Shaheed (Martyr)

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Shahid (شَهيد , plural: شُهَداء šuhadā) is an Islamic term for a martyr. As with adultery and justice, the term martyr in Islam differs from the commonly agreed upon definitions of the word.


The word شَهيد "shahid" in Arabic is derived from the tri-lateral Arabic root ش-ه-د sh-h-d, and the most basic verb which can be derived from this root is شهد "shahada" with a meaning "to witness" (other verbal derivations of the same root include the meaning of seeing or watching). The Muslim declaration of faith is the شهادة "shahaada" "witness, testimony (also degree or certification)" and goes أشهد ان لا إله إلا الله ومحمد رسول الله "I (bear) witness(ashhadu) that there is no god but God(Allah) and that Muhammad is the apostle of God." A "shahid" is thus literally a "witness." The meaning, though, is someone who dies for their faith (in Islam, although in contemporary Arabic media any Arab or Muslim who dies an innocent or for any cause deemed worthy, is often referred to as a "shahid", and the word is also used by Christian Arabs for their own martyrs). The use of "witness" to mean someone who dies for their faith goes back to Greek Christian idiom from the days of the persecutions of Christians by the Roman Empire. Under numerous Roman Emperors such as Decius the mere act of being a Christian and refusing to sacrifice to Roman gods and/or the cult of the emperor was viewed as sedition and perversion, and Christians were on these grounds persecuted with imprisonment and execution by the Roman state. Under the Roman system citizens and many subjects even when accused of such a crime viewed as vile were entitled to a procedural trial. Those Christians who were called to trial for the crime of following their faith would be made to give witness (testimony) on their own behalf as to whether or not they were a Christian, and the strongest of conviction amongst them would openly declare their faith at the trial, thus sealing their fate to be executed by the state. So in this manner the Greek word μάρτυς "martys", a witness at a trial, came to mean a believer who is willing to die for their faith, and it is from this Greek word that English and other European languages get the word "martyr." In calling those who die for the faith "witnesses" the nascent proto-Islamic and later Islamic movement was borrowing a Greek Christian idiom which was by the time of prophet hundreds of years old.

Pre-Islamic Martyrs

Numerous accounts of Jewish martyrs can be found in the First Book of the Maccabees and the Second Book of the Maccabees.

In the New Testament, Stephen was recorded as the first Christian martyr.[1]

The Stoning of Stephen

When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Islamic Definition

Although the accepted definition of the martyr is also applied to Muslims as in the case of Sumayah, the mother of ‘Ammaar ibn Yaasir,[2] Muslims soldiers who die while engaging in jihad are also considered martyrs in Islam.

Jurists have given the technical definition of a martyr as follows:

According to the Hanafis:

"One who is killed by the pagans, or is found killed in the battle bearing a mark of any wound, whether external or internal - such as blood emerging from an eye or the like." [Al-`Inayah published on the margins of Fath al-Qadeer (2/142) and Hashiyat Ibn `Abideen (2/268)]

"Anyone who is killed while fighting pagans, or rebels, or brigands, by a means attributed to the enemy - whether directly or by consequence - is a shaheed, anyone who is killed by a means not specifically attributed to [an action of] the enemy is not considered a shaheed." [Zayla`i's Tabyeen al-Haqa'iq, (1/247). See also Al-Bahr al-Ra'iq (2/211)]

According to the Malikis:

"One who is killed while fighting warring unbelievers only, even if killed on Islamic land such as if the enemy attacked the Muslims, [even if he] did not fight on account of being unaware or asleep, [and even if] killed by a Muslim who mistook him for an unbeliever, or trampled by a horse, or mistakenly smitten by his own sword or arrow, or by having fallen into a well or from a cliff during the fighting." [Dardeer's Al-Sharh al-Kabeer, (1/425)]

According to the Shafi`is:

"One who is killed in fighting unbelievers, facing and not running away, for the raising of Allah's word…and not for any worldly motive." [Mughni al-Muhtaj (1/350) and see Fath al-Bari (6/129)]

According to the Hanbalis:

"One who dies in a battle with the unbelievers, whether male or female, adult or not, whether killed by the unbelievers, or by his own weapon in error, or by having fallen off his mount, or having been found dead with no mark, provided he was sincere." [Kash-shaf al-Qina`, 2/113. See also Al-Mughni (2/206)]
The Islamic Ruling on the Permissibility of Martyrdom Operations
Sheikh al-Uyayri

From this we can see that those who die fighting in a way war considered to be a jihad are considered martyrs just as are those who are killed by a persecuter for their beliefs.

