Alan Henning: Hero and Martyr

Saturday morning. We woke up to the news that Alan Henning had been brutally murdered by his captors. We know little about Alan, except that he was an ordinary sort of chap who wanted to do good. Lots of people are like Alan, except he took it a step further, or indeed, several steps further, by giving up his time and money and family life in order to help the Syrian people. And in the end, he gave his life.

Alan was definitely a hero. But was he also a martyr? The Greek meaning behind the word “martyr” (μάρτυς) means witness. In one sense, all Christians and Muslims are called to bear witness to their faith, and so, all true believers are “martyrs”. However, another layer of meaning is added to the word “martyr”, namely that the exemplary martyr is the one whose witness results in being put to death, the one who dies because of their witness. For Christians, the ultimate martyr is Christ himself. Alan is a martyr, for bearing witness to a better vision of humanity, and for that his life was taken.

Alan’s family are distraught, but they should be proud that Alan was the man he proved to be, brave and generous. And perhaps his courage and humanity should be recognised, a posthumous perhaps. The ultimate would be the the Nobel Peace Prize.

May you rest in peace Alan, and may we not forget what your goodness.