As we learn more about the Boston Marathon terrorists who killed four people, dismembered 14 and sent 282 to the hospital, the inconvenient truth is becoming clearer: The bombers were motivated by a homicidal strain of Islamic theology.
The more seriously Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev began to take their Islamic faith, it seems, the more the lives of innocent people were endangered.
Rather than moving them to love and serve their neighbors, their increased zeal led them to devise how to murder and maim multitudes.
It is certainly true that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and that most Muslim religious leaders help people understand jihad as the struggle to live faithfully the five pillars of Islam according to the teachings of the Quran.
It is also true, however, that there are murderous Muslims who follow religious leaders preaching a totally different version of jihad.
The latter school of interpretation of the Quran and the Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad) — pushed by belligerent imams, ayatollahs and mullahs in the Middle East and in certain mosques, taking advantage of the religious freedom of the West — argues that Allah in fact desires this violence against the innocent, that those who carry it out are model Muslims, and that those who die committing such attacks are true martyrs.
Just as it is absolutely wrong to treat all Muslims as terrorists, so it is absolutely naive to treat all Muslims as peaceful. There are serene Muslims and violent Muslims, both of whom claim to find their justification in the Quran and Islamic tradition. And a much greater effort needs to be made, by governments, the media and peace-loving Muslims throughout the world, to distinguish between the two — and to shame, subvert and supervene the latter.
Failure to oppose the theology of terrorism and violent jihad against innocent victims that is being inculcated and incited in certain madrassas, mosques and Muslim magazines is simply to invite more of it.
One of the reasons why this theology is not opposed sufficiently is because, in an age of religious pluralism and moral relativism, many secularists and secularized believers have lost the ability to make elemental moral distinctions among religions and religious practices. All religious must be treated the same, they believe; to criticize the beliefs or practices of one would show an intolerant and intolerable bias that one religion is somehow superior to another.
One of the common ways that this religious equivalency is done is to try to relativize Islam-inspired terrorist activities by comparing them to examples of Christian extremism. The disgraceful desecration of the Quran by the pastor of a 50-member Protestant church in Florida is therefore treated with equal opprobrium to the retaliatory murder of 58 Massgoers and the wounding of 75 more in Baghdad’s cathedral.
Nowhere do these misleading and incommensurate comparisons happen more than in likening Muslim and Christian ideas of martyrdom.
When terrorists, out of supposed fidelity to Allah, fearlessly wear a suicide vest and detonate it in a café, on a public bus or at a checkpoint full of American soldiers, it is implicitly treated — because of an equivocation in the use of the term “martyrdom” — as comparable to the actions of Christian martyrs who have courageously given their lives out of faithfulness to their Triune God.
Both, after all, witness a commitment to die for one’s faith. Both are exalted by their religions as examples for other adherents. Both are promised eternal rewards.
But the differences between them far outweigh the superficial similarities.
Christian martyrdom is an intended participation in Christ’s own martyrdom and redemptive suffering. The Christian martyr patiently bears suffering, torture and execution out of fidelity to Jesus, who himself underwent similar stripes for them first. Like Jesus, the Christian martyr does not retaliate with force or hatred, but, rather, by turning the other cheek and praying for his persecutors.
Christian martyrdom is fundamentally passive, heroically receiving with resolve and without vengeance the evil of others.
On the other hand, Muslim martyrdom — or at least the understanding of martyrdom that inspires violence against the innocent — is fundamentally active. While it is certainly possible for there to be Muslim martyrs struck down for their faith without resistance, for the most part those venerated as Muslim martyrs have died in the battle to advance or defend Islam, their families, honor and lands.
While the Deacon Stephen is a model of Christian martyrdom, allowing himself to be stoned to death while echoing Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness for his executioners and self-entrustment to God the Father, the Muslim paragons are Hamza, Muhammad’s father-in-law and Husayn, Muhammad’s grandson, both of whom perished in battle to advance the cause of Islam.
The passive martyrdom of Christians is death for refusing to capitulate on the truth. The active martyrdom of Muslims is death while fighting for the truth, often while inflicting violence on those who refuse to accept their view of the truth.
The Greek word “martyr” and its Arabic equivalent, shahid, both mean “witness,” but it’s important to distinguish the type of testimony being given.
Christian martyrs are seeking to give witness to God who non-violently allowed himself to be killed in order to save the lives of others.
Muslim martyrs seek to give witness to a God who, according to the Quran, delights in conquest and victory and commands Muslims to give their lives to defeat the enemies of Islam.
These are, to say the least, radically different notions of God and the type of devotion that pleases him.
The blood on the streets of Boston cries out to heaven for everyone, especially peace-loving Muslims, to condemn and confront with greater clarity and commitment the perverted theology that believes that the killing of innocent people is justified and that the terrorists who do so are heroes faithful to what God demands.
Father Roger Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River, Massachusetts, and is national chaplain of Catholic Voices USA. He provided expert commentary for EWTN during the conclave that elected Pope Francis.