What is martyrdom? What does martyrdom means in islam?
Martyrdom is the most ultimate and sublime rank in the world that a Believer could ever attain to. Even though the lowest rank of Paradise is better than the entire world, a martyr, owing to the sublimity of his rank and greatness of his reward in Paradise, will want to return to the world over and over again to be martyred each time. Allah, glory unto Him, states:
“And if you are slain in the way of Allah or you die, certainly forgiveness from Allah and mercy is better than what they amass.” (Al’i Imran, 157)
Recounting the incident below is Saad ibn Abi Waqqas -Allah be well-pleased with him-:
“Once a man came while the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- was leading us in salat. Upon taking his place in the row, he prayed, ‘Allah…Give me the best of what you give your righteous servants!’
As soon the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- finished his salat, he asked, ‘Who was the man who made that prayer before?’
‘It was me’, said the man.
‘Then your horse will be made to fall’ said the Prophet of Allah, ‘and you will be martyred in the way of Allah.’” (Hakim, I, 325/748)
Together with heralding the future martyrdom of many of his Companions, those on behalf of whom the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- prayed for forgiveness and wellbeing, also ended up being martyred. One such example is Amr ibn Aqwa -Allah be well-pleased with him-, who a short time after the blissful privilege of being on the receiving end of the Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- prayer, was martyred at Khaybar.
That the Blessed Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- plea for forgiveness manifested itself in the martyring of those on behalf of whom the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- prayed, is another proof to the greatness of the rank of martyrdom. Accustomed to witnessing this sequence in many others, in time, the Companions, too, came to conceive these prayers as the fortunate news of their upcoming martyring.
According to a narration by Abu Qatadah -Allah be well-pleased with him-, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- once stood up amid the Companions, and reminded them that “Believing in Allah and fighting in His way are the most worthy of all deeds!”
Thereupon a man stood and asked, “If I were to die in the way of Allah, Messenger of Allah, would that atone for my sins?”
“Yes. If you persevere on the front, hold out against the enemy, patiently and anticipating the rewards from Allah only and, in the end, are killed in the way of Allah, it will atone for your sins. But your debts are excluded. And that Jibril told me.” (Muslim, Imarah, 117; Tirmidhi, Jihad, 33/1712)
And in another hadith, it is declared:
“All the sins of a martyr, except his violation of the rights of others, are forgiven by Allah.” (Muslim, Imarah, 119)
At another time, the Prophet of Mercy -upon him blessings and peace- explained the following to the Companions:
“Last night in my dream I saw two men. They took me up this tree and then to a house, which was of a great beauty and worth I had never witnessed before. The two men then said to me, ‘This exceptional house is the palace of martyrs.’” (Bukhari, Jihad, 4; Janaiz, 93)
The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- would compassionately counsel and support the families of the martyrs and, at the same time, hearten the Companions to attain the rank of martyrdom.
Jabir -Allah be well-pleased with him- explains:
“My father’s corpse, subjected to muslah, was brought and placed in front of the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- . I made a move to uncover the shroud from his face but I was prevented by those around who thought the sight would disturb others. The Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- then said, ‘the angels are ceaselessly shading him under their wings.’” (Bukhari, Janaiz, 3, 35, Jihad, 20; Muslim, Fadail’us-Sahabah, 129-130)
Being martyred in the way of Allah is not death. It rather marks the receiving of eternal blessings in a life of whose nature we are unaware. Allah, glory unto Him, therefore prohibits the use of the term ‘dead’ to refer to martyrs. The Quran pronounces:
“And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: “They are dead.” Nay, they are living, though you perceive it not.” (al-Baqara, 154)
“Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord. They rejoice in the bounty provided by Allah: And with regard to those left behind, who have not yet joined them (in their bliss), the (Martyrs) glory in the fact that on them is no fear, nor have they (cause to) grieve. They glory in the Grace and the bounty from Allah, and in the fact that Allah suffers not the reward of the Faithful to be lost (in the least).” (Al’i Imran, 169-171)
On the Day of Judgment, martyrs will be recognized by the blood flowing freely from their wounds, giving the impression they were seemingly opened just then, and the enchanting musk like fragrance emanating therefrom. Human beings will be made to stand witness to their honor and virtue. It is for that reason that unlike others, the corpse of a martyr is not given a wash before the funeral and the wound is left in tact as it is.
