Martyrdom has a noble significance in Islam. Those who die as martyrs enjoy a special status and merits. Concerning the effect of martyrdom on sins, `Abdullah ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) quotes the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as saying, “Martyrs are forgiven their sins, except debts.” The phrase “except debts” also relates implicitly to usurpation of people’s rights, unjustified killing, and so on.
Scholars maintain that martyrs are of three kinds: martyrs of both this world and the Hereafter, martyrs of the Hereafter only and martyrs of this world only; each category has its own ruling and is classified under a special legal nature.
The category of the martyrs of the Hereafter only includes those who have died being succumbed to certain types of ailments or calamities, not of their own making such as those killed in accidents, drowned, as well as people who die of an abdominal disease. A person who dies of smoking, however, is not qualified to be a martyr. This is because smoking itself is a sinful act because it is harmful to health and proved to be an act of driving oneself to ruin which is prohibited in Islam.
Tackling the issue of the different categories of martyrs, Al-Azhar House of Fatwa, states that:
“Muslim jurists state that the martyrs of both this world and the Hereafter are those who are killed in the war waged against the unbelievers, the martyrs of the Hereafter only are those killed in accidents, drowned, or illegitimately killed by the highway robbers. Some jurists have counted up to thirty kinds of such martyrs, while others state that they are up to forty kinds.”
So, the one who dies of an abdominal disease, the one who is drowned and the student who dies while seeking knowledge are all considered martyrs.
Focusing more on those who die as a result of abdominal diseases, Sheikh M. S. Al-Munajjid, a prominent Saudi Islamic lecturer and author, adds:
“Concerning the Arabic word “mabtun”, meaning, one who dies of an abdominal disease, the scholars say that the apparent meaning is that this would include one who dies of appendicitis because it is one of the abdominal diseases that kill. It may also include those who die of cirrhosis of the liver, because this is also an abdominal disease that kill.”
Therefore, such persons are also considered among the martyrs just like a woman who dies during childbirth.
However, we cannot say that those who die as a result of an abdominal disease, primarily caused by smoking, are martyrs. In addition, we should keep in mind that smoking itself is a sinful act that a true Muslim should keep away from due to the fact that it is harmful to health. This has been confirmed by doctors and scholars alike. Besides, smoking is an act of driving oneself to ruin, and Allah Almighty has warned us from this; He says, “…and be not cast by your own hands to ruin…” (Al-Baqarah: 195)
Based upon this fact, a person who dies of smoking is not qualified to be a martyr. The word martyrdom has a noble significance as clarified in Islamic Jurisprudence. Nonetheless, the fate of the dead regardless of the causes of their death is only determined by Allah Almighty, Who knows the destiny of each and where one will abide in the Hereafter.