Here in this article, I will discuss different types of and legal rulings relating to martyrdom. I will focus on current developments in the law of martyrdom. I will begin by outlining who is a martyr in Islam, types of martyr, main and subsidiary, a discussion of Qur’anic revelation on martyrdom, the reward of a martyr, and future developments.

Who is a martyr in Islam?

Traditionally Martyrdom is considered to apply to those who die in battle, holy jihad. This is known as Shahadah Haqeeqiyyah, real matrtyrdom.

Such would include someone who dies on the battlefield, such as the Prophet’s (Pbuh) uncle, Hamza ibn Abdul-Muttalib (RA), who was killed whilst in battle. Such martyrs are buried in their blood stained or injured clothing whereas other martyrs are given the ghusl bath and full funeral rites such as the wearing of the khimar (long headscarf), or clean white clothing. However, the funeral prayer is the same for both. Both require that the family exercise patience until reunited on the day of judgment and that the martyr be granted a high status in heaven in the meantime.

The second type of martyrdom is Shahadah Hukmiyyah, or legal martyrdom. This covers the additional 7 martyrdoms revealed in Hadith and another 25 martyrdoms revealed in the books of Fiqh and hadith. Such include for instance medical martyrdoms.

A Martyr is granted the status of shaheed or witness. Thus, the martyr will testify in the way in which Allah wishes him to, such as against himself or his community as revealed in the Qur’an. The purpose for this is justice, so that mankind does not have an argument against Allah on the day of judgement. The Prophet pbuh is a main witness but witnesses are taken by Allah to confirm the truth of the Qur’an for example.

Thus, the martyr is judged according to his deeds and time and place in which he existed. For example, the famous second caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khattab was martyred whilst reading prayer. Such martyrdom dying in an act of worship attracts a higher reward, but he will be a witness as the spread of Islam at the time and which nations had yet to accept Islam. This can be important if a Muslim is forced to recant his faith by the enemy and then dies at their hands. Such a martyr testifies to his own belief, and other witnesses are taken on an ongoing basis to testify to the condition of mankind. Various Qur’anic Ayat’s on witnesses testify to this truth, and for further discussion on this see verses [3:18, 3:53, 3:98, 4:135, 4:166, 4:41, 6:19, 10:29, 16:84, 17:78, 25:72, 33:45, and 48:8].

Perhaps Umar is renowned for his prayer for shaheed/martyrdom in the following dua;

“Oh Allah! I ask you for martyrdom in your cause and death in the land of your messenger Pbuh.”

Types of martyrdom and contemporary developments

Apart from real martyrdom there are numerous hadith and fiqh book relating to martyrdom.

There contemporary relevance is considered from the categories they fall into bearing in mind that Allah controls everything despite free will and that with martyrdom he teats mankind to see who is sincere in faith. Contemporary developments of these categories help us to understand the meaning and purpose of the hadith/fiqh books.

For instance, the hadith by Abu Dawood reveals 7 types of martyrs.

The first one is due to the plague.

In contemporary society this would include the disease of covid 19 which has been a very serious illness which has been discussed by the scholars as being within the definition of plague and therefore anyone who ides form it is classed as a martyr. An example is the people of Yemen whose circumstances are compounded by civil war and lack of medical provisions where hundreds of Muslims have died of the plague.

The second one is the one who passes away due to drowning.

This would include those martyrs numbering 1700 that have lost their lives in Pakistan due to the flooding that has taken place there. As such natural disasters and the effects of climate change have impacted on the events causing martyrdom. The fact is that drowning is only available for believers as in the Qur’an both Prophet Nuh’s son and Pharaoh were killed by drowning and neither died a believer.

The third instance is that of the one who passes away in pleurisy.

This Is considered to cover heart complications such as heart disease, angina or breast cancer in modern medical terminology. As such anyone dying from these diseases is granted the status of a martyr.

 The fourth instance in the one who dies due to a abdominal disease. The abdomen is taken to cover a large part of the area of  body such as kidneys , bladder pancreas and stomach. This death form diabetes, stomach poisoning, or failure of a vital organ such as kidney failure all lead to such martyrdom. It is also possible that starvation may be covered by this instance.

The fifth instance of martyrdom is being burnt. This covers religious hate crime where fires are started in people’s homes such as the recent case in the UK where 8 men were convicted of murdering a family of three children and their mother in an arson attack.

The sixth is one who passes away due to being crushed under something..

The famous female martyr Asiya bint Muzahim, the wife of pharaoh died under a rock by the evil of Pharoah. She made dua’ to Allah found in Surat Tahrim 66:11

“My Lord, build for me a house near thee in the garden and deliver me from Pharaoh and his evil deeds and deliver me form the unjust people.”

