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Shahid, or Shaheed (Punjabi: ਸ਼ਹੀਦ; Arabic: شهيد [ʃahiːd], plural: شُهَدَاء [ʃuhadaː]; female: [ʃahiːdah]) denotes a martyr in Islam and Sikhism. Shahid occurs frequently in the Quran in the generic sense "witness", but only once in the sense "martyr; one who dies for his faith"; this latter sense acquires wider use in the hadiths.
The term is commonly used as a posthumous title for those who are considered to have accepted or even consciously sought out their own death in order to bear witness to their beliefs. Like the English word martyr, in the 20th century, the word shahid has come to have both religious and non-religious connotations, and has often been used to describe those who have died for non-religious ideological causes. This suggests that there is no single fixed and immutable concept of martyrdom in the Islamic and Sikh world.
The word shahid in Arabic means "witness". Its development closely parallels that of Greek martys (Greek: μάρτυς – "witness", in the New Testament also "martyr"), the origin of the term martyr.
A shahid is considered one whose place in Paradise is promised according to these verses in the Quran:
Think not of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord; They rejoice in the bounty provided by Allah. And with regard to those left behind, who have not yet joined them (in their bliss), the (Martyrs) glory in the fact that on them is no fear, nor have they (cause to) grieve.
Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth, through the Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur´an: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? then rejoice in the bargain which ye have concluded: that is the achievement supreme.
The Quranic passage that follows is the source of the concept of Muslim martyrs being promised Paradise:
Those who leave their homes in the cause of Allah, and are then slain or die,- On them will Allah bestow verily a goodly Provision: Truly Allah is He Who bestows the best provision. Verily He will admit them to a place with which they shall be well pleased: for Allah is All-Knowing, Most Forbearing.
The importance of faith is highlighted in the following hadith:
It has been narrated on the authority of Anas b. Malik that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Who seeks martyrdom with sincerity shall get its reward, though he may not achieve it.
It is thus not the outcome that determines the placement in Heaven but rather the intention.
Nonetheless, Paradise for a shahid is a popular concept in the Islamic tradition according to Hadith, and the attainment of this title is honorific.
The Islamic prophet Muhammad is reported to have said these words about martyrdom:
By Him in Whose Hands my life is! I would love to be martyred in Allah's Cause and then get resurrected and then get martyred, and then get resurrected again and then get martyred and then get resurrected again and then get martyred.
The Prophet said, "Nobody who enters Paradise likes to go back to the world even if he got everything on the Earth, except a Mujahid who wishes to return to the world so that he may be martyred ten times because of the dignity he receives (from Allah).
Several hadith also indicate the nature of a shahid's life in Paradise. Shahids are thought to attain the highest level of Paradise, the Paradise of al-Firdous.
Haritha was martyred on the day (of the battle) of Badr, and he was a young boy then. His mother came to the Prophet and said, "O Allah's Apostle! You know how dear Haritha is to me. If he is in Paradise, I shall remain patient, and hope for reward from Allah, but if it is not so, then you shall see what I do?" He said, "May Allah be merciful to you! Have you lost your senses? Do you think there is only one Paradise? There are many Paradises and your son is in the (most superior) Paradise of Al-Firdaus.
Furthermore, Samura narrated:
The Prophet said, "Last night two men came to me (in a dream) and made me ascend a tree and then admitted me into a better and superior house, better of which I have never seen. One of them said, 'this house is the house of martyrs.'
There are at least five different kinds of martyrs according to hadith.
Allah's Apostle said, "Five are regarded as martyrs: They are those who die because of plague, abdominal disease, drowning or a falling building etc., and the martyrs in Allah's cause.
One who dies protecting his property is also considered a martyr according to Hadith:
I heard the Prophet saying, "Whoever is killed while protecting his property then he is a martyr.
