Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Different Kind of Martyr

An Islamic martyr – a shahid – is a follower of the prophet who dies fighting for Allah during jihad, and his goal is to enter Paradise while killing as many of the enemy as possible. In recent years martyrdom has increasingly been associated with the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent infidel (or apostate) civilians, even children.

But Christian martyrs are somewhat different. In the Christian tradition, a martyr faces death rather than renounce his faith, and dies without violent resistance, with his eyes turned towards God. To target anyone else during martyrdom, especially the innocent, would be specifically un-Christian.

At the dawn of Christianity innumerable believers were martyred at the hands of the Romans. Throughout the centuries since there have been many more dying at the hands of pagans, or during the internecine strife that has been all too common within Christianity. The latest examples occur in places like Nigeria, Sudan, Malaysia, and Indonesia, often at the hands of Muslims. The news doesn’t generally make it to the newspapers or TV, but there are Christians being martyred for their faith almost every day.

Abdul RahmanNow we come to Abdul Rahman, who has made it to the newspapers and TV. He is an apostate from Islam in Afghanistan, a convert to Christianity, and he faces a possible death sentence for his heinous act.

President Bush has been a long time acknowledging this travesty. The delay is peculiar, coming from a man with an Evangelical background. You would think it was incumbent upon him to bear witness to the suffering and possible death of a fellow Christian due solely to his profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

But Afghanistan, as we all know, is an example of the new wave of democratic change, a shining beacon of hope in the benighted Middle East. So it’s tough for our President to recognize publicly that a man may be put to death legally in Afghanistan because of his religious beliefs.

Today, in West Virginia, President Bush finally reacted:

[President Bush] said he was upset that an Afghan man is being tried for converting to Christianity. Abdul Rahman, 41, faces a possible death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago. He has been charged with rejecting Islam, a crime under this country’s Islamic laws.

“We expect them to honor the universal principle of freedom,” Mr. Bush said at Capitol Music Hall, an ornate theater downtown. “I’m troubled when I hear, deeply troubled when I hear, the fact that a person who converted away from Islam may be held to account. ... I look forward to working with the government of that country to make sure that people are protected in their capacity to worship.”

This is weak dishwater indeed, passing as a defense of religious freedom. What does he look forward to working with the Afghan government about? Arranging a proper Christian burial for Mr. Rahman after his execution? Attempting to negotiate a lesser penalty for the poor man, say the cutting off of a hand, or the gouging out of an eye?

What Afghanistan is proposing to do is completely legal, under a constitution that we helped to install, under a government that was duly elected in a free and fair ballot.

No wonder President Bush doesn’t want to talk about it.

No wonder he waited until after the Germans and Italians protested before he said anything.

But, even if he avoids a death sentence, Mr. Rahman is facing an ordeal. Here’s an interesting story from News 14 Carolina:

…prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari said questions have been raised about [Mr. Rahman’s] mental fitness.

“We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn’t talk like a normal person,” he told The Associated Press.

Moayuddin Baluch, a religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, said Rahman would undergo a psychological examination.

“Doctors must examine him,” he said. “If he is mentally unfit, definitely Islam has no claim to punish him. He must be forgiven. The case must be dropped.”

It was not immediately clear when he would be examined or when the trial would resume. Authorities have barred attempts by the AP to see Rahman and he is not believed to have a lawyer.

Well, of course he’s crazy. Anyone who rejects Islam has to be crazy; it’s obvious.

This is the old Soviet technique, refined and updated for the Umma of the 21st century: if brainwashing fails, label the poor bastard “nuts”, put him in a straitjacket, give him electroshock, and lock him away. What do you think the inside of an Afghan mental hospital is like?

And no lawyer, either, naturally.

Then there’s this account of a theological debate amongst Islamic scholars in Islam Online:

…Mohammad Salim Al-’Awwa, member of the International Association of Muslim Scholars, stated that the Ever-Glorious Qur’an did not specify a worldly punishment for apostasy. The Qur’anic verses talking about apostasy only warned of a punishment for the apostate in the Hereafter, echoing Qaradawi’s stance.