It is thought that she married a Prophet and had his children in the garden and was rewarded with happy family life and gifts from her family and form Allah, such as honourable mention in the Prophet Mohammad pbuh revelation the Qur’an, many years after her death. 

The final one of the seven is the woman who dies in childbirth.

This is a tragic condition that results from pregnancy complications.

There are other subsidiary types of martyrdom that are relevant to the modern day. These include.

  • The one who passes away in a state of travelling.
  • The one who dies due to lung disease.
  • One who falls from a riding animal or epilepsy.
  • The one who dies in a state of fever.
  • The one who is killed whilst protecting his rights to wealth, life and family. Such martyrs include Tupac Shakur, who was killed due to envy and jealousy towards his success and wealth.
  • Many martyrs have died protecting their right to life, such as Malcolm X and Benazir Bhutto both important leaders of the Muslim community. Also, the first woman martyr after the advent of Islam was a black slave woman and her husband, both of which were martyred. Other important martyrs who died due to belief are though to include, the Prophets Zakariya and Yahya. The slave girl of Pharaoh’s daughter was also killed due to reciting bismillah, after dropping a comb. 
  • The one who is mutilated by a beast.
  • The one who is imprisoned by a ruler unjustly and dies. Deaths in prison of Muslims are caught by this section in that they are denied sharia justice, which  means that they are unable to repent for the sin committed by them through Prayer seeking forgiveness, holding a number of fasts or paying compensation to the victims of crime, all provided for in the Qur’an
  • The one who is beaten and dies due to it. Such cases would include police brutality, and domestic violence and honor killings.
  • The one who passes away due to the bite of a poisonous animal such as a snake.

Reward of a martyr

The reward of a martyr includes;

  • The martyr acts as a witness of various types, as discussed above.
  • Forgiveness of all sins except debt, which his family are to provide for.
  • Intercession for 70 of his relatives. This is a praised positions generally reserved for the Prophet Muhammad pbuh for all of the Muslim ummah. Thus, the martyr is raised in ranking and can intercede or act for or represent his relatives to receive divine mercy from their Lord on the day of judgment.
  • The martyr escapes thew trial for the day of judgment and enters heaven such as in (Surat Ya Seen) when the martyr exclaims that had people known how much my lord had favoured me they would not be in a state of unbelief. This is a major achievement as the scales of justice have been set up to test us to our deeds and rewards. However, martyrs are also ranked according to their deeds and the time and place and circumstances in which they died, such as genocide against them as in China.
  • The martyr receives the reward of 70 houri.
  • A female martyr receives the blessing of spouse and children and works on her family relations, which are made more blessed and harmonious for her.
  • The martyr is accorded provision of a very high calibre in heaven. The main achievement is to obtain a bounty such as a full Qur’an bounty or surahs which can be used to secure spiritual gifts from Allah, e.g., Islamic art classes, taught by angels.

Now I will discuss the Qur’anic revelation on martyrdom in more detail. There are 10 main Ayat’s that the Tafseer of the Qur’an goes on to explain in detail. Here I will discuss them in context of their meaning.

“And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah” They are dead”. Rather they are alive, but you perceive it not.” Ayat 2:154

“And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather they are alive with their lord, receiving provision.” Ayat 3:169

These two Ayat’s reinforce the view that martyrs are alive, living in the garden. The evil which killed them has not succeeded in taking their life and denying them the right to live. Indeed, martyrdom grants people eternal life in heaven. Because they exist in another dimension, that of heaven, their new life cannot be perceived by the people of the earth. Here they receive provision form their Lord and can have what they wish for.

“And whoever obeys Allah and the messenger, those will be the ones upon whom Allah has bestowed favour of the Prophets, the steadfast affirmers of truth, the martyrs and the righteous . And excellent are those as companions. “Ayat 4:69

This Ayat demonstrates a preaching right in the garden for these specially reserved people. The Prophets include all those bound by the seal of Muhammad, and its finality, including 124,000 number of Prophets Allah sent to the world. The truthful ones include the likes of Abu Bakr Siddique, the truthful caliph after the Prophet died. To earn this rank the person has to be firmly on the path f the truth of the Qur’an and Sunnah and implement it in their daily lives in an honest manner, engaging in no deceit such as a truthful trader. The Martyrs come next and then the righteous. This category may include the major scholars over the course of Islamic history, such as Bukhari, who collected his famous compilation of hadith. The righteous also include those who follow the Qur’anic verses on righteousness and try to live life accordingly.

This collection of virtuous people work together on a lawful preaching right in the garden. For example, they work on high levels of Islamic knowledge and on the excellence of companionship with the last three raised in ranking to pray and preach alongside the Prophets, being good companions. 

