Shaheedi & Justice

We have many songs that remind us of Shaheeds; we acknowledge them in our Ardas; and they are an integral part of our Sikh history.  It is a powerful experience to hear how an integral concept in Sikhi manifests in other communities.  Specifically the Muslim community, which also adheres to a concept of Shaheedi.

Often times in the media, the concept of Shaheedi has been presented as a form of “brainwashing” done by religious and political leaders to condone terrorism and violence for their own self-interests. However, a recent NPR report highlights how two devote Muslim men from America became Shaheeds out of their own strong will to bring justice back to their home country of Libya.


Mabruk Eshnuk (left) and his son Malik (right) left their home in Pittsburgh to volunteer and fight with rebels in western Libya's Nafusa Mountains.

A father and son left their home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (USA) to participate in the Libyan revolution.  Mabruk Eshnuk and his 21-year old middle son, Malik Eshnuk, died fighting the forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi in western Libya.

Mabruk, a devoute Muslim had immigrated from Libya as a teenager.  He taught Islam to convicts in the Pennsylvania state penitentiary system.  In 2006, he housed the family of a young Iraqi boy who was getting lifesaving treatment in the United States. He said, “Everything that we do and work and help, it’s based on the Quran.” Outraged over what was happening in Libya, he took his middle son to fight in the Western mountains of Libya.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports for NPR:

They had only a few weeks of training when they joined other rebels to take the town of Bir al-Ghanem from Gadhafi loyalists this past weekend.

It was their first battle — and their last.

As Mabruk and Malik’s family cope with the passing of their family members, they find comfort in the fact that they died as Shaheeds.  Yaseen, Mabruk’s eldest son, says from his home in Pennsylvania,

He died a shaheed, a martyr, and he is in the highest paradise. This was their goal, victory or martyrdom, and we are very proud of them.”

Yaseen talks about the difficulties he encounters as he mourns the loss of his father and brother,

“I lost my boss and my right-hand man. You know, I miss them, is the problem. But for them, there is nothing that could be better for them at the moment. One moment I said, ‘Aw, I wish he was here right now.’ But then I said to myself, ‘What am I talking about? I would never take them back from heaven where they are right now.’ We knew this was a good possibility when they left and we accepted it.”

Unable to hold back tears, he tells the reporter that they were in life as they were found in death. Mubruk was trying tomap_libya_300.gif shield his son Malik.

“They actually said they found my dad was clutching my brother, holding him, and you could even tell my dad was burned much worse; my brother was protected, you could see.”

Father and son were buried in the western Libyan mountains that they died trying to save.  Yaseen hopes to one day visit their graves.

Mabruck and Malik are two Shaheeds from the Libyan Diaspora.  Their act of courage also helps us think about the relationship between a Diaspora and its mother-country, particularly during a time of revolution

Their story reminds me of how Guru Gobind Singh Ji sacrificed his sons for justice.   Shaheedi is not a free pass to kill and hurt people.  It is a commitment and love for justice.  It can come at the cost of deep and visceral worldly attachments-such as your children.

Listen to the full NPR report here.

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59 Responses to “Shaheedi & Justice”

  1. kantay says:

    It is becoming ridiculous that every concept we discuss relating to Sikhi is done in reference only to Islam. Christian martyrs or those of other faiths?

  2. MohinderSingh says:

    @Phulkari,these two broke the US law by fighting in a foreign war,they also violated the Libyan law as mercenaries from another country fighting that countries defence forces.They got what was coming to them,as far as being a shaheed well that is just a matter of opinion,when you are bent on hurting some one else you get what you deserve.

  3. kantay says:

    We fight our concepts into the wars and conflicts relating to another faith and then relate only little if at all with other faith traditions. If we want to follow current trends within Sikhi I guess we can keep looking up what’s going on with the burka in Belgium or the latest from Arabia because lord knows we need to be in solidarity and this is the way to do it…..take on other peoples conflicts and their belief as our own even if we actually have our own. The example of not eating halal is a great one. Instead of recognizing that halal food itself is a way to separate one group from outgroups we have been told that we should accept dietary restriction meant to be a sign of the adherence to a specific faith and adopt the practice ourselves lest we separate ourselves by doing something that is intended to separate in the first place.

  4. kantay says:

    At the very least some discussion of other traditions of martyrdom or some attempt to discuss or consider differences between the.concepts? It beyond a pattern here and I think displays a way of thinking that is lazy and unedifying and actually rather distorted as to the nature of core beliefs and practices within Sikhi including core principles such as kes, the concept of women’s rights and shaheedi. Given the same examples regarding at times potentially superficial similarities with Hinduism are not taken up or are resisted, this seems to be a co-opting of the principle of solidarity for relatively narrower ends.