While the Qur'an does not indicate much about martyrs' death and funeral, the hadith provides some information on this topic. For example, martyrs are to be buried two in one grave in their blood, without being washed or having a funeral prayer held for them. The following Hadith highlight this:
The Prophet collected every two martyrs of Uhud in one piece of cloth, then he would ask, "Which of them had (knew) more of the Quran?" When one of them was pointed out for him, he would put that one first in the grave and say, "I will be a witness on these on the Day of Resurrection." He ordered them to be buried with their blood on their bodies and they were neither washed nor was a funeral prayer offered for them.
The word shahid (Punjabi: ਸ਼ਹੀਦ) is also found in Sikhism, a religion founded by Guru Nanak in the northwest part of the Indian subcontinent (now Pakistan and India). It means a martyr.
The term was borrowed from the Islamic culture in Punjab when Sikhism was founded, and before the start of the British Raj it referred to the Sikh people who met death at the hands of oppressors. Another related term is shahid-ganj, which means a "place of martyrdom".
The most discussed shahid in Sikhism have been two of their Gurus, namely Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadur for defying Islamic rulers and refusing to convert to Islam. Guru Arjan was arrested under the orders of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and asked to convert to Islam. He refused, was tortured and executed in 1606 CE. Historical records and the Sikh tradition are unclear whether Guru Arjan was executed by drowning or died during torture. His martyrdom, that is becoming a shahid, is considered a watershed event in the history of Sikhism.
Guru Tegh Bahadur's martyrdom resulted from refusing to convert and for resisting the forced conversions of Hindus in Kashmir to Islam because he believed in freedom of conscience and human rights. He was publicly beheaded in 1675 on the orders of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in Delhi. Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib in Delhi marks the shahid-ganj, or place of execution of the Guru.
The Sikh have other major pilgrimage sites, such as the shahid-ganj in Sirhind, where two sons of Guru Gobind Singh were buried alive by Mughal Empire army in retaliation of their father's resistance. In Muktsar, near a lake is a shahid-ganj dedicated to forty men who died defending Guru Gobind Singh.
In the course of the eighteenth century, there were several wars of independence within the colonial territories of the Muslim World. Many of the soldiers who died during these conflicts were given the title shahid upon their burial. Various Muslims have died under fascist and communist regimes during the course of the twentieth century and as well as more recent genocides including the Bosnian genocide, Rohingya genocide, and Uyghur genocide. Massacres against Muslims have also occurred such as the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand in 2019.
A Muslim who is killed defending his or her property is considered a martyr. For example, in Pakistan and India the word "shaheed" is used to denote martyrs who have died in the way of Islam or in the defence of their nation.
A woman is considered "shahida" (شَهِيدَة šahīdah) if she dies during the fulfillment of a religious commandment. A woman can also be considered a martyr if she dies during childbirth. There are examples of women fighting in war such as Nusaybah bint Ka'ab. The first martyr (male or female) in Islam was Sumayyah bint Khayyat, who was executed for her conversion to Islam. She died after Abu Jahl, an anti-Muslim leader of the Quraysh stabbed her in the abdomen. Though her name is not common in the modern Muslim dialogue, ancient Islamic literature makes note of the events at the end of her life.
Over a period of time, the word "shahid" began to be used by non-Muslims such as Arab Christians to denote their own martyrs. So the word is still used by Christians in Arab-speaking countries, including the names of churches. Examples are the Forty Martyrs Cathedral (Arabic: كنيسة الأربعين شهيد) in Aleppo, Syria and the Saint George the Martyr Cathedral (Arabic: كنيسة القدّيس الشهيد مار جرجس) in Damascus.
In South Asia, Hindus adopted the word "shahid" as a synonym to the Sanskrit word "hutātmā" (हुतात्मा in Devanagari and হুতাত্মা in Bengali; हुत् and হুত্ hut = sacrificing, आत्मा and আত্মা ātmā = soul, thus hutātmā = sacrificing soul / martyr), to denote Hindu martyrs.
This second martyrdom helped to make 'human rights and freedom of conscience' central to its identity." and "This is the reputed place where several Kashmiri pandits came seeking protection from Auranzeb's army.