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Shahādah: Witnessing of the Truth
Muhammad Sa‘d Saleem


The basic argument of religion is that every human being will be held accountable for his/her deeds in front of God Almighty on the Judgement Day. In addition to the intellectual arguments, which God revealed in the scriptures, this accountability is also established on the level of five senses through a process called “shahādah”.

“Shahādah” is an Arabic word which means to be a witness. However, in the Qur’ān, it is used for a person or a group which becomes witness of the truth. Realization of truth produces a kind of a moral responsibility. The implication is that these personalities and groups are subject to reward and punishment on moral basis in this very world. It is this “witnessing” through which the accountability of all humans on the basis of morality is established which can be seen by an ordinary person. This whole process is similar to a scientific experiment that, when successfully undertaken, in a laboratory on a small scale, testifies some hypothesis and proves it as a “fact”; similarly, this worldly accountability testifies the large scale accountability of the Hereafter and proves it as a forthcoming fact that no one may escape from.

The chosen nations are not only subject to divine reward and punishment but they also apply the divine punishment on others when they are asked by the God through a Prophet. This rule doesn’t apply to other nations. This is why a nation which stands completely in rebellion to God can still be very powerful, while on the other hand, a nation that is on the status of “shahādah” could be harshly punished, if they do so. God stands behind these nations, supports them and bestows them with political power. On the other hand, as soon as they make a mistake, they are instantly punished and their political power may be brought an end to also depending upon the severity of their crime.

Brief History of Mankind

In the first phase of the history of mankind, the story of Adam and his interaction with God was enough for making Adam’s children to know the truth. There is no hurdle in assuming that this happened hundred thousand years ago. Those who present the genealogies in the Bible to prove that the world was created 5000 years ago forget that when genealogies are written, only prominent personalities are mentioned and unfamiliar and unknown personalities are omitted.1

“Witnessing” of Individual Personalities (Messengers)

When the true concept of God got corrupted, it became necessary that God re-establish the basic argument of religion ie. the accountability in front of God. For this purpose, Messengers of God were sent, about whom, the Qur’ān says:

Indeed those who are opposing Allah and His Messenger are bound to be humiliated. The Almighty has ordained: “I and My Messengers shall always prevail.” Indeed Allah is Mighty and Powerful. (58:20-1)

For the first time, this shahādah was established through Noah (sws). A huge flood killed all those who denied the divine message. The memories of this great flood can be seen in the religious beliefs of almost all the ancient civilizations. But unfortunately, as time passed by, there was a constant need of reminding people of the basic argument of religion. For this reason, God sent many Messengers, through which He established before the coming generations that just like these nations of the Messengers of God were destroyed and punished, they will also be held accountable in front of God on the Judgement Day. Examples of such Messengers are Shiloh (sws), Jethro (sws), and Lot (sws). When the Qur’ān wants to mention these events as proofs, it always starts with the event of Noah (sws) and then mentions other nations which are known to the immediate addressees of the Qur’ān. For example, the perished Arab nations i.e. the ‘Ād and the Thamūd, are mentioned again and again in the Qur’ān. The personalities of Messengers are example of those qualities which God wants to see in His people, hence, these chosen personalities are also subject to reward and punishment in this world on the basis of their moral conduct. This also ensures that people know from these personalities that on which principle they are being judged. The Qur’ān mentions that Jonah (sws) made a small mistake and he was immediately punished by the Almighty through a fish which swallowed him. The Qur’ān also warns Prophet Muhammad (sws) at one instance, not to be impatient like Jonah.

