Question 235:

If Jesus is a hero because he sacrificed his life? Should Islamic suicide attackers not also seen in this light?



Suicide attackers are people who commit murder against one or several people, during which process the loss of their own lives is a necessary condition for the success of the attack. The sacrifice of one’s own life for a certain objective can already be found in Roman history. In the modern era this willingness to sacrifice is even more radicalised when one’s own death is not merely accepted as a possibility but an integral part of the deed. The attacker does not merely sacrifice himself but intends to kill as many people as possible at the same time. The attackers own death is a certainty from the beginning [...].

Large scale suicide attacks have only become possible with the modern development of weapon technology. The development of explosive weapons and their relatively simple handling and manufacture is decisive. [...]. In their modern form, which began in the 1970s and developed more and more since 1982, suicide attacks are increasingly a characteristic of Islamic terror.(, accessed: 11.07.2011)

Supporters as well as opponents of [Islamic] suicide attacks refer to the Qur’an. The Qur’an consists of 114 parts, the suras, and is the incontrovertible basis of Islamic faith. Sura 17, verse 33 reads: “And slay not the life which Allah hath forbidden save with right. Whoso is slain wrongfully, We have given power unto his heir, but let him not commit excess in slaying. Lo! He will be helped.” The supporters of suicide attacks, on the other hand, quote other references from the Qur’an, because in suras 61 verse 11 and sura 9 verse 41 it says that Muslims must be ready to mobilise their own property and lives to fight their enemies. If one is faced with highly armed and militarily superior enemy like Israel then, according to the supporters, all means are justified., accessed 11.07.2011)

The word hero is rarely used by Christians to describe Jesus of Nazareth. A hero [...] is a person with particularly extraordinary abilities and characteristics, which encourage them to particularly extraordinary deeds, heroic deeds. These people can be real or fictional characters, historical, legendary or mythical people. The heros deeds can bring him veneration and glory. His heroic abilities can be physical (strength, speed, endurance etc.) or mental (courage, a willingness to sacrifice himself, and a willingness to support ideals or other people).(, accessed: 9. 8. 2011)

Jesus can only be called a hero if heroism is defined largely as the free, non-violent dedication of life for the love of mankind, including persecutors and enemies. How did Jesus himself understand the dedication of his life?

With his uncompromising bluntness Jesus inflamed the powerful of his people, for example when he criticised the Pharisees of hypocrisy. His followers did not truly understand him either and they all fell away when it got serious. The Roman Pilate condemned Jesus as the King of the Jews, i.e. a political rebel. Jewish and Roman rulers united to cause his downfall [...].

It is much more important to know what Jesus himself thought of all of this. He anticipated his death, accepted it as his Father’s will and took it upon himself for the salvation of all. He suffered everything that can humiliate a person: Injustice, betrayal, torture, political bartering on his back, ridicule, vulnerability, death sentence, physical collapse, staring crowds, abandonment by God. For us, he bore all of this!

This interpretation was not invented by the early Church. As reported by Matthew (26:28), Jesus himself said on the day before his Passion during the last supper: This is my blood given for you and for many (whereby ‘many’ in biblical language means everyone. He died for all of mankind.) And so he understood his own death as a salvation for all [see also the answer to question 255 in Section 20 of this website.]. The authors of the New Testament were certain of this interpretation and wrote their texts accordingly. It was not merely their interpretation that was written down but also sufficient detail that helps us to recognise clearly how it happened that Jesus died on the cross.

Jesus proclaimed salvation. The people rejected him. But their hardness of heart could not alter God’s plans for salvation. And so Jesus’ self-offering in his freely-accepted death and his resurrection has become the cause of the salvation of all. He did not die as a scapegoat condemned by a cruel eternal judge. Rather, his death is the external sign of God’s love for humankind. The Son of God is united with even the most lost and lonely person on earth. (Wilfried Henze, Glauben ist schön. Ein Katholischer Familienkatechismus. Harsum, 2011), S. 79.

We conclude: Jesus of Nazareth and his free and non-violent acceptance of his punishment of death by crucifixion in expiation of the sins of humankind cannot be compared to an Islamic suicide attacker who deliberately takes as many other lives as possible with him to death.

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