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Shahid or Shaheed (Arabic: شهيد,šahīd, plural: شُهَدَاء šuhadāʾ ) originates from the Qur'anic Arabic word meaning "witness" and is also used to denote a "martyr." It is used as an honorific for Muslims who have laid down their life fulfilling a religious commandment, or have died fighting defending their faith or family.

Etymology of the word "Shahid"[edit]

The word "shahid" originates from the Qur'anic Arabic word meaning "witness", which is used in the context of "those who bear witness." Its application to Muslim martyrs originates from the context of the martyr having died in the way of Islam and, therefore, having become a "witness" to the "Shahada", i.e. "I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah."

The word 'shahid' in the Qur'an is used to denote "witness", not martyr. An example is verse 16:89 of the Qur'an:

وَيَوْمَ نَبْعَثُ فِي كُلِّ أُمَّةٍ شَهِيدًا عَلَيْهِم مِّنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ ۖ وَجِئْنَا بِكَ شَهِيدًا عَلَىٰ هَٰؤُلَاءِ ۚ وَنَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ تِبْيَانًا لِّكُلِّ شَيْءٍ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةً وَبُشْرَىٰ لِلْمُسْلِمِينَ
Translation: "And on the day when We will raise up in every nation a witness against them from among themselves, and We will bring you (Muhammad) as a witness against these (your people or the other witnesses); for We have revealed (sent down) to you a Book (Scripture) expounding all things clearly, and a guidance, and a mercy, and glad tidings for those who have Surrendered unto Allah (Muslims)." (Al-Qur'an 16:89)

In the Qur'an (verse 3:98), God calls Himself a 'Shahid':

قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لِمَ تَكْفُرُونَ بِآيَاتِ اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ شَهِيدٌ عَلَىٰ مَا تَعْمَلُونَ
Translation: "Say: "O People of the Book, why do you reject the word of God when God is a witness to all that you do?" " (Al-Qur'an 3:98)[1]

The etymology of the word "shahid" suggests that it primarily means "witness" and the same word began to be used by Muslims as an honorific title for Muslim martyrs who died fighting in the way of Islam. Subsequently, and over a period of time, the same word was adopted by non-Muslims in the Middle East and South Asia such as Arab Christians and South Asian Hindus and Sikhs to denote their martyrs.

Interestingly, the English word "martyr" originates from the Greek word "martys", which also means "witness" in the Greek language. Therefore, in both the Arabic and Greek languages, the origin for the word "martyr" is "witness."

Status of the Shahid in Islam[edit]

Main article: Istishhad

A shahid is considered one whose place in Paradise is promised according to these verses in the Qur'an:

وَلاَ تَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ قُتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ أَمْوَاتًا بَلْ أَحْيَاء عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ يُرْزَقُونَ

Think not of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord; They rejoice in the bounty provided by Allah: And with regard to those left behind, who have not yet joined them (in their bliss), the Shuhada's [martyrs'] glory is in the fact that on them is no fear, nor have they (cause to) grieve.

—Qur'an, Sura 3 (Al-i-Imran), Ayat 169 – 170[2]

Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth, through the Law, the Gospel, and the Qur'an: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? then rejoice in the bargain which ye have concluded: that is the achievement supreme.

—Qur'an, Sura 9 (At-Tawba), Ayah 111[3]

The Quranic passage that follows is often misinterpreted to mean that martyrs are promised Paradise, but it is also promised to those who die. In other words, it is not the way that a Muslim dies that determines if they go to Paradise or not, rather, it is their faith and deeds.

Those who leave their homes in the cause of Allah, and are then slain or die,- On them will Allah bestow verily a goodly Provision: Truly Allah is He Who bestows the best provision.

—Qur'an, Surah 22 (Al-Hajj), Ayah 58[4]

The importance of faith is highlighted in the following Hadith

It has been narrated on the authority of Anas b. Malik that the Messenger of Allah (may peace he upon him) said: Who seeks martyrdom with sincerity shall get its reward, though he may not achieve it.

—Collected by Muslim"Sahih Muslim"[5]

It is thus not the outcome that determines the placement in Heaven but rather the intention.

Nonetheless, Paradise for a Shahid is a popular concept in the Islamic tradition according to Hadith, and the attainment of this title is honorific.

The prophet Muhammad is reported to have said these words about martyrdom:

By Him in Whose Hands my life is! I would love to be martyred in Allah's Cause and then get resurrected and then get martyred, and then get resurrected again and then get martyred and then get resurrected again and then get martyred.

