The Corruption and Changes In The Meaning Of ‘Shaheed’ and ‘Shahadat’

In the early period of Islam the word Shahadah was used in the sense of ‘witnessing to the Truth’. As far as giving up one’s life in God’s path is concerned, the term that was used was Qital. But why the change in the Meaning Of Shuhuda to mean “Martyr” happened?

By Naseer Ahmed

The Quran says in the verse (2:154):

“Do not say that those who are killed in God’s cause (Yuqtalu Fi Sabil Allah) are dead; they are alive, but you are not aware of it.”

In line with this Quranic verse, those who are killed in God’s cause will be called Maqtul Fi Sabilillah (one who is killed in the cause of God). Undoubtedly, such a person will receive a great reward from God, but if he is remembered in human language, he will be called Maqtul Fi Sabil Allah, one who is killed in the cause of God. During the Battle of Uhud, in the year 3 A.H., 70 companions of the Prophet were killed. This is recounted in a tradition in the Sahih Bukhari,which says: ‘On the day of Uhud, seventy among the companions of the Prophet were killed.’ (Sahih Bukhari, 4078). This example again shows that during the Prophet’s period, one who was killed in God’s cause was referred to as Maqtul and not Shahid, or martyr.

The Corruption In The Meaning Of Shuhuda On Account Of Greek Or Persian Influence?

The word martyr derives from the Greek martyrios which means both a witness and a Maqtul or one slain in the cause of his religion or belief system.  The Quran does not use Shuhuda for Maqtul Fi Sabilillah. Shuhuda is used for the living. A Shuhuda may die a natural death or could be slain in the cause of Allah and become Maqtul Fi Sabilillah but a Maqtul Fi Sabilillah does not imply Shuhuda.

The change in the meaning of Shuhuda to mean “martyr” is a politically motivated innovation to glorify “martyrdom” and a Bid’at. This is not a minor matter but a major Bid’at. We pray to Allah in Surah Fateha to show us the way of those on whom is Allah’s Grace (AnʿAmtaʿAlayhim). Who these people areon whom is Allah’s Grace is made clear in verse 4:69

(4:69) All who obey Allah and the messenger are in the company of those on whom is the Grace of Allah (AnʿAma L-LahuʿAlayhim),- of the prophets (l-Nabiyīna), the sincere lovers of Truth (Wal-idīqīna), the witnesses (Wal-Shuhadāi), and the Righteous who do good (Wal-āliīna): Ah! what a beautiful fellowship!

The meaning of Shuhuda as made clear by the Quran covers three types of people:

Those who do exemplary Dawa with words and by example and provide evidence (witness) of the true religion of Islam.

Those who render exemplary justice and provide proof (witness) of Allah’s justice

Those who are steadfast and patiently persevere through the vicissitudes of life in the cause of Allah. Such people finally prevail and provide proof (witness) that God’s promises are true.

There is no other meaning of Shuhuda in the Quran and it most certainly does not mean “martyr”.

And now read Maududi’s translation of verse 4:69:

And who-so-ever obeys Allah and the Messenger, shall be with those whom Allah has blessed-the Prophets, the truthful and the martyrs and the righteous: what excellent companions these are that one may get!

Shuhuda has not only become “martyr” but part of our prayer in Surah Fateha recited in every Rak’at of our Salat where we are asking Allah to show us the path of the martyr!  The path of the Siddiq and the path of the Saliheen are difficult. The path of the true Shuhuda is also difficult. The path of the martyr is however the easiest.

Practically therefore, the martyr has become the exclusive role model for the Muslim youth through corruption of the meaning of Shuhuda! No wonder why it is so easy to incite Muslim youth to take to violence.


The behaviour of a Muslim in seeking martyrdom is glorified to ensure a steady supply of those seeking “martyrdom”. What Allah asks the Muslims is to strive in the cause of Allah in patience and with perseverance. Doing peaceful Dawah is what is required unless there is oppression. Both fighting and getting slain can only be incidental and not the purpose or goal of a Muslim. Unfortunately, this Bid’at of calling the slain Shaheed has made fighting a sought after goal with the result that the Muslims engage even in unjust fighting and have become oppressors. Oppression is the worst from of Kufr and fighting against such Kufr of the Muslims would in fact be Qital Fi Sabilillah.  Without doubt, those who fight not on the side of justice are oppressors and will die as kafir. They are those who are oppressing and killing religious minorities.

How Was The Change In The Meaning Of Shuhuda To Mean “Martyr” Achieved?

References to the slain in Islamic battles are found in many Ahadith and in Siraliterature or the biographical accounts of the Prophet. These accounts make it appear as if the early Muslims understood the meaning of `Shuhada’ as referring to those Muslims who died in battle. However, MaulanaWahiduddin writes: “After the age of the Prophet, the age of his companions and the generation after them are regarded as authentic periods of Islamic history. The very same manner of referring to people who had been slain in the path of God as Maqtul Fi Sabil Allah continued to be followed in this period, too. But after this period, a change gradually emerged in the use of the term Shahadah, in the same way as changes began being made in the understanding of several other Islamic teachings, so much so that Muslims almost forgot that the term Shahadah meant Dawah and instead began to use the word as synonymous with martyrdom.

In later times, a new practice developed of people who had died in battle being called Shahids or ‘martyrs’. The word Shahid began being added to their names. So, for instance, Hasan al-Banna (the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, who was assassinated in 1949) began being called as ‘Hasan al-Banna Shahid’, Sayyid Qutb (key ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was hanged in 1966) as ‘Sayyid Qutb Shahid’, Sayyid Ahmad (killed in 1831 in a war he declared against the Sikhs) as ‘Sayyid Ahmad Shahid’, Shah Ismail (follower of Sayyid Ahmad, who was killed along with him) as ‘Shah Ismail Shahid’, and so on. There were several companions of the Prophet whose lives were also sacrificed, but in none of their cases was the word Shahid appended to their names. So, although their lives were sacrificed, the Caliphs Umar ibn al-KhattabUthman ibn Affan and Ali ibn Abi Talib are not called ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab Shahid’, ‘Uthman ibn Affan Shahid’ and ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib Shahid’ respectively. The names of the Prophet’s companions were always written and mentioned along with that of their fathers (for example, Ali ibn [son of] AbiTalib), and not with the suffix Shahid, in contrast to the practice that developed later. Accordingly, Imam Bukhari, in his collection of hadith reports, has a chapter containing reports of this sort, titled Bab La Yaqulufulan Shahid, meaning ‘Chapter on Not Calling So and So a Shahid’.”

The Sira literature that refer to the slain as Shuhuda and make it appear that this was how the Prophet (SAW) and the people in his times understood its meaning, are clearly distortions and falsehood. The glorification of the slain by adding Shaheed to the name of the slain is also a later date innovation with the obvious intention of glorifying “martyrdom”.


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