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Martyrdom of Lady Fatima al-Zahra (a)

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The martyrdom of Lady Fatima al-Zahra (a) is one of the common and lasting beliefs among Shiites, according to which Lady Fatima (a), the daughter of the Prophet of Islam (s), did not die a natural death but was rather martyred due to injuries inflicted to her by some of the companions of the Prophet (s). The Sunnis consider her death due to grief and sorrow over the death of the Prophet (s); but the Shiites consider 'Umar b. Khattab to be the main cause of her martyrdom and mourn for Lady Fatima (a) during the Fatimiyya Days. According to some sources, Muhsin (a), the unborn child of Fatima (a) was also aborted during the incident when she (a) received injuries.

Shiites have brought arguments from some points for the martyrdom of Lady Fatima (a), e.g. according to a narration from Imam al-Kazim (a), the title of “Siddiqat ash-Shahida” has been used for Lady Fatima (a). Also, Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari, a Shiite theologian of the third/ninth century, in the book Dala'il al-Imama, has narrated a narration from Imam al-Sadiq (a) in which the reason for Fatima’s (a) martyrdom is mentioned to be her abortion due to major trauma.

Shiite and Sunni sources have given details of the events leading up to the death of Lady Fatima (a); including the attack on the house of Lady Fatima (a) and Imam Ali (a), the abortion of her unborn child, as well as the slapping and flogging of her. The oldest source cited by the Shiites in this regard is the book of Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilali, written in the first/seventh century. Shiites have also documented the martyrdom of Fatima (a) in narrations that are also found in Sunni sources. The book al-Hujum 'ala bayt-i Fatima (a) has quoted narrations from 84 narrators in Sunni sources.

Belief in the martyrdom of Lady Fatima (a) has been met with doubts and answers have been given to them. For example, in response to the doubt that the houses of Medina did not have doors at that time, Sayyid Ja'far Murtada al-Amili (d. 1441/2019), a Shiite historian, cited narrations in which it was mentioned that it was common for the houses in Medina to have doors at that time. Also, in response to the doubt that if Lady Fatima (a) was attacked, why Imam Ali (a) and others were silent and did not defend her, in addition to stating that Ali (a) was ordered to be patient and silent by the Prophet (s) in order to protect the interests of the Muslims, it is said that according to a narration in the book of Sulaym b. Qays, after the action of ‘Umar b. Khattab, Imam Ali (a) attacked him and knocked him to the ground, but ‘Umar asked others for help and they rushed and tied Ali (a). Sunni writers have considered some cases of positive relations between Imam Ali (a) and Lady Fatima (a) with the three caliphs and considered them as evidence to refute her martyrdom. However, the Shiites have said about the marriage of Umm Kulthum, the daughter of Imam Ali (a), to ‘Umar b. Khattab, that it took place by coercion and cannot be a sign of a close relationship between Imam Ali (a) and the caliphs.

Importance of the Issue

The martyrdom of Lady Fatima (a) refers to the death of Fatima (a), the daughter of the Prophet of Islam (s), not as a natural death, but as a result of injuries inflicted by some of the companions of the Prophet (s). The issue of the martyrdom or natural death of Fatima (a) is one of the issues disputed between Shiites and Sunnis. Shiites, despite some differences in the narration of the events after the demise of the Prophet (s), commonly believe that Lady Fatima (a) was martyred and this event was due to a blow to her side of abdomen and the abortion of her unborn child. On the other hand, the Sunnis believe that she (a) died a natural death due to illness and grief over the demise of the Prophet (s).

Every year, Shiites mourn the martyrdom of Lady Fatima al-Zahra (a) over a period called the “Fatimiyya Days”.

History

According to ‘Abd al-Karim Shahristani (d. 548/1153), a well-known Sunni scholar of denominations, Ibrahim b. Sayyar, known as Nazzam Mu’tazili (d. 221/835), believed that the unborn child of Fatima (a) was aborted due to major trauma caused by ‘Umar’s blow. According to Shahristani, this belief and some other beliefs of Nazzam Mu’tazili caused to distance himself from his peers. Qadi ‘Abd al-Jabbar Mu’tazili (d. 415/1024), in his book Tathbit dala’il al-nubuwwa, referred to the Shiites’ belief in the Fatima’s (a) injury and the abortion of her child, and named some of his contemporary Shiite scholars in Egypt, Baghdad and some parts of the Levant who mourned and cried for Fatima (a) and her son, Muhsin (a). In the books of Sunnis, those who believed in the martyrdom of Lady Fatima (a) have been called Rafidi.