“Although we admit that apostasy is a crime, I doubt that the punishment mentioned by some classical jurists in the books of jurisprudence for apostasy is the capital punishment. I further doubt to include this form of punishment as a legal punishment prescribed by the Shari’ah. I am of the opinion that the punishment for apostasy is a discretionary one that is wholly left to concerned authorities to apply in the Muslim State,” said Awwa.

Well-known Azharite scholar Sheikh ’Abdul-Majeed Subh had said that the punishment for apostasy is dependent on the public interest of the Muslim nation and the assessment of scholars to each case.

“If the apostate does not harm the Muslim society, there may be no need for killing him.”

So, according to Dr. Awwa, the punishment might be “discretionary” – somehow, that doesn’t make me optimistic. “Discretionary” punishment in that part of the world is usually what I would call “draconian”.

And Sheikh Subh says that Mr. Rahman might be spared if he doesn’t harm the Umma. What would harm Muslim society? Carrying a Bible? Wearing a cross? Announcing his faith in Christ?

And if the Umma escapes harm, if nasty ol’ Jesus doesn’t hurt any poor Muslims, then what? Life without parole? Solitary confinement on bread and water?

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

As a public service, I have written a speech for President Bush to give the day after Mr. Rahman is convicted an sentenced:

My fellow Americans,

It is with great sadness that I must report to you the conviction and sentencing of a brave Christian in Afghanistan. Mr. Abdul Rahman faces death at the hands of the Afghan government solely for his profession of the Christian faith, as an apostate from Islam.

This barbaric act goes against everything that America stands for. It dishonors the blood that the brave members of our military shed in order to free Afghanistan from tyranny. It is a challenge to freedom of religion throughout the world.

I have made the strongest protest possible to President Hamid Karzai and the government of Afghanistan.

Ladies and gentlemen, America is the great lamp of freedom to the rest of the world, and religious freedom is perhaps the most important freedom of all. We cannot sit idly by while peaceful believers are brutalized and murdered because of their religious faith.

Unfortunately, the strategic circumstances of the Long War require us to maintain a working relationship with Afghanistan, in order to prosecute more effectively the war against the terrorists who would kill us.

But make no mistake about it – this partnership will continue only so long as it is absolutely necessary. After that, America will withdraw its aid and its soldiers until such time as the people of Afghanistan renounce their barbaric ways and join the civilized world.

Don’t hold your breath waiting to hear him say these things.


Anonymous said...

Why such a negative outlook? All believing Christians need to pray for this man.

I would like Dymphna's take on this story--surely a more reasoned opinion.

Adaneshju said...

I don't want to argue about every meaning of the word martyr, because it's certaintly used by terrorist and their ilk all the time. But when you say that "this is an Muslim martyr" and "this is a Christian martyr" you're making something monolithic (for both sides) that is not.

I also believe that the "apostasy clause" of Islam is very possibly the absolute worst part of Islam in my point of view. However, the very people you cite as to differing interpretations of what must be done to apostates shows that progress in this area IS possible. Not everywhere is Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, or even Iran.

First, somewhat interestingly, shahid and martyr share root meanings. The Arabic root Shiin-ha-daal has the base meaning of "to observe or witness," thus a shahid is a witness.

As counterpoints--the first Muslim martyr is as I recall one of the very early converts to Islam (a slave woman--remember early Islam was very often popular amongst the downtrodden) who was tortured and killed (forget the details, but I believe she was baked in the sun..) for her beliefs and refusing to renounce her monotheism. She was killed by the Meccans. This fits your "Christian martyr" definition to a tee.

As another, you better believe that amongst many, many others, the various crusader forces believed in martyrdom. Well, at the least the crusaders MADE plenty of martyrs..

Likewise, Byzantine forceslikewise were told to chant certain prayers as they entered battle, and could expect what if they died?--I'll leave that to your imagination.

You list the Christian martyrs of Nigeria, Sudan, Malaysia, etc. I wonder, were the many Bosnians and Albanians and Kosovar Muslims martyred by Christians? What about the forced conversions and expulsions of Jews and Muslims in 16th century Spain. Countless Muslims/Moriscoes certaintly died for their beliefs at the hand of the inquisition.

My point is merely, this isn't nearly so black and white an issue as you make it. However, MORALLY speaking it is. Abrurrahman's trial is completely ridiculous. However, being morally black and white doesn't make it a simply CHRISTIANITY IS THIS while ISLAM IS THAT.

