RADICAL ISLAM: What is ISIS and What do They Want?

DANIEL JANOSIK: Director of Islamic Studies, Adjunct Professor of Apologetics, Historical Theology, and Islamic Studies at Southern Evangelical Seminary, and the adjunct professor in Apologetics at CIU Columbia International University (A.B., College of William and Mary; M.Div., Columbia International University; M.A., Columbia International University; Ph.D., London School of Theology) Dissertation: John of Damascus, First Apologist to the Muslims.

At the time of this publication, ISIS has been on the defeated but not decimated by the Trump administration. However, this group represents many radical groups that have gone before it and other groups that will rise up in its place. Therefore, we can use this recent manifestation of the face of radical Islam to help us understand the core motivations of similar groups — past, present, and future.

According to numerous polls, including a recent Pew poll, most views of ISIS in Muslim majority countries were overwhelmingly negative.[1] It is understandable that most Muslims would not want to be associated with a group that is known for harsh, barbaric treatment of others, such as beheading victims on video, burning captives alive, and making sex slaves of thousands of women. Victims of these atrocities have included moderate Muslims, Christians, Jews, or other non-Muslims.


Most moderate Muslims would never think of acting this way against their non-Muslim neighbors. Thus, they want to distance their beliefs from those of the Islamic State. Numerous leaders in the West have supported the Muslim majority by claiming that ISIS is not a true representative of Islam. In a speech on September 10, 2014, President Obama stated that ISIL is not “Islamic” and that “no religion condones the killing of innocents.”[2] In November of 2015, Hillary Clinton said: “Let’s be clear, though. Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.”[3] Shortly after the Bataclan massacre in Paris, French President Francois Hollande went so far as to say, “Those fanatics have nothing in common with the rest of the Muslim faith.”[4] Indeed, as Mark Durie, a scholar in linguistics and theology has pointed out, since 9/11 “the slogan ‘Religion of Peace’ has been steadily promoted by western leaders in response to terrorism.”[5] Non-Muslim leaders have also gone to extraordinary efforts to convince citizens in Western countries that groups like ISIS have nothing in common with Islam, and which, contrary to the actions of the terrorist groups, these leaders say should be regarded as a religion that promotes peace and not conflict.


In regard to this almost universal aversion to linking Islam and terrorism together, Robert Spencer, the director of Jihad Watch, notes, “[F]or virtually every authority in the Western world and many Muslim leaders as well, the Islamic State is a vicious perversion of the Qur’an, the Sunnah, and the Sharia of Allah – they insist that whatever the group is to be called, it must not be called “Islamic” or identified in any way with the religion of Islam.”[6]

In contrast to the many who argue that ISIS is not truly Islamic, Nabeel Qureshi, a former Muslim and author of Answering Jihad, aptly represents non-Muslims who accept ISIS, as well as its sister groups al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, as the self-avowed champions of true Islam that they themselves claim to be. Their form of Islam is deeply embedded in the Qur’an and the life of Muhammad and this emphasis on foundational texts is often far greater than moderate Muslims. Qureshi adds,

There can be no doubt by any useful definition of Muslims that Islamic terrorists are Muslim. They worship Allah, they strive to follow Muhammad, they perform their Islamic duties, and they have great concern for the international Muslim community. Relatively speaking, they tend to place more emphasis on the foundations of Islam than do average Muslims in the West who proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace.[7]

If this is true, why are the world’s Western leaders so adamant about denying the Islamic connection with these terrorist groups? Qureshi indicates that,

When the leaders and media members insist that these groups are not Islamic, they are either speaking out of ignorance or intentionally engaging in propaganda. These three groups are dynamic expressions of the modern Islamic reformation, and their interpretations of the Qur’an and hadith, in terms of being devoid of accreted tradition, are among the most pure in the Islamic world.[8]


It would seem, then, that polar views prevail when it comes to interpreting whether ISIS is Islamic or not.

