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Switch to Forum Live View Islam, Peace and Tolerance-Section 6: What is martyrdom in Islam?
6 years ago  ::  Jul 10, 2008 - 6:12PM #1
Muhammad_Ahmad
Posts: 223
6. Martyrdom

pp. 50-52

What is martyrdom in Islam?


The word for ‘martyr’ in Islamic literature is shaheed. This word in fact means ‘witness’ and is used commonly in the Holy Quran as meaning a witness to something. God is repeatedly called a shaheed, as in “Allah is witness of what you do” (39:8) and “Allah is sufficient as a witness between us and you” (10:29). The Holy Prophet Muhammad is called a “witness” upon his followers, and Muslims are called “witnesses” or bearers of witness to all mankind (2:143), i.e. bearers of truth. Every prophet, including Jesus is referred to as a witness over his followers (4:41, 5:117), The same word is used for witnesses in contracts and civil matters (2:282, 4:135).

Similarly, the word for martyrdom is shahada, but it is used in the Quran only as meaning testimony of any kind or something that is obvious and seen, as in “do not conceal testimony” (2:283), “our testimony is truer than the testimony of these two” (5:107), and the statement which occurs several times about God that “He is the owner of the unseen and the seen (shahada)” (6:73). This word as meaning testimony is also famously applied to the act of testifying to become a Muslim, and even in English one hears the expression “making the shahada” when referring to this act.

The words are applied to martyrs and martyrdom because the life and death of a martyr is a testimony to the truth of Islam. But who is a martyr? Just as jihad is not synonymous with war, a Muslim can be a shaheed without being killed in any connection with battle. It is reported in Hadith:

“The Messenger of Allah asked (his Companions): Whom do you consider to be a martyr among you? They said: Messenger of Allah, one who is slain in the way of Allah is a martyr. He said: Then the martyrs of my people will be few in number. They asked: Messenger of Allah, who are they? He said: One who is slain in the way of a Allah is a martyr, one who dies of plague is a martyr, one who dies of cholera is a martyr.” (1)

Anyone dying in any manner while working sincerely in the service of Islam is thus a martyr or shaheed. One the other hand, a Muslim just being killed in battle is not necessarily a martyr, as shown by the following statement of the Holy Prophet:

“The first of man (whose case) will be decided on the Day of Judgment will me a man who died as a martyr. He shall be brought (before the Judgment Seat). Allah will make him recount His blessings and he will recount them. Then will Allah say: What did you do? He will say: I fought for you until I died as a martyr. Allah will say: You have told a lie. You fought that you might be called a brave warrior. And you were called so. (Then) orders will be passed against him and he will be dragged with his face downward and cast into hell.” (2)

It is clear from this what while a Muslim may consider that a certain act would earn him martyrdom yet he may find himself condemned by God in the Hereafter for making a false claim and punished for it. The fact is that martyrdom in Islam is a spiritual rank in the life after death and no one can be sure that if he died while engaged in certain work God would bestow this rank upon him.

What we can be sure of, however, is that this rank cannot be attained by acting against the teachings of Islam, even though the deceased may have believed he was engaged in a struggle in support of Islam. What must be further emphasised is that a martyr is one who dies as a result of someone else’s act against him which he resists as far as possible, or due to circumstances entirely beyond his control. It has been mentioned in the Hadith report quoted above that a Muslim who dies of cholera or the plague is a martyr. But, quite obviously, it is completely against the very basic teachings of Islam for a Muslim deliberately to seek to catch these diseases in order to die as a martyr! Indeed, a Muslim should take all measures to avoid falling a victim to them. But if he should happen to fall ill unintentionally and die while serving Islam he will learn a high place in the hereafter.

Similarly, a Muslim killed in battle must be killed by the action of his enemy, while he is repelling that opponent, or due to some other external cause beyond the scope of his control and planning, as one of the conditions to be a martyr.

(1) Sahih Muslim, book: ‘Government’; in A.H. Siddiqui translation book 20, ch. 50, number 4706.
(2) Sahih Muslim, book: ‘Government’; in A.H. Siddiqui translation book 20, ch. 43, number 4688.

[cont'd]
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6 years ago  ::  Jul 10, 2008 - 6:17PM #2
Muhammad_Ahmad
Posts: 223
pp. 52-54

Suicide is a sin in Islam, and self-preservation is a duty

The committing of suicide is a very serious sin according to the clear teachings of Islam. The Holy Qur’an instructs:

“Do not cast yourselves to destruction by your own hands.” ---- 2:195

“Do not kill yourselves.” ---- 4:29


In Hadith reports, committing suicide is strongly condemned by the Prophet Muhammad who said:

“… whoever commits suicide with something will be punished with the same thing in the hell-fire.” (3)

In Sahih Muslim, there is a chapter entitled Abandoning of funeral prayer for him who committed suicide in which is reported that the Holy Prophet Muhammad personally refused to say the funeral prayer for a deceased who had killed himself. (4) In Muslim countries, attempted suicide has always been a criminal offense and a person guilty of it would face legal penalties.

Self-preservation and saving one’s life is the most basic human instinct. Actions to save one’s life are regarded in the Quran as matters of such high priority that it allows a Muslim to set aside certain obligatory duties and prohibitions, if necessary, to save his life. We give some details of this below.

1. Where the Quran prohibits the eating of certain things, including the meat of the pig, it allows their consumption if it becomes unavoidable necessary in order to save one’s life. In two verses, after mentioning the prohibited foods it is stated:

“But whoever is compelled by hunger, not inclining willfully to sin, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” ---- 5:3

“But whoever is compelled, not desiring nor exceeding the limit, then surely your Lord is Forgiving, Merciful.” ---- 6:145

Nowhere does the Quran say that if a Muslim invites certain death upon himself rather than make use of a prohibited food to save his life then he is some kind of martyr.

2. A Muslim who denies his faith under duress and coercion in order to save his life, while believing Islam in his heart, is excluded from condemnation in the Quran:

“Whoever disbelieves in Allah after his belief – not he who is compelled while his heart is content with faith, but he opens the heart for disbelief – on them is the wrath of Allah, and for them is grievous punishment (in the hereafter)”  ---- 16:106

Thus if a Muslim is threatened by an enemy of Islam that he will be killed unless he renounces Islam, or face some other dire consequences, the Quran allows him to save his life by making merely an outward renunciation, even though it would constitute a grave sin to make the same denial voluntarily.

3. If fasting during the month of Ramadan would endanger the life of a Muslim man or woman, young or old, this obligation is suspended. Again, to knowingly cause injury to oneself in order to carry out the duty of fasting, is not any kind of a good or meritorious deed in Islam.

4. It is well known that obligation to perform the Pilgrimage to Makka (hajj) does not apply to anyone whose life would be in danger for any reason by undertaking the visit.

Finally, as explained earlier in this book, even the taking up of arms to fight, by risking one’s life, is only allowed by Islam in order to save and preserve life as the alternative would be to face certain death and destruction. For instance, verses 23:39-40 have been quoted in Section 4 of this book which allow Muslims to fight if war has been made upon them, and they are required to repel their enemies in order to save all places of worship from destruction. By repelling their enemy the Muslims saved their own lives, not committed suicide.

(3) Bukhari, book: ‘Oaths and vows’. In Muhsin Khan translation see 8:78:647.
(4) Sahih Muslim, book: ‘Prayer’. In A.H. Siddiqui translation see book 4, ch. 205, number 2133.
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