The Root of Dispute

The root of the dispute over the martyrdom of Lady Fatima (a) is that her death occurred shortly after the demise of the Prophet (s) and during the conflicts over the succession of the Prophet Muhammad (s). After a group of the Emigrants and the Helpers pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr in Saqifa Bani Sa'ida, a group of companions refused to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr according to the Prophet’s (s) orders about the caliphate and succession of Ali b. Abi Talib (a). For this reason, by the order of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar b. Khattab, along with others, went to Ali’s (a) house to take his allegiance, and ‘Umar threatened to set the house on fire with its inhabitants if he (a) did not pledge allegiance.

Almost all Shiite sources agree that Muhsin (a), Fatima’s (a) unborn child was aborted as a result of the attack on her house; but, according to some Sunni sources, Muhsin (a) was born alive and died in childhood. However, Ibn Abi al-Hadid al-Mu'tazili (d. 656/1258), the commentator of Nahj al-balagha, in a debate with his teacher Abu Ja'far Naqib, referred to Muhsin’s (a) abortion during the event of taking Ali’s (a) allegiance. This belief has also been attributed to Ibrahim b. Sayyar known as Nazzam Mu'tazili (d. 221/836).

According to several narrations, Fatima (a) was buried at night. According to Yusufi Gharawi, a 15th/21th century historian, this nightly burial was according to the will of Lady Fatima al-Zahra (a); because, as stated in several narrations, she (a) did not want those who had wronged her to attend her funeral and burial.

Shiite sources and reasons to prove the martyrdom

Mirza Jawad Tabrizi, one of the Shiite marja's of the fifteenth/21th century, mentioned the words of Imam Ali (a) during the burial of Fatima (a), a narration from Imam al-Kazim (a), a narration from Imam al-Sadiq (a) in Dala'il al-Imama, the grave of Fatima (a) being hidden, and her will to be buried at night among the arguments to prove her martyrdom.

Shiite sources

In the book al-Hujum 'ala bayt-i Fatima (a), written by 'Abd al-Zahra Mahdi, a writer of the 15th/21th century, 260 historical narrations and reports from more than 150 Shiite narrators and writers have been collected, in each of which some of the arguments for the martyrdom of Fatima al-Zahra (a) are mentioned; including the attack on Fatima’s house, abortion of her child and slapping and flogging her. The oldest source cited by Shiite writers is the book of Sulaym b. Qays, who died in 90/709.

Shiites refer to Imam al-Kazim (a) as a martyr based on a narration in which Fatima al-Zahra (a) is called “Siddiqat al-Shahida” [lit. “the Truthful Martyr”]. In Dala'il al-Imama, al-Tabari has also narrated from Imam al-Sadiq (a) that mentioned the cause of the martyrdom of Fatima al-Zahra (a) as her abortion due to major trauma. According to al-Shaykh al-Tusi (d. 460/1067) in Talkhis al-shafi, all Shiites agree that ‘Umar struck Fatima (a) in the abdomen, which caused her child to be aborted, and Shiite narrations are abundant in this regard. Of course, in a narration mentioned in Dala'il al-Imama, it is said that this blow was inflicted on Lady Fatima al-Zahra (a) by Qunfudh (‘Umar’s slave). According to a narration in Nahj al-balagha, Imam Ali (a) spoke of the gathering of the (people) for oppressing Fatima (a).

Shiites’ references to Sunni sources

Shiites have cited various sources from Sunni hadith and historical books as well as some of their books on jurisprudence to prove some of the events leading up to the martyrdom of Fatima al-Zahra (a). For example, the book al-Hujum 'ala bayt-i Fatima (a), by listing 84 narrators and authors, has tried to compile a collection of reports available in Sunni books about the attack on Fatima’s (a) house. The oldest source in this list is a book called al-Maghazi written by Musa b. 'Aqaba (d. 141/758).

Hussein Ghayb Ghulami (born in 1959) has also collected more than 20 narrations from Sunni books and narrators in his book Ihraq-u bayt-i Fatima (a) fi al-kutub al-mu'tabara 'ind-a Ahl al-Sunnah. His first narration is from the book al-Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba (d. 235/849) and the last narration in this book is a narration from the book Kanz ul-'ummal written by Muttaqi Hindi (d. 977/1569). Also, in the book Shahadat-e madaram afsaneh nist, the story of the attack on Fatima’s (a) house is quoted from 18 books of Sunnis. These sources have narrated the story of the attempts to take Imam Ali’s (a) allegiance and threatening to set fire to his house on the day of allegiance in different wordings and from various narrators.