Frank said...

I'm glad you give note to the strategic concerns involved and avoided sounding like many on the left who condemn the Iraq war on the grounds that the US didn't similarly invade North Korea and a host of other bad guys and is therefore hypocritical. Matters of principle are important, but not as important as strategic concerns at the moment.

In fact, one might cogently argue that the overriding principle here is that of democracy; just because a democracy produces laws dissimilar to ours doesn't make it less a democracy. If we are going to exalt democracy, then democracy it ought to be.

Having said that, I am tired of Muslim apologists like Adaneshju telling us how ethocentrically horrid any unfavorable comparison between Islam and Christianity is. Lets get something straight here...Mohammed was a thug and a highwayman who actually appealed to the Median Jews to bolster his claim to prophethood, had them killed when they pointed out his historical errors, and took the irredeemable step of claiming that the massacre was divinely inspired. He then went on to have several more free thinkers killed. Its all right there in the Koran.

Now maybe Jesus carried on like this, but I haven't heard of it, and while Christians have from time to time been guilty of rather naughty behavior, I have yet to see a bible which deifies the behaviour.

There is a limit to the amount of whitewash one can splash on Islam. It may be a religion of peace, but it is, quite explicitly, peaceful only to those who submit to it.

Adaneshju said...


The polemics you recite are no different than those of a thousand years ago and earlier. It's actually quite interesting to me how the these same threads have trickled down into our modern era.

There is no "ethnocentrism" to any argument here, because there is no ethnocentricity to Christianity or Islam. There's no racial component at all (or are you claiming this is a white v other thing? because I don't agree with that)

Let me get this straight though--I'm a "Muslim apologist" when I condemn the "apostasy clause" as I termed it, call Abdurrahman's trial ridiculous, and say that there is no moral comparison? So, merely for pointing out that the picture is not purely black and white (while specifically declaring the moral question to be just so), I become an apologist and someone I assume you would consider an ideological enemy? It's that kind of fundamentalism of thought that scares me and is dominant in parts of the Islamic world.. I don't like it there, and I don't like it here.

There's a lot of stuff in the Bible that nobody pays attention to. Its mere existence doesn't indict all Christians. Likewise for Muslims..

I guess I should do a better job apologizing in the future.

The Anti-Jihadist said...

Moral equivocators like 'adaneshju' ('a danish jew'?) are not part of the solution, but part of the problem.

Adaneshju said...

Nope, not a Danish Jew, American WASP if it really makes a difference?

Krishna109 said...

Anone familiar with the SMCCDI? Interesting URL:

(Apparently this has nothing to do with either Danes or Jews-- rather, I believe it is a Persian word-- something related to this particular student movement)

Adaneshju said...

You've got it Krishna--Persian word, just means "student" (daneshju). Registered it as I think it's always good to be a student, and the "a" is for..the particle "a"! (Daneshju was already taken)

I'm a little surprised daneshju isn't in Hindi as well (that is, if you speak Hindi..)--maybe some variant like danesh/dana/something? I was always amazed at how many Persian words one of my Hindi speaking friends knew right off the bat. Just curious..

And just to be clear, and sorry to let you down, I'm in no way connected to any Iranian student movement :) Though actually looking at the site, this seems to be a good one...

HeatherRae said...

I've already written to President Bush. But yeah, I don't have high hopes for his actions. I will tell you this, if Bush doesn't do anything about this situation, he'll have lost my vote. For him to call himself a Christian and not do everything in his power - everything - to save a brother in Christ means he's as culpable in the eyes of God as the ones doing the actual killing.

But my GOD, I am so happy I was born in America.


Exile said...

OK. I could believe in one martyr now and again but this is getting ridiculous. I think we should drop the title. Hundreds of violent-minded suicide candidates, terrorists of all nationalities killed by various security forces around the world - These are not martyrs. Merely a collection of bloody minded individuals with a totally screwed up idea of what the world is about.

Religion springs from ignorance.

An invention to appease the masses who wanted their rulers to explain why the sun came up, went down, why it rained or didn't, why the seasons fluctuate and so on. In order to preserve power and their position in society, these rulers invented Gods. All questions where no scientific explanation could be furnished was then answered by the well known 'act of god' or 'the will of god'.