The Prophet said, "Nobody who enters Paradise likes to go back to the world even if he got everything on the Earth, except a Mujahid who wishes to return to the world so that he may be martyred ten times because of the dignity he receives (from Allah).

Several Hadith also indicate the nature of a Shahid's life in Paradise. Shahids are thought to attain the highest level of Paradise, the Paradise of al-Firdous.

Haritha was martyred on the day (of the battle) of Badr, and he was a young boy then. His mother came to the Prophet and said, "O Allah's Apostle! You know how dear Haritha is to me. If he is in Paradise, I shall remain patient, and hope for reward from Allah, but if it is not so, then you shall see what I do?" He said, "May Allah be merciful to you! Have you lost your senses? Do you think there is only one Paradise? There are many Paradises and your son is in the (most superior) Paradise of Al-Firdaus.

Further more, Samura narrated

The Prophet said, "Last night two men came to me (in a dream) and made me ascend a tree and then admitted me into a better and superior house, better of which I have never seen. One of them said, 'this house is the house of martyrs.'

Classifications of Shahid[edit]

There are at least 5 different kinds of martyrs according to Hadith.

Allah's Apostle said, "Five are regarded as martyrs: They are those who die because of plague, abdominal disease, drowning or a falling building etc., and the martyrs in Allah's cause.

One who dies protecting his property is also considered a martyr according to Hadith:

I heard the Prophet saying, "Whoever is killed while protecting his property then he is a martyr.

Funeral rites of the Shahid[edit]

While the Qur'an does not indicate much about martyrs' death and funeral, the Hadith provides some information on this topic. For example, martyrs are to be buried two in one grave in their blood, without being washed or having a funeral prayer held for them. The following Hadith highlight this:

The Prophet collected every two martyrs of Uhud in one piece of cloth, then he would ask, "Which of them had (knew) more of the Quran?" When one of them was pointed out for him, he would put that one first in the grave and say, "I will be a witness on these on the Day of Resurrection." He ordered them to be buried with their blood on their bodies and they were neither washed nor was a funeral prayer offered for them.

Contemporary usage[edit]

Post 17th century conceptions[edit]

A new conception of Shahid emerged after the 17th century as Muslims began to classify all conflicts over Islamic lands as struggles, or Jihad, and their participants as martyrs. During the 1700s and 1800s, there were several wars of independence within the colonial territories of the Muslim World. Many of the soldiers who died during these conflicts were given the title Shahid upon their burial.[13]

20th century conceptions[edit]

The soldiers, clergy, and other individuals who died during the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran were regarded as martyrs and have often been buried in special martyrs' cemeteries. In the 1980–88 Iran–Iraq war, commanders of both the Sunni Iraqi and the Shi'ite Iranian forces in particular commonly used martyrdom as a source of motivation for their fellow combatants. Tens of thousands of Iranian youths—many motivated by the religiously-based ideas of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution—volunteered to serve in the armed forces during the conflict, sometimes participating in human wave attacks against the Iraqis. Those who died in battle were considered martyrs.[14]

Twenty-first century conceptions[edit]

Certain events of the early twenty-first century have given a controversial aspect to the modern understanding of Shahid. For example, Islamic militants responsible for terrorism in the Gaza Strip and West Bank of Palestine have referred to their suicide bombers as martyrs, and consider their taking of civilian lives to be necessary for the defense of their religious beliefs. Due to the nature of these actions, suicide bombing has evoked some criticism from the Muslim community. Many have condemned these extremists as they believe their usage of suicide bombers severely violates the teachings of Islam, for the Qur'an explicitly prohibits suicide.[15] However, it has been reported that 70 – 80% of Palestinians still support suicide bombing as an essential requirement for the eradication of the Israeli occupation in Palestine.[16]

Post-9/11 appearances in the media[edit]

In a martyrdom video from 18 January 2000, titled ’19 martyrs’, the hijackers in the September 11 attacks justify their beliefs and profess their last will and testament.[17]

Afghans in the Taliban heartland claim Osama bin Laden to be al-Qaeda's "number one martyr".[18]

Other uses[edit]

A Muslim who is killed defending his or her property is considered a martyr.[19]

In Pakistan the word "shahid" is used to denote martyrs who have died in the way of Islam or in the defence of Pakistan.

