A religion can be evaluated by various measures. Here I suggest that the martyrs of Islam and Christianity provide a significant insight into both religions.
Martyrs are not new, but neither are they a thing of the past. When John Foxe (1516-1587) wrote his famous book, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, in the sixteenth century, he thought that martyrdom was a thing of the past. However, there have been more Christian martyrs in modern times than all those of antiquity. Gospelweb claims that, on average, 465 Christian martyrs are killed around the globe every day.
At the same time Islam has its martyrs. In modern times we know them best as suicide bombers. These are people who have been taught that the killing of infidels (non Muslims) will gain them personal benefits in Paradise.
So, let’s take a moment to review some of the superficial differences between these two groups of martyrs, the Muslim and the Christian. And in so doing, let’s see what those who are willing to die for their faith reveal about the very faith for which they die.
Islam’s martyrs die in holy war (jihad). They are commonly seen today as suicide bombers. Their actions are essentially selfish – in order to gain personal benefit, such as promotion to paradise, with a bevy of beautiful virgins at their behest. In death these martyrs aim to kill as many others as they can. They kill and main innocent people, in the name of their religious zeal.
Islam’s martyrs die for personal gain and maximum carnage on others.
Christianity’s martyrs die as victims, not as warriors. They most commonly die because they have attempted to take their faith to others, or because they refuse to deny their faith in the face of threat. They do not inflict pain or damage to others in their death. They are passive in their martyrdom.
That’s quite a startling contrast.
Muslim martyrs die with self-interest in mind. Christian martyrs die to win others or to remain true to their faith.
Muslim martyrs necessarily engage in the slaughter of others. Christian martyrs bring no harm to others in their death.
Muslim martyrs engender fear in the community. Christian martyrs are no threat to anyone.
The word ‘martyr’ comes from the New Testament Greek word ‘martoos’, which means ‘witness’. So let’s see what these martyrs give testimony to about their religion.
In reflecting the example of Islamic martyrs we are presented with a religion of self-interest, at the expense of others. We are also presented with a religion of violence, carnage and destruction. We are presented with a religion at war. There is no evidence of something that elevates the human soul. The indulgent image of sexual gratification as the reward for martyrdom is itself a base idea, even if it is only pedalled by the fanatic fringe.
Christian martyrs testify to a religion of self-sacrificing devotion. We see a level of self-less commitment to preaching the gospel to others, even at the risk of death. We see love in action.
Martyrs are not the only reflection of a religion. But surely those people who are sufficiently committed to their faith to die for it must have some credibility in illustrating the character of what they are dying for.
On balance, then, the martyrs of Islam and Christianity bear witness to completely different and contrasting religions. There is no evidence in the testimony of the martyrs that the Moslem God and the Christian God have anything in common.