I pray regularly for the Islamic State leaders. Probably not what you think.
President Obama could not have been more mistaken last year when he dismissed ISIS as Al-Qaeda’s JV team. If anything, that’s A-Q itself. Almost daily after seeing the latest ISIS atrocity in HD, the world’s secular citizens become more indignant. Secular heads of state seem unsure how to deal with ISIS other than the way they’d deal with any regional spat. But neither diplomacy nor indignation–nor the inane suggestion that job creation will somehow curb this wind of religious devotion–will stop ISIS’ advance. And yes, they really do plan to one day govern from places like Rome, Jerusalem, and D.C. A plan to reach southern Europe has already been sketched out. It’s what Allah requires.
This is what secular leaders cannot fathom. Diplomacy is normally shaped by offering an enemy something that serves their self-interest: money, land, peace. Diplomats are not accustomed to dealing with people who put their god’s wants before their own. It doesn’t seem that ISIS’ leaders desire personal power to enrich themselves, and their barbarism cannot be explained simply by using labels from the DSM-5.
Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his followers are devout believers who obey their holy book even when it seems odd–or out-of-step with the times. Isn’t that what Christians do too? We of all people should understand their motivation–and the depth of their resolve. In a way that those with no god can’t, we should grasp that true believers of any faith will remain faithful to the path they believe is true obedience–no matter what. ISIS’ path just happens to have convictions like these…
- Muslims who vote are sinning.
- Slavery is mandatory in a caliphate.
- Terror is really an act of mercy (it frightens enemies to more quickly surrender; hence, it shortens war–which is merciful).
- There are no such things as borders: the caliphate must continue to wage war and expand. Otherwise the caliph is sinning and must be removed.
Moderate Muslims are quick to deny that groups like ISIS practice true Islam. But they do. 21st century followers may have tamed the Qur’an but make no mistake: Muhammad would be proud of al-Baghdadi. Read some of his surahs.
In Wood’s article below, he says the top expert on ISIS’ theology is Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel who argues, “…its fighters are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war. This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Muslims tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts. ‘Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition. They are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.'”
Since Islam is the second largest faith in the world–and the fastest growing, I think Christians are wise to learn all they can about this wildly popular (according to a recently updated study by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, at least 20,000 people from around the world have streamed into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS) but brutal movement inside Islam that is committed to forcing the planet’s 7 billion people to swear allegiance to a descendant from Muhammad’s tribe–or die. Knowing will help shape Christian praying, Christian witness, and Christian mission strategy.
Begin with this remarkable article by Graeme Wood just published in The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/.