So what are they dying for?


And we are to glorify that?

A shame, that in the enlightened 21st century we have to put up with all this misery basically caused by megalomaniacs from thousands of years ago.

Time to let go...

Always On Watch said...

Heather: Why such a negative outlook?

Because of what the outcome of this case means down the road.

The man goes to his homeland to seek custody of this daughters. Any guesses as to why? Look at the ages of his daughters.

The Taliban ruled according to shari'ah law. If Afghanistan now does the same, there has been no liberation. And what about Iraq?

If Rahman escapes execution by reason of insanity--if have my own opinion as to which faith is insane. In Indonesia a Christian CHILD had her head cut off. Why? She was a Christian; the child had "done" nothing else.

What other of the world's faiths allows for legally, by rule of civil law, executing one who has abrogated that faith?

More proof that separation of established religion and the state is essential for a civilized society. Islam doesn't allow for that--there's the big clash, folks. And it's barbaric as well.

Adaneshju said...

What about Turkey? Or any of the other majority Muslim countries that don't behead people or institute punishments for conversion?

Frank said...


So your only point is that the issue is not black and white? That not all Muslim martyrs become martyrs via explosion? How very high school of you.

Not to be insulting, but this is moral equivalence hiding behind obfuscation. Obviously not ALL Christians are good and ALL Muslims bad. Obviously not all Muslims are fanatical killers and all Christians meek. But that does not address the respective natures of Islam and Christianity.

I ask you to find an instance in the New Testament suggesting that Jesus would welcome a massacre of unbelievers. I ask you to find one quote by Jesus, in the New Testament or in any academically buried work, which suggests that he was in favor of slaughtering Jews or Muslims or animists. Let me make your work easy can't, because no such thing exists.

The Koran, on the other hand, is rather similar to the Old Testament is its love of gore, killing and death. The life of Mohammed himself is an affront to the laws of civilization, be that civilization Anglo-Saxon or otherwise.

The fact that Islam has a martyr who happened to not blow herself up, or that the remnants of the eastern Empire in its final death thros encouraged its defenders to fight as martyrs, or, for that matter that Crusaders committed cruelty in their own defence (yes, defence) of former Bysantine territory, speaks not to the nature of Christianity but rather to the nature of man.

The difference is that the Koran, under all the whitewash of late, allows, encourages, and exalts murder killing. It is a religion of peace only for those who have submitted to it. It is a religion of war, and proudly so, to those who have not.

A. Eteraz said...

Respectfully, all of you have it wrong.

Here is why.

The issue is *not* what kind of activities Christian or Muslims martyr's engage in. At the moment of their death each thinks they are doing the right thing.

The issue is whether an individual's decision to put himself in harm way a *rational* decision. When you are fighting in a battle, the presumption is that you are trying to stay alive, and so when you die during the course of the battle, you can be considered a martyr. This is how Islam *originally* defined martyr. However, recent (post-Sartre) readings of Islamic theology (done by people like Ali Shariati - educated at the Sorbonne), *re-read* that battle-martyrdom into something else. They argued that martyrdom is when you *rationally choose* your death.

Prior to 1979 there are no cases of suicide bombing.

In the Algerian War of Independence there *were* suicide attacks, however, they were against military targets during the course of a guerilla war in Algiers.

In the end, adaneshju was correct to point out that it is not a black and white issue. The introduction of the *rational choice* notion into a fight, smuggled from contintental philosophy, has been a critical component of the creation of suicide bombing.

I encourage everyone who gives a damn to go on my blog ( and read the article on Ali Shariati under "My Posts on Islam."

Also, let's be clear: suicide bombing (including that performed by Buddhist monks) played a critical role in the Sinhala v. Tamil civil war of Sri Lanka, as well as the Tamil independence movement in India.

Adaneshju said...


But see, that's my problem. You are perfectly willing to look at the terrible side of Islam and than agre with sentiments like "An Islamic martyr is someone who kills Christians--only this and nothing more" which is not the case.

I also completely fail to see the relevance of your obsession with scripture? Who cares what scripture says? Who cares what your personal feelings about Muhammad are or your personal interpretation of a historical period that we have virtually no sources for is?

