What does the term shahid in Islamic literature truly represent? Are all those die in the holy wars and the innocent people killed in some accidents or are murdered Shahid? I am really confused. Please enlighten me on this issue and also explain what happens to a shahid after his or her death.
The word Shahid connotes ones who bears witness to a certain fact. It implies martyrs as they live their lives bearing witness of the truth and spare nothing to remain steadfast in the way of their Lord even their lives. The basic thing that qualifies one to the position is this conviction. This conviction varies in different individuals raising them to different stages. Therefore, we cannot draw a line to distinguish between their degrees.
Those who die in accidents or killed innocent may get some reward from the Almighty but accidentally being killed in a war by the enemy does not raise one to the status of Shahid. The basic criteria are living the life of submission to God and sacrificing all in His way even life if need be.
The Holy Qur'an has informed us that those who lived life of submission before God and sacrifice their lives necessarily merit success in the Hereafter and are rewarded right from their death. It says:
This brief information tells that they are not dead like others rather they are being rewarded. This treatment is special for the martyrs, the Messengers, the Prophets (sws), and other pious people who lived lives of virtue and rightness. They will be rewarded right after death. The Holy Qur'an does not tell us the nature of this life. This falls within the matters we cannot fully comprehend like most of the matters regarding the hereafter. We only know that they will be experiencing life and will be rewarded by their Lord and while the nature of this reward cannot be comprehended.
Think not of those, who are slain in the way of Allah, as dead. Nay, they are living. With their Lord they have provision. (3:169)