Some questions about the incident

A number of writers and scholars, by asking historical questions, have doubted in the narrations of the burning of the house of The Imam Ali (a) and Fatima (a). For example, they claimed that the houses of Medina did not have doors at that time, or they questioned why Ali (a) and others did not defend Fatima (a), or they doubted Fatima al-Zahra's (a) abortion. Against these problems, answers have been given by historians and researchers, including Sayyid Ja'far Murtada al-'Amili (d. 1441/2019).

Were the houses of Medina without doors?

Some have said that in Medina at that time, the houses did not have doors and concluded that therefore the story of the burning of the door of Fatima’s (a) house could not be true. On the other hand, Ja'far Murtada in his book Ma'sat al-Zahra (a) mentioned the sources according to which it was common for the houses to have doors back then and Fatima’s (a) house too had a door.

Why did not Ali (a) and others defend Fatima al-Zahra (a)?

One of the questions about the attack on Fatima’s (a) house and her martyrdom is why Ali (a), who is known for his courage, and the other companions remained silent about the attack and did not defend Fatima (a)? Apart from Sunnis, Muhammad Husayn Kashif al-Ghita', the Shiite marja' in the fourteenth/twentieth century, has also raised the same question. The main answer of the Shiites about it is that Ali (a) was ordered to be patient and silent by the order of the Prophet (s) and to protect the interests of Islam.[1] However, according to Salman Farsi in the book of Sulaym b. Qays (which Yusufi Gharawi considers to be the strongest and oldest narration of the story), after ‘Umar attacked Fatima (a), Ali (a) attacked ‘Umar and knocked him to the ground, as if he (a) intended to kill ‘Umar and then told him that “if it was not for the covenant of the Messenger of God (s), you knew that you could not enter my house.” At this moment, ‘Umar asked others for help and his companions rushed, took Ali (a) away from him and tied him up.

Doubt in the abortion of Muhsin b. Ali (a)

A group of Sunni writers doubted about the abortion of Muhsin b. Ali (a) in the story of the day of allegiance, believing that he (a) was born and died as a child. However, most Shiites believe that he (a) was aborted during the attack on Ali’s (a) house; as a few Sunni sources too have stated about Muhsin’s (a) spontaneous or forced abortion. In the third chapter of the book al-Muhsin (a) al-sibt mawludun am siqtun, the author, by a comparative study of historical texts, has concluded that the abortion of Muhsin b. Ali (a) occurred on the day of the attack to Ali’s (a) house, due to the blow and pressure inflicted on Fatima (a).

No mention of burning the house in historical sources

One of the questions and ambiguities about the martyrdom of Lady Fatima al-Zahra (a) is that what is mentioned in many Sunni historical and hadith books is only a threat to burn the house and it is not mentioned if it actually happened. However, researchers have compiled several collections of the sources that prove the attack itself, including the book al-Hujum ‘ala bayt-i Fatima (a), and the book Ihraq bayt-i Fatima (a). In some of these sources, it is clearly mentioned about hitting Fatima (a) and entering the house and the abortion of her child.

A group of Sunni writers have questioned the authenticity of the sources of these historical narrations. Of course, in some cases, their words have nothing to do with the flaws of the sources; for example, al-Mudayhish, the Sunni author of the book Fatima bint al-Nabi (a), in order to refute the attack and the abortion, rejected the report in Tarikh al-Ya'qubi with the excuse that its author was a Rafidi and its book had no scientific value, and also considered Ibn ‘Abd al-Birr’s report in the book al-‘Aqd al-farid as a rejected report and says that maybe he is a Shiite too and that it should be investigated. He also omitted the report of the book al-Imama wa al-siyasa because it was not written by Ibn Qutayba al-Dinawari. Mudayhish even denied the attribution of Nahj al-balagha to Imam Ali (a) in order to reject quoting his words. However, Sunni writers have not denied the threat and gathering in front of the house of Ali (a) and Fatima (a) itself due to the many reports that have been narrated about the threat.