This chapter will summarize the background of ISIS and deal with the ideology and beliefs of this new movement. These views will also be compared to the more moderate Muslim views in order to determine which side better represents the historical beliefs of Islam. Then, in light of the core motivations of ISIS and similar jihadi groups, a critique of the present situation will be made in order to resolve the cognitive dissonance between the two views which, on the one hand, say that the Islamic State is not Islamic, and on the other hand claim that “ISIS is Islamic, very Islamic.”[9]


Background and History of ISIS

Although the distant roots are found in Muhammad and the first Caliphate, the Islamic State began in Iraq as the Jama’at al-Tawhid, or the Party of Monotheism and Jihad. It was founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 1999 after he was released from a Jordanian prison after serving five years for waging Jihad against the government. In time, Zarqawi joined with Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and changed the name of his group to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Under Zarqawi’s leadership AQI was known for courageous and daring exploits against the infidel in the name of Islam. Zarqawi was known as a brilliant tactician as well as the chief promoter of the shocking violence that ISIS is notorious for now. He also contributed to a twenty-year plan that seems to be on schedule as it has successfully entered the sixth out of seven phases. It would be helpful to summarize these phases.[10]

  • Phase 1: The Muslim Awakening (2000-2003). This was designed to provoke the West into responding to the new threat. This phase was very successful considering the devastation brought about by the 9/11 attack.
  • Phase 2: Opening Eyes (2003-2006). This phase used propaganda and recruitment in order to educate Muslims of their ideological goals and reawaken Muslims to the core beliefs of the Qur’an and Muhammad. Again, judging by the number of Muslims involved in jihad around the world and the number of terrorist attacks that have taken place since 9/11 (over 29,000),[11] this phase would also have to be judged successful.
  • Phase 3: Arising and Standing Up (2007-2010). This phase would involve the expansion process throughout Iraq, Syria and the surrounding areas. This growth was greatly expedited by the pullout of the U.S. troops from Iraq.
  • Phase 4: Collapse (2010-2013). This period was marked by the collapse of a number of Muslim governments as revolution spread across the Middle East during the “Arab ” Even though many of these protests ended up bringing chaos to the host countries, this all played nicely into the hands of the terrorists.
  • Phase 5: Caliphate (2013-2016). In this phase the Islamic State would be formally announced, and due to the weakness of the Western nations and their lack of desire to keep up the fight, the Caliphate would grow over time in strength and territory. This goal has been accomplished and al-Baghdadi has guided the Caliphate through the initial steps toward its goal of a world order under the Muslim community of believers.
  • Phase 6: Total Confrontation (2016-2019). The hope of this phase is for the Caliphate to draw into battle the Western forces, as well as Israel, in order to decimate the enemy.
  • Phase 7: Definitive Victory (2020). After vanquishing the Western forces and ridding the world of the nation of Israel, the Caliphate hopes to be embraced by the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. At this time, it would be the only superpower in the world and all remaining non-Muslims would be under the control of the Caliphate.

If the Caliphate continues to have success, then the West is in for a more widespread confrontation with a greater emphasis on infiltrating Western countries and carrying out its goals for domination of the world in the name of Allah.

In June of 2006, the forward momentum of the movement took a detour when Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike. However, by October the organization recovered and renamed itself the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). When Obama withdrew the troops from Iraq in 2011 the ISI took advantage of the absence of U.S. troops and the weakness of the Shia government in Baghdad to gain control over territory in Iraq and Syria. ISI extended this advantage by fomenting unrest in Syria in order to expand their control. They were successful in helping to ignite a Syrian civil war, and in April of 2013 renamed the organization as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).[12]  In 2014, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who assumed control of al-Qaeda after the death of bin Laden, ended the relationship with ISIS because it was considered too extreme.[13] In June of 2014, however, ISIS declared the formation of a new Caliphate with Zarqawi’s former lieutenant, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the caliph – the successor of Muhammad and the spiritual leader of Islam.  The acronym was again changed to IS for the Islamic State, which is the preferred name for their organization.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose given name is Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri, was born in Samarra, Iraq, to a Sunni family in 1971. He distinguished himself when he was young by his serious study of the Qur’an and his strict standards. He pursued his religious studies at the university and received his Master’s (1999) and Ph.D. (2007) in Qur’anic studies from the Saddam University for Islamic Studies.[14] Through his strong devotion to religious matters, as well as relationships with Islamists, al-Baghdadi gravitated towards violent ultra-conservatives in the Islamist movement in the late 1990s and embraced Salafist jihadism.[15] In 2004, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, al-Baghdadi was arrested by the Americans and placed in prison for his connections with terrorist groups. However, he was not considered dangerous and was released in December of 2004.

