The Quranic meaning of the word 'shaheed'

The concept of shaheed, as interpreted by the majority of Muslim scholars to mean a martyr is totally un-Quranic. According to the traditional Muslim scholars, anyone who is murdered, drowns or is killed in a fire becomes a shaheed (martyr) and goes straight to Heaven.

Not only is this concept without Quranic support, it also violates the teachings of the Quran.


First: The Quran stresses the fact that the manner by which the human dies is totally irrelevant to his/her destination in the Hereafter. The disbelievers and the idol-worshippers are destined for Hell, no matter how they die. On the other hand, the believers who lead a righteous life, go to Heaven, once again no matter how they die.

This incorrect belief is the result of the misinterpretation of the following verse:

Those who immigrated for the cause of God, then got killed, or died, God will provide them with good provisions. 22:58

The traditional scholars singled out the words "got killed" to claim that it is the act of (getting killed) that made them become martyrs, and thus entitling them to go to Heaven. They have forgotten that the verse also includes the words "or died" (i.e. a natural death). In other words they are still destined for Heaven even if they die naturally. It is the faith and deeds of such believers that gets them to Heaven and not the manner in which they died.

In 22:58 God states that He will shower these believers with good provisions, not because they were killed, but because they strove for the cause of God.

Second: As a matter of fact, the word shaheed in the Quran does not mean martyr at all. The word shaheed as used in the Quran means witness. An example is given in the following verse:

"The day will come when We raise up from every nation a 'shaheed' (witness) against them. 16:89

In 3:98, God calls Himself a "Shaheed" which obviously does not mean that God is, or will ever be, a martyr!

Say, "O People of the Book, why do you disbelieve in God's revelations? God is Witness over what you do." 3:98

For further confirmation of the correct meaning of the word shaheed (witness) please see 6:19, 34:47, 16:84, 22:78, 4:41, 4:159, 50:21, 2:143.