Reference in old sources as “wafat” [lit. “death”]

One of the arguments of the opposers of the idea of the martyrdom of Fatima al-Zahra (a) is that in old Shiite sources, her demise is referred to using the word “wafat” [lit. “death”], not “shahada” [lit. “martyrdom”]. A group of Shiite writers have responded that the word “wafat” in Arabic has a general meaning that includes both natural death and death due to other causes, such as being poisoned by others. For example, in the article Shahadat ya vafat-e Hazrat-e Zahra (a), some of these applications have been narrated; such as that some Sunni historical sources have used the word “wafat” to refer to the deaths of 'Umar and 'Uthman, while both of them were killed. Also al-Tabrisi has used the word “wafat” somewhere to refer to the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a).

Imam Ali’s (a) good relationship with the caliphs

One of the arguments the Sunnis use to deny the martyrdom of Fatima Zahra (a) is referring to the friendly relationship between the caliphs and Imam Ali (a) and his family. In the detailed book Fatima bint al-Nabi (a), the author has tried to show that the first and the second caliphs were very kind to Fatima Zahra (a), but nevertheless, the author states in his conclusion that Fatima (a) cut any contact with Abu Bakr after the Fadak incident and did not give allegiance to him either. Muhammad Nafi’, a Sunni writer, wrote a book called Ruhama’-u baynahum in which he tried to show that the three caliphs had a good relationship with Imam Ali (a). Also, in an article in the quarterly Niday-e Islam, by quoting cases from the relationship between the caliphs and Imam Ali (a) as well as the relationship between their wives and daughters and Fatima (a), the author tries to show that such a relationship was in conflict with any insulting to Fatima (a) and beating her. According to the Shiite theologian, Sayyid Murtada (d. 436/1044), that Imam Ali (a) advised the caliphs could not be interpreted as having cooperation with them, because guiding upon the divine laws and the defending Muslims is obligatory upon every Muslim scholar.

The marriage of Umm Kulthum, the daughter of Imam Ali (a), to the second caliph is another example they have used to prove ‘Umar’s friendship and love for the Ahl al-Bayt (a), and suggest its contradiction with his involvement in the martyrdom of Fatima (a). Some writers deny the occurrence of this marriage. Sayyid Murtada (d. 436/1044), a Shiite theologian, considered the marriage under coercion and threat, in which case it cannot indicate an intimate relationship between them. A narration from Imam al-Sadiq (a) has also been narrated to prove the compulsion in this marriage using the word “ghasb” [lit. “usurpation”].

Naming the children of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) after the caliphs

A group of Sunnis emphasize that since Imam Ali (a) named his children after the caliphs, it shows that he (a) loved the caliphs and this is not compatible with the claim of the martyrdom of Lady Fatima al-Zahra (a). This is also mentioned in a pamphlet titled As’ilat qadat shabab al-Shi’a ila al-haqq (“questions that guide Shiite youth to the truth”).

Sayyid Ali Shahristani (born 1958) in a book called al-Tasmiyat bayn al-tasamuh al-‘Alawi wa al-tawzif al-Umawi, has provided a detailed analysis of the names and naming in the beginning of Islam to later centuries and while stating 29 major points, he concluded that the mentioned type of naming did not indicate a good relationship between people; while, not naming in that manner could not be a sign of enmity; because, those names were common among Arabs before and after the caliphs. On the other hand, Abu Bakr is not the name of a specific person and is rather a teknonym, and no one chooses a teknonym for his child’s name.

Ibn Taymiyyah al-Harrani (d. 7281328), a well-known Sunni scholar, also believes that naming after someone’s name does not indicate loving him; as the Prophet (s) and his companions used the names of infidels. According to Sayyid Ali Shahristani, two other treatises have been written about naming the children of Imams (a) after the caliphs, one by Wahid al-Bihbahani (d. 1205/1791) and the other by Tunikabuni (d. 1302/1885), author of Qisas al-'ulama.

Books on the subject

Shiite writers have written works on the subject of the martyrdom of Lady Fatima al-Zahra (a). for example:

In the first half of volume 43 of Bihar al-anwar, written by al-Allama al-Majlisi, narrations related to the life and virtues of Fatima al-Zahra (a) have been collected, part of which is related to the events after the demise of the Prophet (s). This section has been translated and published in Persian in an independent book called Zindigi-yi Hazrat-i Zahra (a).

Notes

  1. According to a narration in the book al-Kafi, Ali (a) vowed to be patient and to restrain his anger in the face of all the oppression that befell him after the demise of the Prophet (s).

References