The theology department hosted a round-table panel discussion on martyrdom in Judaism, Christianity and Islam Feb. 27 in the Heritage Room in the Weinberg Memorial Library.
Will Cohen, Ph.D., facilitated the discussion and the speakers included Marc Shapiro, Ph.D., Patrick Clark, Ph.D., and Melinda Krokus, Ph.D. The three professors spoke about martyrdom on behalf of their respective religions.
Shapiro began the discussion with a brief history and a personal reflection on martyrdom in Judaism.
He defined the Jewish view of martyrdom according to the book of Leviticus, which says that martyrdom is only acceptable in the case of sexual immorality, sparing another’s life or an alternative to giving up one’s faith. Otherwise, a Jewish person giving up his or her life would be considered suicide.
Shapiro said that throughout his life he has personally known one martyr and several families who have lost loved ones as a result of martyrdom. He also addressed Jewish people’s situations in Europe where they face issues such as guards in front of Jewish schools.
“Every Jew in Europe understands that (they) are martyrs,” Shapiro said. “This is the cross we have to bear … we believe we are called upon by God to live a certain way; if we believe it is our time, it is more important to do so than to give up who we are.”
Following Shapiro’s remarks, Clark addressed the concept of martyrdom in the Christian tradition. Clark said that there have been more Christian martyrs in the past 100 years than in all of Christian history.
Martyrdom, according to the Christian tradition is “Total Testimony to Truth,” Clark said.
Clark said that Christian martyrdom is a re-enactment of what Christians see for their salvations that “offers total testimony to a bond to a relationship and love, which Christians believe is the truth.”
Clark concluded his remarks by saying that martyrdom is “an act of resistance against the logic and power” and that it “appeals to a love and justice greater than power and force.”
Cohen later brought up the controversy over Jesus’ death as an example of martyrdom, as He did not express an evident willingness to die. Clark defended Jesus’ martyrdom by citing St. Thomas Aquinas’ belief that “in addition to being fully divine, Jesus was also fully human,” and that his reaction to a death sentence exemplified his humanity.
Clark’s remarks were followed by comments from Krokus, who spoke about martyrdom in Islam.
The Islamic definition of martyrdom is similar to that of Christianity’s because it is a form of testimony, or in Arabic, “shaheed.”
“If it’s a just war, they are martyrs, according to the simple tradition,” Krokus said.
Krokus addressed issues women in the Middle East face regarding the Taliban prohibiting them from education, and how they would sacrifice their lives to ensure that girls receive education.
Martyrdom and shaheed tie into the commonly misunderstood word, “jihaad”, Arabic for a struggle. She also stressed that in Islam, martyrdom is in no way viewed as joyful, but the Qur’an does say, “You should not be afraid.”
Those in attendance were invited to share their own questions and input on the subject of martyrdom after the discussion.