The Meaning of Shaheed

By Mufti Taqi Usmani

Q.) The word "Shaheed" has been frequently used in the books, newspapers, and magazines for different types 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 term may be applied in Shariah.

A.) In fact "Shaheed", is a specific term, used in the Holy Quran 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 he 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 a ritual bath. However, the prayer of the Janazah shall be offered on him and he shall also be given a proper kafin (burial shroud). 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 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 Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam to get a reward of a Shaheed in the Hereafter but is not taken as Shaheed with regard to the rules of burial. It means that the dead body has to be bathed like a dead body of any other person. The Holy Prophet Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam has included in this category of Shaheed a large number of persons such as a person who has died in a Plague or who has died in an unexpected accident, like a fire or a traffic accident or who has been drowned in the water or a woman who has died during the delivery of her child etc.

Allama Jalaluddin 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 Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam 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 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 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 of his own offence.