  5. Blighty Singh says:

    I think when we made our own distinct religion we should have made our own distinct word for martyr. We should never have used the word 'shaheed'. It is islamic in every sense of the word. Every inch of its meaning is rooted in Islam as a faith….rather than Arabic or Persian as a language.
    The thing is…it's too much a part of a our religion for us to not have our own Sikh word for it. What i mean is although the Sikhs share many similarities with the Jews with regards to holocausts and genocides etc the fundamental difference between us and them is that they see their forefathers as 'victims' whereas we see ours as 'martyrs'. This difference is important because it shapes our very existence and defines us as a people. A very specific Sikh word needed to be created for something which is so central and fundamental to our faith. It should never have been a word which is purely Islamic in meaning ; Shaheed.

  6. kantay says:

    And let me know when we will stand on our own feet regarding our principles of religion. Shaheedi is actually a good example because there are significant differences between the concepts that are simply glossed over here. Again what seems to matter is we are in solidarity with a group under ostensible attack by a dominating ideology….in this case that seems to some narrative the west presumably imposes on the Islamic concept of shaheedi. What exactly we are in solidarity with seems to be not as important as that we are standing by a beleaguered group, and this seems almost explicit.

  7. Rajinder Singh says:

    "no offence to one of my nephews…who does indeed resemble a monkey"

    Hey Blighty, You can also tell if your nephew enjoys being member of the Dangar Hall dot com. BTW Is Dangar a persian word or punjabi ?

  8. Slacker says:

    Not to take anything away from these two individuals, but how much of their actions do you think were spurred on by the fact that dying as shaheeds would guarantee them 'life in paradise'? Serves to cheapen it a bit doesn't it? Don't get me wrong, it takes guts to do what they did. I could never do it. However, what if they were of the understanding (and likely, the one that IS correct) that there is no afterlife, that this is our only life and that there corpses would simply rot in the dirt. Would they acted as readily? Same goes for any other religious figure as well.

  9. kantay says:

    It would be useful for us to see more examples of that because right now I see a fashionable fetish being made of the concept of solidarity in which we blithely pass by real differences in the apparentl belief that we stand by whoever we deem powerless no matter what we stand for actually and also the way to be in solidarity is to be as much in agreement with the beliefs of others as possible, even is we change or simply ignore our beliefs if they separate us from the object of our solidarities.

  10. kantay says:

    Just checking but people do know that the Sikh concept of Shaheedi is distinct right? Does it matter or is that an inconvenient idea that prevents getting our solidarity on?

  11. randep says:

    I think you're on to something kantay. One of the things I've been trying to point out to the authors of this website is that the key network of concepts they always keep returning to – justice, community, truth, and in this case Shaheedi – are not so innocuous, simple, and obvious. The authors are happy with key differences, changes, newness, transmutations, and therefor questioning itself being frozen and crystalized. These terms (and indeed life itself) become dead, without color. At best, these concepts and shaadat itself play the role of 'good ideas' we can all pay our respects to in passing. However, we must remember there is actual difference. The history of martyrdom in Sikh history is beyond the idea of martyrdom in the Christian-Platonic tradition and certainly the notion of Shahaadat in Islam. I wonder what a step into the future would look like, a step in which a Sikh vision of Shahaadat could be articulated in English, unleashing the radical potential of the political event. This is quite different from the ossifying process of making matches, of bonding the plurality of life by sameness, and thus to wither life itself away.

  12. Phulkari says:

    This post was written as a gut reaction to the NPR report and was in no way an attempt to be a rigorous examination of the martyrdom in Sikhi, Islam, or other faiths. As a Sikh I was raised with the concept of Shaheedi in Sikhi. Although different in many ways from the Islamic concept, I think both are connected to the desire for “justice” in some way. I was reminded of Guru Gobind Singh Ji when I heard of the Mubruck, a father, sacrificing his son, Malik, in the name of justice. Why? Because I grew up learning about Shaheedi in Sikhi.

    I personally don’t think it is wrong to use concepts in one’s own faith to sympathize with followers of another faith. Sikhi influences the way you view and understand the world-it’s a way of life. Does it mean one is confused about their faith and dismissive of differences? No. It means that it is an attempt to relate to another person's humanity.

    Please remember, this is a blog, not a peer reviewed journal. Bloggers write from various perspectives. The comments space is place for people to thoughtfully analyze concepts and respectfully discuss ideas not addressed thoroughly in a post.

  13. randep says:

    Thanks for the response Phulkari, I appreciate it.

    Trying to see where you're coming from, why sell yourself short? Obviously, this isn't a peer reviewed journal, but you still admit that the comment place is for people to thoughtfully analyze concepts. I guess I wonder if TLH bloggers are willing to meet commentors half-way. How about TLH bloggers take commentors seriously and tangle with their concerns? Several people on this website, including people whom I certainly disagree with, have ideas they'd like to discuss and flesh out, but which only seem to be ignored by TLH-posters.

