In light of the global attacks of the last few months, most people are somewhat familiar with the group ISIS. The acronym has become synonymous with violence, terror and bloodshed. As they continue to advance their cause in the Middle East and beyond, we need to better understand who they are and what is their end goal. Before we go further, it is important to note that ISIS does not represent nor do they speak for all of Islam. Whether you agree or disagree, there are millions of Muslims that does not agree with ISIS or any other terror organization.
ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and is also known as ISIL or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. By the end of June 2014, ISIS renamed itself the “Islamic State” as it proclaimed the creation of a global caliphate.1 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, their leader since 2010, declared that he was the new caliph and as such, was now ruling all Muslims. To date, the introduction of a new caliphate has been far from welcome by various Muslim countries. ISIS, ISIL and IS are all mostly synonymous.
ISIS was founded in 1999 by the Jordanian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Within five years, al-Zarqawi’s new group chose to associate themselves with Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. They are considered to be Islamic extremists, Islamists or Jihadists, closely linked to the concept of Jihad or “struggle.” Various similar groups, such as the Taliban, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah have also made the news for decades, but ISIS appears to be in a league of its own.
By early 2014, Al-Qaeda officially dissociated itself from ISIS, and the new group became a self-sustained entity. Al-Qaeda refused to be held responsible for ISIS’ actions which they deemed to be “too extreme” in some cases.2 ISIS has proven to be a growing force to be reckoned with. They have lived up to their barbaric reputation. They continue to advance in the Middle East, spreading their grip on a terrified, ill-prepared region.
ISIS follows a very extreme form of Islam known as Salafism (in Arabical salaf al salih means the “pious forefathers”). It promotes violence and bloodshed to establish and maintain qur’anic hegemony through a very strict adherence to the Qur’an and Shari’a law. ISIS adheres to an apocalyptic theology and believes that the Mhadi or “guided one” will soon arrive and redeem Islam. ISIS has declared jihad against all infidels. That includes westerners, Christians and Jews. But it also includes all other “Muslims” who do not pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the new caliph, such as Hamas.
ISIS has taken less than 18 months to establish their barbaric reputation.
While they are still described as a terrorist organization, they are also known as a militia that is well trained in guerrilla warfare. They have shown great organizational skills from a military standpoint. This is unusual for a group of this sort where corruption, chaos and military inadequacy are usually the norm.
Their recent beheadings, rapes and live burnings are done to intimidate and almost paralyze the world into an inability to respond appropriately. Additionally, they are very astute in using the social networks and the internet to spread their propaganda of terror, as well as recruit fighters all over the world.
ISIS represents a brand of Islam that knows no boundaries to its violence. It continues to attract members in various countries around the globe who go to the Middle East to train and then return to their respective countries to attack their own communities. The lack of moral equivalence between a group driven by an ideology worshipping death and a world valuing human life is always going to be a challenge.3
1 A caliphate (Arabic: خِلافة khilāfa) is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph (Arabic: خَليفة khalīfah –– a person considered a political and religious successor to the prophet, Muhammad and a leader of the entire Muslim community. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caliphate
ISIS and the End Times
One of the most shocking aspects of the rise of ISIS, particularly with regard to the horrifying murders it has committed, is the pure, unadulterated hatred that has accompanied these gruesome acts. Where does it come from? The secular media hasn’t a clue. It says, if only ISIS members weren’t so poor; if only they had more jobs. However, if we look deeper, we will soon discover that ISIS views Judaism and Christianity as religious competitors that must be silenced through any and every means possible. Only one worldview can emerge victorious—and according to ISIS, the final chapter of history must end in victory for Muhammad.
The Maze of Islamic Eschatology
Islamic eschatology is difficult to understand and sure to confuse those who have little or no knowledge of religious systems in general and Islam in particular. This is why many are puzzled about the motivations of ISIS. Some members may simply be driven by the desire to inflict harm and pain on others, but most are committed to a certain theology that shapes their present and future.