Through his prison connections, he found out about al-Zarqawi’s AQI and soon joined up with the organization. He was respected for his scholarship and steadily rose through the ranks. After the death of Zarqawi’s successor, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi in 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was chosen to lead the movement. In June of 2014, after waiting for the U.S. to withdraw its troops, al-Baghdadi declared the formation of a Caliphate and shortened the name of his organization to the Islamic State (IS). As a Caliphate, the Islamic State claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. In regard to core ideology and beliefs, IS follows the Salafi school (Wahhabism), which follows a traditional, literal interpretation of the Qur’an and Hadith. Governed by strict Salafist doctrine, the Islamic State seeks to revive what it refers to as “Pure Islam,” and it considers all other Islamic groups to be inferior or illegitimate.

 The end goal for IS is apocalyptic, and they believe they can usher in the End Times. This is why they seek to lure the U.S. and its allies to the Middle East. Ultimately, they believe they are fighting to prepare the way for the Mahdi, or the “divinely guided one.” According to their interpretation, in the End Times the Mahdi will come, along with the Muslim Jesus, in order to establish a worldwide Muslim caliphate where people are either converted to Islam or killed. The Islamic State believes that they will help initiate the coming of the Mahdi by marshaling Muslim forces against the infidels. They also believe the Muslim Jesus will return to the earth, break the cross, kill swine, and abolish the Jizya – in effect abolishing all religions except Islam. Without the protection money as an option (the jizya), then the only two choices left for non-Muslims will be to convert to Islam or die.


The View from ISIS

Instead of listening to non-Muslim leaders tell us about what Muslims believe, Muslims should be asked what they believe about their own religion. A good place to go for a view concerning ISIS would be their slick new magazine called Dabiq[16] (named after the city where the apocalyptic battle of Armageddon is prophesied to take place).

In the most recent issue (no. 15) there is an article written by a former “Christian” who accepted Islam and joined the Islamic State. His article, called “Words of Sincere Advice,” begins with a passionate call to Islam filled with verses from the Qur’an. For example, he calls his readers to the straight path of Islam (Q. 6:153), and he calls all Muslims to form one nation under Allah (Q. 21:92), which is a call to join the Islamic State. He then gives advice about what the readers should do after rejecting the corrupted world of the West, which he likens to the pre-Islamic condition of Jahiliyyah. The first step he advocates is for the readers to pledge their life to the Islamic State, and follow the prophet, who said, “Whoever dies unbound by a bay’ah (pledge of allegiance) has died a Jahili death.” In conjunction with this obligation, they should then “rush to perform Hijrah” and travel to the “land of Islam” (the new Caliphate) in order to join up with the Islamic State. If this is not an option at the time, then the writer encourages Muslims to use the opportunity of living among the infidels to wage jihad where they are.[17] Indeed, the argument is put forth that the “real jihad” is not giving da’wah, or simply telling non-Muslims about Islam, but rather “the real da’wah is waging Jihad!” Action is called for, he continues, in order to fulfill the obligation of spilling the blood of the disbelievers, for the command is clear: “Kill the disbelievers, as Allah said, ‘Then kill the polytheists wherever you find them’” (Q. 9:5).


The goal of this jihad against the non-believers, since “disbelievers are a clear enemy” (Q. 4:101), is to scare them and terrorize them “until every neighbor fears his neighbor.”  Furthermore, the author states that the “Crusader nations and their citizens” are not innocent because the Western democracies fight against the Muslim nations. Therefore, he says to his reader, “it becomes even more obligatory for you to attack the Crusader nations and their citizens in their homelands as done by the likes of the Caliphate’s soldiers.” His final plea to the former Christian is for him to prove his love for Allah by following Muhammad, who said that he “would have loved to fight for Allah’s cause and be killed, then be revived and killed again.” The promise was also given that if they followed Muhammad’s example against the infidel, then Allah would love them and forgive them of their sins. (Q. 3:31). The final “word of advice” for his reader was to make “simple and effective” plans to “cause the most damage and panic” in order to bring “death and injury to the enemy of Allah, the disbelievers.”