In the hadith

Ways to become a martyr

In addition to being killed while actively engaging in violence and warfare, here Muhammad adds another way for someone to become a martyr:

Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Amr bin Al-'As: I heard the Prophet saying, "Whoever is killed while protecting his property then he is a martyr."

In other words, if someone tries to steal from a Muslim and that Muslim dies while trying to protect his property, then he is a martyr.

Abu Huraira reported: A person came to the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) and said: Messenger of Allah, what do you think if a man comes to me in order to appropriate my possession? He (the Holy Prophet) said: Don't surrender your possession to him. He (the inquirer) said: If he fights me? He (the Holy Prophet) remarked: Then fight (with him). He (the inquirer) again said: What do you think if I am killed? He (the Holy Prophet) observed: You would be a martyr. He (the inquirer) said: What do you think of him (Messenger of Allah) If I kill him. He (the Holy Prophet) said: he would be in the Fire.
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "He (a Muslim) who dies of an abdominal disease is a martyr, and he who dies of plague is a martyr."
It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira (through another chain of transmitters) that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Whom do you consider to be a martyr among you? They (the Companions) said: Messenger, of Allah, one who is slain in the way of Allah is a martyr. He said: Then (if this is the definition of a martyr) the martyrs of my Umma will be small in number. They asked: Messenger of Allah, who are they? He said: One who is slain in the way of Allah is a martyr; one who dies in the way of Allah, is a martyr; one who dies of plague is a martyr; one who dies of cholera is a martyr. Ibn Miqsam said: I testify the truth of your father's statement (with regard to this tradition) that the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) said: One who is drowned is a martyr.
Narrated AbuMalik al-Ash'ari: AbuMalik heard the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) say: He who goes forth in Allah's path and dies or is killed is a martyr, or has his neck broken through being thrown by his horse or by his camel, or is stung by a poisonous creature, or dies on his bed by any kind of death Allah wishes is a martyr and will go to Paradise.

And here Muhammad declares a soldier engaged in offensive warfare who accidently killed himself with his own sword to be a martyr:

Narrated AbuSalam: AbuSalam reported on the authority of a man from the companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him). He said: We attacked a tribe of Juhaynah. A man from the Muslims pursued a man of them, and struck him but missed him. He struck himself with the sword. The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) said: Your brother, O group of Muslims. The people hastened towards him, but found him dead. The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) wrapped him with his clothes and his blood, and offered (funeral) prayer for him and buried him. They said: Apostle of Allah, is he a martyr? He said: Yes, and I am witness to him.

Benefits of martyrdom

Ubada bin Samit narrates, that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhe wassallam) said, “The shaheed is granted seven gifts from Allah:

1) He is forgiven at the first drop of his blood.
2) He sees his status in Jannah.
3) He is dressed in the clothes of Iman.
4) He is safe from the punishment of the grave.
5) He will be safe from the Great fear of the Day of Judgment.
6) A crown of honor will be placed on his head.
7) He will intercede on behalf of 70 members of his family.”
Musnad Ahmed, Tabrani, at-Targheeb wa at-Tarheeb, p.443, vol.2

Praise of martyrdom

Narrated Abu Hurairah: that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: "Rejoice, 'Ammar, the transgressing party shall kill you."
Grade: Sahih (Darussalam)

In modern times

"Martyrdom Operations"

Some modern scholars of the Salafi-Jihadist mindset apply the word for what they call "Martyrdom Operations" i.e. suicide bombings. This is highly controversial since suicide is forbidden in Islam. Many other Islamic scholars have condemned such activites, even more so when women and children are targeted. Large surveys in the second decade of the 21st century have found a trend of increasing majorities who disapprove of al Qaeda and suicide attacks against civilians in most Muslim countries.[3][4] For more information, see Houris (Heavenly_Virgin).

Martyrdom Operations - sometimes called Fidayee attacks (see Note 1) - are those where a Muslim, a Mujahid, attacks the enemy in such a way that the death of that Muslim is (should Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta'ala) so will it) highly likely. The history of Islam is replete with heroes who have sacrificed their own life for the Way of Life which is Al-Islam.*

In modern times, many Martyrdom Operations involve the Mujahid detonating an explosive device (attached to themselves or in a vehicle they are driving) when close to, or among, the enemy.

Not surprisingly, such attacks are feared by the enemies of Islam, and especially by those infidels who are waging war against Islam, those who are oppressing Muslims, and those who are invading Muslim lands.

