Quranic Reflection No 688. Āyat 3: 169 – The status of martyrs


This verse was revealed after the battle of ‘Uhud when the hypocrites mocked the believers for losing their loved ones. According to the hypocrites, death signified the end of life and therefore the lives of the dead had been lost in vain. During this time, not only were the believers grieving at the loss of their loved ones, but they were also hurt by the taunting of the hypocrites. This verse gives hope to the believers and sheds light on the eternal status of the martyrs. 

Although this verse was revealed after the battle of ‘Uhud, it refers to all the martyrs of Islam. A martyr is one who loses his life in the way of spreading the religion of Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā or protecting the Muslim community. They include those who were killed in the battles led by the Holy Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam or the Imams ‘alayhimus-salām. The best of them is the leader of all the martyrs, Abū ‘Abdillah Al-Husayn (a) and his companions, who sacrificed their lives to protect the religion of Islam.  Martyrs also include those who live a life of struggle to preserve and promote Islam.

This verse highlights three extraordinary bounties that are reserved only for the martyrs of Islam:

The first is that they are alive eternally – بَلْ أَحْيَا. They are alive even after they have departed from this world. Their names will be remembered and cherished for generations, and their moral character will continue to impart lessons to humanity. The reason why martyrs receive such an elevated status is because of their invaluable sacrifice. They sacrificed the most precious thing, which is their own life, to improve the lives of others.

This can be seen in the example of Prophet Ibrahim alayhis-salām when he said: 

وَاجْعَل لِّي لِسَانَ صِدْقٍ فِي الْآخِرِينَ

And ordain for me a goodly mention among posterity. (Q26:84)

Prophet Ibrahim ‘alayhis-salām’s people were idol worshippers, who were headless about the message of Islam. They gave Prophet Ibrahim (a) a deaf ear and continued to worship their idols. Therefore, He invoked Allah (swt) to honour him in such a way that future generations would benefit from his remembrance and his teachings. Prophet Ibrahim (a) did not seek fame, but rather wanted the religion of Islam to flourish. His supplication was accepted by the Almighty and the religion of Islam continued through his lineage.

The second bounty is that the martyrs are closer in proximity to God- عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ. This refers to the intermediary realm of barzakh, the period after death and before the Day of Resurrection. Although all the deceased are in barzakh, the martyrs have a special station with the Almighty. He looks over them closely and showers them with spiritual bounties. They are overjoyed by the blessings bestowed upon them (Q 3:170). It is only the martyrs who are bestowed with the ability to witness those who are living in the world, although the inhabitants of the world cannot see the martyrs. In this way they are alive because they are aware of the incidents that take place in the world.

The third bounty is that they are provided sustenance from their Lord – يُرْزَقُونَ. The Holy Prophet (s) gave glad tidings to the families of the martyrs of ‘Uhud, that their souls would be in a beautiful form in heaven, and they would be nourished from the heavenly fruits. 

As we approach the days of ‘azā, we pray to the Almighty to enable us to rejuvenate our souls through the life and teachings of Abū ‘Abdillah Al-Husayn. We pray for the status of the martyrs of Islam to be elevated. May the Almighty grant relief to all those who are suffering in various ways around the world.

References: Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh, Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma‘ul-Bayān.