Although Boko Haram is actually responsible for more deaths each year even than Islamic State, this article is my best attempt so far to understand the whole phenomenon of what motivates and undergirds ISIS. These basic facts do not make for pretty reading, but there are key pointers here that appear to have eluded not only most politicians and planners but also many believers.
It is not enough to blame American foreign policy and the botched outcome in Iraq solely for the creation of ISIS, although articles such as this do show how often western interventions have made existing tensions worse.
We are drawing deeply, though by no means not exclusively, here on an article in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood. Because the original article is too lengthy for most people to have time to read, I have summarised the salient points here in highlighting this cult, which wields absolute power over its adherents and is determined to revert to a fundamentally mediaeval view of the world.
- Daesh, or ISIS, controls a region of some eight million people, greater than the size of Britain. It considers itself to have already moved onto an “offensive jihad.”
- Islamic State firmly believes that they are re-establishing true Islam. Conquering territory and gaining allegiance is central to their philosophy and strategy.
- It does not recognise national boundaries but sets out rather to establish an Islamic caliphate. It refuses to recognise the UN, because for it to recognise any other authority would be apostasy.
- It considers that the state has an obligation to terrorise its opponents, using all the means discussed above of crucifixion and enslavement, because doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict. You have only to search the word crucifixion and Isis on-line.
- Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. Social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks, with Muslim “apostates” being the most common victims.
- Christians who do not resist their new government are usually exempted from automatic execution. Their leader, Baghdadi, permits them to live, as long as they acknowledge their subjugation, and pay a special tax, known as the jizya. The Koranic authority for this practice is not in dispute.
- IS regard Shia Muslims as apostates, as well as those who sell alcohol or drugs in the same light. (Interesting in the light of the fact that the people who blew up in the house in Brussels recently took both; and were involved in a notorious pub in Molenbeek. “Many Islamist terrorists in Europe have been radicalized from the ranks of petty criminals and drug users.” (Source: Wall Street Journal)
End time Expectations
I must preface this section by saying that this can only be as best as I understand these matters – I am most emphatically not claiming anything even remotely approaching infallibility here, but am simply opening up a topic about which most Christians know next to nothing.
- If few in western society have any serious grasp of what the Bible has to say about the last times, even fewer have any clear insight into what fundamentalist Islam teaches about the last days, and how important this is in the thinking of the Islamic State. There is a huge ambition in ISIS to conquer Rome and even to behead the Pope along with thousands of others in St Peter’s Square.
- The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) have released a powerful five-minute video (words transcribed) on the subject of this ambitious and seemingly outlandish plan which can only be understood in the context of Islamic eschatology expectation that the prophet Jesus will return to Earth, and, together with the Islamic Messiah, the Mahdi, will overthrow the antiMessiah (the Christian equivalent of the Antichrist) who is known as the Dajjal, (whose name means Lie or Deception) who will kill a vast number of the caliphate’s fighters until only a relative handful remain, cornered in Jerusalem.
- It is just as Dajjal (the Anti Messiah) prepares to finish them off that Isa (Jesus), the second most revered prophet in Islam, will return to Earth in Damascus, spear Dajjal, lead the Muslims to victory, initiate an age of peace and islamise the world. This Isa, however, in keeping with Islamic teaching, will declare very firmly that he is not God!!
Even in this briefest of overviews we can see that there are many seeming “parallels” to the Bible’s teaching here parallels which on closer inspection turn out to be a complete antithesis of the Bible’s of teaching on the end times.
Many in ISIS are very excited about the thought of major battles and defeat of the “Roman” armies (whatever precisely they consist of) that will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse. They feel that they are participating in something exciting and dramatic.
Even the prospect of losing most of their fighting men in battle does not deter them because it is prophesied. This active desire for martyrdom poses immense tactical problems, just as the kamikaze pilots caused the American Navy so much grief during the Second World War.
Amongst ISIL’s principal objectives and expectations are . . .
- The abolishment of the state of Israel
- The expulsion of non-Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula
- The end of support the dictatorships in Muslim lands
- At this stage, ISIS is more concerned with applying sharia law in the Caliphate and expanding to the regions around Syria than with directly taking on America. No one has tried harder to implement strict sharia law by violence than ISIS. May the sight of what that entails serve to put some off!
For many reasons most of the numerous nations in the coalition against ISIS prefer not to confront it directly on the ground, preferring to seek proxies to do the fighting for them – mainly the Kurds, who have achieved a measure of success, and the predominantly Shiite Iraqi army who have been rather less successful.
The more IS fails to gain territory the less convincing Islamic state appears. There is currently a major divide between ISIS and Al Q’aeda. If the two movements were to experience a serious rapprochement it would obviously spell further danger for the world, and is therefore something worth praying against.
What ISIS believes and prophesies is not predestined to occur. God has revealed a great deal about the end times in His Word, and He is overseeing the events in the run up to the return of His Son.
Pray for the power of God to be at work, to touch the hearts of the many caught up in its net, and to protect multitudes from its ravages. But please see our article Reaching the Muslim World: The Wider Picture to draw our hearts closer to the Lord’s own heart, and away from essentially racist attitudes that make it easy to denounce but reluctant to reach out to people whom Jesus loves, and for whom He died.
For an introduction to teaching on what Sunnis believe about the end times, see
For those who would like to brush up on their own understanding of biblical eschatology, you might find the following sites helpful:
Bible Prophecy Blog
Learn More About The Bible – This Is Your Bible