Such attacks are often incorrectly called "suicide attacks" in the hope of discrediting them.
Are Martyrdom Operations Lawful (According to Quran and Sunnah)?
Abdul Aziz Ibn Myatt, Muslim Creed, August 18, 2004


In 2018, a book detailing a fatwa against suicide bombings was issued on behalf of 1,800 Pakistani clerics.[5] In 2010 a Pakistani-Canadian cleric, Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, issued a 600 page Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings in Urdu and English to refute the ideology of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and was endorsed by the prestigious al-Azhar University in Cairo.

Below is a fatwa issued by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, discussing the reasons why he thinks even women are permitted to participate in "Martyr Operations".

Women’s participation in the martyr operations carried out in Palestine – given the status of the land as an occupied territory, in addition to a lot of sacrilegious acts perpetrated by the Jews against the sanctuaries – is one of the most praised acts of worship. Also, the act is a form of martyrdom in the Cause of Allah, and it entitles them, Insha’ Allah, to the same reward earned by their male counterparts who also die in the Cause of Allah.
. . .

The martyr operations is the greatest of all sorts of Jihad in the Cause of Allah. A martyr operation is carried out by a person who sacrifices himself, deeming his life less value than striving in the Cause of Allah, in the cause of restoring the land and preserving the dignity. To such a valorous attitude applies the following Qur’anic verse: “And of mankind is he who would sell himself, seeking the pleasure of Allah; and Allah hath compassion on (His) bondmen.” (Al-Baqarah: 207)

But a clear distinction has to be made here between martyrdom and suicide. Suicide is an act or instance of killing oneself intentionally out of despair, and finding no outlet except putting an end to one’s life. On the other hand, martyrdom is a heroic act of choosing to suffer death in the Cause of Allah, and that’s why it’s considered by most Muslim scholars as one of the greatest forms of Jihad.
. . .

In the same vein, the public welfare should be given priority to the personal one, in the sense that if there is a contradiction between the private right and the public one, the latter must be given first priority for it concerns the interest of the whole Ummah. Given all this, I believe a woman can participate in this form of Jihad according to her own means and condition. Also, the organizers of these martyr operations can benefit from some believing women as they may do, in some cases, what is impossible for men to do.
Palestinian Women Carrying Out Martyr Operations
Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Islam Online, November 6, 2006

Here is another excerpt taken from a longer fatwa by Muslim scholar Sheikh al-Uyayri, explaining in depth why suicide bombings and killing of civilians (including Muslims) via the use of them as "human shields" is permissible in Islam.

We have arrived at the conclusion that martyrdom operations are permissible, and in fact the Mujahid who is killed in them is better than one who is killed fighting in the ranks, for there are gradations even among martyrs, corresponding to their role, action effort and risk undertaken. Then, we explained how martyrdom operations are the least costly to the Mujahideen and most detrimental to the enemy. We have heard, as you must have, that most scholars today permit such operations; at least 30 Fatawa have been issued to this effect. We explained how this issue is derived from the issue of plunging single-handedly into the enemy ranks; something which is praiseworthy by the agreement of jurists. We then further stated that we preferred the view that such an action is permissible even if martyrdom is the only goal, although it is certainly not the optimal practice. Martyrdom operations should not be carried out unless certain conditions are met:

1. One's intention is sincere and pure - to raise the Word of Allah.
2. One is reasonably sure that the desired effect cannot be achieved by any other means which would guarantee preservation of his life.
3. One is reasonably sure that loss will be inflicted on the enemy, or they will be frightened, or the Muslims will be emboldened.
4. One should consult with war strategy experts, and especially with the amber of war, for otherwise he may upset plan and alert the enemy to their presence.

If the first condition is absent, the deed is worthless, but if it is satisfied while some others are lacking, then it is not the best thing, but this does not necessarily mean the Mujahid is not shaheed.

We also explained how causing a death carries the same verdict as actual killing. Hence one who plunges without armour into the enemy ranks, being certain of death, just like one who engages in a martyrdom operation, is effectively causing his own death, but they are praiseworthy because of the circumstances and intention, and hence are not considered to have committed suicide. We also clarified that [according to the majority] the identity of the killer does not have an effect on whether the Mujahid will be considered shaheed. This dispels the wavering arising from the fact that the Mujahid is taking his own life. Thus, such operations could take on any of the five Shar`i verdicts depending on intention and circumstances. Finally, we clarified that taking one's own life is not always blameworthy; rather it is contingent on the motives behind it. So, we conclude that one who kills himself because of his strong faith and out of love for Allah and the Prophet, and in the interests of the religion, is praiseworthy.
The Islamic Ruling on the Permissibility of Martyrdom Operations
Sheikh al-Uyayri

See Also

  • Heaven - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Heaven

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