The next article in the magazine, titled “Why We Hate You and Why We Fight You,” is even more direct in its assertion that fighting against the infidel is commanded by Allah. Contrary to the politically correct narrative that the violent attacks carried out by ISIS are senseless and un-Islamic, the author calls this view “foolish” and proclaims that ISIS is “in fact completely Islamic.” Of his six reasons the Islamic State hates the West, the first one sums it all up.


We hate you, first and foremost, because you are disbelievers; you reject the oneness of Allah – whether you realize it or not – by making partners for Him in worship, you blaspheme against Him, claiming that He has a son [Christ], you fabricate lies against His prophets and messengers, and you indulge in all manner of devilish practices. It is for this reason that we were commanded to openly declare our hatred for you and our enmity towards you… We have rejected you, and there has arisen, between us and you, enmity and hatred forever until you believe in Allah alone'” (Al-Mumtahanah 4 [i.e., Quran 60:4]). Furthermore, just as your disbelief is the primary reason we hate you, your disbelief is the primary reason we fight you, as we have been commanded to fight the disbelievers until they submit to the authority of Islam, either by becoming Muslims, or by paying jizyah – for those afforded this option [“People of the Book”] – and living in humiliation under the rule of the Muslims [per Quran 9:29].[18]

Clearly, when ISIS is allowed to speak for itself, the reason they give for their actions is that everything they do and say is based squarely on the commands of the Qur’an and the words and actions of the prophet. Thus, if anything, ISIS seems to represent a return to the first century model of conquest and expansion carried out under Muhammad and his loyal followers. It would be exceedingly useful, then, to compare the successful military actions of the conquering Arabs in the 7th century with the present practices of ISIS in order to understand how ISIS operates today. From this comparison and assessment, it will be easier to determine whether ISIS follows the Qur’an and Muhammad more religiously than moderate Muslims or whether it is just a renegade heretical group that blasphemes the name of Allah.


As noted in previous chapters, in the 7th century, as the Arab horde moved northward behind the retreating Byzantine forces, some non-Chalcedonian Christian groups, who viewed Islam as the “rod of God’s anger” intended “to deliver [them] from the Byzantines,”[19] felt relief from what they considered an oppressive former regime. On the other hand, the “Byzantine polemicists saw Islam as a ‘Satanic plot’ to destroy Christian Faith.”[20] Some of the sources cited religious devotion by the invaders and some cited brutality and godlessness. Overall, there seemed to be a sense of ambivalence and unpreparedness. At first, the new regime ruled from a distance and made light economic and civil demands. This further pleased the non-Chalcedonian Christians. However, as the Muslims gained more power, the suppression of Christian rights increased. In time, Christians were brutally persecuted, churches and Bibles were burned, crosses were banned and public preaching was denied. As the number of Muslims in the general population grew, many of the remaining Christians were faced with three choices: convert, submit and pay, or die.

     We see many of these same patterns reappearing in the 21st century, especially in the Middle East. As ISIS began their campaign in Iraq they were greeted with open arms by their fellow Sunni Muslims who hold disdain for the present U.S. built Iraqi government. As ISIS gained more power, there was greater suppression of the rights of Christians and those they consider to be Muslim “infidels.” Christians experienced horrendous persecution as they faced torture, rape, crucifixion, and beheadings. Their churches were burned, crosses were banned, and public proclamation of their Christian faith brought swift martyrdom. In the end, they were given three choices: convert, submit and pay, or die (or flee before this happens). With meticulous and brutal conviction, parts of the Middle East are being “cleansed” of any Christian presence; a presence that has survived for almost 2,000 years.

It is evident from the comparison above that there are a number of similarities between the response of the church to Islam in the 7th century and the 21st century. There are four general stages that are represented at both times — denial, apathy, “complacent ignorance,” and fear.

In regard to denial, those living outside the Middle East and North Africa in the centuries following the rise of Islam denied that there was much going on. When they did comprehend the gravity of the situation they were apathetic about getting involved. In fact, it took almost 400 years for the church to launch a counter-attack (the Crusades). As one writer notes, there was also “complacent ignorance,”[21] because the Christians outside of the strike zone were more concerned with their own peace and security rather than learning more about the enemy and seeking to rescue their brothers in Christ. Finally, there was fear – fear of getting involved, fear of retaliation, and fear of the unknown. We see the same responses today. [Apathetic/distant problem/complacent ignorance/fear: pull together response today and end in fear, which leads to denial and this will lead into the next section.]

