Not everyone who dies tragically is a ‘shaheed’

The abused term of "shaheed" is an appeasement tactic - getting actual justice is unlikely.

Ayesha Umar March 15, 2011
In Pakistan the suffix shaheed is frequently used for politicians, scholars, journalists, armed forces personnel and even militants depending upon how people or the media conceives that person. The use of the word shaheed is indeed another gift of Zia’s era when martyrdom was glorified during the Afghan war.

Our armed forces have been engaged in conflict against militants since 2004. These militants claim that the killing of innocent Muslims, mostly women and children, doesn’t make soldiers  martyrs and, that in fact they are wajib-ul-qatal (punishable by murder) for this offence. So a militant is considered a shaheed among his supporters while a fallen soldier is considered shaheed by his comrades.

The suffix has also been used widely for politicians who get assassinated. From shaheed-i-millat Liaquat Ali Khan to shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, General Ziaul Haq shaheed to Benazir Bhutto shaheed. The Bhuttos are referred to as shaheed on state television only when the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is ruling. Otherwise, they are just referred to as assassinated leaders.

In Arabic, the word shaheed means “the one who bears witness to the truth”, a translation that can be found on several occasions in this context in the Holy Quran. The most common Quranic verses that are cited while referring to shaheed (martyr in the battle) are in the chapter The Cow (al-Baqara).

In the wake of support for the killer, PPP leaders were hesitant to use the word shaheed for they feared inviting the wrath of extremists. On the other hand, his killer was dubbed a ghazi – one who survives a battle. Salmaan Taseer’s supporters used the word shaheed on posters, an act which was emphatically denounced by the Tahaffuz Namoos-i-Risalat Mahaz because they believed Salmaan Taseer to be a sinner and blasphemer, hence justifying his murder on these grounds.

It is important to realise that our society needs the prevalence of justice and our efforts should be directed towards the achievement of this aim. Who is a shaheed and who is not, is a matter that God should decide.

It is obvious that this word is highly politicised and every faction and group strives to steal it for their respective slain leader. In the end, calling someone shaheed is more of an appeasement tactic in a society where justice remains elusive.
Ayesha Umar Interested in current affairs, cultural and gender-based issues Ayesha religiously tweets @ayeshaesque. In her free time she blogs at Fifth Junction and indulges in random photography.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Ahmad M. Qamar | 12 years ago | Reply When there is no real 'shaheed' left, then everybody is a 'shaheed' whether he was a fraud, a third- rater, an embezzler, a rapist, or all the worst characters one can think of. May God protect us against this most pernicious onslaught of fake shaheeds. Amen.
Yasir Hasan | 12 years ago | Reply A party worked who dies while mounting the flag of his party on a pole and dies by electric shock or by falling is Shaheed... :-D.. .What a joke, there are so many shaheeds these days that finding a normally deceased person is a challenge.... :-)...
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