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Martyrdom; an Islamic Perspective

According to Islamic teachings, martyrdom requires some elements including belief in God and His Prophet, conscious choice and being killed for the sake of God and not for any other motive.

Martyrdom, in Arabic “shahādah”, means being killed in the cause of Allah (SWT). Martyrdom, which is the result of mental health, a spirit of courage and voluntarily choice, leads to resistance and dynamism in a society because it is rooted in strength, patience, endurance, cohesion and combating enemies and these factors collectively, enhance the resistance of the society and makes it dynamic and productive. According to Islamic teachings, martyrdom requires some elements including belief in God and His Prophet, conscious choice and being killed for the sake of God and not for any other motive.

 According to the Noble Qur’an and narrations, martyr (shahīd) enjoys a very high status before God. Those who are slain in the way of Allah should not be regarded dead; rather they are living and provided for near their Lord (See the Qur’an 2:154 and 3:169).The commandment of the Qur’an to believers is that when Islam and the Islamic community need sacrifice, they should not hesitate. Because the motive of some Muslims to flee jihādwas worldly interests, the Holy Qur’an raises the issue of dealing with God and directs Muslims to trade their souls with God for eternal Paradise instead of temporary pleasures of this world(See the Quran 9:111).

The Holy Prophet has been quoted as saying: “the best type of death is martyrdom”[1] and “Above all goodness is a superior goodness, until one is killed in the cause of God; so when one is killed in the cause of God, there is no greater good than that.”[2] Other narrations put emphasis on the fact that all the sins of the martyr are forgiven, he is among the intercessors on the Day of Judgment where he attains a mighty good fortune (fawzan ‘azima) and that he is among the first people entering Paradise without any reckoning. However, it should be taken into consideration that martyrdom is not the goal in and of itself; rather, the main goal is to protect the divine religion and spread humane and religious values and to reach this holy goal, sometimes it is incumbent upon the believers to, endangering their lives, show self-sacrifice and giving up their own interests or wishes, help others and advance the main cause.

The above-mentioned elements of martyrdom clearly indicate that being martyred requires one to be killed for the sake of God and in accordance with Islamic teachings. So, a Muslim is considered a martyr when he is killed by the enemies attacking Islamic territories. Therefore, Islam in general and Shi‘a school of thought in particular denounce terroristic attacks in which innocent people are very likely to be killed. Verse 190 of the 2nd Chapter of the Qur’an reads:

وَ قاتِلُوا في‏ سَبيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذينَ يُقاتِلُونَكُمْ وَ لا تَعْتَدُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدينَ

“And fight in the Way of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits. Surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits.”

The following Verse is also explicit in this regard:

وَ لا تَقْتُلُوا النَّفْسَ الَّتي‏ حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ إِلاَّ بِالْحَقِّ

“You shall not kill a soul [whose life] Allah has made inviolable, except with due cause.” (the Qur’an 6:151)

Therefore, on one hand, Muslims fight defensively when they are already attack and on the other hand, they are not allowed to exceed the limits even in their defensive measures. Islam respects the lives, property and honor of all people. The lives of all human beings, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, are respected, and only in limited cases such as legitimate defence, retribution, etc., one’s life can be taken away, and even in such cases, one must not go beyond the divine limits and conventional ways. This fact is so important that the Holy Qur’an considers killing one innocent person as killing all humans:

مَنْ قَتَلَ نَفْساً بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسادٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّما قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَميعا

“Whoever kills a soul, without its being guilty of manslaughter or corruption on the earth, is as though he had killed all mankind.” (the Qur’an 5:32)

Also, it should not be overlooked that the Holy Qur’an refers to severe punishments for “those who cause corruption on the earth” and endanger the lives and property of others and impose terror on innocent people (See the Qur’an 5:33). This indicates that Islam has always sought to avoid violence and terrorism.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that due to the high position of the martyrs before God, in various narrations, some groups of people have been considered as martyrs or the reward of some people has been regarded the same as that of the martyrs even if they die a natural death. The following narrations refer to 3 important examples in this regard:

إِذَا جَاءَ المَوْتُ طالِبَ العِلْمِ وَ هُوَ عَلَى هَذِهِ الْحَالِ مَاتَ شَهِيداً

”When a seeker of knowledge passes away while he/she is on the state of seeking knowledge he/she is considered a martyr.”[3]

فَإِنَّهُ مَنْ مَاتَ مِنْكُمْ عَلَى فِرَاشِهِ وَ هُوَ عَلَى مَعْرِفَةِ حَقِّ رَبِّهِ وَ حَقِّ رَسُولِهِ وَ أَهْلِ بَيْتِهِ مَاتَ شَهِيداً وَ وَقَعَ أَجْرُهُ عَلَى اللَّهِ

”Indeed! The one who dies on his/her bed while he/she has a true knowledge with regard to God, His Apostle and his Progeny, he/she is considered a martyr and his/her reward is upon Allah (SWT).”[4]

مَنْ قُتِلَ دُونَ مَالِهِ فَهُوَ بِمَنْزِلهِ الشَّهِيد

“The one who, defending his/her properties against the attackers, resists and is murdered enjoys a position like that of a martyr.”[5]

The Article was written by Hujjat al-Islam Sayyid Mostafa Daryabari and Dr. Morteza Karimi.



  1. The Noble Qur’an, translated by Ali Quli Qarā’i.
  2. Nahj al-Balāgha, the sermons, letters and wise-sayings of Imam Ali (AS) collected by Sayyid Raḍiyy (359-406 A.H.)
  3. Allama Majlisi (1037-1110 A.H.), Bihār al-Anwār, Al-Wafa’ Institute, 1404 A.H., Beirut.
  4. Kulayni, Muhammad b. Ya‘qub, al-Kāfī, Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyya, 1365 S.A.H., Tehran.
  5. Saduq, Muhammad b. Ali (305-381 A.H.), al-Amāli, 1362 S.A.H., Qom.
  6. Shahid Thāni (911-966 A.H.), Munyat al-Murid, 1409 A.H., Qom.

[1]Al-Amāli, p. 487.

[2]Bihār al-Anwār, vol. 97, p. 10.

[3]Munyat al-Murid, p. 121.

[4]Nahj al-Balāgha, sermon 190.

[5]Al-Kāfi, vol. 5, p. 72.

About Ali Teymoori

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