What are the types of shaheeds or should I say kinds of shaheeds? There are ones who die in holy wars and then there are some who are innocent and are killed in some accidents or are murdered. I am really confused about their grades or positions (‘darjaas’). Please enlighten me on Shahadat and what happens to a shaheed after his or her death. I have been told they are not actually dead but they are alive. So where are they and what happens to them? It would be great if I can get the names to some reference books and some Qur’anic explanations on the issue as well as what is there about this matter in the Hadiths.
The word Shaheed means one who bears witness to a certain reality. In Islamic literature it is generally applied to martyrs as they give their lives bearing witness of their conviction of the religion of God. They spend their lives according to the guidance provided by the Almighty and do not spare anything in the way of His liking even their lives. Conviction is the necessary prerequisite in this regard. However this conviction may be of varying degrees in different individuals raising them to different levels. We can not outline degrees to bifurcate various kinds of martyrs. Being killed accidentally is not the sole thing that merits martyrdom. We can not say that a certain individual is martyr if he is accidentally killed even in a war. The basic criteria are living the life of submission to God and firm conviction to it at all costs.
The Holy Qur’an has informed that those who live a life of submission to God and sacrifice their lives necessarily merit success in the Hereafter and will be rewarded right from their death. It says:
وَلاَ تَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ قُتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ أَمْوَاتًا بَلْ أَحْيَاء عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ يُرْزَقُونَ
Think not of those, who are slain in the way of Allah, as dead. Nay, they are living. With their Lord they have provision. [3:169]
The Holy Qur’an has only provided this brief information It says that they are not dead like others rather they are being rewarded. This treatment is special for the martyrs, the Messengers, Prophets, and other pious people who lived lives of piety and righteousness. The Holy Qur’an does not tell us the nature of this life. This we can not fully comprehend like most other matters regarding the hereafter and life after death. We only know that they are experiencing a different kind of life and are rewarded by their Lord but we do not know how and in what form this reward is being delivered. The Holy Qur’an itself has made it clear that we do not and cannot comprehend this phenomenon and it has not provided extensive information on the subject. It would, therefore, be wise to avoid imagining details of the matter and to be content with the information made available by the Almighty.
A similar but contrasting fate as that of the Shaheeds – who live and die for the Truth that they truly believe in and who are rewarded for their belief and conviction in that truth immediately after their respective worldly deaths – awaits those who were not only clear rejecters of what they understood to be the truth but lived a life which was evident of their hatred for it, as, for instance, the rejecters and enemies of the Messengers of Allah. These people, contrary to the Shaheeds, are subjected to God’s punishments immediately after their worldly deaths. The Qur’an says:
النَّارُ يُعْرَضُونَ عَلَيْهَا غُدُوًّا وَعَشِيًّا وَيَوْمَ تَقُومُ السَّاعَةُ أَدْخِلُوا آلَ فِرْعَوْنَ أَشَدَّ الْعَذَابِ
The Fire; they are exposed to it morning and evening; and on the day when the Hour comes (it will be said): Cause Pharaoh’s folk to enter the most awful doom. [40:46]
The mode of one’s death has no bearing on one’s destiny after death or on his/her reward in the Hereafter.
For further details, please refer to one of our earlier responses to a related question titled ‘What Happens after Death?‘
I hope this helps
Tariq Mahmood Hashmi
March 26, 2003