Goldziher on the development of 'martyr' (shahiid) in early Islam

What a little gem of a book this is! I am speaking of I. Goldziher's 1902 'Hadith and the New Testament'. He discusses how the word shihaad (martyr) is indeed an Arabic word but that in the Quran itself it does not have the meaning of one who dies for the faith, but rather one that confesses a religion. Of course, fairly soon the tradition develops about dying in jihad and thus becoming a martyr. Goldziher explains how, to counteract this rather destabilizing development, the word 'martyr' was used to describe a large number of different sorts of people:

To the Prophet is ascribed the saying that not only those who are slain for the faith are to be regarded as martyrs. Seven other causes of death are enumerated [...] and these are mainly calamitous or pathological causes, which have nothing to do with voluntary self-sacrifice for a great cause. In later times other causes have been added to these seven. He who dies in defence of his possessions, or far from his home in a strange country; he who meets his death in falling from a high mountain; he who is torn to pieces by wild beasts, and many more, are to be counted in the category of Shuhada.

Ignacz Goldziher, Hadith and the New Testament, pp. 21, 22.
London: SPCK, 1902. Trans. unknown.


John Stringer said…
is it not interesting that the islamic concept of a Shahid is remarkably parallel to the development of the Christian concept of martyr?

That Greek word in the New Testament also means witness, and becomes the term for someone who seals his witness with death, and that meaning becoming overriding in church history.
Abu Daoud said…
But Islam had the concept of Jihad, which Christianity never did. That makes a significant difference I think.
John Stringer said…
Indeed. In the Christian faith, suffering for the Gospel is a matter of being killed. In Islam, the suffering for Islam begins by attacking others.

And then these modern muslims try to tell is that real Jihad is the jihad to be better muslims. Yeah, my #$%. See how Muhammad in the Quran used the term Jihad. For an enlightening article on this matter, see
Don said…
"O ye who believe; what is the matter with you that, when it is said to you, go forth in the way of ALLAH, you sink down heavily towards the earth? Are you contented with the present life in the preference to the Hereafter? But the enjoyment of the present life is but little compared to the Hereafter. If you will not go forth to fight in the cause of ALLAH, HE will punish you with a painful punishment, and will chose in your stead a people other than you, and you shall do HIM no harm at all. And ALLAH has full power over all things." (Sura 9:38-39)
Rob said…
-is it not interesting that the islamic concept of a Shahid is remarkably parallel to the development of the Christian concept of martyr?-

Yes, but besides Abu Daoud's observation on Jihad, isn't there a significant difference in that many of Islam's martyrs are involved in killing? Whereas the Christian martyr does no more than suffer?
John Stringer said…
It would not surprise me at all if Islam adopted the Christian view of who is a true witness to God, that is, the one who dies for his faith. Just as Islam adopted many other Christian ideas.

The difference, indeed, is that the Christian who dies for witnessing to God does that, as you say, as a lamb who is slaughtered, in line with the life and death of the Lamb of God.

Muslims who die as witnesses to God in jihad, do so as the dragon who is stabbed through the heart while attacking the innocent. In line with the life of the Islamic prophet.

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