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MARTYR, n. One who moves along the line of least reluctance to a desired death.
—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

A martyr is one who dies in order to promote or defend a belief or, especially, a religion. Many nations celebrate a version of Martyrs' Day.

Christian martyrs[edit]

Christianity has a long history of reverence for matyrs, who are seen as having made the ultimate sacrifice for their faith. The first Christian martyr is generally reckoned to be St. Stephen, who, according to the Acts of the Apostles, was stoned to death. His lead was taken up by some early Christians who formed what were effectively suicide cults; these were soon suppressed by both religious and temporal authorities.[1] The concept of martyrdom survives to the present day, with the Archbishop of Canterbury's 2015 Easter speech referring to martyrs in the Middle East and Kenya.[2] MartyrologiesWikipedia's W.svg are books devoted to biographies of martyrs. Due to the inherently biased nature of the books, promoting specific religious views, the books tend to be hagiographic in nature.

Islamic martyrs[edit]

The term "martyr" is quite similar to the Arabic term shaheed (شهيد). One difference is that many Islamic suicide bombers along with their families and supporters consider (or title) themselves shaheed. However, the general understanding of the term martyr is one who dies due to persecution by others for his or her beliefs, not someone who dies while trying to kill others for their beliefs.

Most Islamic clerics have issued fatwas against the killing of non-combatants and other innocents, and reject the term shaheed for those who have killed themselves and others in the name of Allah.

Islam generally considers any woman who dies during childbirth to be shaheeda.

Examples of Muslim martyrs and non-violent shaheed(a)[edit]

  • Sumayyah bint Khayyat, first female martyr, who was executed when she converted to Islam in 615.
  • Zayd ibn Ali — killed in 740 CE trying to protect his people from the rule of the corrupt and cruel Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik.
  • The Five Martyrs of Shi'a — all 5 were executed by Sunni regimes for holding to Shi'a beliefs.

Buddhist monks in Vietnam[edit]

A statue honoring Thích Quảng Đức in Vietnam

Thích Quảng ĐứcWikipedia's W.svg (d. 1963) is often considered a martyr for killing himself in order to bring awareness of the persecution of Buddhists by the Roman Catholic Church (and not the Vietnam War, as commonly believed)[citation needed]. Unlike the Islamic suicide bombers, Đức harmed no one but himself, and killed himself because he felt no one in the West was aware of the people's struggles and such a dramatic act would bring some media attention and internal pressure. Although self-immolation was not unprecedented in Vietnam, the attention his actions received due to the iconic Life magazine photograph proved him right.

See also[edit]