Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Martyr" in Islam Means "Crappy Fighter".

One of the things that just frosts me to no end is the common Islamic abuse of the word “martyr”. They throw this word around and imply that Islamic “martyrs” are equivalent, or perhaps even superior to Christian Martyrs. Part of the purpose of this is to purposefully blur the distinction between Christianity and Islam, in an effort to further legitimatize Islam. 

In effect, they are trying to say that as the Christian community reveres its early martyrs for the faith, so too Islamic martyrs should similarly be revered. 

The problem with this is that an Islamic “martyr” has nothing in common with a Christian martyr.
The Quran has very little to say about martyrs, except that they’re among the righteous and rub shoulders with prophets in paradise (4:69), and that they’re generally fine people to be around. But what does it mean to be a martyr? We find the answer in the very first mention of a martyr in Hadith Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 2 Number 35:
Narrated Abu Huraira:

The Prophet said, "The person who participates in (holy battles) in Allah's cause and nothing compels him to do so except belief in Allah and His Apostles, will be recompensed by Allah either with a reward, or booty (if he survives) or will be admitted to Paradise (if he is killed in the battle as a martyr). Had I not found it difficult for my followers, then I would not remain behind any sariya going for Jihad and I would have loved to be martyred in Allah's cause and then made alive, and then martyred and then made alive, and then again martyred in His cause."

Well, there its pretty clearly spelled out: A martyr is someone who dies during jihad. This also puts a pretty fine point on the misdirection that jihad is an internal moral struggle. I’m not aware of many people who die in a struggle of conscience. Jihad is specifically called for in the Quran (9:5) 

Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Martyrdom and jihad are inextricably linked. You cannot be a martyr in Islam unless you are conducting jihad. Jihad is described as “Holy Battle”. Its specific purpose is to spread Islam, or to subjugate non-believers and relieve them of their possessions. One of the clearest statements to this effect is in Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 254:
Narrated Abu Burda Bin Abi Musa Al-Ashari:

. . . .by Allah, we took part in Jihad after Allah's Apostle , prayed and did plenty of good deeds, and many people have embraced Islam at our hands, and no doubt, we expect rewards from Allah for these good deeds.'

The value of jihad in Islam cannot be understated.  Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 41:
Narrated Abdullah bin Masud:

I asked Allah's Apostle, "O Allah's Apostle! What is the best deed?" He replied, "To offer the prayers at their early stated fixed times." I asked, "What is next in goodness?" He replied, "To be good and dutiful to your parents." I further asked, what is next in goodness?" He replied, "To participate in Jihad in Allah's Cause." I did not ask Allah's Apostle anymore and if I had asked him more, he would have told me more.

Indeed, it is considered the highest deed a Muslim can do. Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 44:
Narrated Abu Huraira: 
A man came to Allah's Apostle and said, "Instruct me as to such a deed as equals Jihad (in reward)." He replied, "I do not find such a deed."

So Muslims are charged with the highest calling in Islam: to use holy battle to force non-believers to embrace Islam. If you die doing this, you are a martyr. 

Does anyone but me see a problem with this philosophy and the whole concept of no compulsion in religion? 

All of the Surahs and sunnas regarding martyrs come from after the Hijra, the flight to Medina. There was no question of martyrdom before the hijra, because the two dozen or so social misfits who followed Muhammad on the Hijra were hardly in any shape to fight anyone, let alone stand up and die for Islam. The no compulsion clause in the Quran (2:26) clearly comes from the pre-Hijra period in Mecca, when Muhammad was trying to make nice and recruit members nicely. This is a classic case of abrogation. Did Allah really write all this down before he created the universe, or was he making it up as he went along, responding to events as they happened? One answer makes Allah out to be an imbecile, and the other answer is pretty conclusive evidence that he was a product of Muhammad’s fevered imagination.
So is an Islamic martyr really a good person? Let’s see, his initial goal was to force me, a non-believer, to embrace Islam by threatening me with death or a ruinous head-tax if I didn’t. And for those of you who smugly say the Jizhya is a pittance, in the Syrian campaigns, the Jizhya was a gold Denarious per person – approximately four ounces of gold, more than $3500 in today’s currency. This person is so fanatical about his cult belief that he’s willing to kill me or die in an attempt to make be believe the same way he does. I don’t know, maybe it's just me, but I just find that a tad obnoxious.

Now, let’s examine what it means to be a Christian martyr. In Christianity, a martyr is someone who dies for believing in the word of Jesus Christ. Often such a person is compelled to renounce the teachings of Christ and is killed when he refuses. A hallmark of martyrs is that they do not actively resist their persecutors, but speak the praise of Jesus to the end. Typical of the example of scores of martyrs in the early church was the first Christian martyr, Stephen (Acts 7:54-60): 

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.  When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.  They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Having said this, he fell asleep.

For you literalists, “falling asleep” is a common new testament euphemism for dying (Matthew 27:52, John 11:11, Acts 13:36, 1 Corinthians 15:6, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 2 Peter 3:4).
Christ died on the cross, and he did so in submission. He did not protest, he did not fight, he did not try to avoid it – he easily could have left Jerusalem and avoided capture. When he was in fact captured, one of his apostles, Peter, sought to use violence to defend him, and was rebuked: 

Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave's name was Malchus. So Jesus said to Peter, "Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?" – John18:10-11
When those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?" And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, "Stop! No more of this." And He touched his ear and healed him. – Luke 22:49-51 

Early Christian martyrs followed Christ’s example. Muslim views of Christianity are narrowly focused on the crusades as seen from a jaundiced Muslim perspective. They see the crusades as a series of wars of conquest and a deliberate attempt by Christians to spread Christianity by force. They are blind to the fact that the crusades were wars of liberation, an attempt to retake formerly Christian lands and peoples which had been forcibly converted to Islam (see The "Peaceful" Muslim Expansion). Most Muslims believe that Christianity began the same way Islam did – at the point of a sword. 

In a way it did, but the sword was poised at the throats of Christians. It was illegal for three centuries to be a Christian in Rome. To be discovered to be a practicing Christian was a death sentence. The Romans made good sport of the public spectacle of feeding Christians to the lions in the coliseum as a form of entertainment.   The remarkable thing was that Christianity not only survived this period, but grew exponentially as it did so. Indeed, Christians felt it was an honor to die because of their beliefs, but to die as an example of piety and faith, not because they were trying to force anyone to join their religion. A group of people presented themselves to the Roman governor of Asia, C. Arrius Antoninus, declared themselves to be Christians, and encouraged the governor to do his duty and put them to death. He executed a few, but as the rest demanded it as well, he responded, exasperated, "You wretches, if you want to die, you have cliffs to leap from and ropes to hang by."* 

Such examples of faith led people to be amazed at how these people went willingly to death without a fight. This led to curiosity about what kind of faith could inspire people to such bravery, and caused many people to be drawn to Christianity. They were not forced, were not bribed, and had no expectation of an earthly reward when they chose to follow Christ, but instead were risking a cruel death.  

For me, I find the Christian martyrs to be an inspiration of faith. Utter faith that death awaits them to be cradled in the bosom of the Lord, if they keep to his commandment to do no harm to others. Such faith led millions more to follow Christ without one person being forced or coerced. I find the Muslim martyrs to be men of little real faith who died trying – unsuccessfully – to justify their own empty beliefs by compelling everyone else to espouse those same beliefs. The lack of substance in the Islamic faith is best exemplified by the Sharia law that mandates that apostates be put to death. What kind of faith is it that resorts to having to kill people to keep them from leaving? 

* Quoted in Bowersock, G. W. Martyrdom and Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995

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