First, there is widespread denial. The most common form of denial is to say that the atrocities committed by the Islamists are not “true Islam.” [Is there an underlying reason for this widespread denial?]

Many are apathetic because the Middle East is far away and the persecution of millions of Christians is still considered a “distant problem.” One of the main reasons for this indifference on the part of Western Christians is due to “complacent ignorance”; the focus for many Christians is on self-interest, and as long as there is relative peace and prosperity at home, then persecution of Christians elsewhere is excused or dismissed. Finally, there is fear. This fear can actually drive the apathy, fuel the “complacent ignorance,” and even sanction denial because it strikes at the deepest level of our being. Michael Dougherty, a senior correspondent at TheWeek.com says, “Fear of Islamic radicalism cows the West into silence on Christian persecution.”[22]

Push to a Logical Conclusion

In order to understand what is really going on today in regard to ISIS, we need to reveal the core motivation of their actions. Many in the western world, most likely influenced by fear, deny that ISIS has anything to do with the religion of Islam. However, the leaders of the Islamic State assert boldly that all that they do is strictly motivated by their submission to Allah and their slavish adherence to the Qur’an and the sunnah of the Prophet. Indeed, their war cry, “Allahu Akbar” (God is greater), has become the universal call to submit to the violent Jihad verses in the Qur’an (of which there are over 150). Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (1928) made it very clear as to what Jihad was all about: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its laws on all nations and to extend its power to the entire world.”[23] Sayed Qutb, the famed spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, declared that all non-Muslims should be considered “infidels,” therefore justifying the Qur’an’s mandate to fight against them “wherever they are found.”[24] (In other words, there are no “innocent” non-Muslims). More recently, Al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the new Islamic State, urged his followers to “Support the religion of Allah through jihad in the path of Allah. Go forth, O mujahideen, in the path of Allah. Terrify the enemies of Allah and seek death in the places where you expect to find it, for the dunya [worldly life] will come to an end, and the hereafter will last forever.”[25] Hasan al-Banna, Sayed Qutb, and al-Baghdadi claim to be the true voices of Islam today. Why, then, do we allow non-Muslim pundits, reporters, and politicians to tell us what Muslims believe about Islam?

     Furthermore, it is undeniable that the actions of these Muslim leaders are derived from their beliefs. They justify their violent attacks by resorting to the Qur’an. For example, Surah 9:5 states, “But when the sacred months are passed away, kill the idolaters (non-Muslims) wherever ye may find them; and take them, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every place of observation.” This verse is said to abrogate (nullify) more than 114 other verses that prescribe less severe treatment for non-Muslims. Moderate Muslims may try to claim that these violent verses are not for today, but that does little to change the minds of radical Muslims who are following the accepted interpretation of the last 1400 years. [26]

The Qur’an is also clear in the use of beheading as a punishment for those who oppose Islam. Surah 47:4, “And when you meet those who misbelieve, non-Muslims, while fighting in Jihad, cut off their heads until you have massacred them, and take them captive [referring to the women and children].

Young Christians

In regard to the many Muslims who are killed by ISIS, the terrorists resort to the practice of takfir,[27] where the captured Muslims are first declared to be “kafir,” or unbelievers, so that they can then be subdued, killed or enslaved.  This is a practice that is not currently recognized by the west, which leads to a false supposition that religion is not behind the terrorist attacks.  However, the Qur’an makes only too clear that world domination is the ultimate goal for the faithful.  Thus, once the unwanted Muslims are either killed or cowered into submission, ISIS will turn to the western world to fulfill the mandate from Surah 8:39, in which Muslims are told to keep fighting until Islam is the only religion: “and keep fighting them until there is no division among you, and Islam is the only religion.” Supposedly, then, the peace that is part of the Islamic promise will be manifested when all other religions are wiped out and all the remaining people have submitted to Islam. Clearly this is not the “peace” which western readers have in mind. For example, Anjem Choudary, an Islamic spiritual leader in the UK, supports the view of fighting until Islam dominates the world when he states, “You can’t say that Islam is a religion of peace, because Islam does not mean peace. Islam means ‘submission.’ So the Muslim is one who submits. There is a place for violence in Islam. There is a place for Jihad in Islam.”[28]

The “Islamoscale” [29]

The question that comes up at this point is how can a person determine whether ISIS is correct or the moderate Muslims are correct. In other words, how can we know which view best represents true Islam? Perhaps one way to understand the difference in views is through something called the “Islamoscale.” On this scale, the further to the right you go there is a more literal interpretation of the Qur’an. At the very left liberal Muslims are represented, moderates in the middle, and radical Muslims toward the right side.