Witnessing of Nations (Abraham’s Progeny)

As human civilization progressed in terms of materialistic advancements, God chose to put complete nations on this status of shahādah instead of individuals. For this purpose, God chose Abraham’s progeny. The Qur’ān declares about Abraham’s progeny:

And struggle for the cause of God in a befitting manner. He has chosen you [for this responsibility], and laid on you no burdens in the observance of your faith. He has chosen for you the way of Abraham your father. He has named you Muslims earlier and in this [period of the last Prophet] as well. [He had chosen you] so that the Prophet may bear “witness” against you, and that you yourselves may bear “witness” [to this religion] against other people of this world. (22:78)

God chose Adam and Noah, Abraham’s progeny and the progeny of ‘Imrān above the people of the world. (3:33)

The Rise and Fall of the Israelites

Abraham’s younger son, Isaac, was settled in the land of Palestine. The Qur’ān as well as the Bible mentions that the children of Jacob (sws), who was son of Isaac (sws), moved to Egypt,. They multiplied in numbers until they became a great nation. They accepted some of the beliefs of the Egyptian religion and as a result, they became slaves of the Pharaoh. When Moses (sws) saved the Israelites from the Pharaoh, this event became the “ultimate proof” in front of the Israelites and hence any mistake from the Israelites was harshly punishable. The Israelites worshiped the “golden calf” when Moses (sws) was away and as a result those who worshiped it were killed. When this nation came out, they got divine help in terms of shelter through moving clouds, water springs in the desert and the food supply in the form of birds, which were easy to catch. But when the Israelites refused to fight against the Palestinian polytheist nations, they were banished for forty years in the desert. But when a new generation of Israelites was brought up in the supervision of Joshua and Caleb, this nation became worthy of getting a great kingdom. The era of Joshua and Caleb is considered to be the best era as they are considered to be successors of Moses (sws). After this, the Israelites got three great kings; Saul (sws), David (sws), and Solomon (sws). After Solomon (sws), the Israelites split the kingdom into two and they were punished in the worst possible way by foreign armies for the polytheistic beliefs that they accepted from other nations. For their crimes, they became slaves in Babylonia, until they reformed themselves under the supervision of great Prophets like Daniel (sws) and Ezra (sws). Their situation improved until they again embraced the polytheistic concepts of Greeks and Romans and their religion became just a mere collection of laws. They were warned by many Prophets including Zachariah (sws), John the Baptist (sws) and Jesus (sws) himself. But instead of asking for forgiveness from God for their crimes, they decided to fight against the Romans for their miseries. They started “The Great Revolt”, which ended up in severe consequences. After that, the Jews were dispersed in the whole world and since then, the promise of God to Jesus is in action, which is mentioned in the Qur’ān in following words:

I will make those who follow you superior to those who reject faith, till the Day of Resurrection. (3:55)

The Rise and Fall of the Ishmaelites

Abraham’s older son, Ishmael, married in native Arabs and settled in Arabia. Along with the Israelites, the Ishmaelites were raised to the status of shahādah. Just as the Israelites had no Prophet after Joseph (sws) until Moses (sws) came, similarly, the Ishmaelites had no Prophet after Ishmael until Muhammad (sws) came.

In the first phase of Muhammad’s preaching, the Qur’ān put the intellectual arguments in front of the pagans of Makkah in a charismatic manner for thirteen years. Before the migration of Muhammad (sws) from Makkah to Madīnah, the Qur’ān announced the success of the divine religion followed by the death of Muhammad (sws):

When comes the help of God and that victory [which We have promised you O Prophet!] and you see men embrace the religion of God in multitudes, extol His glory while being thankful to Him and seek His forgiveness [as you will leave this world soon]. For, indeed, He is ever disposed to mercy. (110:1-3)

Within less than ten years, these predictions came true word for word. The Divine Judgement was promulgated on the pagans as well as on the Christians and Jews. This event was to the Ishmaelites as the destruction of Pharaoh and his army was to the Israelites. The Qur’ān says:

Towards you, [O People of Makkah!] We have sent a Messenger as a “witness” to you like We sent one towards the Pharaoh. (73:15) 

