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 manner of death does not decide the destination

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.

The incorrect belief that the manner of death has some bearing on the fate in the Hereafter is the result of the misinterpretation of the following verse:

Those who emigrated in 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 martyrs, 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.
The same truth is confirmed in Sura 3:

If you get killed in the cause of God or die, the forgiveness from God and mercy are better than whatever they can amass. 3:157

Second: The word 'shaheed' in the Quran does not mean martyr

When we study the various verses where the word 'shaheed' is used throughout the Quran, we find that this word is never used to mean martyr. The word 'shaheed' as used in the Quran means witness. An example is given in the following verse:

That will be on the Day 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 when God is 'Shaheed' (Witness) over what you do." 3:98

In every verse where the word 'shaheed' is used, the meaning is always 'witness' and never a martyr. Some examples are the following:

2:143, 4:41, 4:159, 5:117, 6:19, 16:84, 22:78, 34:47, 50:21.

Third: Who will be a 'shaheed' (witness) on Judgement Day?

It is the believers who will be given the role to act as witnesses on Judgement Day:

Those who believed in God and His messengers
are the 'Siddiqoon' (truthful ones) and the 'Shuhada'a' (witnesses) at their Lord. They shall have their reward and their light. 57:19

The testimony of the witnesses on that Day will be against those who rejected God's revelations and disbelieved. The witnesses will speak the truth by permission of their Lord:

None will speak except the one permitted by the Almighty and says what is right.

As for the disbelievers, they will not be permitted to speak nor give excuses:

Woe on that Day to the deniers. That is a Day when they will not speak, nor will they be permitted to offer excuses.

: The witnesses are promised an honoured position in the Hereafter

'Shuhadaa' (witnesses) will indeed be with good company in Paradise. They will be with the prophets, the 'siddiqoon' (truthful ones), and the righteous:

The ones who obey God and the messenger, they shall be with those whom God has blessed of the prophets, the truthful ones, the witnesses and the righteous. What fine company such people are!

The believers will therefore implore God during their worldly life to decree them to be among the witnesses on the Day of Judgement:

They say, "Our Lord, we have believed, so decree us to be among the witnesses.