ISIS: An Islamic Armageddon

Mar 7th, 2015 | By | Category: Featured Issues

Seemingly, out of nowhere, last June, the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS or sometimes called ISIL) seized Mosul, Iraq and has gained more territory in Iraq and Syria since then, comprising an area now larger than the United Kingdom.  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been the leader of ISIS since May 2010.  He regards himself as the caliph of Islam and his movement is energized by a deeply-rooted Islamic theology.  ISIS is not a group of thugs who simply use Islam to justify their actions.  ISIS is an intensely important expression of Islam and it can be only understood if examined from that perspective.  In a profoundly important article in the current issue of The Atlantic, Graeme Wood writes that ISIS ?follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior.?  Our current leadership in America refuses to connect Islam with ISIS (or any jihadist terrorist group for that matter).  I believe Wood?s article should be required reading for President Obama and for all Americans.  In this Perspective, I want to summarize the salient points from Wood?s analysis of ISIS and conclude with a final thought.

Important summary points from the Graeme Wood?s article:

  1. Wood believes that the West has misunderstood ISIS for two reasons:  (1)  The West tends to see jihadism as monolithic, and applies the logic of al Qaeda to an organization that has clearly eclipsed it.  For many Islamic jihadists, al Qaeda is disdained in terms of its priorities and its leadership.  Islamic radical jihadism is no longer centered in al Qaeda; it has shifted to ISIS.  (2)  Many in the West, including the United States, refuse to acknowledge the Islamic State?s medieval religious nature.  ISIS leaders consistently refer to ?moderns,? i.e., jihadists led by modern secular people, with modern political concerns.  ISIS leaders insist that they will not?cannot?waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers.  They quote from and rely upon the specific traditions and texts of early Islam.  For example, Sheik Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State?s chief spokesman, called on Muslims in various western nations to find the infidel and ?smash his head with a rock,? poison him, run him over with a car, or ?destroy his crops.?  This is language directly from The Prophet?s orders of how Muslims in the lands of kuffar, or infidels, are to deal with infidels in an unmerciful manner.  The brutal reality is ?that the Islamic State is Islamic.  Very Islamic . . . But pretending that it isn?t actually a religious, millenarian group, with a theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.?
  2. Both al Qaeda and the Islamic State are tied to the jihadist wing of Islamic Sunnis called Salafism, after the Arabic for al salaf al salih, the ?pious forefathers.?  These forefathers include the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest adherents, whom Salafis honor as models for behavior, including warfare, couture, family life, and almost all other facets of life.  Salafism also makes the distinction between an apostate and a sinner?a distinction far more important to the Islamic State.  For ISIS, Shiites?most Iraqi Arabs and Muslims in Iran are Shiites?meet their standard for apostates, for Shi?ism is an innovation, and ?to innovate the Koran is to deny its initial perfection.?  Therefore, following the ancient doctrine of takfiri, ISIS is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people, including Shiite Muslims.  There is little objective reporting on ISIS coming out of the West right now, but social media posts from the region make it clear that the true extent of the slaughter is unknowable.  It is clear that individual executions occur daily and mass executions every few weeks.  Wood writes:  ?But focusing on them to the exclusion of ideology reflects another kind of Western bias:  that if religious ideology doesn?t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul.  When a masked executioner says Allahu Akbar while beheading an apostate, sometimes he?s doing so for religious reasons.?  Furthermore, Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the ISIS theology, explained to Wood that Muslims who call ISIS un-Islamic are ?embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religions,? [one] that neglects ?what their religion has historically and legally required.?  Many denials of the Islamic State?s religious nature, Haykel argued, are rooted in an ?interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.?  Islamic State fighters ?are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.?
  3. Restoring the Islamic caliphate is not only a political entity but also a vehicle for salvation.  One Islamic scholar with whom Wood spoke stated that ?the Muslim who acknowledges one omnipotent god and prays, but who dies without pledging himself to a valid caliph and incurring the obligations of that oath, has failed to live a fully Islamic life.?  He argued that ?I would go so far as to say that Islam has been reestablished? by the caliphate.  And the caliph is required to implement Sharia law, which is what al-Baghdadi is doing.
  4. Eschatology is an important element of the ISIS movement.  Indeed, Wood writes that ?The Islamic State differs from nearly every other current jihadist movement in believing that it is written into God?s script as a central character.?  Their brand of Sunni Islam focuses on the teachings that there will be only 12 legitimate caliphs, and that Baghdadi is the eighth; that the armies of ?Rome? will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria; and that Islam?s final showdown with an anti-Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of renewed Islamic conquest.  For that reason, ISIS attaches great importance to their conquest of the Syrian city of Dabiq (near Aleppo).  Wood summarizes that ?It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, that the armies of Rome will set up their camp.  The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome?s Waterloo or its Antietam . . . Now that it has taken Dabiq, the Islamic State awaits the arrival of an enemy army there, whose defeat will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse.?  There is much debate within this teaching of Islam as to the identity of ?Rome.?  Some suggest Turkey (the seat of the previous Ottoman caliphate) or some infidel army led by the United States, for example.  The teaching about the End of Days includes the great victory of the caliphate at Dabiq, which will cause the caliphate to expand, after which an anti-Messiah (called Dajjal) will come from the Khorasan region of eastern Iran and kill a vast number of the caliphate?s fighters, until just 5,000 remain, cornered in Jerusalem.  ?Just as Dajjal prepares to finish them off, Jesus?the second-most-revered prophet in Islam?will return to Earth, spear Dajjal, and lead the Muslims to victory.?
  5. Thus, the waging of war is the essential duty of the caliph and the obligation of this type of warfare is to terrorize the enemy through beheadings, crucifixions, enslavement of women and children?all to hasten ultimate victory.  Central to understanding the caliphate is that it does not recognize international borders or nation states?a product of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia.  To recognize that proposition is ideological suicide for ISIS.