    For instance, many commentors have reservations about the means by which TLH continues to identify Sikh political articulation with the liberal narrative of Muslims-in-the-West. This isn't simply islamophobia on the part of Sikhs. The very basic question, "What is to be gained by identifying Sikh political representations with Muslim resistance to post-911 media/government," impresses upon me, and also many commentors on this blog. So why not actually respond to the debate? I see you have responded to me, so that's a step in the right direction. But I think there are sincere concerns that readers have been trying to hone in on, and perhaps the increasingly vitriolic nature of TLH comments has something to do with the unwillingness on the part of bloggers to engage readers.

    I would never insinuate that you are "confused about your faith", either. I have no idea, nor could I ever have any idea, of what your faith is. That said, I am faithful to your faith and I would not and cannot knock it down. What we can do is challenge each other, even our faiths. But I can never judge you unfaithful.

    And to challenge you, I must keep returning to that very issue. It is the issue of questioning itself. I question the comportment of this website itself, as a whole. I question the easy way by which the tragic moments and visionary flashes that spark up for us are just as quickly commodified into the uncritical narratives- of deeply problematic, outdated schools of feminism, of a liberal-progressive obsession with universal sameness and identity, of a world-historical understanding of religion that measures Sikhi as just another religion amongst other religions. BUT, this doesn't mean you're expected to be some sort of high-caliber feminist, or political know-it-all, or any other sort of intellectual master.

    What it means is that before clinging to easy-narratives, a strategy that has had disastrous effects on Sikhs for the last 150 years (if not more), can we ask the question? Can we ask why we're here? Can we ask why we're getting together on the internet?

    This website says: "We challenge ourselves to address the myriad of issues we face as individuals and as a community through a progressive lens, and reserve the right to rant, muse, and humor."

    Can one do that? Are you really challenging yourself if you refuse to step outside a particular lens? And what if we refused to step outside of a gendered lens? Or a Jatt lens? Or a conservative-libertarian lens? Can we challenge the limits of how much you're able to be challenged?

    In other words, isn't there room to dwell? Isn't there room to dwell in the concrete situations we face, as people, as children, as each of us who will soon die, who will soon be forgotten and buried, or burned, or lost at sea? How can TLH keep going in circles, always making sense of it all with so much confidence, when no one even knows the questions dwelling in the space between us all?

  14. patel says:

    Ridiculous to compare Sikh martyr who dies selfless path with those who pursue selfish route. Disgusting such little understanding of yoith today. Smell can be of rose or animal, both smell but both very different.

  15. bik says:

    Another day and another story trying to link some Muslim issue with Sikhs. The most outrageous part of the write up the comparison of the Muslim father and son duo with Guru Gobind Singh and the Sahibzadas. It is easy to make comparisons where their appear to the superficial similarities but had the writer taken the trouble to research deeper he would certainly have come to a very different conclusion. The concept of Shaheedi in Islam and Sikhism could not be more different. In fact it is world's apart. The Shaheed in Islam fights for Islam and justice and peace as defined by the Islamic sharia. Justice in the Islamic definition is where Islam is supreme and non-Muslims oppressed through the inequitable sharia law. Peace is defined as where there is no resistance from the non-Muslims to Muslim rule. At an international level this would be where a future Islamic superstate called the Kalifah would dictate terms to non-Muslim states which would either convert to Islam or pay the Jizyah tax or get ready for a Muslim invasion. The Shaheed is Sikhism fights can be defined as;

    1. A Sikh who suffers oppression because of his religion or for the rights of others and would rather give his head than renounce his religion or sit silently while others are oppressed because of their religion. The very first instance of this is the Shaheedi of Guru Arjan Devji right through to Bhai Taru Singh and then the Singhnis in Mir Mannu's jail.
    2. A Sikh warrior who fights physically against the oppression of both his own religion as well as the religion of others. The Sikh shaheeds of the Mughal era as well as 1984 come into that category.

    Interestingly enough although the Muslim shaheed would come in a restricted sense in the latter, ie fighting just for Islam, there can in fact never be a Muslim shaheed of the former variety. According to Muslim history there were instances of a Muslim woman being killed for her beliefs in the period that Mohammed was in Mecca but when instances came to his notice that Muslims were renouncing Islam because of the oppression of the non-Muslims, he made is legitimate for a Muslim to renounce his religion rather that be killed as long as he was 'faithful in his heart'. This is why you will never come across Muslim shaheeds as defined in category 1 even through Muslims have sometimes faced oppression from non-Muslims.

