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For other uses of "Martyr" and "Martyrs", see Martyr (disambiguation).
Saint Sebastian, an iconic image of martyrdom

A martyr (Greek: îîρ„υς, m¡rtys, "witness"; stem îîρ„υρ-, m¡rtyr-) is somebody who suffers persecution and death for the people, a country or an organization, or refusing to renounce a belief, usually religious, political or rights.


[edit] Meaning

In its original meaning, the word martyr, meaning witness, was used in the secular sphere as well as in the New Testament of the Bible.[1] The process of bearing witness was not intended to lead to the death of the witness, although it is known from ancient writers (e.g. Josephus) and from the New Testament that witnesses often died for their testimonies.

During the early Christian centuries, the term acquired the extended meaning of a believer who is called to witness for their religious belief, and on account of this witness, endures suffering and/or death. The term, in this later sense, entered the English language as a loanword. The death of a martyr or the value attributed to it is called martyrdom.

[edit] Judaism

Martyrdom in Judaism is one of the main examples of Kiddush Hashem, meaning "sanctification of God's name" through public dedication to Jewish practice. Religious martyrdom is considered one of the more significant contributions of Hellenistic Judaism to western civilization. It is believed that the concept of voluntary death for God developed out of the conflict between King Antiochus Epiphanes IV and the Jewish people. 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees recount numerous martyrdoms suffered by Jews resisting Hellenizing (adoption of Greek ideas or customs of a Hellenistic civilization) by their Seleucid overlords, being executed for such crimes as observing the Sabbath, circumcising their children or refusing to eat pork or meat sacrificed to foreign gods. With few exceptions, this assumption has lasted from the early Christian period to this day, accepted both by Jews and Christians. For example, W. H. C. Frend asserted that from early times âJudaism was itself a religion of martyrdomâ and that it was this âJewish psychology of martyrdomâ that inspired Christian martyrdom.

[edit] Christianity

In Christianity, a martyr, in accordance with the meaning of the original Greek martys in the New Testament, is one who brings a testimony, usually written or verbal. In particular, the testimony is that of the Christian Gospel, or more generally, the Word of God. A Christian witness is a biblical witness whether or not death follows.[2]. However over time many Christian testimonies were rejected, and the witnesses put to death, and the word "martyr" developed its present sense. Where death ensues, the witnesses follow the example of Jesus in offering up their lives for truth. The first Christian witness to be killed for his testimony was Saint Stephen (whose name means "crown"), and those who suffer martyrdom are said to have been "crowned."

In the context of church history, from the time of the persecution of early Christians in the Roman Empire, it developed that a martyr was one who was killed for maintaining a religious belief, knowing that this will almost certainly result in imminent death (though without intentionally seeking death).This definition of "martyr" is not specifically restricted to the Christian faith.

Some Christians view death in sectarian persecution, as well as religious persecution, as martyrdom. In Christian history, Foxe's Book of Martyrs recounts religious persecutions during the Protestant Reformation.

Usage of "martyr" is also common among Arab Christians (i.e. anyone killed in relation to Christianity or a Christian community), indicating the persecution Arab Christians continue to experience to this day.

[edit] Islam

In Arabic, a martyr is termed "shahid" (literally, "witness," as in the Greek root of the English word). The word shaheed appears in the Quran in a variety of contexts, including witnessing to righteousness (Quran 2:143), witnessing a financial transaction (Quran 2:282) and being killed, even in an accident as long as it doesn't happen with the intention to commit a sin, when they are believed to remain alive making them witnesses over worldly events without taking part in them anymore (Quran 3:140). The word also appears with these various meanings in the Hadith, the sayings of Muhammad.

[edit] Hinduism / Sanathana Dharma

Despite the promotion of ahimsa (non-violence) i.e. one of the Yamas within Santana Dharma i.e. (The Way of Life), there is also the concept of righteous i.e. Dharma, where violence is used as a last resort after all other means have failed. Examples of this include in the Mahabharata, where the great war only took place. Upon completion of their exile term the Pandavas were refused the return of their portion of the kingdom by their cousin Duruyodhana's; and following which all means of peace talks by Krishna, Vidura and Sanjaya failed.

During the great war which commenced, even Arjuna was brought down with doubts e.g. attachment, sorrow, fear. This is where Krishna instructs Arjuna how to carry out his duty as a righteous warrior and fight.

Martyrdom in war or battle is seen as highly noble in Hinduism, i.e. in the ancient times the teachings were that if a man were to die the death of a Kshatriya on the battlefield he would attain moksha i.e. emancipation of the soul / no rebirth ; which is evident in the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna states:

Either being slain you will attain the heavenly worlds or by gaining victory you will enjoy the earthly kingdom; therefore O Arjuna, rise up and fight.[3].

[edit] Bah¡'í faith

In the Bah¡'í Faith, a martyr is one who sacrifices their life serving humanity in the name of God.[4] However, Bah¡'u'll¡h, the founder of the Bah¡'í Faith, discouraged the literal meaning of sacrificing one's life, and instead explained that martyrdom is devoting oneself to service to humanity.[4]

[edit] Sikhism

Martyrdom ( called Shaheed in Punjabi) in Sikhism, is a fundamental concept, and represents an important institution of the faith. The Sikh Gurus are the biggest examples of Martyrs in Punjab. They fought for the Sikh religion with the Muslims in which their lives were taken away. Bhagat Singh and Udam Singh are martyrs when India was fighting for Independece.

[edit] Nazism

National Socialists derived the word blutzeuge, literally, "blood witness", from the Greek word, martyr.[citation needed] Nazi propaganda during the Third Reich referred to itself as a movement and the word was used by Nazi ideologues to elevate the status of those who died for Nazism, such as those who died in the Beer Hall Putsch and people such as Herbert Norkus, Horst Wessel and Wilhelm Gustloff. Today, the word is only used by neo-nazis and other far right extremists.

[edit] Chinese culture

Martyrdom was extensively promoted by the Tongmenghui and the Kuomintang party in modern China, revolutionaries who died fighting against the Qing dynasty in the Xinhai Revolution and throughout the Republic of China period, furthering the cause of the revolution, were recognized as martyrs.

[edit] Notes

A communist 'martyrs column' in Alappuzha, India
  1. ^ See e.g. Alison A. Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness, ISBN 0-521-60934-8 and ISBN 9780521609340.
  2. ^ See Davis, R."Martyr, or Witness?", New Matthew Bible Project
  3. ^ http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/Gita/verse-02-37.html
  4. ^ a b Winters, Jonah (1997-09-19). "Conclusion". Dying for God: Martyrdom in the Shii and Babi Religions. M.A. Thesis. http://bahai-library.com/theses/dying/dying8.conclusion.html. Retrieved 2007-01-23. 

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Catholic Encyclopedia "Martyrs"
  • Foster, Claude R. jr.: Paul Schneider, the Buchenwald apostle : a Christian martyr in Nazi Germany ; a sourcebook on the German Church struggle; Westchester, Pennsylvania: SSI Bookstore, West Chester University, 1995; ISBN 1-887732-01-2

[edit] External links

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