There is no agreement among the authorities, both commentators and historians, as to the time and place of the incident whether it has been a single event or the happening refers to numerous events similar to that in different parts of the world.
The most famous one is that of Zu-Nuwas, the last Himyrite king of Yemen.
Zu-Nuwas, who was by religion a Jew, named himself Yusef. The members of Himyrite followed him as Jews. Then, after a length of time, he was informed that a group of people in Najran, a zone in the north of Yemen, were still Christian. His companions compelled him to force the group to be Jewish. He moved to Najran and gathered the inhabitants of the area.
Offering them the Jewish religion, he insisted that they accept it, but they did not. They refused the religion and accepted to suffer death, instead.
Zu-Nuwas ordered his men to dig a large ditch and fill it with wood, then he lit a great fire. Some of them were thrown into it and burnt alive. Some others were killed by the sword and were torn into pieces. Altogether, the number of deaths was about twenty thousand.6
It is cited that one of the Christians of Najran fled from the event and went to the Roman Caesar in Rome and asked him for help against Zu-Nuwas.
Caesar replied that Najran was far from his country, but, he would write a letter to the king of Abyssinia, who was a Christian and whose country was neighbouring to the man’s, and would ask him to help.
He wrote that letter and demanded that the Abyssinian king to take revenge on that terrible murderer. The man from Najran went to the King, Najashi, who became very saddened when he heard the story of Najran. He felt pity for the extinguishment of the light of Christianity, there, and decided to take revenge.
The Abyssinian army hastened to Yemen and defeated Zu-Nuwas’ troops, killing a great many of them. Then, before long, they took Yemen and Najashi rulled it as a state of Abyssinia.7
Some commentators have cited that the length of the ditch was 40 cubits and its width was 12 cubits. (A cubit was equal to half a meter. Sometimes, in other places, it was used instead of /gez/ which was a measure for one meter.) Some other commentators have cited that there were seven ditches each of which had been as large as the above mentioned one.
This event has been narrated, differently, in numerous books of commentary and history including Majma’-al-Bayan by Tabarsi, Abul-Futuh Razi’s Commentary, Tafsir-i-Kabir by Fakhr-i-Razi, Ruh-al-Ma’ali by Aloosi, Qartabi’s Commentary, Sirah by Ibn- Hosham, and many others.
As it was mentioned before, the cruel persecutors were finally punished in this world and were revenged for the murders they had committed. The punishment of blazing fire in the Hereafter is waiting for them, too.
These ‘crematoriums’, which were made by those Jews, are said to be probably the first ones in history. But, it is surprising that this very cruel innovation was used against the Jews, themselves, and, as it is known, many Jews were burnt in crematoriums, on Hitler’s orders, in Germany; and the example of the ‘Punishment of the Burning Fire’ happened to them even in this world.
In addition to this, Zu-Nuwas, the main establisher of this horrible innovation, himself, was not safe from his evil deeds.
The above lines about ‘the makers of the pit of fire’ are according to popular attitudes, but there are also other narrations which say that ‘the makers of the pit of fire’ were not only those in Yemen at the time of Zu-Nuwas, but in other locations and at different times. Commentators have cited up to ten narrations about them.
A narration that has been cited from Amir-al-Motmineen Ali (as) says:
“And the Magi had a ‘Book’ and they acted according to their Holy Book. One of their kings married with his sister and the woman wanted him to announce that marriage with ones’ sister’ is lawful, but his people did not accept this. So, the king had some of the believing people, who opposed his instruction, thrown into a pit of fire.”8
This is about ‘the makers of the pit of fire’ in Fars (Old Persia, i.e. Iran). There is a citation about ‘the makers of the pit of fire’ in Sham, as well, where there lived some believing people who were burnt in a pit of dire by Antiyakhus.9
Some have also referred this event to the companions of Daniel, he famous prophet of the Israelites who are mentioned in the book of Daniel from the Torah, and Tha’labi has applied ‘the makers of the pit of fire’, in Fars, to them.10
It is not improbable that ‘the makers of the pit of fire’ includes all of hem, although the most famous example of it is the story of Zu-Nuwas in Yemen.
Resistance in Keeping Faith
There are numerous examples, in history, of people who suffered fatal persecutions for their beliefs. They agreed, eagerly, to be killed but, did not leave their Faith. History has so many stories of this kind: some of the Faithful were hanged, some were murdered by the sword, and some were burnt to death.
The story of ‘asiya, Pharaoh’s wife, is well known. She was persecuted terribly for her Faith to Moses, the son of ‘Imran, so much ao that she died because of the torture.
A narration from Amir-al-Momineen Ali (as) says:
“Allah appointed a man to prophethood from among the people of Abyssinia for them, but they refused him. They fought against him and his followers in which, finally, some of the prophet’s votaries were killed and some others were captured and kept along with the prophet himself as captives.
Then they prepared a ditch full of blazing fire, and called people to come beside it. They commanded that any of them who followed the same religion as theirs could go aside and those who believed in the prophet’s religion and that of is votaries should throw themselves into the fire. The prophet’s followers, who could do nothing, bravely threw themselves into the fire. They outran each other (as if in a competition).
Then, at that moment there came a woman carrying a one-month-old baby. She went to throw herself into the fire but suddenly her motherly affection stopped her. Then the little baby called her and said:
‘Do not fear, Mother, throw yourself and me both. By Allah, surely this is a little thing on the path of Allah…’
And this baby was one of those who spoke in the cradle.” 11
This story tells us that there had been another example of
The story of ‘Ammar-Yasir’s parents and some others, like them, in addition to the story of Imam Hosain and his companions who proceeded to be killed as martyrs, are famous in Islamic history.
In our time, we ourselves, have seen or have heard many examples of young and old people who willingly wished to be martyred for the sake of their Faith and religion. Then, as a conclusion, it should be said that the existence of the Divine religions, in the past and present, depended on these devotions and martyrdoms.