Interpreting a Verse

How would the different groups interpret one of the verses often cited by the radical Muslims? In Sura 9:29 Allah commands the Muslim believers to “Fight those among the People of the Book who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, nor forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden, nor embrace the religion of truth, until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.”

Liberal Muslims would most likely reply that “This was only for the time of Muhammad.” In other words, this verse, and the ones like it, only applied to the time when Muhammad was alive and leading the Muslims. Thus, they are only historical references now and not to be interpreted as applicable for today.

Moderate Muslims would most likely say, “This is only for defensive war and when a proper Jihad has been called by the Muslim state.” The assumption here is that the “sword” verses in the Qur’an are still viable for today, but they must be for defensive purposes only, called by a legitimate government, and only against enemy combatants.

Radical Muslims, on the other hand, claim all the fighting verses are for today and against anyone who does not believe that Allah is the true God and that the Qur’an is the true revelation given to Muhammad. In other words, they believe that Muslims need to fight until the whole world is under the domination of Islam. After all, this is what the Qur’an clearly states in Sura 8:39, that Muslims should “keep fighting them until there is no division among you, and Islam is the only religion.”

The “Christoscale”

For comparison’s sake, it would be helpful to demonstrate this process from a Christian perspective. This can be done through a “Christoscale,” which also depicts the most literal interpretation of the Bible toward the right side of the scale.


The verse in Matthew 16:24 where Jesus says to his disciples, “Take up your cross and follow me,” should be a good verse to use for the comparison. Liberal Christians would likely interpret this injunction by Jesus as an encouragement to be nice to everyone and seek a pathway to peace. Moderate Christians would likely say something like, “We should try to be good examples to others so that our witness may lead them to Christ.” However, the words of Jesus are far more challenging than this. Core Christians would properly interpret the words of Jesus as a challenge to “live sacrificially and seek to actively reach out in word and deed in order to win the world for Christ.” Thus, when the Bible is followed more literally, the interpretation demands a lot more from the follower. In the same way, if a Muslim followed the Qur’an literally, then there would be a much greater chance that the understanding would shift toward the right side of the Islamoscale. This is certainly the case when the actions of ISIS are compared to the commands of the Qur’an. In fact, it can be said that if ISIS is not Islamic, neither is the Qur’an, for ISIS does nothing that the Qur’an does not command. The chart below (ISIS and Qur’an chart) demonstrates that all the brutal actions for which the world condemns the followers of ISIS are supported in the Qur’an.

ISIS and Qur’an Chart

ISIS Qur’an
Terrorism “Strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah” (Q. 8:60)
Blasphemy against Allah: Death Qur’an 5:33-34
Blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad: Death – even if the accuser repents Qur’an 33:57
Blasphemy against islam: Death Qur’an 9:12
Apostasy: Death Qur’an 4:89
Fighting and killing non-Muslims Qur’an 2:216
Sodomy (homosexuality): Death for the person committing the act, as well as for the one receiving it Qur’an 4:15-16
Theft: Cutting off the hand Qur’an 5:38

It is also important to note in the chart below (ISIS and Muhammad chart) that if ISIS is not Islamic, neither is Muhammad, for ISIS does nothing that Muhammad did not first do fourteen centuries ago.

