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Shahīd

Shahīd (Arab., ‘a witness’). In the Qurʾān, one who bears witness, as God bears witness to human deeds. Its subsequent use for one who bears witness to God by dying in his cause—i.e. as a martyr—is based on the Qurʾān (e.g. 3. 156, 166; 4. 69; 47. 4–6), although the word is not found in the Qurʾān. In ḥadīth, the martyr who dies in battle against the kafirun (infidels) is promised great rewards: he passes through the barzakh, is exempted from the examination in the grave by Munkar and Nakīr, and goes to the highest rank in paradise, nearest to the throne of God. Because they are already pure, they alone are not washed before burial, and may be buried in their bloodstained clothes—though those last points have been disputed. The shahīd eventually makes effective intercession (shafāʿa).

The concept was subsequently extended to include those who die during the performance of a godly action (e.g. during al-ḥajj, or while building a mosque), or while fulfilling one's God-given obligation (e.g. during childbirth). It could also include violent death (e.g. in a shipwreck or a storm) when accompanied by islam or trust in God.

Martyrdom is of particular importance in Shīʿa Islam. al-Ḥusain is shāhi shuhadā, king of the martyrs. Ritual participation in his sufferings includes self-flagellation, often of a severe kind, and also the performance of taʿzīya (condolence, expressed through re-enactments of the life and death of al-Ḥusain). It is moderated by ṭaqīya, the concealment of faith under persecution or pressure—perhaps even as an obligation.

The word and the concept of martyrdom were adopted by the Sikhs (though usually transliterated as ‘shaheed’).

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