Who is the Chief of Martyrs (Sayyid al-Shohada)?

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Virtues of Ahle Bait (a.s.) are regularly challenged by the skeptics, including the well-acknowledged ones.

One such virtue relates to Imam Husain (a.s.), whom they address merely as a martyr (al-Shaheed), rather than the Chief of Martyrs (Sayyid al-Shohada).

They claim that Shias exaggerate the position of the Imams and ‘borrow’ virtues from other personalities.

One personality they have picked from history to counter Imam Husain is Hamza Ibn Abdil Muttalib (a.s.) – the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) uncle, who they maintain is the real Sayyid al-Shohada.

Position of Hazrat Hamzah Ibn Abdil Muttalib (a.s.) in Islam

There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever about Hazrat Hamzah’s (a.s.) bravery and his exemplary service and sacrifice in the way of Islam. He was given the title of Sayyid al-Shohada for making the ultimate sacrifice in the way of Allah and His Messenger (s.a.w.a.) in the battle of Uhud. His martyrdom evoked extreme emotions in the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.), the like of which was never seen before by the Muslims. He was even more upset by the fact that the Muslims were mourning their dead ones martyred in Uhud, but none was mourning Hamza (a.s.) which prompted the ladies of Bani Hashim led by the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) daughter –  Hazrat Fatima (s.a.) to make regular visitations (ziyaaraat) to Hazrat Hamzah’s (a.s.) grave.

  • Tarikh-e-Tabari, vol. 7, p. 137 (English)
  • Madaarij al-Nobuwwah by Shaikh Abdul Haqq Muhaddith-e-Dahlawi vol. 2 p. 179 (Urdu))

Three most difficult days for the Prophet (s.a.w.a.)

Martyrdom of Hazrat Hamzah (a.s.) counts among the three most distressing events in the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) life, as the report indicates:

Imam Zainul Abideen – Ali Ibn Husain (a.s.) informed –

There was no day more difficult for the Prophet (s.a.w.a.)..than the Day of Uhud when his uncle Hamza Ibn Abdil Muttalib (a.s.) – the lion of Allah and the lion of His Prophet was martyred.

And after him the Day of Mo’tah, when his cousin Jafar Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) was martyred.

Then he (a.s.) said – And there is no day like the day of Husain…

– Amaali of Shaikh Sadooq (r.a.) p 466

Traditions like this highlight that when it comes to their martyrdom, Hazrat Hamza (a.s.) and Imam Husain (a.s.) left a great impact on the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). And therefore, saying that Hamzah is sole recipient of the title of Sayyid al-Shohada is not correct.

Hamzah is best martyr after martyrs of Aal Muhammad (a.s.)

Traditions clearly show how Hazrat Hamzah (a.s.) ranks among other martyrs of Aal Muhammad (a.s.).

Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) while informing about superiority of Aal Muhammad (a.s.) in a lengthy tradition narrates:

… my martyr is better than all martyrs and he is my uncle i.e. Hazrat Hamzah.

Janabe Fatima (s.a.) enquired: Is Hamzah the best of martyrs from those who accompanied you in wars?

Prophet (s.a.w.a.) replied: No, he is the leader of martyrs from beginning to end, excepting Prophets and their successors.

…and Hamzah and Jafar are both best in my nation after Ali, after you and after my two sons Hasan and Husain (peace be upon them), and after the successors who are from this son of mine (pointing towards Imam Husain a.s.).

  • Kitab al-Sulaim v 2 p 565-568

Going by such traditions Hazrat Hamzah (a.s.) is the leader of all martyrs excepting the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and his infallible successors (a.s.).

Hamzah (a.s.) is Chief of Martyrs of his time

When Hazrat Hamzah (a.s.) was referred as the Chief of Martyrs it was limited for his time / era and not all time.

In the example of Janabe Maryam (s.a.) is an answer to such a limited nature of an excellence.

The Noble Quran states in honour of Janabe Maryam:

And when the angels said: O Maryam! Surely, Allah has chosen you, purified you and chosen you above the women of the world.’ (Surah Aale Imran (3): Verse 42)

Allah has selected Janabe Maryam (s.a.) as the Chief of all Women. Yet, we find several traditions that declare Janabe Fatima Zahra (s.a.), the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) beloved daughter, as the Chief of all Women. How does one reconcile the two positions?

Let us refer to the tradition of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) on the subject:

One day the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was seated along with Ali (a.s.), Fatima (s.a.), Imam Hasan (a.s.) and Imam Husain (a.s.), when he was informed (regarding Janabe Fatima (s.a.)) – ‘…(Fatima) is the chief of the women of the worlds…’. The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was asked – Is she the chief of the women of her era (only)? He (s.a.w.a.) replied, ‘That is for Maryam the daughter of Imran. As for my daughter Fatima, she is the chief of women of all eras from the beginning till the end…’

  • Behar al-Anwar v 43 p 24-25 from Amaali of Shaikh Saduq r.a.

Titles like Sayyid al-Shohada, when conferred on others are to show the importance of that personality. It does not mean that they have gained supremacy over Aal Muhammad (a.s.) or that Aal Muhammad (a.s.) cannot be referred with such titles.

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