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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 27 February 2021

The meaning of martyrdom and a weekend in Dubai

On the true meaning of martyrdom and how to best enjoy a weekend in Dubai.
Andrew Henderson / The National
Andrew Henderson / The National

Dear Ali: Since moving to Abu Dhabi, I have developed a deep respect for Islamic beliefs and values. After the latest suicide bombing in Iraq, however, I began wondering about martyrdom and its place in the faith. I would appreciate it if you could explain martyrdom to me. SJ, Abu Dhabi

Dear SJ: Ah yes, the big question. First of all, let me explain that most people Islam considers to be martyrs are not thought of as being controversial. The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), for example, described a martyr as: "One who dies in a plague, one who dies of intestinal ailments, one who dies of drowning or one who dies under a collapsed building." Where the definition gets tricky, however, is the other type, which is "one who dies as a martyr in jihad".

Let me give you some thoughts on how Emiratis understand jihad. Its meaning is more about giving your best for a good purpose. For instance, we might refer to jihad when talking about our beloved football players. "They played themselves to death just to win." We do not use jihad to describe suicide bombers who say they want to die for Allah in a violent way. When Islam was founded, martyrdom and war were closely related. Because the Holy Quran was written then, you can see how people misunderstand the concept of jihad. You should know that Islam comes from the Arabic word "salaam", which means peace and submission. Suicide bombers believe that submission means being willing to die in the name of Allah. And as good Muslims, we should be willing to die for our beliefs. But the other vital part of the definition is that this should be done in a peaceful manner. Both peace and submission are equal. In fact, there is a word for this, tawhid, which means "the unity of Allah and submission to his will". You cannot be a true martyr unless you accept both. Suicide bombers do not accept both and are therefore not true martyrs.

The Tehran University scholar A Ezzati makes an interesting point about martyrdom in Vol XII of the Islamic studies journal Al-Serat (1986). He points out that the Arabic word for martyr, shahada, is derived from the same root as to "witness", to "testify" or "to become a model and paradigm". "In this way, and by his struggle and sacrifice for the sake of the truth," Ezzati says, "a shaheed [martyr] becomes a model, a paradigm and an example for others, worthy of being copied, and worthy of being followed. A model attracts and leads people to the truth. He does not force them."

Dear Ali: What places would you recommend visiting on a weekend visit to Dubai?

TA, Riyadh

Dear TA: You will probably want to divide your time between visits to Dubai's heritage sites and its modern attractions. The Jumeirah Mosque is a landmark that was built in the mediaeval Fatimid tradition and is a good example of modern Islamic architecture. You can take a tour at 10 am on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Entry is Dh10 and you can book at In the same area, you can visit The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence, a new waterfront attraction that has great shops and restaurants.

For other suggestions on things to do in Dubai, I would recommend you visit my portal and look under menu six. I hope you enjoy your visit.

Arabic: Sheel-lah English: Take it, remove it Sheel-lah (m) or Sheel-leeh (f) means "take it" or "pick it up". For example: "Helen, sheel-leeh this folder and bring it back tomorrow." If it's for plural, you may say: "Sheel-loo these papers."You can also say: "Shel-leeh your children from school and I'll meet you later."

Published: May 29, 2010 04:00 AM

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