Let's go out on a limb here...

Christianity for the past 2000 years has been far more anti-semitic than Islam--and I say this in terms of the number of Jews killed by Christians or Muslims. When the Spanish Inquisition (controlled by the Spanish king, not the Catholic church) and the reconquista drove the Jews out of Spain where did they go?--Muslim lands. Hell, one needs only to go back fifty years in Christian Europe to find the worst slaughter of Jews in history. You tell me, what does that say about the "nature" of Christianity?

WHO CARES that Jesus didn't say "slaughter the Jews"? That's absolutely an irrelevant argument, and belittles the dead. You better believe that theologians for centuries have come up with arguments as to why to attack Jews, while Augustine and others have defined and explored holy war. Calling the crusades "defensive" is ludicrous. That's EXACTLY the type of logic Muslim fundamentalists would use--"why attack civilians in Israel? Why, it's defensive." ... "Why fly into the tradecenters? It's defensive.."

You'll note again how it is this confluence of beliefs that makes me nervous? SOMEONE'S drinking their koolaid it looks like..

That YOU find it difficult to interpret the Bible (while entirely forgetting hundreds of years of tradition and church history) one way, and YOU find it easy to interpret the Qur'an another way is irrelevant. But fortunately that's the good thing about interpretation--it can change.

honestly, I have to agree with Exile here. The story of modernity in Europe, from the Renaissance and Reformation to the Enlightenment on is the story of removing the power of religion. The reason you can speak today of this ahistorical "nature" of Christianity is because of the secular society we live in.

Frank said...


I am not particularly familiar with Christian scripture so I can hardly be "obsessed" with it, but I would have thought that my point regarding what is NOT in Christian scripture would be self-evident. Obviously I was wrong, so I'll explain.

Both Islam and Christianity have their roots in the experience of individuals, Jesus and Mohammed respectively.

Both religions harken to books containing those experiences, the New Testament and the Koran respectively. What man has done with those books in the intervening centuries is a product of the nature of man, not NECESSARLY the fault of the books themselves. During the 9th to 11th centuries, for instance, the cult of the "warrior Christ" held sway throughout the Heptarchy and early medieval Europe. Certainly since that time Christians of this or that stripe have run amock numerous times under the banner of Christianity. Islam has too.

But there is a fundamental difference. Nowhere in the New Testament is killing condoned. In fact, killing is expressly forbidden, not only by sermon, but by example. The Koran is quite different; it explicitly condones and exalts violence; it actually promises paradise as a result of violence against others.

So you see, the point I am making is that at its very root Islam is a violent religion. Suicide bombers can find their actions outlined and condoned right there in the Koran. Christians on the other hand cannot.

That is perhaps why Christianity evolved as society evolved, and indeed was part of a reciprocal reaction directing society towards secularism. Assuredly, given its "total package" nature, coupled with its sanctified violence, Islam could never, if left to its own devices, evolve into the secularism of western European society as it exists today.

Unfortunately, Kant was right in his discovery of the dialectic, and in our secularism and the tolerance it breeds are the seeds of its own destruction. We are so ready to equivocate and accord respect to everything that we have, in the mane of tolerance, virtually outlawed our own critical thought processes. We will pay dearly for it I suspect.

SC&A said...

The negation of free will (that is, demanding death for apostasy) is an integral part of redefining Islam.

Whereas Islam was once a avenue to pursue new ideas (Islamic philosophic schools are proof on that) and even art, nowadays Islam has been 're branded.'

Mosques are no longer monuments to artchitecture, color or art- they cold, hard and unforgiving- exactly what you get when free will is removed from the menu of options available to thinking humans.

Pastorius said...

I think you make a good point. Yes, the difference is that this new breed of Shahids chooses to die for their cause in order to bring about the death of an enemy.

However, a rational choice to die is not a new thing. Christian martyrs made a rational choice to die. They had the opportunity to renounce their faith. In fact, so does Mr. Rahman.

The current breed of Islamic martyrs are morally disgusting human beings. There is no getting around it, except to say they are deluded by morally disgusting Imams.

Exile said...

There is another type of martyr.

Try my blog.

and this one also still alive!