The Unintentional Shaheed


We as a nation are facing a crisis in thought. The level of critical thinking that drives the major discussions of the day is not only dismal, but also useless to informing and educating our public.

I was struck by the misuse of the hallowed title of shaheed in our national discourse. In Pakistan, the word “shaheed” is employed by extremists to justify and defend their horrific agenda to the country, the world, and most importantly, to the young children – their recruits – whom they convince of the Islamic merits of cold-blooded murder. Progressives use the word shaheed as well, but there is a stark difference: the extremist wants to die and wants to kill, and the progressive is the one who loses his life in the fight for bettering the lives of others. For us progressives, we never intend to be martyrs, but we simply become shaheed.

To the extremists, a martyr is one who straps bombs to his body, waiting for when the bazaars are full and lively, before gleefully detonating. To the extremists, the gunmen who kill UN workers, the suicide bombers who kill men and women at a bus stop,those who consider Shias and Ahmedis to be Wajib-ul-Qatl do so as “proper Muslims.” And should they die in the process, they are to be considered the holy shaheed, forever sanctified in the twisted minds of the terrorists.

What can be as heartbreaking as the deafening silence of my compatriots when innocent people are slaughtered by the thousands, and they refuse to unite and push back against evil?

When there are voices for change, and people calling for reform, they are violently silenced. Governor Salmaan Taseer Shaheed was assassinated for stating the cruel blasphemy laws needed to be reformed, for making the very valid point that the law has been misused and innocent people have died because of it. But who in Pakistan has the time for contemplating valid points, for looking at history to see Zia made this draconian law, not our Prophet (pbuh)? Not media pundits. Not the maulvis on every street corner. His murderer, his own bodyguard, feels no remorse because he is comforted by the ideological monsters who continue to praise him. The Minister of Minority Affairs, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated because he was a Christian minister in the President’s Cabinet. In the eyes of his killers, that was his only crime and more than enough reason to damn him.

They did not know they would be shaheed that day, while the terrorists plan for months. The Governor stood up for the principle of justice for all, and it cost him his life. Our people die in the streets daily, but the stories disappear as the next news cycle begins. We as a society should never stand for the killers being called “shaheed.” It goes against the very heart and soul of Islam, and it ought to go against our own humanity.

We are in a miserable time indeed; the jahalat runs as profusely as the blood of innocent Pakistanis. It is time we stood up against it, and stopping the misuse of “shaheed” is just one way to begin.




  1. It is interesting to note that the author defines the word Shaheed as per the progressive dictionary “is the one who loses his life in the fight for bettering the lives of others”. Why would the author then use Governor Salmaan Taseer Shaheed and refrain from giving the same honor to Mr.Shahbaz Bhatti?

    Furthermore, Shaheed is a title bestowed upon those who defend Islam (as they are not allowed to practice their religion freely) and die in the name of Islam. Hence – as rightly put by the author – the extremists have defaced the meaning and place it on those who kill innocent civilians.

    However, I don’t agree with the title being given to those who are assassinated at the hands of militants. Liaqut Ali Khan was assassinated but not given the title, Murtaza Bhutto, Shahnawaz Bhutto and Zia-ul-Haq were assassinated but not given the title. Why? Does every political assassination in Pakistan become a shaheed? Anwar Sadaat was assassinated, but is not a shaheed.

    Invoking such sentiment and playing to the same tune as militants in Pakistan is not how we can counter the ideology that is spreading across the country like cancer. There are better ways to merge a people together behind a common cause than rallying around fear and death.

Comments are closed.