First Martyr

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ImageAbu Dhar left a lasting impression on the people of southern Lebanon regarding the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) – one that has lasted to this day. The Shias of Jabal Amil have produced numerous scholars and leaders, among them one who is known as the "First Martyr".

First Martyr

One of the biggest critics of the government during the reign of Uthman ibn Affan was the great companion Abu Dhar al-Ghiffari. After intense criticism of the government's excesses and corruption, Abu Dhar was eventually exiled to Jabal Amil, in southern Lebenon. Although he was transferred elsewhere shortly thereafter, Abu Dhar left a lasting impression on the people of southern Lebanon regarding the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) – one that has lasted to this day. The Shias of Jabal Amil have produced numerous scholars and leaders, among them one who is known as the "First Martyr".

He was born Abu Abdullah Shamsuddin Muhammad ibn Jamaluddin al-Makki in Jabal Amil in 734 AH. His father was himself an erudite scholar, and Shamsuddin received his early education in Jabal Amil. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Hilla, which had become the center of Islamic learning. He studied under Fakhrul Muhaqqiqeen, the brilliant son of Allama Hilli. He received the permission to perform Ijtihad at the tender age of 17.

Shamsuddin has been unanimously acknowledged by scholars and historians as one of the greatest scholar of Shia jurisprudence. He is said to have spent over 20 hours a day on his studies and research.  Narrations say that when he would get too tired or sleepy, he would take a heated piece of copper and tap it on his head. The pain would cause the sleepiness to go away. As a result, however, he was quite weak and thin and lost most of his hair at an early age. During the 35 years that he taught jurisprudence, over 1000 scholars received the permission to perform Ijtihad from him, including his three sons and two daughters. He penned several books on the mandatory and recommended acts of prayer, including Duroos, Zikra, Bayan, Qawaid, and Nafila. In addition to his knowledge of Shia jurisprudence, he also studied under Sunni scholars and taught Hanafi, Maliki, Shafa'i, and Hanbali jurisprudence in Damascus.

Shia history has been divided into three periods. The period from the time of the Infallibles (peace be upon them) until Allama Hilli is considered the first period. The period from Allama Hilli through Shaikh Murtadha al-Ansari is considered the second period. Although Shias were fiercely persecuted during the first period, the first notable Shia to be killed for his beliefs during the second period was Shamsuddin. For this reason, he is called Shaheed al-Awwal ("the First Martyr").

As his popularity among the people increased, scholars of other schools became very jealous of him. Hanafi, Maliki, Shafa'i, and Hanbali scholars saw that their own followers would actually consult him on religious matters instead of coming to them. The Chief Magistrate of Bahrood began collecting signatures and fake witnesses that falsely testified that Shamsuddin considered the Ahlul Bayt to be gods, and as such, he had committed apostasy. The petition was passed on to Burhanuddin al-Maliki, the Maliki Chief Magistrate of the period, who promptly placed his own signature on it and gave an order for Shamsuddin's execution.

The scholar was brought to the king's court, and the verdict was read against him. Shamsuddin protested, saying that he had not been given a chance to defend himself, and that he would like to interview each of these witnesses. However, the anger and jealousy against him was too great, and his request was refused. In an attempt to save his life, he then said that he was in fact a follower of the Shafa'i school of thought, according to which apostates are imprisoned for one year and then given a chance to repent. The Shafa'i scholars complied, and Shamsuddin was put in prison. However, in order for his life to be spared, he was told that he would have to repent his sin. As he sat in prison for a year, many people came and tried to convince him to repent. Shamsuddin knew that this was a trick in order to get a confession out of him, and he absolutely refused.

During this time, the government of Khorasan was in the hands of a pious believer. He wanted Shamsuddin's advice on ruling his people according to the laws of Islam, and he wrote to him for a guidebook. Shamsuddin was visited almost every single day by someone asking him to repent, and so he could not be seen writing a book. Miraculously, however, during one week's period, no one came to visit him. Being the brilliant mind that he was, Shamsuddin composed the entire book within the period of seven days, remembering complex laws of jurisprudence, narration, and exegesis from memory. The book was secretly smuggled out by a trusted messenger. It is called al-Lum'a al-Dimishqiya (The Damascene Glitter) and is still used as a textbook in today's seminaries.

People pretending to be his sympathizers continued coming to the prison and tried to convince him to repent. Seeing no alternative, he eventually acquiesced to their requests. Immediately, Burhanuddin al-Maliki issued an execution verdict.

On Thursday, the 9th of Jamadi al-Awwal, 786 AH, Shamsuddin was led out of his prison cell in Damascus to a public gathering. It is said that while he was being taken, he threw a piece of paper into the air on which he had written: "My Lord, I am surrounded by my enemies, so help me!" The paper flew up and fell back down, this time containing the inscription: "If you are truly My servant, you will be patient." Historians record that his neck was slashed, and while he was still alive, his body was crucified on a nearby tree and pelted with stones and arrows. A few hours later, his corpse was lit on fire. His enemies thought they had finally rid themselves of this great scholar and servant of God, but in the words of the Qur'an, "do not think of those who perish in God's way as dead! Nay, they are alive and receiving sustenance from their Lord."


EDITOR'S NOTE: These articles are adaptations of lectures delivered by Maulana Sadiq Hasan in Karachi, Pakistan, during the 1980s on the lives of the great scholars of Islam. The Urdu lectures can be accessed at Hussainiat.com. For previous articles in this series, please look under the History section.

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