Subject: Christianity and Islam Part 16 – What is a True Martyr?
Acts 1:8 “…You shall be My witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Our verse this week is from Jesus Christ, as He commands His followers to go out into the world and share that He is alive and has fulfilled His promise to all mankind. That promise, which all Christians today are still commanded to share, is that God will forgive any person of their sins if they would trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, who proved His trustworthiness by His resurrection. His words are recorded for us by Luke, who is credited by scholars as one of the most accurate and detailed historians in all antiquity.
What is most startling about this verse is the meaning of the word “witness”. We think of a witness as one who testifies to what they have seen and heard. But the Greek word here for ‘witnesses’ is “martus”, from which we get our English word martyr. What is a “martyr”? The dictionary defines it as “a person who chooses to suffer death rather than renounce their religion, principle or cause.”. So Jesus is commanding His followers to be ready to give their own lives if needed for His sake. This is self-martyrdom.
But this past week was also the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the infamous attack on New York’s Twin Towers by Islamic terrorists that murdered nearly 3,000 innocent Americans. This was by far the worst terrorist attack on US soil, and an event that changed America forever. Below is a summary of events in that 3-hour period the morning of September 11, 2001. After you absorb what happened, we need to compare Jesus Christ’s call to any of his followers to be a martyr and Muhammad’s call to be a martyr.
At 7:59 am, four Boeing airplanes hijacked by self-proclaimed jihadists begin taking off at 3 airports. The first is American Airlines Flight 11, leaving Boston’s Logan Airport with 92 people on board. The second, United Airlines Flight 175, also leaves Logan at 8:14 am with 65 passengers on board. At 8:20 am, American Airlines Flight 77 leaves Washington Dulles Airport with 64 people on board. Then, United Airlines Flight 93 leaves Newark Airport at 8:42 am with 44 passengers on board.
Flight 11 hits the World Trade Center’s North Tower at 8:46 am, 47 minutes after takeoff and at a speed of 470 mph. Only 17 minutes later, at 9:03 am, Flight 175 hits the South Tower, traveling at 590 mph. While people were in a complete state of confusion over what could have caused Flight 11 to hit the North Tower, no one was confused about what was now happening. It was a deliberate violent attack on America. Only 34 minutes later, at 9:37 am, Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon at a speed exceeding 550 mph.
At 10:03 am, the last of the 4 hijacked planes, Flight 93, crashes in a field in Shanksville, PA. The intended target was the Capital. So how did it end up in the field? The 9/11 Commission Report explains that the passengers heard about the other 3 planes, and decided to fight the terrorists. The hijackers deliberately crashed the plane in the field to prevent the passengers from taking control.
Only 4 minutes earlier, at 9:59 am, the South Tower collapses, after burning for nearly an hour. Its collapse kills over 600 first responders and workers caught in the building. At 10:28 am, after burning for over 1.5 hours, the North Tower collapses, killing over 1,400 innocent people.
Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, left behind a letter to his fellow jihadists that was made public after the attacks. Here is some of his words: “Be happy, optimistic, calm because you are heading for a deed that God loves and will accept… Pray for yourself and all your brothers that they may be victorious and hit their targets and ask God to grant you martyrdom facing the enemy… When the hour of reality approaches, the zero hour, wholeheartedly welcome death for the sake of God. Either end your life while praying, seconds before the target, or make your last words: ‘There is no God but God, Muhammad is His messenger’. Afterwards, we will all meet in the highest heaven, God willing.”
Muhammad’s commands to his followers to be a martyr in jihad means to kill “infidels” as you commit suicide. Jesus never called His followers to take other peoples’ lives as an act of worship to Him. In fact, while the hijacker’s instrument of death was the airplane, the instrument of death for Jesus is the Cross. And the cross is an instrument of death only to the one who was carrying it! It is “self-martyrdom”.
As we remember the tragedy of 9/11, let us not be confused by the rhetoric we hear but instead listen to the words of Jesus Christ Himself. To be a witness for Him is the polar opposite of the call of Muhammad.