ISIS and Muhammad chart

ISIS Qur’an
Terrorism “I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with terror…” (Sahih Bukhari 4.52.220).
Collateral damage (killing of innocents) “when asked about the women and children of the polytheists being killed during the night raid, said: they are from them.” (Muslim 4321)
Mutilation “If Allah gives me victory over the Quraysh at any time, I shall mutilate thirty of their men!” (Ibn Ishaq 387; Al-Tabari, vol. 7, p133
Torture “Torture him until you extract what he has” (Ibn Ishaq, 515)
Killing the men and taking the women and children as slaves Massacre of the Banu Qurayza: Muhammad was responsible for the death of over 600 men (Ibn Ishaq)


Thus, it is clear that while the world demonizes the brutal acts by the followers of ISIS, they are simply carrying out the commands of the Qur’an. In recognition of this record, Graeme Wood, a journalist for Atlantic Monthly, writes,

 Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.[30]

 The bottom line, then, is that ISIS follows the Qur’an and Muhammad more than most Muslims. Therefore, we need to accept their word, as well as the evidence of what they are doing and admit that ISIS is Islamic. To do otherwise would be denying reality.

How to Interpret the Bible-1

Apologetic Conclusions

If the evidence supports the view that ISIS is Islamic, then why are so many Western leaders refusing to admit this obvious declaration? For example, President Obama made a point of saying the Islamic State is “not Islamic,” despite pressure from critics. At a Summit on Terrorism, even though all the examples of terrorism pointed to Islamic perpetrators, Obama refused to allow Islam to be joined to the word “terrorism.” Instead, he refutes the notion that ISIS is Islamic.

Recently, John Kerry reminded reporters that jihadis “define a great religion Islam in a way that doesn’t reflect that religion. They steal it, hijack it.”[31] Even Pope Francis avoids using the word “Islam” when he speaks of terrorists, and he rejects the notion that Islam is inherently violent. Instead, he sidesteps the main issue by claiming that all religions have fundamentalists who resort to violence in order to further their goals. By equating Islamic terrorists with fundamentalists of other religions, like Christianity, however, the Pope overlooks a key difference between Islam and Christianity: the terrorism in Islam is supported by the example of Muhammad and the teachings of the Qur’an (Q. 8:39, 60), but it is rejected in the New Testament and by the words of Jesus. It is interesting to note that the official magazine of the Islamic State, Dabiq, responded to Pope Francis and insisted that Islam should be identified as violent and that the Pope needed to face this reality.[32] According to the Muslim authors, “waging jihad — spreading the rule of Allah by the sword — is an obligation found in the Quran.”[33] In addition, they wrote “The blood of the disbelievers is obligatory to spill by default. The command is clear. Kill the disbelievers, as Allah said, ‘Then polytheists kill the wherever you find them.’”[34] The 6th Chinese military strategist century, Sun Tzu, once said “know your enemy.”[35] This advice is still very relevant. In order to defeat extremist Islamic ideology, these leaders need not only to admit its existence, but they also need to realize that denying the truth does not change reality.

In his excellent article on Islam in the Atlantic Magazine, Graeme Wood concluded that, “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”[36] Denying the truth of this statement does not change reality.

The rationale for the obfuscation that is taking place seems to be that if these leaders give in and admit the connection, then ISIS will have the recognition and legitimacy that they want. Then ISIS will be able to woo even more Muslims to their battlegrounds in support because they will have won the ideological debate and the pressure will be on the moderate Muslims to either join the cause or be relegated as hypocrites (Q. 3:167).

These Western leaders seem to be promoting a multi-cultural hope that the radical Muslims will lose the battle when the moderate Muslims recognize that the pluralism of the West is more attractive than the radical agenda. In other words, these Western leaders believe that if they demonstrate how inclusive the West is, even promoting Islam above other religions and Muslims above other people, that the average Muslim would desire the Western lifestyle and ideology more than the fundamental Muslim one. However, what they don’t realize is that the fundamental draw of Islam is to the core of Islamic beliefs, and these are counter to Western values, especially the multi-culturalism that is pushing the whole agenda. What will happen instead is that the message of the jihadists will be recognized as the true message of Islam and more Muslim young men will flock to ISIS and similar groups in order to defend true Islam. The multi-cultural effort will backfire and end up putting more gasoline on the fire.