The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- elaborates the compassion Allah, glory unto Him, shows martyrs during the moment they breathe their last:
“The pain one feels when bitten by an ant is the most pain a martyr feels during death.” (Tirmidhi, Fadail’ul-Jihad, 26/1668; Nasai, Jihad, 35; Ibn Majah, Jihad, 16)
In encouraging Believers to martyrdom, the Allah, glory unto Him, states:
“Let those fight in the cause of Allah Who sell the life of this world for the hereafter. To him who fights in the cause of Allah, whether he is slain or gets victory, soon shall We give him a reward of great (value).” (an-Nisa, 74)
Expressing his sincere yearning to become martyred is also the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-:
“Were it not to be a burden upon my ummah, I would not remain behind from any campaign (sariyya) and would take part in all of them. I would have wanted to be martyred in the way of Allah, then be revived and be martyred once again, and then again.” (Bukhari, Iman, 26; Muslim, Imarah, 103, 107)
The Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- one day saw Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him- in a shirt.
“Is the shirt new or has it just been washed?” inquired the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-.
“It is not new, Messenger of Allah; it has just been washed”, Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him- replied.
“(May you) wear it new, live in gratitude and die a martyr!” (Ahmad, II, 89)
The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was thus effectively heralding martyrdom for Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him-.
On an other occasion the Prophet of Mercy -upon him blessings and peace- was standing on Mount Uhud, accompanied by Abu Bakr, Omar and Othman -Allah be well-pleased with them, when suddenly the mountain began to quake. Stomping his feet on the ground, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- then said:
“Calm down, Uhud. For standing on you are none other than a prophet, a siddiq and two martyrs.” (Bukhari, Ashab’un-Nabi, 6; Tirmidhi, Manaqib, 18/3703; Nasai, Ahbas, 4)
Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him-, too, used to constantly pray, “Allah; grant me martyrdom in your path and the joy of dying in the land of your Messenger!” (Bukhari, Fadail’ul-Medina, 12) Allah, glory unto Him, did indeed grant his burning wish. His daughter Hafsa -Allah be well-pleased with her- says:
“When I heard my father’s prayer, I was taken aback and remarked, ‘How will that be; you want to be martyred and in Medina, too?’ But all he said was, ‘If Allah wishes, He will make it happen.’”
The amazement of people, in relation, and their curiosity as to how it would take place remained, up until Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him- was eventually martyred. (Ibn’ul-Hajar, Fath’ul-Bari, IV, 101)
In pointing to the need for each Muslim to eagerly desire martyrdom, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- states:
“One, who wholeheartedly wishes martyrdom from Allah, will be the granted that rank, even if he dies in his bed.” (Muslim, Imarah, 157; Nasai, Jihad, 36)
“A person who sincerely desires martyrdom will be given its reward, even if he does not end up being martyred.” (Muslim, Imarah, 156)
Additionally, the Prophet of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- considered other types of death under martyrdom. He in fact once asked his Companions, “Who do you consider to be martyrs?”
“Whoever dies in the way of Allah, Messenger of Allah, is a martyr”, they replied.
“In that case, the martyrs of my ummah”, said the Blessed Prophet, “are very few.”
“Then who is a martyr, Messenger of Allah?”
“One, who is killed in the way of Allah, dies in the way of Allah, dies from a contagious disease, from diarrhea and dies from drowning, is a martyr”, explained the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- . (Muslim, Imarah, 165; Ibn Majah, Jihad, 17)
In other narrations, the Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- also designates those who die in self-defense or defending their families and properties as martyrs.
 Muslim, Jihad, 123, 132; Bukhari, Maghazi, 138.
 Muslah is the act of mutilating the corpse of the deceased at battle in the form of severing the ears, nose and other bodily parts, and carving out the eyes. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- was emphatic to prohibit this ruthless practice, even banning its practice on animals. (Bukhari, Mazalim, 30, Dhabaih, 25; Abu Dawud, Jihad, 110)
 See, Bukhari, Mazalim, 33; Muslim, Iman, 226; Abu Dawud, Sunnah, 28-29; Tirmidhı, Diyat, 21.