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'Shaheed' is someone who has taken 'shahada'. The direct translation of shahada is 'witness'. Traditionally, when someone takes the oath to become a muslim he/she bears witness that there is no god but Allah and Muhammed pbuh is Allah's messenger. Thus, technically, all muslims should be shaheed.

So why are only martyrs refereed to as shaheed while a muslim who dies a regular non-jihad death generally is not referred to or remembered as a shaheed. What are the martyrs witnessing as they die from battle?

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Shahada and shaheed come from the same root شهـد. This becomes شهـادة for shahada, and شهـيد for shaheed. Like most Arabic roots, شهـد has many meanings, which could easily fill an entire page. Some examples from Hans Wehr (p.571) include witness, experience, testify, acknowledge, inspect, view, and as you observed, to die as a martyr. Only the founding Arabic grammarians could explain why or how a root could have so many different meanings. However, you’ll find this dilemma in most languages. One random English example that comes to mind is ‘saw’. Someone could say that they ‘saw’ something, or they could also ‘saw’ some wood. Hope this helps.

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