Martyrdom, Christianity, Islam And The West; Part 1


I was reading an article in The Spectator written by Tom Holland just prior to The May Disaster and I was struck by this line (emphasis mine);

The Church of England, offspring of the Reformation though it is, has long since forsworn the sugar-rush of fanaticism. Vicars today rarely quote from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Christianity in Britain has made its peace with the values of the Enlightenment: secularism, liberalism, humanism. The ease with which it has done so reflects the degree to which, in large part, it came to serve as their midwife. The God who provided assurance to Tudor monarchs that they were justified in killing heretics, and to Cromwell’s major-generals that England should be ruled as a theocracy, is today far more likely to be found in the nightmares of Richard Dawkins than in the prayers of Christians.”

Now, I must confess I’d never read the Foxe’s book of martyrs; I’m Catholic and its not in my religious background. However the idea that martyrdom in Christianity and Islam was one and the same was so prepostrous that I had to write a post explaining the difference between the two. This is part 1; I’m going to do a further post regarding the secular west later.

Firstly, let’s look at how Christianity through the teachings of Jesus views martyrdom.  The word is from the Greek word martus which signifies a witness who testifies to a fact of which he has knowledge from personal observation. Yet the full meaning in Christianity comes from that the fact these witnesses knew from the outset that their testimony would mean death. From St Stephen’s martyrdom, which we celebrate just after Christmas, people who had cowered in the upper room after Jesus’ crucifixion came out of the shadow and suffered ostracism, abandonment, torture and death to tell people their testimony.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry he warns of impending persecution and it is clear that, for the Truth, the prospect of suffering is real and all Christians must prepare for it. The Beatitudes set this out clearly in Matthew 5;

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

As with St Stephen all christian martyrs do not use violence and are considered to go straight to heaven when they die as witnesses (Acts 7; 58).How could they use violence when the one whom they gradually came to believe as God didn’t. Even though Jesus was afraid of death (Matthew 26;38-44) he doesn’t fight back when he is arrested (John 18), but goes peacefully. When questioned about his kingdom Jesus specifically differentiates between earthly kingdoms and his heavenly kingdom;

36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would fight to prevent me being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But now my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Then Pilate said, “So you are a king!” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. I have been born and have come into the world for this reason—to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18; 36-37) 

When I delve into Islam later in this post it’s a particularly significant quote.

Further to that all four Gospel accounts state that during his arrest Jesus rebukes Peter when he cuts off the servant of the High Priest’s ear in his attempt to defend Jesus;

“Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

Put your sword back in its place, Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”” (Matthew 26;50-54 – bold added for later purposes)

Inn Luke, the historian’s account, Jesus actually heals the servant;

“When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.” (Luke 22;49-51)

In terms of prostleytising the limits of what can be done against those who don’t believe are also laid down by Jesus. When he sends out the 72 pairs of disciples he says in Matthew 10;

11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting.13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

Notice his advise is basically ‘move on, God will deal with it’. The section continues as the advise isn’t just for those disciples, but for all time;

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

Note again that he requires the disciples to remain innocent; the only bloodshed he speaks of is there own in spreading the Kingdom. However, he also advises them to be shrewd and be on their guard; something our bishops and politicians should think about! Yet again the response is to flee, not fight; martyrdom, in contrast t suicide bombers, is not sought.

In fact as Jesus is having the nails hammered into his hands in order for him to be hung from the cross he says “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23;34).

So, to recap, in Christianity martyrdom means dying as a witness to the Truth of Christ. It is a Christians duty to proselytise, however this is only meant to be done through peaceful means; a Christian is to be gentle but wise in his dealings with others and protect his life if he can (it is, after all, a gift from God).

When it comes to protecting God’s name, or even God himself, then apart from witnessing to the Truth Christians again must not fight, as Jesus’ reprimand to Peter shows.

In comparison, let’s take a look at Islam.

If you return to Matthew 10 you see that Jesus’ advises his followers to give their blessing to a house they enter, but take it back when they don’t receive the message. The only further thing they are to do is ‘shake the dust from’ their feet. In contrast when Muhammad’s uncle, Abu Lahab, did not believe his self revealed prophethood Muhammad cursed him and his wife; “May the hands of Abu Lahab perish! May he himself perish! Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him. He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots, shall have a rope of fibre around her neck!”

