be stopped, and he did not openly reject the prophethood of the Prophet of Islam (ṣ.a.w.). He openly stood against Imām ʿAlī (a.s.), accusing him of being the cause for ʿUthmān’s killers to escape. Muʿāwiyah claimed that he wanted to arrest and punish them. This was how he justified starting a war against Imām ʿAlī (a.s.), saying that it was his religious duty and Islamic obligation to do so.

As mentioned, the issues and circumstances of Muʿāwiyah’s government were very different to that of Yazīd’s, and here we do not intend to expand further on researching and analysing these differences.

Unlike Muʿāwiyah, Yazīd did not even observe the appearance and public image of religion. He openly drunk alcohol and engaged in immoral acts and debauchery. After the martyrdom of Imām Ḥusain (a.s.), Yazīd went further to publicly and explicitly rejecting the prophethood of the Prophet of Islam (ṣ.a.w.) and the descending of revelation. He said that Bani Hāshim falsely lied about their claim to prophethood and descending of revelation. Yazīd said:

لعِبَت بني هاشمُ بالمُلکِ فَلا       خبرٌ جاءَ و لا وحيٌ نَزَلَ

Bani-Hāshim only played with power;

Otherwise, no message [religion] came, nor was any revelation sent.[1]

Although Yazīd did not attack the Islamic territory, but he invaded the very quintessence of Islam. In this situation, defence is even more necessary and more obligatory. Defencing the religion of Muslims and the foundation of Islam is certainly more important than defending Muslim land, or property, or even life.

Can we accept that someone who is killed in defending Muslim land, property or a life is a martyr and rewarded, but if it is for stopping someone from destroying the very foundation of Islam, and this leads to them being killed then it is problematic?!  Protecting a few meters of earth is more important than protecting people’s faith and the foundation of Islam?

The uprising Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) initiated was for the sake of protecting the very foundation of Islam. He knew that if Yazīd’s government was to continue this way, Islam will disappear. In this matter, Imām Ḥusain (a.s.)  said:

وَعَلَى اَلْإِسْلاَمِ اَلسَّلاَمُ إِذْ قَدْ بُلِيَتِ اَلْأُمَّةُ بِرَاعٍ مِثْلِ يَزِيدَ

And farewell to Islam, as the ummah is inflicted with having a ruler like Yazīd.[2]

This is why Imām Ḥusain’s movement and uprising was so necessary and obligatory. It must have been done, even though the Imām knew that this will lead to his martyrdom, the martyrdom of members of his family and companions, and the rest of his noble family become captives.

We must stress on the crucial point that this duty Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) had was not a personal individual obligation, or some exception exclusively related to his time, and that it would not be the duty of anyone else or related to any other time. Rather, similar to all other obligatory duties, whenever such a situation occurs, the duty also comes into existence.

Saving life or saving religion?

Therefore, the answer to “saving life or saving religion” is that saving life is an obligatory duty, but only when there is nothing that is more obligatory and more important than saving one’s life.

If you are in a certain place and the circumstances are such that if you were to pray there your life will be in danger, then you do not pray and save your life. Of course, when the circumstances return back to normal and you are able to pray, you compensate for it. If for whatever reason you cannot do wuḍūʾ, you do tayammum.

However, if Islam disappears and its foundations are destroyed, what can it be replaced with? The substitute for Islam is non-belief. Is it possible for us to say that we can put Islam aside and replace it with atheism?

Islam has no substitute.

This is why if Islam and its foundation is in danger, the religion must be defended and saved at any cost, even if it meant defending it with one’s own life. The emphasis that must be repeated is that defence is not exclusively just for defending territory, but rather there is a more important and more valuable obligatory kind of defence, and that is defending Islam and Islamic values. It is for this reason that in the advice the Prophet (ṣ.a.w.) gave to Imām ʿAlī (a.s.), he said:

والخامسةُ بذلکَ مالَکَ ودمَکَ دونَ دینِکَ.

The fifth advice is that you sacrifice your property and your blood [life] for your religion.([3])

In some circumstances and under certain conditions, one must not only sacrifice his/her wealth, but they might need to sacrifice their life as well. When does this happen, and what are the circumstances? The Prophet (ṣ.a.w.) says it is religion, and the circumstance is when religion needs sacrifice. If religion and saving it needs sacrifice of life, it must not be withheld and everything should be sacrificed for the sake of saving religion, as the Master of martyrs (a.s.) did.

So far, we have answered one of the two questions with detailed clarification. The question was whether it is permissible for someone to put their life in danger and place themselves in front of martyrdom and be killed for the sake of saving religion.

