In a rare prime-time speech from the Oval Office in early December regarding the growing terrorism threat posed by ISIS and its followers, U.S. President Barack Obama told the nation and the world that such jihadis have a “perverted interpretation of Islam” and do not “speak for Islam.”
Less than a week earlier, two supporters of ISIS had stormed a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif., with assault rifles, brutally murdering 14 people. A few weeks before that, in separate ISIS plots, 130 were killed in Paris and 224 perished aboard a Russian airliner rigged with a bomb.
At such a tense time in history, it’s critical for people to know the truth about the vicious enemy that has declared a seventh century style of war on the rest of the world, complete with countless beheadings in the Middle East. Yet the president known for championing the redefinition of marriage also denies the essential theology that drives ISIS and defends Islam as foundationally peaceful.
“It is a grand deception,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, former U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and now the executive vice president of the Family Research Council.
“It is an arrogant refusal to be truthful about what Islamic clerics have said for centuries.”
Just as the sons of Issachar “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32, NIV), it’s important for today’s Christians—and for everyone—to be informed.
“The church needs to understand the enemy,” Boykin said. “It’s a fundamental principle of mounting a successful campaign against it.”
Calling upon the perspective of scholarly experts and clergy, Decision examined five key questions about ISIS:
Does ISIS represent true Islam, or is Islam “a religion of peace”?
Nabeel Qureshi, an itinerant speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and a best-selling author, grew up Muslim but had a crisis of faith that led to his Christian conversion after al Qaeda’s 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
He had been taught “love for all, hatred for none” throughout his life as a Muslim, but he couldn’t reconcile that with suicide hijackers flying planes into buildings in the name of Allah. So he vigorously pursued the truth.
He studied the teachings and life of Muhammad in the Quran and the Hadith. He noticed that Islam began as a fairly tolerant message focused on social welfare, but that it became increasingly violent and intolerant toward the end of Muhammad’s life. Qureshi noticed that the ninth chapter of the Quran, one of the last chapters recorded chronologically, was perhaps the most violent. Verse 5, for example, says, “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them.”
There are other verses and teachings that command Muslims to fight Christians and Jews and to kill apostate Muslims.
“This is why there is so much confusion in the West among Muslims who say Islam is a religion of peace,” Qureshi said. “They’re taking small portions, snippets of the Quran and focusing on the peaceful passages that came early in Muhammad’s ministry. But, classically, scholars who have understood the religion say those teachings from the early days have been ‘abrogated’ and replaced by the later teachings, which say to expand the house of Islam. In doing so, Islam commands warfare.”
Recently while speaking at a church, Qureshi made a startling comment:
“I hesitate to say this, but I think it is true. If I still believed in Islam, and if I wanted to be faithful to Muhammad, I would have a hard time not going to Syria right now to fight for ISIS. It seems like they’re doing what Islam commands.”
Jeremiah J. Johnston, a New Testament scholar, associate professor at Houston Baptist University and co-author of the new book Jesus and the Jihadis, puts it this way:
“If you want a case study of exactly how Muhammad desired Islam to be implemented, look no further than the Islamic State. I mean, underline that. An honest reading of what is called the Islamic trilogy—the Quran, the Hadith and the Sira (containing extensive biographical information about Muhammad)—reveals that Muhammad wouldn’t just join the Islamic State and be a card-carrying member. He would lead it.”
What is the plan of ISIS?
If it seems like ISIS is picking a fight with the world, it is. It’s trying to lure other nations to an end-times, boots-on-the-ground battle that it believes will take place in Dabiq, Syria—land it already controls. This is different from and contrary to the biblical battle of Armaggedon.
ISIS is so fixated on the supposed apocalyptic showdown that it named its sinister but graphically slick online propaganda magazine Dabiq.
In keeping with the historical blueprint supported by the Quran and the Hadith, ISIS is a self-proclaimed caliphate, a government that has taken control of territory throughout Iraq and Syria, along with recently establishing a footprint in Nigeria and Libya. The group is also sometimes called Daesh or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the former name of the area of the East Mediterranean now occuppied by Syria, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon).
Its leader is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whom ISIS considers a religious successor to Muhammad and the leader of all Muslims.
The woman who was one of the two shooters in the Dec. 2 attack in San Bernardino pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi during the shooting via a Facebook post, according to authorities. The Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram also has come into alliance.
Under al-Baghdadi’s direction, ISIS has unleashed unspeakable evil in the Middle East, including rooting out virtually all Christians from the Iraqi city of Mosul, in the biblical land of Nineveh.
Canon Andrew White, a widely regarded Anglican pastor known as the vicar of Baghdad, recalled how ISIS shot and beheaded five Christian children from the same family in Mosul, ranging from ages 5-13, because they would not deny Jesus and convert to following Allah.