“And those who have believed in Allah and his messengers – those are in the ranks of the supporters of truth and the martyrs, with their Lord. For them is their reward ands their light. But those who have disbelieved and denied our verses – those are the companions of hellfire.” Ayat 57:19

This Ayat builds on the previous Ayat. The condition here is that of belief in Allah and his messengers. An example would be the disciples of the Prophet Isa, who were his helpers and some of them were martyred. Also, some of the companions of the Prophet were also martyred. They testify to the truth of the holy spirit against false claims of divinity that the Christians propagate. Thus they support the truth, and their precious existence testifies to he truth of their martyrdom, such as a martyrdom that supports belief in Al Wahid, the one  Allah. They thus support the truth against idol worship during their time and act as an important support to Allah’s truth.

They are amply rewarded for this and receive their light. Light in this context can mean a variety of the concept of An Nur. Firstly, it is one of Allah’s greatest names, he who created light. The next is a preaching right of the Qur’an, which takes people out of the darkness into the light of faith. The Qur’an is thus a light of illuminating knowledge. The Prophet Muhammad walks with a light, the light of faith and his preaching was a light also. There are signs of light that Allah has created, such as the moon, stars and the sun. All provide light during the day, and rest during the night. Finally, there is the spiritual light of wisdom, belief and patience as the martyr must wait until judgement day to be reunited with his family. For further discussion of the importance of light in Islam see Ayat’s 2:257, 4:174, 5:16, 71:16, 6:1, 9:32, 10:5, 14:1, 24:35, 33:43, and 39.22 

“And if you are killed in the cause of Allah or die, then forgiveness form Allah and mercy are better than whatever they accumulate in this world.” Ayat 3.157

The tafsir on this Ayat refers to the saying of those that the wealth and worldly pleasures of the world would have not been lost if the martyrs had not died. Thus, Allah makes clear that the wealth of the world is in no way better than martyrdom and the level of mercy and forgiveness is supreme, such as forgiveness form all sins and escape of the day of judgement a day when no one will avail anyone else. Thus, the martyrs gifts and recompense are very high.

“And those who emigrated for the cause of Allah and then were killed or died, Allah will surely provide for them a good provision. And indeed, it is Allah who is the best of providers.” Ayat 22:58

This takes in those who migrated to Medina as the first set of emigrants, who went to establish and protect their faith, from idol worship, persecution and disbelief. In the modern context, for example the United Kingdom has been host to many Muslim emigrants, and they are sent here to establish faith such as the number of mosques in the country which have steadily increased over time, thereby establishing proper worship. Muslims have brought legal caselaw to escape form torturous regimes and faced persecution in their lives that Allah protects them from. Thus, Allah provides them with a good provision in the afterlife for their tenacious preaching of the Muslim faith in foreign lands, for which they are rewarded. 

“They receive good tidings of favour from Allah and bounty and of the fact that Allah does not allow the reward of the believers to be lost.” Ayat 3.171

Allah can grant favour to whomsoever he pleases, and bounty in terms of spiritual gifts like, Islamic art tuition, Islamic knowledge, and the drinks of special water of faith from special rivers and milk and honey, as well as full care, being served upon by youths.

“Rejoicing in what Allah has bestowed upon them of his bounty, and they receive good tidings about those to be martyred after them who have not joined them- that there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve.” Ayat 3.170

The martyr escapes the grief of death and the punishment of the grave and receive news of more martyrs to join them. Allah’s spiritual bounty includes those martyrs who souls are attached to green birds in lanterns and travel throughout Al Jalyban, heaven, eating and drinking what they wish for. They travel throughout heaven and visit gardens and beaches and take part in Islamic knowledge deeds. When Allah asks them about their condition, they reply they are content. When Allah asks them further, they desire their souls should return to the world in order to get martyred again due to the blessing and reward they receive.

“So let those fight in the cause of Allah who sell the life of this world for the hereafter, and he who fights in the cause of Allah and is killed or achieves victory- we will bestow upon him a great reward.” Ayat 4:74

“If a wound should touch you-there has already touched the opposing people a wound similar to it. And these days of varying conditions we alternate among the people so that Allah may make evident those who believe and may take to himself form amongst you martyrs- and Allah does not like the wrongdoers.” Ayat 3:140

The above two Ayat refer to real martyrdom, that is the one who dies in the battlefield. His reward is made good to him. The second Ayat refers specifically to days of battle. Sometimes wounds will touch people, but they have the great blessing of martyrdom for those who die in battle, whereas the enemy have none of that. Indeed, they are suffering in their graves for the evil deeds they did. Allah provides support and encouragement to those Muslims suffering from war against them such as in Palestine where Allah takes martyrs on a regular basis due to the friction between them and the Jewish people. In fact they are defending the Al Aqsa mosque and important sites of Islam, which grants them a high reward.   Finally Allah establishes justice by not liking the wrongdoers, they will have their punishment in hell and the Muslim are to remain patient until such a time as they are reunited with their loved ones who unfortunately died.  

 By Nabela K M Ahmad