We explained why this was an important question, in that the “obligation of preserving life” is among the fundamental commandments of Islam. According to Islamic rulings, saving of life is so important and valuable that one must leave certain obligations, like prayer, fasting or Ḥajj when needed for the sake of saving a life.

If someone knows that if they were to put themselves in a situation where their life will be in danger and they will die, the Islamic ruling says they are prohibited to do so and must not allow themselves to be put in harm’s way.

Based on what we have explained, we understand that it is obligatory to preserve life as long as there is not something to consider that is more important than one’s life. In this case, not only would sacrificing life be permissible, it could also be the most obligatory thing one can do.

One important example for this would be when religion and the foundation of Islam is in danger to be destroyed. In such a case, saving of life is not a matter, but rather it is sacrificing of life for the sake of religion.

If “saving Islam” is dependent on sacrificing life, then “saving life” is no longer applicable. The movement of Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) and his uprising is precisely justified based on this principle. The Prophet (ṣ.a.w.) said this to Imām ʿAlī (a.s.), that if necessary, give away your blood for the sake of your religion.

Therefore, going to war and the battlefront to defend Islam, even if it necessitates putting one’s life in danger is not only allowed, but could also be obligatory. Of course, just going to war only brings about “probability” of being killed, but even if someone is certain that they will be killed, they must still go and defend. The vigilant sons and daughters of our [Iranian] nation subscribed to this very logic during the imposed eight-year war against us, justifying their sacrifices on this basis. We beseech Almighty God to grant these martyrs to be the guests of the Master of martyrs, Abā ʿAbdillah al-Ḥusain (a.s.).

Question Two: The relation between saving religion and sacrificing life

We now turn to the second question and discuss its answer.


 What was the relation between Imām Ḥusain’s uprising and saving Islam? This was the question. How did his martyrdom save and preserve Islam?

The overall form of this question is in principle what is the relation between sacrificing of life and preserving of religion, and what connection do they have with each other?

Similar to the previous question, we need to firstly dissect this misconception and further expand it:

Some of the laws and duties in religion have a personal and individual aspect, which means that any person by being by themselves can fulfil it. In other words, in these cases the taklīf is directed to the individual and that person is required to do it. Performing the daily obligatory prayers is one example for this. My individual prayer is not related to anyone else, and it is a duty and obligation I myself must perform. When I want to perform my prayers, I do so according to my madhhab and do my ablution and prayer based on the verdicts of my Marjaʿ taqlid.

In these kinds of duties that have a personal aspect, if someone is faced with a situation where performing their duty will put their life in critical danger, as previously explained, he/she must observe taqiyya. They must conduct themselves and appear to others in such a way that their religion, sect or belief is not revealed. Throughout history and in all times, there were instances of taqiyya, and until now as well. This is especially the case in the past, with the special circumstances that ruled over society, the issue of taqiyya was of utmost importance, in particular for Shīʿa communities. The Shīʿa in most situations were forced to observe taqiyya so those around them do not discover they are Shīʿa and followers of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.).

Our Imāms (a.s.) have emphasised on this, like the following narration from Imām Muḥammad al-Bāqir (a.s.):

اَلتَّقِيَّةُ مِنْ دِينِي وَدِينِ آبَائِي وَلاَ إِيمَانَ لِمَنْ لاَ تَقِيَّةَ لَهُ

Dissimilation is from my religion and the religion of my forefathers. He who does not practice dissimilation has no faith.[4]

In other words, precautionary dissimilation equals religion and is a part of religion. Someone who is in a situation where dissimilation is necessary, essentially their religion, their law and their religious duty is, for example, to do wuḍūʾ the Sunni way. Therefore, when facing these kinds of situations, to save their life, they must perform what is incumbent upon them and act according to the ruling. In other words, they sacrifice practicing their religion for the sake of keeping their life.

Now, the question here is when we say if preserving your religion depends on sacrificing life, should you sacrifice your life so your religion can remain?

It’s this same religion that says in order for you to save your life, do not pray, and this religion would sometimes even tell you to appear to be a non-believer to avoid being killed. This same religion in some cases also says sacrifice your life for your religion and give away your life to save your religion. How can me giving my life away save and keep religion, and what relation is there between these two issues?

Analysing the relation between “saving religion” and sacrificing life”

In order to further clarify the answer to this question, we must mention that from one aspect, everything in Islam can be divided into two parts:

  1. Rulings (aḥkām).
  2. Beliefs (ʿaqāʾid).

We have explained that in the section of rulings, even in important rulings like prayer, fasting and Ḥajj, the rulings of Islam itself is that if doing them puts life in danger, they are to be abandoned and life must be preserved. Therefore, naturally in this category of Islam one will not find a relation between “saving life” and “saving religion”. The issue here is completely the opposite, and Islam removes the ruling and replaces it with the law of taqiyya, giving priority to life and the command to save it.

