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Martyrdom has been a controversial issue in both Christianity and Islam. Within the two religions, the term has separate meaning and it meaning antagonizes each other (Donald 2002). To the Christian faith, David Barrett (2001:665) describes a martyr “to be a believer in Christ who loses his or her life permanently in situation of witness as a result of human hostility”. His definition of Christian martyrdom captures three important aspects which includes fatal aspect-indicating that a martyr actually dies; confessional aspect which indicates that martyrs dies for the Christian faith and the voluntary aspect which shows that the martyr does not necessarily provoke the incident or die in arm resistances.

Azzati (1976:55) claims that the concept of martyrdom shahada in Islam can only be understood in the light of the Islamic concept of holy struggle jihad. He went on to explain that one can only understand martyrdom, if the independent divine source of righteousness, truth, and goodness and how the message of the divine source of righteousness, truth has been honestly and properly conveyed to humanity through prophet Mohammed (SAW) is appreciated. Sahih (1476:77) added that Shahada refers to the Islamic theological doctrine that posits that ‘believers who give their lives on the battlefield in a military Jihad do not die but rather immediately enter paradise where they are rewarded for their sacrifice’. Such a shahid (martyrdom) is given a special funeral and members of the martyr’s family are entitled to receive charity and compensation benefits from the community and Islamic state, the participant in the military jihad often makes arrangement for such benefits in advance in anticipation of possibility of martyrdom, a notion parallel to the Christian meaning of martyrdom.

The Greek word for martyrdom ‘martus’ and Arabic word for Martyrdom ‘shahada’ both means witness to one’s faith etymologically, signalling their doctrinal theological positions in interpreting and application of the concept differs as claimed by Azzati and Donald above. Although the term is a controversial issue in both Christianity and Islam, in the two religions, “martyr” refers to a witness for the faith. The Greek word Martus signifies ‘a witness who testifies to a fact of which he has knowledge from personal observation’. Martin Luther’s quote in Westminster (n.d) said, “A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.” Millions of lives are forgotten today because of religious differences and often after such religious motivated human wastage, the perpetrators still find justification in their conscience thus validating the claims of Blasise (1923) that ‘Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction’. Both religions teach explicitly that they are worth dying for, and they both have martyrdom as core values which shape their practices and sense of identity. (Westminister, n.d:1)

Kittel, Bromiley, and Friedrich (1964) reported that, in tracing the historical meaning of Martyrdom in both religions the words used for martyr originally meant ‘witness’ or ‘testify to’ as in a court of law, and the words quickly became extended to ecclesiastical usage to denote those who by their deaths testified to, or witnessed to, their belief in their respective faiths. The Christian view starts with Jesus Christ Himself. Who is the prototype for all martyrs in Christianity? He could have fled or avoided death, even perhaps led a mass movement against the Romans, but He allowed Himself to be arrested, tried illegally, and killed by them by crucifixion. Why voluntarily surrender? The testimony of the Gospels and the rest of the Bible were so that, as the Messiah and unique Servant of God, He could die to pay for the sins of mankind (Matthew 26:53-54 cf. Donald: 2002).


Many scholarly works on the concept of martyrdom exist. Teachings from Imams and Pastors as enshrined in both the Quran and the Bible on the concept of martyrdom is common among the two religions. Moreover, the projection by both religions charging their followers to follow after the heroic death of past Martyrs is a daily appealing task placed on their adherents. Yet there is little scholarly attention paid to investigating the true meaning of martyrdom and it understanding and practice among Christians and Muslims. It is on this note that this work takes advantage of the gap to address the disparity on the concept of martyrdom in order to inform a predominantly multi-religious state like Nigeria thereby curbing religious intolerance. The lack of uniform meaning between Christianity and Islam concept of martyrdom negates the very essence of religion especially on the sanctity of life and peace.


The primary purpose of this work is to investigate the true meaning of martyrdom and compare it with the Christian and Islamic understanding and practice of the concept. The study also examines the ethical teachings in Christianity and Islam on the sanctity of life and peace with a view to understanding the extent the concept of martyrdom promotes or violates them. The research study defines in clear terms the distinction between extremist fundamentalism and martyrdom in each of the religion.


A proper understanding of martyrdom will be a veritable tool for curtailing fundamentalist and fanatical tendencies among Christians and Muslims. This is where this research becomes relevant. This work will provide a balanced understanding and interpretation of the concept of martyrdom thus, serve as a good resource material that could enrich Christian and Islamic theology; contribute to the already existing body of knowledge among teachers and scholars in Christian and Islamic studies. The findings of this work when applied, could promote religious tolerance, peace building thus deepen societal peace especially in religious plural society as Nigeria.


The research relied basically on secondary sources as well as internet materials. The faith symbols (Bible and Quran) of both Christianity and Islam respectively were relied upon to x-ray the concept of martyrdom as demonstrated in the two religions.

1.6 SCOPE OF THE STUDY This study is limited to the comparison of Martyrdom in Christian and Islamic religion, with a view to ascertain whether martyrdom in Islam and martyrdom in Christianity are the same.


There are little or no published materials on this topic and some materials available are written in languages other than English. This research is also limited by such factors as coming in a time where there is so much religious sentiment, intolerance, collapse of churches, fraction and breakout within churches, churches settling cases in the secular court and Boko Haran insurgent in North Eastern Nigeria. These are enough to pollute the minds of those that could have supplied vital information for this research.


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