This is in the Qur’an, the supposed very word of god.

Remember when Jesus refers to the fact that he could call on God to provide legions of angels to help him if he wanted to resist arrest? Well Muhammad claims that God sent three thousand angels to defeat his enemy Quraysh at the Battle of Badr (Qur’an 3:123-125);

“Allah had helped you at Badrah, when ye were a contemptible little force; then fear Allah; thus may ye show your gratitude. Remember thou saidst to the Faithful; ‘it is not enough for you that Allah should help you with three thousand angels specially sent down? Yea, if ye remain firm, and act aright, even if the enemy should rush here on you in hot haste, your Lord would help you with five thousand angels making a terrific onslaught”.

Remember too how Jesus reprimanded Peter for cutting off someone’s ear who was trying to arrest him? In comparison Muhammad when angered by his injury in the battle of Uhud he states that “The wrath of God is fierce against him against him who bloodied the face of his prophet”. (The Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq*)

Furious at the death of his uncle Hamza he vows revenge not only on those that had killed him, but if God give him victory he would mutilate thirty of the tribes men they were at war with(*). Not so much You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.'” (Matthew 5:38-39)

Remember the massacre at the Charlie Head offices? Well they were just following the lead of Muhammad himself who, when he was offended that a Jewish poet K’ab bin Al-Ashraf composition of poems about Muslim women, asks his followers; ‘Who is willing to kill Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?”(*) He wasn’t speaking metaphorically either because when asked by Muhammad bin Maslama if he wanted him to kill Al-Ashraf Muhammad responded ‘Yes’.

The young assassin goes on to ask Muhammad if it is ok to lie in order to lure Al-Ashraf to his death – Muhammad gives his permission.

But then Muhammad was happy to use violence to obtain money by allowing his followers to raid travelling caravans.

So how about in spreading Islam itself? What does Muhammad recommend in comparison to Jesus?

“Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and prepare for the each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is forgiving, Merciful!” (Qur’an 9:5)

So, kill them unless they pay you money and pretend that your God’s prophet.

As for those not engaging in Jihad;

“Do ye make the giving of drink to pilgrims, or the maintenance of the Sacred Mosque, equal to the pious serve of those who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and strive with might and main in the cause of Allah [actual text used jihad fi sabil Allah]? They are not comparable in the sight of Allah: and Allah guides not those who do wrong. Those who believe and suffer exile and strive with might and main, in Allah’s cause [jihad fi sabil Allah] with their goods and their persons, have the highest rank in the sight of Allah; they are the people who will achieve salvation” (Qur’an 9:19-20)

Firstly note that the difference here between the Christian expectation that if you die non-violently to witness to the truth you will be received into heaven straight away, as per St Stephen. However, as you don’t volunteer for martyrdom in Christianity according to Jesus’ instruction, there are many equally valid ways to heaven. Whereas in this verse it is clear that in the Qur’an, remember this is the very word of god, fighting jihad is the way to get to heaven.

Secondly this is from an older surrah and has therefore more significance in terms of what is seen as morally true.[See ECAW’s comment below]

So in contrast to Christianity; fighting to spread Islam is fine, it’s actually the way to get to heaven. Fighting to avenge Muhammad or Islam because someone has offended is also fine. Taking revenge for death is fine, in fact, its perfectly acceptable to visit that revenge on a multiple of other people.

This is martyrdom in Islam, dying whilst fighting to spread Islam, or for revenge.








  1. “Secondly this is from an older surrah and has therefore more significance in terms of what is seen as morally true.”

    Sorry, but unless I have completely misunderstood you have this the wrong way round. Sura 9 is the last substantive sura of the Koran and has more significance because of that. When Allah gets himself confused or forgets what he said previously the principle of abrogation says that the later verse takes precedence.

    Although sura 9 looks as though it is an older, ie earlier, sura that is a false impression because the Koran is not in chronological order. This shows it all:

    Best wishes.


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