As a result, this naturally leads to the probability of asking if this means that we give away our life to preserve our belief. In the case of preserving faith and inner-belief is dependent on sacrificing of life, Islam commands life is to be sacrificed for faith and belief.

However, with a little contemplation it becomes clear that this probability is incorrect.

The secret to this is that belief is an inner-quality of the heart, and preserving something that is in the heart is possible under any circumstance. Yes, it is possible that belief can be weakened by casting misconceptions into it, and faith could eventually fade away, but it is not the case here that we say either I preserve my belief and give my life, or save my life and leave my belief.

Faith and belief are in our heart, and no one has access to our heart. We can believe in Almighty Allah, the Prophet (ṣ.a.w.), Judgment Day, and other Islamic beliefs, without letting even one person know anything of it.

Therefore, giving life is not related to belief, and it cannot be conceptualised in any case that we have to sacrifice our lives to protect our inner faith and personal belief.

In reality, Islam allows us to verbally declare non-belief and in appearance to preserve our lives, as ʿAmmār did. As previously explained, faith and belief are related to the heart and one can preserve their life and be faithful to Islam in his heart, both together, although they might have to outwardly declare disbelief. This has been repeated in explanation for the purpose of making it as clear as possible, without any need to discuss it any further.

The question still remains. In what case does preserving religion depend on sacrificing life?

When the Prophet (ṣ.a.w.) told Imām ʿAlī (a.s.) “sacrifice your property and your life for your religion”, how can this be applied here? How has the sacrifice of Imām Ḥusain’s blood caused the preserving of religion?

What issue was there that he had to sacrifice his life to protect religion? Where is it that between my religion and my life, either religion should be preserved or my life, and Islam says sacrifice your life to preserve your religion?

The answer to this question is that this subject is neither related to religion and personal duties of individuals, nor is it related to belief and faith that is in the heart.

The issue is “social Islam” and “preserving of religion in society”. The issue is shall I sacrifice myself so that religion can stay in society. It is not a subject of faith and religion of an individual, but the subject is religion and faith of the “society”. The issue is applying Islamic rulings in the society and to create or preserve the Islamic system and government which is responsible for executing these commandments in the Islamic society.

If establishing or preserving an Islamic government depends on me having to sacrifice myself, I must do so. If the choice is between that me being sacrificed or religion being preserved for others in the society, I should sacrifice myself for religion of the society. If condition and situation is that if I do not give away my life, the enemies will dominate the Islamic society and religion will disappear from the society, this is what the Prophet (ṣ.a.w.) is referring to:

بَذلُکَ مالَکَ ودمَکَ دونَ دینِکَ.

You sacrifice your property and your blood [life] for your religion.

Did Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) sacrifice his life because, God forbid, he would become a non-believer and he was afraid that he will lose his faith? Clearly, that it is never so.

Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) was afraid that religion leaves the society. He sacrificed his sacred blood to keep Islam in the society. He was an Infallible, and no danger was threatening his personal faith and religion. That which was in danger was the was the continuation of the life of Islam in the Islamic society. Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) sacrificed himself so people can remain as Muslims and Islam can continue to survive for that time and for the society of generations to come.

The followers of Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) should hold this same kind of outlook. As previously discussed, this issue is not exclusively pertinent to Imām Ḥusain (a.s.), and it was not a specific duty personally for him. This duty is similar to other Islamic duties and shared by all Muslims if it becomes applicable, and every Muslim would be faced with such a duty. This means that if the continuation of religion in society depends on sacrificing of life, life must be sacrificed.

The follower of Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) must not be worried just about their own personal religion and have nothing to do with religion in society. There was no problem with the personal religion of Imām Ḥusain (a.s.), and nothing could happen to him. The danger and the loss that was going to be a major problem was the survival of Islam in the society.

If Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) pledged allegiance to Yazīd and did not choose Karbala and being killed, in the situation that the Muslim society was at that time, Islam would have gradually faded away, lasting at most for another one or two generations. Finally, there would be nothing from Islam but a name.

It is for this reason that Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) felt that he must sacrifice his life. Of course, it is rare to see that the life of one person or a small group of people would be the case of keeping Islam in society, but this is what happened in Karbala. The blood of Imām Ḥusain (a.s.) and the small group with him is one of these rare cases. Ultimately, what they did became the cause for society to change and wake people up from their deep sleep of inattentiveness.


[1] Kashf al-Ghummah, vol. 2, p. 21

[2] Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 44, p. 326, ḥ. 2

[3] Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 77, p. 70, ḥ. 8.

[4] AL-Kāfī, vol. 2, p. 219.


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