By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
5 October 2015
The Quran uses the term Shuhada in its ordinary sense as a witness and also in an exalted sense. It depends upon what is being witnessed.
Consider the verse:
(143) Thus, have We made of you an Ummat justly balanced, that ye might be witnesses (Shuhada) over the nations, and the Messenger a witness (Shaheeda) over yourselves;
The Messenger’s function as a witness over the Muslims is to provide evidence to God on the Day of Judgment that His message was delivered. For an example, read verses 5:109 to 118 which describe how Jesus Christ (pbuh) will provide such evidence on the Day of Judgment. Those who do Dawah among the Ummat or followers of the Messenger in turn will provide evidence of having spread this message to the rest of the world.
(39:68) The Trumpet will (just) be sounded, when all that are in the heavens and on earth will swoon, except such as it will please Allah (to exempt). Then will a second one be sounded, when, behold, they will be standing and looking on!
(69) And the Earth will shine with the Glory of its Lord: the Record (of Deeds) will be placed (open); the prophets and the witnesses will be brought forward and a just decision pronounced between them; and they will not be wronged (in the least).
(70) And to every soul will be paid in full (the fruit) of its Deeds; and (Allah) knoweth best all that they do.
The Shuhuda communicate the message through words as well as by example. Their life, deeds and every action is in accordance with the religion of Allah. They provide evidence to the people about Allah, His attributes and His religion by what they say and by what they do. They also provide witness or evidence to God that His message has been properly communicated. They are exemplars par excellence. The highest category of the Shuhada is the prophets and the people who do Dawah in an exemplary manner by word and deed.
The second category of Shuhada is those who render perfect secular justice. This has been discussed in my article:
The Importance of Rendering Justice in Islam
The third category is those who remain constant in their devotions and follow the straight path with patience and perseverance all through the trials and tribulations of life. They never waver or lose heart when distress strikes. These people provide clear evidence of the power of faith and the truth about the promise of Allah when they are made to finally prevail as they must. The best example is Job or Prophet Ayyub (AS) and the very small number of Muslims who prevailed against the powerful Meccans against all odds and in fulfilment of God’s promise made in the very early Meccan period itself, when the number of Muslims were less than half a dozen.
The Shuhuda will be among the foremost ranks on the Day of Judgment.
Will Those Slain In The Cause Of Allah Join The Ranks Of The Shuhuda?
Those slain in the cause of Allah are not in the category of the Shuhada unless they also fall in one or more of the three categories of Shuhuda described above. There are 11 verses in the Quran where the subject is those slain fighting in the cause of Allah. In none of these verses, the slain are referred to as Shaheed or Shuhada. The terms used are Qutelu for slain or Qutelu fi Sabilillah for those who are slain in the cause of Allah. The verses are: 2:154, 3:144, 3:157, 158, 168, 169, 195, 4:74, 9:111, 22:58, and 47:4
How then the slain are referred to as Shaheed? - by misinterpreting verse 3:140!
(3:140) if a wound hath touched you, be sure a similar wound hath touched the others. Such days (of varying fortunes) We give to men and men by turns: that Allah may know those that believe, and that He may take to Himself from your ranks Shuhada (witnesses to Truth). And Allah loveth not those that do wrong.
The subject of the verse is not the slain but the wounded in the battle of Uhud who were in a state of despair at the turn of events in the battle and some of them were on the verge of losing their faith. They are advised to remain constant and not lose heart through the difficult times. It is those who remain firm on the right path even when disaster strikes who can ultimately bear witness to the truth of God’s promise when Allah makes them prevail over their enemy. It is these who will join the ranks of the "Shuhada" (and not the slain). The dead do not bear any witness. What is there to distinguish between your dead and the dead of the enemy? It is those who press on against all odds in patience and ultimately prevail who provide evidence that God’s promise never fails. Verse 3:140 therefore talks about the third category of Shuhuda described above.
Those slain fighting in the cause of Allah are rewarded but they are not called Shuhada unless they have also suffered in patience and fortitude all the travails, tribulations and vicissitudes of life, and attained the position of Shuhuda in the sight of Allah, before death. It is in life that one can attain the position of Shuhuda and not in death.
Many of the translators have however translated Shuhada in verse 3:140 as “martyr witnesses” following perhaps the opinion of scholars. It is indeed sheer chicanery to put the slain in the category of Shuhada and it is easy to see why this deception has been carried out by the unholy nexus of the politician and the Mullah to achieve political ends. Perhaps it was only to compete with the concept of martyr in other cultures since such a concept is missing in Islam. This is not a simple matter either as the Ulema have disfigured the religion by glorifying any kind of violent death. Even if a person dies in an accident he/she is considered Shaheed. If a tooth falls they say "Danth Shaheed Ho Gaya"!
The terminology used in the Quran for those who are slain is simply "Qutelu". And if someone was slain in the cause of Allah then this is described as Qutelu Fi Sabilillah. The rewards are not for the Qutelu but for the Qutelu Fi Sabilillah but even then they are not among the Shuhada.
By misinterpreting a single verse which is not even discussing the slain, and by ignoring eleven other verses where the subject is the Qutelu Fi Sabilillah(slain in the cause of Allah) in which they are not called Shuhuda, the Ulema without any authority from God, and against reason, upgraded the slain to the level of the Shuhuda. Not only that, but the concept has been further diluted by referring to any slain Muslim as "Shaheed". When even a person who dies in an accident is "Shaheed", the cause no longer remains relevant in popular imagination. No one now asks or considers what cause of Allah is being served when he resorts to fighting. It can be seen how misusing the term Shaheed for all slain Muslims has made it easy to raise ranks of young men ready to die. The Ulema bear responsibility for this and must take steps to correct the position.
MaulanaWahiduddin Khan writes: “During the Battle of Uhud, in the year 3 A.H., 70 companions of the Prophet were killed. This is recounted in a tradition in the Sahih Bukhari, which says: ‘On the day of Uhud, seventy among the companions of the Prophet were killed.’ (Sahih Bukhari, 4078). This example again shows that during the Prophet’s period, one who was killed in God’s cause was referred to as Maqtul and not Shahid, or martyr.
After the age of the Prophet, the age of his companions and the generation after them are regarded as authentic periods of Islamic history. The very same manner of referring to people who had been slain in the path of God as Maqtul Fi Sabil Allah continued to be followed in this period, too. But after this period, a change gradually emerged in the use of the term Shahadah, in the same way as changes began being made in the understanding of several other Islamic teachings, so much so that Muslims almost forgot that the term Shahadah meant Dawah and instead began to use the word as synonymous with martyrdom.
In later times, a new practice developed of people who had died in battle being called Shahids or ‘martyrs’….”
In conclusion, there are only three categories of the Shuhuda, and these will be among the foremost ranks on the Day of Judgment. Those slain even in the cause of Allah are not among these. They may not thus be called Shaheed as it amounts to a lie and distortion of the message of the Quran with evil consequences.
The Importance of Rendering Justice in Islam
Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to NewAgeIslam.com.