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Myth #33: Muhammad taught that only Martyrdom While Making Others Suffer Assures Paradise

Did Muhammad teach that martyrdom while making others suffer assures paradise?

This myth is twofold: first, Muslim martyrs are only, “those who are killed while making others suffer and die,” and not, “those who suffer and die for truth”; and second, only martyrdom carries the promise of Paradise in Islam.

Although the Islamic concept of martyrdom, or shahadah, is profoundly deep, we confine our discussion to a prima facie reading. Those killed on account of their faith are indeed considered martyrs in Islam. But Islam nowhere requires a Muslim to impose wilful suffering on others to attain martyrdom.

Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad taught that there are many kinds of martyrs, including those who die from any of the following: the plague; cholera, drowning; and a falling wall. [1] And there are other kinds yet.

On December 23, 2006, armed gunmen killed an Ahmadi Muslim in Chicago named Muhaimin Karim. Muhaimin, an attribute of God that means ‘Protector,’ heard his employees yelling for help outside his barbershop and ran out to defend them and his store. In saving the lives of his employees, both Christian, he sacrificed his own—dying of multiple gunshot wounds. [2] Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Fifth Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, declared Muhaimin a martyr, and led his funeral prayer in absentia. This corresponds to the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad, “He who is killed in defence of his property is a martyr.” [3] Here, a Muslim literally gave his life so that his Christian friends might live, but to critics of Islam, this is not enough for him to be declared a martyr.

As for martyrs killed in warfare, Islam permits fighting only after non-violent means of escaping religious persecution have been exhausted. Accordingly, in Chapter 3, the Qur’an states: “You are from one another. Those, therefore, who have emigrated, and have been driven out from their homes, and have been persecuted in My cause, and have fought and been killed, I will surely remove from them their evils and will cause them to enter Gardens… ” [4]

Turning to critics’ reference of Qur’an 9:111, the full verse reads:

Surely, Allah has purchased of the believers their persons and their property in return for the Garden they shall have; they fight in the cause of Allah, and they slay and are slain – a promise that He has made incumbent on Himself in the Torah, and the Gospel, and the Qur’an. [5]

The issue is muddled by critics, as the verse promises the Garden to “the believers”—not to the martyrs—in return for the purchase of “their persons and their property,” signifying a person’s time and effort and financial sacrifice in the cause of Allah. When God says, “they fight in the cause of Allah, and they slay and are slain,” Allah is describing just a few of the many qualities of the believers (mu’minin) – not of martyrs (shuhada’ or shahidin).

No such teaching in Islam exists that “only assures martyrs [a] straight path to paradise.” Indeed throughout the Qur’an, Allah attributes many other traits to the believers, promising them Paradise.  In Chapter 23, we read:

Surely success does come to the believers, who are humble in their Prayers, and who shun all that which is vain, and who are active in paying the Zakaat, and who guard their chastity—except from their wives of what their right hand possess, for then they are not to be blamed; but those who seek anything beyond that are the transgressors—and who are watchful of trusts and their covenants, and who are strict in the observance of their Prayers. These are the heirs who will inherit Paradise. They will abide therein. [6]

Here, Allah promises Paradise to “the believers,” and in the six qualities He mentions of the believers, nowhere is fighting or martyrdom mentioned.

In Chapter 70, Allah promises Paradise to al-musallin, or “those who pray.” He describes al-musallin by eight noble qualities, and again, nowhere is fighting or martyrdom mentioned. [7]

Considering God promises Paradise to “the believers” and “those who pray,” we can dismiss this myth.

[1] Gardens of the Righteous (Riyadh as-Salihin of Imam Nawawi), Translated by Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Hadith #1358, pg. 228 (Islam International Publications, Ltd. Tilford: 1996).

[2] Annie Sweeney. “Suspect Arrested in 2006 Slaying.” Chicago Tribune. June 17, 2010,, Last Visited June 6, 2012.

[3] Gardens of the Righteous (Riyadh as-Salihin of Imam Nawawi), Translated by Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Hadith #1358, pg. 228 (Islam International Publications, Ltd. Tilford: 1996).

[4] Qur’an 3:196.

[5] Qur’an 9:111.

[6] Qur’an 23:2-12 (emphasis added).

[7] Qur’an 70:23-36.


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