Can a Muslim be a Christian martyr?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Mar 28, 2016

Last week John Allen raised an interesting question as to whether Father Vincent Machozi could be recognized as a Christian martyr. Father Machozi was almost certainly not killed out of “hatred for the faith”—the ordinary standard for martyrdom. He was killed because of his social activism; but that activism was an outgrowth of his faith. So, Allen asked, should the standard for martyrdom be stretched to cover his case? An interesting question.

Now let me stretch in a different direction. From all indications it seems clear that Asad Shah was killed out of contempt for the Christian faith. But he himself was not a Christian; in fact he was apparently a devout, prayerful Muslim. Shah was murdered in Glasgow after he posted a message on his Facebook page: “Good Friday and a very happy Easter, especially to my beloved Christian nation.” In his own way he bore witness to the message of Jesus Christ, and he died as a result. Can a Muslim be a Christian martyr?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: R. Spanier (Catholic Canadian) - Apr. 01, 2016 7:27 PM ET USA

    Mr. Asad Shah was a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (alislam.org) whose spiritual & administrative head is His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, its fifth Caliph elected lifelong in 2003. Ahmadis believe "There are only two complete parts of faith. One is to love God and the other is to love mankind to such a degree that you consider the suffering and the trials and tribulations of others as your own and that you pray for them." Wikipedia tells the persecution they suffer within Islam.

  • Posted by: Elan - Mar. 31, 2016 4:52 AM ET USA

    Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God. Maybe not a martyr but certainly something like the good thief.

  • Posted by: keelergmom2722 - Mar. 30, 2016 10:36 PM ET USA

    An interesting question. Start with a definition.The CCC 273 states (the martyr) bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. We canonize Catholics who die for the faith but don'the formally canonized the Protestants who died with them. Definitely not a Muslim I think.

  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Mar. 30, 2016 9:09 PM ET USA

    "And he that keepeth His commandments, abideth in Him, and he in Him."

  • Posted by: koinonia - Mar. 30, 2016 7:23 AM ET USA

    Ultimately it's up to God to decide, but the distinction must be made between one whose sentiments display publicly an affection (right neighborly) for Christians and their holy day and the confession: "Jesus is God." Is there a conviction- "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!"? This is an important distinction- this personal relationship- even if limited only to a momentary epiphany like that of Dismas on the cross. We might pray that conversion of heart did occur- Kyrie Eleison.

  • Posted by: feedback - Mar. 28, 2016 9:56 PM ET USA

    The Second Vatican Council: "Those too may achieve eternal salvation who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience." [Lumen Gentium 16]

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Mar. 28, 2016 3:23 PM ET USA

    God knows about Asad Shah, it seems possible but may be uninvestigable to us. It probably wouldn't be helpful to appear to "co-opt" him as a Christian, if he was more likely a Muslim of good will. There was that case of the Egyptian men beheaded by ISIS on a beach somewhere in Libya, most of them Coptic Orthodox and one man a non-Christian from Chad who shared their fate when he told the captors "their God is my God." The Coptic Orthodox (and many Catholics) have venerated all of them as saints.

  • Posted by: ForOthers8614 - Mar. 28, 2016 1:18 PM ET USA

    May God rest his soul. I thank God for his witness of Charity in this world.

  • Posted by: meegan2136289 - Mar. 28, 2016 10:59 AM ET USA

    I am not sure I would classify Mr Shah as a "devout" Muslim. If he was offering an Easter greeting, his devotion is doubtful. That said, he certainly seems like a martyr to me, however accidental. What does canon law say? At any rate, RIP.

  • Posted by: Edward I. - Mar. 28, 2016 9:57 AM ET USA

    If a Muslim's death can pass the standard of Christian martyrdom, that would suggest to me a fundamental problem with the standard.