White said ISIS’ attacks on Christians have been far worse than any persecuting or terrorist group he has previously encountered. He was required by the Archbishop of Canterbury to leave the Baghdad church he pastored because ISIS had offered a multi-million dollar bounty for his capture or killing.
Another pastor in the Middle East, who asked to remain anonymous because of his own concerns about being beheaded, said ISIS’ arrival in the region in the past two years turned once-friendly neighbors against one another.
“ISIS has planted in the minds of people that everything that belongs to the Christian is lawful for the Muslim to take,” the pastor said. “It could be your wife, it could be your home, it could be your car, it could be your daughter.”
How serious is the threat of ISIS in the U.S.?
The San Bernardino attack was the first ISIS-related mass killing on U.S. soil and provided a “horrific glimpse into ISIS’ strategy for America,” said Erick Stakelbeck, a CBN News host and author of the books ISIS Exposed and The Terrorist Next Door.
Using social media to recruit followers, ISIS advocates “lone wolf” attacks, which can be extremely difficult for anti-terrorism authorities to detect ahead of time.
“ISIS seeks to turn U.S. cities into guerilla war zones, where attacks like we’ve seen recently in California and Paris occur on a sustained, regular basis, creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty among American citizens and possibly even sparking civil unrest,” Stakelbeck said.
FBI director James Comey has been candid about the domestic threat, saying recently that there had been nearly 1,000 active investigations into ISIS-related activity, spread through all 50 states.
“The barbarians are not just at the gates—they’re inside them,” Stakelbeck said. “It’s not just a Middle Eastern problem. ISIS is also establishing tentacles and a network here in the West. But the American people seem largely asleep.”
Stakelbeck said the number of Muslim mosques in the U.S. has about doubled since 2000. While the majority may subscribe to a peaceful version of Islam, not all do.
“The character and the fabric and the face of the United States is changing, not only in big cities, but in rural areas, in the Bible Belt and in the heartland,” Stakelbeck said.
“We’re all created equal as people by God, but not all cultures are created equal. Western culture, for all of our flaws in this wicked, fallen world, is still the best thing going. It was traditionally based on the Ten Commandments and the Bible and Judeo-Christian values and ethics. As they disappear, you’re leaving a vacuum that’s going to be filled by bad actors.”
What does ISIS believe about Jesus?
Jesus, known as ‘Isa in the Quran, is highly-regarded as a prophet, but not to the level of Muhammad. He is a key end-times figure to jihadis, but they deny His divinity and His death on the cross for the sins of humanity. In fact, they believe that when ‘Isa returns, he’ll destroy crosses, eliminate Christianity, lead the world into Sharia law and serve the Muslim messiah.
It is a horrible misrepresentation of the King of kings and Lord of lords.
“The Muslim Jesus is not an appealing figure for the Christian,” says Rice University associate professor David Cook, who has studied Islam for more than 20 years. “He is the antithesis of the Christian Jesus.”
Craig Evans, a New Testament scholar and co-author of Jesus and the Jihadis, says Islam sought to hijack the true identity of Jesus.
“From the Islamic point of view, Jesus would be a loyal Muslim,” Evans said. “While there may be some echoes of Christian theology in their beliefs (like the virgin birth), it’s basically been turned on its head.”
What can and should the church do?
For starters, says Boykin, take a stand for truth and righteousness.
“The believer in Christ needs to recognize that while there is a reference in the Bible to loving your enemies, there is also a reference in Psalm 94 (verse 16) that tells us to stand up against evil,” Boykin said. “What is happening within ISIS and this Islamic world of jihad is evil. Believers have to stand against it.
“We can do that, first of all, by recognizing what they’re up to and taking every opportunity to be a force of good against them. The second thing is we’ve got to make sure we hold our leadership accountable to deal with them effectively. And, finally, believers should have some concept of how they’re going to bring the Gospel to them.”
Nabeel Qureshi says fertile harvest fields are plenty, especially among the multitudes of Muslims from the Middle East who have experienced ISIS firsthand and are running away rather than conforming.
“Doors are opening because of all this,” Qureshi said. “These people who are fleeing have looked ISIS in the face. They are the most primed to leave Islam out of anyone in the world, and we ought not squander the opportunity to reach them with the Gospel.”
Canon White sees now as a time for followers of Christ to unify more than ever before and to boldly follow the Lord regardless of the consequences, fearing not because His perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).
“When Jesus tells us about the last days in the Bible, He doesn’t say it’s all going to be lovely,” White said. “He tells us there’s going to be persecution, disruption, terrible massacres. It’s hard, but there really is a chance to bring change together if we stay together.”
Bible verses marked NIV are taken by permission from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.