Over a period of time, the word "shahid" began to be used by non-Muslims such as Arab Christians to denote their own martyrs. In South Asia, Hindus adopted the word "shahid" as a synonym to the Sanskrit word "hutaatmaa" (हुतात्मा in Devanagari and হুতাত্মা in Eastern Nagari; हुत् and হুত্ hut = sacrificing, आत्मा and আত্মা aatmaa = soul, thus hutaatmaa = sacrificing soul/martyr), to denote Hindu martyrs. The Sikhs also adopted the word to denote their martyrs;[20] examples include Shahid Bhai Mati Das and Shahid Bhagat Singh.


Main article: Shaheeda

A woman is considered "Shahida" (شَهِيدَة šahīdah) if she dies during the fulfillment of a religious commandment. A woman can also be considered a martyr if she dies during childbirth.[21] There are examples of women fighting in war such as Nusaybah bint Ka'ab. The first martyr (male or female) in Islam was Sumayyah bint Khayyat, who was executed for her conversion to Islam. She died after Abu Jahl, an anti-Muslim leader of the Quraysh stabbed her in the abdomen.[22] Though her name is not common in the modern Muslim dialogue, ancient Islamic literature makes note of the events at the end of her life.[23]


There are many misconceptions in Western culture about Islamic martyrdom. Nerina Rustjomi has demonstrated in her works that Americans have used a skewed perception of the Islamic "Shahid" and "Houri" to depict Islam as "a religion characterized by sensuality, violence, and irrationality."[24] In addition, recent years have seen many Islamic extremists use the term "Shahid" in their efforts to "legitimate the use of violence, warfare, and terrorism" against Western groups of "unbelievers."[25]

In current Western culture and media there is much use of the term shahid with respect to Islamic terrorism. However, with respect to suicide bombing attacks as witnessed on September 11, and in postwar Iraq, Islamic teaching has always forbidden suicide, for "only God has the right to take the life he has granted."[26] Therefore, one current goal of Islamic education is to discredit the teachings and methods of militant Islamic extremists.[27]

See also[edit]

  • Shahada, the Islamic creed
  • Shahid (name)
  • Istishhad, in Islam, the act of martyrdom or the seeking of martyrdom
  • Jihad, an Islamic religious duty, meaning struggle
  • Shahidka, a term for Islamist Chechen female suicide bombers
  • Martyrdom video, a video recording the acts of Islamic martyrs

References & Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^
  2. ^ Quran 3:169–170
  3. ^ Quran 9:111
  4. ^ Quran 22:58
  5. ^ Sahih Muslim, 020:4694
  6. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:54
  7. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:72
  8. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 5:59:318
  9. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:49
  10. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:82
  11. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:43:660
  12. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 2:23:427
  13. ^ "Martyrdom." In The Islamic World: Past and Present. Ed. John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. 05-Dec-2012. <>.
  14. ^ "Martyrdom." In The Islamic World: Past and Present. Ed. John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. 05-Dec-2012. <>.
  15. ^ Cook, David 2004. "The Implications of 'Martyrdom Operations' for Contemporary Islam." Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 32 No. 1, 129–151
  16. ^ "Martyrdom." In The Islamic World: Past and Present. Ed. John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. 5 December 2012. <>(subscription required)
  17. ^ Popkin, Jim, and NBC News. "Video Showing Atta, Bin Laden Is Unearthed." MSNBC Digital Network, 1 October 2006. Web. accessed 5 December 2012.
  18. ^ Reuters. "Afghans Describe Bin Laden as Al Qaeda's "No 1 Martyr"" Reuters, May–June 2011. Web. Accessed 5 December 2012.
  19. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:43:660
  20. ^ Mahmood, Cynthia Keppley (1 January 2011). Fighting for Faith and Nation: Dialogues with Sikh Militants. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0812200171. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  21. ^ Lumbard, Joseph E.B. (2004) Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition. World Wisdom Publishing, ISBN 0941532607 (30)
  22. ^ Cook, David (2007) Martyrdom in Islam. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521615518
  23. ^ Cook, David (2007) Martyrdom in Islam. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521615518 (14)
  24. ^ Campbell, Robert A. (2010). Women, War, & Hypocrites: Studying the Qur'an. Cape Breton University Press. ISBN 1897009543 (167–170)
  25. ^ Esposito, John L. (2011) Islam: The Straight Path. Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195396003 (237)
  26. ^ Esposito, John L. (2011) Islam: The Straight Path. Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195396003 (244)
  27. ^ Esposito, John L. (2011) Islam: The Straight Path. Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195396003 (247)

External links[edit]