There is a disturbing report in the news that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) kidnapped 145 Kurdish children on May 29 with the intention of grooming them to die as martyrs. In Islam, martyrdom refers to one who dies in Allah’s cause. However, one form of martyrdom in Islam, Istishhad, meaning heroic death, has come to be defined in the 20th and 21st centuries as dying in a suicide attack.
This modern martyrdom was formed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini following the Iranian revolution in 1979. Khomeini established the Basij, a paramilitary group intended to recruit men and women between the ages of 18 and 45. In practice, during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, children were employed in the Basij, used among other things to clear minefields by walking through them and detonating the mines, dying in the process. This was considered martyrdom by the mullahs who had recruited them.
The story of one of these child martyrs, Mohammad Hossein Fahmideh, is publicly commemorated in Iranian society and held as an inspiration to others to follow. He is said to have died in battle, having thrown himself under an Iraqi tank with a hand grenade, blowing himself up and disabling the tank in the process. There is every reason to suspect this is what ISIS intends for these kidnapped children.
From the perspective of Christian martyrdom, as I understand it, refers to one who was killed for maintaining a religious belief, knowing that this will almost certainly result in imminent death (though without intentionally seeking death). A very lengthy list of children and adolescents beatified and venerated as saints and martyrs by the Roman Catholic Church includes the names of children who died along with their parents who maintained their Christian faith, knowing that they risked death in doing so.
As for the grooming of children for martyrdom by sending them on suicide missions, one has no qualms in condemning this outright. Children are dependent on their parents and mentors for their well-being, and while they may be caught up in events beyond their control, using children in warfare and justifying it with a twisted understanding ofs faith is universally wrong. I hope one day that those in the Iranian regime and ISIS responsible for these crimes will be brought to justice, and that the children who died in their futile cause will be afforded a fitting commemoration.