"If I die, it will be as a martyr." Osama bin Laden is said to have announced that. The terrorist as victim: After his killing by U.S. troops, Western observers fear that the head of the al Qaeda terror network is now being martyred in the Arab world. And that his death should be avenged.
"After all, the Palestinian Hamas declared bin Laden a martyr minutes after his death was announced," writes journalist and Islam observer Udo Ulfkotte, for example. "Across the Arab world, anger against the U.S. is now growing."
Words can change their meaning: The word "martyr" is a good example of this. In Greece of pre-Christian times it meant nothing more than "witness" in a legal dispute. The polytheism of pagan antiquity did not allow anyone to become a martyr. The situation is different in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: "In the Abrahamic religions, martyrdom, the willingness to bear witness to the truth or to the true God through one’s life, enjoys a high reputation," says Christoph Dartmann, a medieval historian from Munster.
Blood of the martyrs as "seed of the church"
"Blessed are you when men revile and persecute you for my sake," Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. The early Christian writer Tertullian (probably 150 to 230 n. Chr.) called the blood of the martyrs the "seed of the church". Many Christians who refused pagan sacrifices to the emperor paid with an agonizing martyrdom.
In the persecutions of Christians of the 3. By the end of the sixteenth century, the burgeoning cult of martyrdom spread throughout the Roman Empire. On the anniversary of each death, communion was celebrated at the martyrs’ graves; in many places, large basilicas were built over the graves – as over St. Peter’s tomb in Rome. Martyrdom alone was often enough for a saint to be venerated.
Victim, not perpetrator
It was very clear that the martyr was a victim, not a perpetrator. He suffered death as a blood witness for the cause of God. However: even in Western Christianity, testimony of faith and the practice of violence could be linked together. When Pope Urban II. called for the first crusade in 1095, he promised Christian warriors remission of sins: Fallen crusader warriors thus bypassed divine judgment; they were assimilated to martyrs.
The term martyr is also popular in Islam: a martyr is a Muslim who is killed by opponents while practicing his religion, whether in war in defense of Muslims and the oppressed, or during a civilian mission in which he becomes the victim of an attack. A pilgrim who dies during the pilgrimage or a mother who dies in childbirth is also considered a martyr.
Example of self-sacrifice
The archetype of the Muslim martyr is Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who in 680 faced the army of the Caliph Yazid for a decisive battle and fell after heroic resistance. This example of self-sacrifice was taken up by Iranian revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini, who spurred Shiite Muslims to emulate him in the war against Iraq and Israel.
For Al Qaeda, the Islamic duty of jihad allows a war of terror against America and its allies. The suicide attack became the most important weapon; the assassin should go directly to paradise.
At the latest since 11. The Islamic scholar Jan-Peter Hartung of the London School of Oriental and African Studies regrets that the image of the religious martyr is very one-sidedly shaped by the view of these perpetrators. This connection is by no means clearly justified by the religious and legal writings of Islam. A suicide attack is nowhere clearly justified, especially since suicide is frowned upon in Islam. Only by a deliberate simplification of complex theology and religious law would have helped violent Islamists martyrdom to new power to enforce political goals with terror.