    Another important difference is that when a Muslim shaheed fights he does so because if he is victorious he has then ensured the domination of Islam and a share of the spoils of war or if he is unsuccessful and loses his life he is ensured a place in the highest heaven with 72 virgins to satisfy his lust. Compare this with what a Sikh Shaheed expect, there is no the fulfilment of knowing that he has done his religious duty.

  16. Meena says:

    @bik…FANTASTIC post!

  17. kantay says:

    The post though was about religion and if the people in the original story were comparable in some way to shaheedi in Sikhi. I don’t think they situation here meets something close to the principle in Sikhi. Our principle as shown by Guru Gobind Singh ji is of selfless sacrifice for Nirankar

  18. brooklynwala says:

    Libyan rebels in 'final push' for capital

  19. kantay says:

    Update us in a few months about the composition of the new government. And updates from Egypt would be appreciated as well. send updates when you get time on how the bahai community is doing in the land of its birth. And also any news or information on who the rebels are and what are they fighting for. We need education on these issues.

  20. Blighty Singh says:

    Kantay, ^ ever heard of newspapers ? or even tv news channels ? Personally, I prefer the France 24 news channel. Seen enough on there about the truth about these 'rebels' that makes me feel ashamed that my tax money is paying for them. Over the last few months they've gone from area to area….village to village committing inhuman atrocities against anyone they felt was a government supporter. These murders done in my name with weapons paid for with my money. Gaddafi's PR spokesman made a good point yesterday when he asked us to re-examine our western morals. But even from a non-moral point of view, I do sometimes wonder how stupid one must have to be in order to become a prime minister or president. Obama and Cameron are dumb and dumber part 2 , after the original Bush and Blair. They replace OUR secular non-religious tyrants……who hate and kill the radical islam terrorists….. with extreme islamists in both Egypt and Libya. How does having non-secular islamists in power in Egypt and Libya help me exactly ?

    Bik, fantastic posts fella. However, it makes no sense when you say that the sikh meaning of the word is shaheed is different from the islamic meaning of the word. It's like us English speakers deciding that we like the sound of the Italian word Pizza so much that we're gonna incorporate it into the English language where it will mean 'custard cake'. We can't just change the definitions of words at will. The very definition of the word 'shaheed' is rooted in the theology of islam, NOT the language of Arabia or Persia.

  21. kantay says:

    Your unnecessary abrasive attitude is off putting and does not convey the sense if surety you might be hoping it does

  22. kantay says:

    That didn’t take long sahenval

  23. kantay says:

    What kind of guy itches to pull out negative stereotypes at the drop of a hat? Help this rustic jat figure that out.

  24. kantay says:

    Maybe you could handle your battle without resorting to bringing other people into it, your opponent is a rustic jat so you should have no problem showing your intellectual prowess.

  25. Gagandeep Singh says:


    On a very first i would like to share that i am very much offended by this article as it compared our Dashmesh pita Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji Maharaj and Sahibzades to these two people.
    Our Gurus have no comparison since they are chose by Waheguru as the Prophets to start a religion.
    These two bearded muslims chose themselves to die for Libya.

    Comparing an act in Sikhi to the acts done by different faiths is like maligning the strength of Sikhi and Sikhs. Especially we must refrain ourselves from comparing Sikhi to Islam.
    Islam teachings are totally opposite to what Sikhi teaches us. Islam only talks about muslims and their welfare while Sikhi teaches welfare of human race. There is no sentence in Islam that motivates muslims to work on brotherhood with other faiths. It only commands to have brotherhood within the community.
    Islam tells no matter what good you had done in your life, did charities, help etc, you going to be in hell because you didn't follow Islam and Muhammad.

  26. Blighty Singh says:

    "Islam tells no matter what good you had done in your life, did charities, help etc, you going to be in hell because you didn't follow Islam and Muhammad"

    ^ Its one (devine) law for them fella……and another for us. The semetic faiths have a monopoly over law. Its like the other day when some christians knocked on my front door. They threatened me with eternal damnation in the fires of hell where I will be skinned alive for all eternity. Which was nice of them. And the Law was ok with that. But when I fetched a box cutter and threatened to give them a little baby sized cut to the face it was ME who was arrested !!!!!!

  27. Gagandeep Singh says:

    Sick of these Abrahamic religions. They wish to rule the world with all unfair means and with maximum atrocities. There 'one life' concept sucks.
    Islamic countries don't follow any human rights and award non-muslims with minimum rights. If you see for an example Saudi, Oman, Maldives etc doesn't allow any non-muslim to get citizenship.

  28. patel says:

    My advices to arthur of this article is. My dear fellow stop pontificating as if u are in expert on Sikh and learn the sacrifices of the greats before you do anyyhing else.