Could you please comment on the following hadith? There are many hadiths, like the one below, is reported in many books. But I don’t understand how a person, who dies in ways other than in the path of God, be considered as martyr. Majority of scholars understand this hadith in literal sense. Could you please comment on it?
Abu Hurairah reported that Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, asked: “Who do you consider to be a martyr?” They said: “O Allah’s Prophet, he who is killed fighting for the cause of Allah.” The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “(If this is so) then very few in my community will be martyrs! ” They asked: “Who else are they, O Allah’s Messenger?” He said: “He who is killed fighting for Allah’s cause is a martyr, he who dies in the cause of Allah is a martyr, he who dies in an epidemic is a martyr, he who dies from a stomach disease is a martyr, and the one who dies of drowning is (also) a martyr.” [Muslim.]
Before deriving any results from a given narrative, it is always prudent to first gather and analyze all the narrated versions of the same incident and/or of similar incidents and then to see if we can get any additional information from any of these different versions.
By gathering other versions of similar narratives we see that in some of these (as for instance, Abu Dawood’s narrative no. 2499), the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said that when a man leaves to fight in the way of God and is killed, then however he may be killed, he would be rewarded with the position of a martyr.
In my opinion, your cited narrative should also be seen in the light of the more comprehensive information given in the referred narrative of Abu Dawood. Thus, it seems that in the cited narrative of Muslim too, the Prophet (pbuh) said that when a person leaves the comfort of his home to fight for the cause of God, then whether he is killed on the battlefield, because of an epidemic, because of a stomach disease or because of drowning, in all the cases, he would be rewarded with the position of a martyr.
I hope this helps.
October 19, 2004