The Meaning Of Shaheed

Contemporary Fatawa, Fiqh, Jihad / Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Q. The word ‘Shaheed’ has been frequently used in the books, newspapers and magazines for different type of people. I am sure that this word should have a specific connotation in the Islamic terminology. I will be grateful if you please explain the true meaning of this word and the categories of persons for whom this terms may be applied in Shari’ah.
(Abdul Sattar, Chicago)

A. In fact ‘Shaheed’, is a specific term, used in the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah. It has certainly a specific meaning and one should be careful before applying this term to a person and you should ascertain whether hi is really qualified to be called a Shaheed.

According to Islamic jurisprudence ‘Shaheed’ is of two kinds:-
1. Shaheed in the real sense.
2. Shaheed in the constructive sense.

Shaheed in the real sense is a Muslim who has been killed during ‘Jihad’ or has been killed by any person unjustly. Such a person has two characteristics different from common people who die on their bed. Firstly, he should be buried without giving him ritual bath. However, the prayer of Janazah shall be offered on him and he shall also be given a proper Kafan. Secondly, he will deserve a great reward in the hereafter and it is hoped that Allah Almighty shall forgive his sins and admit him to the Jannah. It is also stated in some of the traditions that the body of such a person remains in the grave protected from contamination or dissolution.

As compared to this kind of ‘Shaheed’, a Shaheed in a constructive sense is a person who has been promised by the Holy Prophet ( Sallaho Alaihai Wasallam ) to get a reward of Shaheed in the Hereafter but is not taken as Shaheed with regard to the rules of burial. It means that his dead body has to be bathed like a dead body of any other person. The Holy Prophet ( Sallaho Alaihai Wasallam ) has included in this kind of Shaheed a large number of persons such as a person who has died in plague or who has died an unexpected accident, like fire or traffic accident or has been drowned in the water or a woman who has dies during the delivery of her child etc.

Allama Jalaluddin al Suyuti, a well-known scholar of Islamic disciplines, has collected all the Hadiths relating to this kind of Shaheed and has come to the conclusion that there are thirty categories mentioned by the Holy Prophet ( Sallaho Alaihai Wasallam ) who can deserve to be called Shaheed in this sense. But in the normal course, the word ‘Shaheed’ is applied only for the first kind. However, it is not prohibited to use the word for a person who falls in any one of the categories mentioned in the second kind.

It is evident from the above discussion that the word ‘Shaheed’ can only be used for a Muslim and it cannot be applied to a non-Muslim at all. Similarly, the term cannot be used for a person who has been rightly killed as a punishment for his own offence.

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