After this, the Ishmaelites implemented this Divine punishment on all those nations to whom the Prophet (sws) wrote letters himself. This is mentioned in the Qur’ān in the following verse:

And similarly [O Ishmaelites] We have made you an intermediate community so that you be “witnesses” [to the truth] before the people, and the Messenger be such a “witness” before you. (2:143) 

The Ishmaelites were also subject to this divine reward and punishment. In the battle of Uhud, when Muslims made a small mistake, they had to pay back heavily. After the death of the Prophet (sws), a large number of the Ishmaelites reverted back to their polytheistic beliefs. Abu Bakr (rta), the first caliph, implemented the same punishment on them, which Moses (sws) implemented on the worshipers of the “golden calf”. Just as the Israelites had Joshua and Caleb after Moses (sws), the Ishmaelites had Abu Bakr (rta) and ‘Umar (rta) after Muhammad (sws). In their reign, almost all the civilized world fell to them. A mistake was made in following an order of Sūrah Hujurāt of the Qur’ān regarding revolt in ‘Uthmān’s time followed by another mistake in ‘Alī’s time. The result was a huge massacre in which Muslims killed Muslims. This was according to the saying of the Prophet Muhammad (sws), who once said that my nation will be punished by their own swords. After this, the Prophet’s grandson Hasan surrendered and created an opportunity for the Ishmaelites to revert back to the right path. During Mu‘āwiyah’s era, the situation improved but soon another mistake was made when instead of democratically transferring the leadership as per the Qur’ān, Mu‘āwiyah’s own son took over as his heir. This created havoc and split. Later on, in the very short reign of ‘Umar Ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz (rta), the situation improved quickly. Walīd Ibn ‘Abd al-Malik and Hishām Ibn Abdul Malik were also good rulers from the Umayyad era. After that, Umayyads became so stern that Abbasids rebelled against them and a lot of blood was shed. This was again a divine punishment of their crimes. The kingdom was divided into two, just like the Israelites had two kingdoms after Solomon (sws). Hārūn al-Rashīd and Mamūn al-Rashīd were the righteous kings from the Abbasid era. After that, the Abbasids started religious persecution; the most prominent of these events is the lashing of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. This led to a sharp decline in their character and morality until God decided to punish them harshly for their crimes. In 922 AH, almost one thousand years after the Prophet Muhammad (sws), the Abbasids handed over the control to Ottomans, who originally were Mongols and destroyed the whole of Baghdad. Similarly, in Spain, Muslims started fighting with each other and then Catholics came over, who persecuted the Umayyads to the extent that not even a single Muslim was left alive. After this, Gog and Magog started to gain control of the world. Who are Gog and Magog? These are nations from central Asia who spread to Europe as well as to the East. Mongolian conquering and European colonization is all part of this Gog and Magog getting hold of the four gates of the world. The Apocalypse of John says: 

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth - Gog and Magog - to gather them for battle. (20:6-7)

When the condition mentioned in the Qur’ān for Gog and Magog of حَدَبٍ يَنسِلُونَ مِنْ كُلِّ (ie. to break forth from every elevated place) will be fulfilled, the Judgement Day will come (see the Qur’ān, 21:96-97).

This is how both strands of Abraham’s progeny reached their eventual fate when they denied God’s commandments and became immoral. Their history is an evidence of the existence of an active and just God whom we all have to be answerable at the Judgement Day. At present, the Ishmaelites are still living in the Middle East. Everyone can see in the media the humiliation of the Ishmaelites. Every action taken by them increases nothing but humiliation. This is a vicious cycle from which they can’t find a way out. But the Qur’an says very clearly to the Israelites, which is also true for the Ishmaelites:

Fulfill your [part of the] covenant; I shall fulfill My [part of the] covenant. (2:40)

These events of reward and punishment of Abraham’s progeny are mentioned very comprehensively in Sūrah Tīn of the Qur’ān, which translates:

The [village of] fig and [mount] olive [where Jesus ascended] bear witness and [so does] the mount of Sinai [where Moses pledged with the Israelites] and this secure city of [yours, where Ishmael settled] that We have created man [at these places] in the best of moulds. Then We reverted him to the lowest [position] when he himself wanted to become low. Save those who accepted faith and did righteous deeds. For them shall be a reward unending. Now [O Prophet!] what is it that denies you about the Day of Judgment? [Ask them] is not Allah the best of Judges? (95:1-7)

This Judgment is also mentioned with similar words in Deuteronomy:

And [Moses] said: The LORD came from Sinai [where Moses raised Israelites as a nation]; And dawned on them from Seir [hills in Jerusalem where Jesus preached]; He [then] shone forth from Mount Paran [where Ishmael settled, see Genesis 21:21] And where He came with ten thousands of saints [i.e. companions of Muhammad who went from Madīnah to Makkah]; From His right hand came a fiery law for them. (33:2)

Frequently Asked Questions

1.Why doesn’t the Qur’ān tell us much about the Ishmaelites?

· Because many of the events of the Ishmaelites had to happen after the Prophet’s life.


2.Then how we can interpret them?

· In the light of the explanations and commentary on the Israelites in the Qur’ān.


3.Why did the Israelites have so many Prophets and the Ishmaelites have only one?

· Because the Qur’ān was protected from any sort of corruption, hence there was no need of sending a new Prophet.


4.Does it mean that we can stand up and implement the divine punishment on other nations?

· Firstly, the status of shahādah is only mentioned for Abraham’s progeny and hence it cannot be imitated by anyone else.

· Secondly, even Abraham’s progeny needs permission from God to implement this Judgement, which can only be given through a Prophet. According to the Qur’ān, Muhammad (sws) is the seal of the Prophets.


5.How can the Israelites come out of their humiliation?

·     By accepting Jesus (sws) and Muhammad (sws) as Prophets of God and asking for forgiveness for all their sins.


6.How can the Ishmaelites come out of their humiliation?

· By asking for forgiveness from God, revising their religious knowledge on the basis of the Qur’ān and building a high moral character.


7.Where are the Ishmaelites these days?

· They are dispersed in the Middle East and other parts of the world. Their population is now a fraction of the total population of the Arabs.


8.Is it possible that we have their blood and these rules would apply on us?

· It has nothing to do with the blood. It is about identity so that people can identify them and then learn from their rise and fall. If some nation has their blood and it is unknown, then this rule will not apply because, any event that happens without prediction is an accident otherwise, it is because of a phenomenon.


9.Is there any chance of getting the Ishmaelites or the Israelites back on power?

· From the Qur’ān, once the Gog and Magog are loose, they will rule until the Judgement Day.


10.   So how can Muslims regain respect and honor?

· By converting some other nations to Islam. After the downfall of the Abbasids, the Mongolians converted to Islam and established the Ottoman Empire. Similarly, if today we are successful in converting a non-Muslim nation to Islam through preaching, we might be able to gain some extra-time.


11.   How is the story of the Ishmaelites special, when we have stories of previous nations and Israelites from the Bible?

· Because, the reward and punishment of the Ishmaelites happened in known history. Other stories could be labeled as myths in modern world, but the rise and fall of the Ishmaelites cannot be labeled as a fiction.


12. Why did the Israelites administer divine judgement to neighboring nations many years after the Prophet Moses (sws), while the Companions (rta) of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) carried out this judgement within a few decades after him?

· When the Israelites got salvation from Pharaoh, they were asked to fight against polytheistic Palestinian nations, but they refused. So it took many generations to raise this nation to the level when they could get control of Palestine. On the other hand, Companions (rta) of Muhammad (sws) implemented this Judgment immediately. As there would be no prophet after Muhammad (sws), this event was not imitated after his Companions (rta). The conquered regions also served as an arena where the whole world could see the reward and punishment of these nations.






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