As one studies the theology of the Islamic State, especially its eschatology, one sees the foolishness of speaking of ISIS as only a group of terrorists.  This is the shortcoming of our president.  As president his obligation is to define reality for the American people and do so with honesty and fortitude.  He has done neither.  Further, as one studies the ISIS eschatology, one sees some similarity to biblical eschatology.  The End of Days is all wrapped around the return of Jesus, who will defeat evil and establish His rule.  He will not establish Islam as the world religion; He will establish Himself, as His Father promised, to rule and reign over planet earth?His ?inheritance?, Psalm 2?which will then lead to the New Heaven and New Earth (Isaiah 65, Revelation 21-22).   Behind every false religion is Satanic power (see 1 Corinthians 10: 19-20) and, as we learn from the temptation of Jesus, Satan is powerful, the ?God of this age,? and the ?prince of the power of the air.?  His methodology is deception and guile to lead humans into error and away from the truth.  Modern day Islam in all its forms (but none more poignantly than the theology of ISIS) demonstrates this truth.  In Ephesian 6:12, the Apostle Paul declares that ?we fight not against flesh and blood, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places? (NIV).  This explains ISIS.

President Obama will not likely change his stance on ISIS, but you and I should make this a priority in our praying.  ISIS will not win!  ISIS will not secure a caliphate according to their dream and vision.  But they will no doubt kill many more image-bearers of the one, true God.  Let us pray that the one, true God will stay this evil and end the terror and bloodshed that ISIS fosters.  I also believe it is proper for us to pray that Jesus would return quickly.  The early church used to pray, ?Come quickly, Lord Jesus:? An appropriate prayer for 2015!

See the incredibly profound and helpful article by Graeme Wood, ?What ISIS Really Wants,? in The Atlantic (March 2015). PRINT PDF

Comments Closed

5 Comments to “ISIS: An Islamic Armageddon”

  1. Arlie Rauch says:

    Thanks for this clear explanation.

  2. Richard says:

    I don’t know why the White House had consistently held a consistent approach to separating militant Islam from its history and theology. As always, they’re banking on most people’s gullibility for their own misguided ends.

  3. John Harrison says:

    Hello Jim:

    Excellent article.

    Yes, I agree Jesus will return soon, but ISIS will be very disappointed as Satan has deceived again since Ishmael. Choices.

    God has a Plan and He is working His Plan and that Plan is to restore all things unto Himself by bringing down all lawlessness on earth. Won’t that be a thing of beauty. This will be the third and final defeat of the Muslims for world domination.

  4. Jim Eckman:

    I agree and your article is insightful. ISIS is warring cult. I can see how ISIS or any such Salafism can take the role of surrounding “the camp of the saints and the beloved city” (Rev 20:7-10). However, God will bring justice. May God give us courage to not become cowards (Rev 21:8). I do not see how Islam is nothing more than totalitarianism. There is no reason to hide that Sharia law is anti-freedom of conscience.

    Thank you. I appreciate the article.

  5. Sangkara says:

    I am a little anyenod by the whole mayhem because i dont understand why its such a big deal in the first place. I think the Cordoba House, is an opportunity for those insecure, narrow minded Americans to see what actually goes on in a muslim community service. The myths of bomb plotting or building a terrorist army would soon be wiped out, since like any other religion its a place for congregational gathering the only difference is Muslims take a great deal of pride in their belief.I think the protestors will continue regardless, i just want to know would such havoc be caused if it were a Synagogue, Church or Temple being built on site??? What gets forgotten that the poor civilians that were killed/affected in the 9/11 were not just Christians but Muslims, Jews, Hindus and people of many other faiths/religon. So the attack should not be regarded as a religious attack, i think the very poorly educated Americans need to be reminded this once in a while. The worst thing then to follow is that Barack Obama is now accused by a minority of American citizens of being muslim i mean come on how shallow can you go? Just because he is advocating or allowing this house to be built, people are judging him already..whats the big deal if he was muslim anyway???