Islam has countless martyrs, those who died struggling in the way of God. Martyrdom in Islam is broad and encompasses the most obvious form of martyrdom -- being killed by an enemy of faith on the battlefield -- as well as lesser-known forms of martyrdom, such as a woman dying during childbirth. In the Islam religion, martyrs are promised paradise.
What is a Martyr?
An Islamic martyr is usually thought of as someone who died in the cause of God, but the term can be applied to a great swath of people. According to book 16, number 16.12.36 of the Al-Muwatta collection of Muhammad's sayings, also known as hadiths, Muhammad said there are seven kinds of martyrs besides those killed in the way of God, including those who die of disease and mothers who die during childbirth. Another hadith, book 43 number 660 of the Sahih Bukhari collection, states that someone who dies in defense of his property is a martyr.
Exalted Status of Martyrs
Surah 3, verse 169 of the Qur'an states, "And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision." As in Christianity, martyrs are glorified in Islam and held up as prime examples of those who have lived with righteous conduct. The Arabic word for martyr is Shaheed, which means one who bears witness. The Muslim profession of faith, known as the Shahada, is derived from the same root.
Misconceptions About Islamic Martyrdom
One of the greatest misconceptions about Islamic martyrdom is that martyrs are automatically granted 72 virgins in paradise. Surah 55, verse 73 of the Qur'an includes a promise of 'hoorun' in paradise, which is sometimes translated as 'virgins,' but this is a promise for all believers, not just for martyrs. It is also often forgotten that suicide is forbidden in Islam. Surah 4, verse 29 of the Qur'an states, "And do not kill yourselves [or one another]."
Famous Muslim Martyrs
The first martyr of Islam was a woman named Sumayyah bint Khayyat, who was murdered for her beliefs in Mecca in the early days of Islam. Hamza, a noted warrior of the early community and the uncle of Muhammad, was slain in 625. Jafar, who led the first group of Muslim refugees to Abyssinia, was martyred while fighting the Byzantines in 629. The final three of Islam's Rightly-guided Caliphs, successors to Muhammad, were martyred. Umar, Uthman and Ali were all murdered while serving as caliph. The term caliph means successor, and the first four caliphs were considered successors to the political authority of Muhammad.
Martyrdom in the Shia Sect
In Shia Islam, which differentiates itself from Sunni Islam by its belief in the authority of Muhammad's family, martyrdom is a seal of holiness. Of the 12 Infallible Imams, religious leaders from the family of Muhammad, 11 were martyred and one is believed to be alive in a state often referred to as occultation. The most notable holiday of Shia Islam, the Day of Ashura, commemorates the martyrdom of Hussayn at Karbala. Hussayn was the third imam, and he is considered by Shias to be the model of righteous conduct when confronted with evil.
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