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Asking the clergy about martyrdom

It is easy to find examples of martyrs, those who die for their faith or beliefs, as one scrolls through history and Scripture. This week's clergy take a closer look at the concept of martyrdom today.

Rabbi Anchelle Perl, chaplain, Nassau County Correctional Center;

rabbi, Beth Sholom Chabad of Mineola:

Simply put, today's true martyrs are the parents who work hard, are willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of bringing up children who will bring into this world light, hope and respect for a fellow human being regardless of their faith or affiliation.

Jews have never sought out martyrdom -- it was always martyrdom that caught up with the Jews. We are not permitted to seek out martyrdom, but rather to seek life and sustain life.

We are not busy trying to get to heaven, we are trying to get heaven down to earth. Yet, nevertheless, within that vibrant enthusiasm for life, you will find the martyr's heart that has sustained us at every point of our history.

A martyr who will give up his life is being forced to commit three cardinal sins. In Jewish tradition, these acts (cardinal sins) are acts of idolatry, to be forced into sexual crimes or to kill a fellow human being. One should rather die than act in these manners.

If you give up your life because you will get a better one (in heaven), is that martyrdom or plain narcissism?

True martyrdom is when you give up your life precisely because life on earth is important enough and necessary enough to give your own life for it.

God wanted a world diverse in culture, in style, in appetite, in opinion but not in morality. We can't afford a difference of opinion on "thou shall not kill."

When we all agree on the definition of this one commandment, then there will be peace in the world.

I think suicide bombers, which is what many think of when they think of martyrs, don't see the bigger picture, and they are being used by others. The person should make a knowledgeable choice about what he or she is doing. Martyrdom doesn't have to end in death. You can stand for an ideal or a course that has a positive impact on society.

The Rev. Chris McMahon, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Great South Bay, Sayville:

There are martyrs today, particularly if you define a martyr as someone willing to sacrifice their life for what they believe in. The other question is whether all martyrs are right to do this. Some people believe things that are incorrect. In my mind, most martyrs are misguided. Someone who commits suicide may strongly believe that what he or she is doing is right, but that person can still be misguided.

Martyrdom is most often considered in a religious context, but not necessarily. There are people who die in the creation of a country who would be considered a martyr. Belief can be both secular and religious. There are things worth dying for, things worth believing in.

I can't think of a single suicide bombing that is a good idea. People think the Boston Marathon bomber died for a cause. I think of him as a confused, twisted young man. There are examples of martyrs in history who died for their belief without taking others with them. The Christians in the arena facing the lions didn't try to take others with them. Killing innocent people is never right.

Imam Al Amin Latif, Masjid Allahu Akbar, Wyandanch:

There may be martyrs, but I don't know of any. My understanding of a martyr is one who sacrifices his life for the ultimate cause. Suicide is forbidden in Islam, so I don't buy suicide bombers and others as martyrs. To give up one's life is unacceptable for Islam. You may think you're a martyr because you kill yourself, but that is bad advice. If someone is teaching them that, they're wrong.

It is totally different when you stand up for justice, for good, for truth, for your faith and you lose your life in that respect. That is martyrdom, and we accept that as martyrdom. Examples of martyrs would be Malcolm X or the the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. They were fighting the good fight. They knew they were risking their lives.

It is also about the person's intent. Muhammad had said there are few martyrs. In the time of judgment, Allah will expose the secrets of each person's heart. It is not for us to label someone a martyr. It is not for the individual to label himself a martyr. That distinction will be determined on the judgment day.

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