The recent execution of 21 Coptic Christians can shed some light on ISIS’ motivations. In the video released on Sunday, February 15, 2015 the phrase “They supplicate what they worship and die upon their paganism,” appears on the screen as the men are lowered to their knees. This puzzling assertion holds a clue as to ISIS’ understanding of end-times prophecy and attitude toward Christianity. For ISIS, the presumed Christian veneration of the cross is evidence of the corrupt nature of Christian theology. In fact, Christianity is viewed as a threat to ISIS’ dream of the establishment of the future caliphate(Islamic government) and the authority of the Mahdi (Islamic messiah).
It might come as a surprise, but Jesus is a central figure in the end of days in Islamic theology. However, in their way of thinking, Jesus’ role is to put an end to all religions other than Islam. Of course, this is not the Jesus of the Bible. It is the Jesus of Islamic conception.
Arming Ourselves with the Truth
There are some amazing parallels between Christian, Jewish and Islamic end-time scenarios. All recognize a final confrontation between the forces of evil and the forces of righteousness. Islam and Christianity see a role for an Antichrist-like figure and acknowledge the importance of Jesus.
The differences, however, far outweigh the similarities. A
Jesus who stands for the destruction of Jews and Christians? Unthinkable! A Christ who returns to establish the caliphate of Islam? Not according to the inspired Jewish prophets!
Believers are facing grave challenges today from ISIS. We must first and foremost arm ourselves with the knowledge that our scriptures provide in order to combat falsehood. We must also understand the kind of battle in which we are engaged. As the Apostle Paul writes,“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”(Eph. 6:12).
Finally, we must acknowledge that ISIS is not well understood by the West. We must reckon with the motivation that sanctions gruesome killings and a variety of criminal activities all in the name of a religious belief that may be as fervently cherished as that of the most convinced Christian and observant Jew. This is in fact what makes ISIS so dangerous, as they are driven by their theology. And if anyone can understand this—we can!
We must pray for the peace of Jerusalem. If ISIS has its way, it will stop at nothing to either destroy or take over Israel. Neither Isaiah nor Jeremiah ever named ISIS specifically, but they do say enemies would surround Israel, and this is apparently coming true in even more alarming fashion. As the second coming of the Lord looks closer and closer as the predicted future unfolds before our eyes, let us pray, but also prepare our hearts for the difficult times to come by drawing close to the Lord. Let us also do all we can in these days to proclaim the truth that there is salvation in no one other than Jesus the Messiah. This is true for Jewish people and non-Jews, whether they follow Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam.
We worship a Savior who loved us all so much that He died for our sins and rose from the grave, conquering death. We serve an all-powerful God and we should not fear the future. We should look ahead knowing that what was foretold will come to pass. Our responsibility is to be His vessels of mercy and grace to all—to the Jew first and also to the Gentiles—including ISIS!
The Jews of Iraq
Nowadays, there are literally just a handful of Jewish people living in Iraq, too old or poor to contemplate departure. Iraq used to be one of the centers of Judaism, with Jews living side by side with their Iraqi neighbors. Jews in Iraq after the Babylonian Exile created rabbinical academies and compiled the Babylonian Talmud, now a very important guide for Jewish religious life.
The Jews of Yemen
There are around 400 Jews left in small villages in Yemen. They keep to themselves, worshipping and living as Jews. Once a thriving community, most Jewish people immigrated to Israel in about 1950. Those who stayed behind soon faced hardships. Yemeni Jews speak Aramaic for religious services (instead of Hebrew) and have kept their rich heritage. In Israel, the Yemeni Jewish community has added greatly to society.
The Jews of Iran
The Jewish community of present-day Iran (formerly Persia) is one of the oldest in the world, reaching back to the Babylonian Exile. Muslim rule beginning in the seventh century spelled second-class citizenship for Iranian Jews. Today, Iran’s Jewish population is about 8,000 – the second largest in the Mideast. This comes as a surprise to many, given the open enmity that exists between Iran and the State of Israel.
The Jews of Syria
Jewish people had already lived in Syria for over 500 years when the Apostle Paul made his life-changing journey along the Road to Damascus. Before 1948, the Jewish community numbered about 40,000. Today, that number has dwindled to fewer than 100. The establishment of the Jewish State resulted in rioting, murder and the destruction of Jewish synagogues, some as old as 2,500 years. Thereafter, the Jewish community was subjected to harsh restrictions.
Source consulted – Jewish Virtual Library –