Another reason these leaders may be avoiding linking Islam and terrorism together is that they realize that if they publicly admit that the primary motivation of the terrorists is found in faithfully following the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad, then there could be widespread panic on the part of non-Muslims and violent retaliation on innocent Muslims and their mosques. By continuing to deny the relationship between Islam and the actions of the terrorists, a buffer zone of doubt seems to prevent most non-Muslims from making a firm connection. Therefore, anger and frustration is defused and a backlash against Muslims is prevented. However, if this is the reason for the obfuscation, then it is very likely that a time is coming when that buffer zone mentality crumbles and the fires of retaliation will be ignited. It would be better to face the danger truthfully and help non-Muslims opt for more positive ways to deal with the menace lurking in the shadows.


The Core of Islam

The West today faces a real dilemma. ISIS claims to be radically Islamic, yet critics claim that ISIS is not Islamic at all. How can we resolve the cognitive dissonance that is taking place? The underlying reason for this dilemma is that the West does not understand the core of Islam. We need to realize that the core of Islam and the core of Christianity (and thus of western values) are polar opposites: one for Power, the other for Love.  Islam perceives Allah as a singularity whose essence is pure Will, revealed to man as Power. This is why the proper response for man is total submission to Allah, which defines the word “Islam.” However, the mandate from Allah to those who have submitted is that they should then subdue the whole world until all are in submission to the Power of Allah. In order to carry out this mandate, the followers of Islam need to exert power over non-believers, as well as other Muslims who have been deemed, through takfir, to be kafir (non-believers).

This mandate demands the exact type of behavior that ISIS is displaying right now.  Fear is the best tool to demonstrate power over the infidel (Qur’an 59:2) Thus, if we push the core beliefs of Islam to their logical conclusion, it is clear that in this way ISIS supporters are more faithful to the goal of the Qur’an than the many Muslims who would oppose such actions. In regard to this, we may say that “Radical” Islam is closer to the “root” (Latin, radix) of Qur’anic teaching than so-called “Civilized/Moderate” Islam. Perhaps a better comparison would be “Literal” Islam versus “Nominal” Islam, since the latter group often wants to deny many verses in the Qur’an, especially the ones calling for a violent jihad.

In stark contrast to this we have Christianity, the core motivation of which is Love for God and for one’s neighbor (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37-40), because the essential nature of God Himself is Love.  When Christians seek to live in this love, then their actions bring freedom and true peace, rather than the submission and fear that comes from a pursuit of Power. Thus, “radical” Christians should only become more loving, even as radical Muslims would seek more and more power in a quest for domination and subjugation.  The fruit will always show the true nature of the tree.  Thus, since ISIS clearly strives to follow the core beliefs of Islam, as their history and own declarations reveal, then we need to recognize it as a valid representation of the religion of Islam.

One lesson that history has taught us is that beliefs have consequences. The history of Islam, combined with an accurate understanding of the Qur’an, has demonstrated that Islam has not been a religion of peace. Furthermore, since the modern terrorists specifically refer to this past and this scripture, it is neither good logic nor good policy to ignore such crucial roots of the current Middle Eastern crisis.  A clearer understanding would produce solutions that better understand the motivations and character of the ISIS movement.   Subsequently, this would be more effective in meeting the need of the hour while also preparing for future conflicts and implications of radical Islam.  A Russian proverb says, “Dwell on the past and you will lose an eye; forget the past and you will lose both eyes.”  In our present struggle with “literal” Islam, however, if we ignore the past we may literally lose our heads!

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Building Bridges to Understand

Are there any ways to break this pattern and bring true peace to the Middle East? The growth of “power Islam” seems to catapult forward when there is a political vacuum to fill. In the 7th-century, the retreat of the Byzantine forces left the Levant unguarded. In the 20th-century, there was a retreat of colonial forces that had provided modernization and movement toward Westernization. While the colonial forces were in control, the Middle Eastern Christians had been able to experience a type of “Golden Period” where the dhimmi status was lifted and they were able to build churches, receive better opportunities for education, and make advances in society. However, the colonial forces turned the power back over to the Muslims, and in a relatively short time, the rejection of western values provided an impetus to revive a socio-economic-religious worldview based on 7th-century Islam. Because Islam is a theocracy, the success of “power Islam” has encouraged militant groups to believe that God is on their side. This, in turn, has fueled their belief that they have a mandate by God to subdue the rest of the world (the Dar al-Harb, or “house of war”) under the Dar al-Islam, or the “house of Islam” (or “house of submission” to God).

Some believe that a secularization of Islamic countries needs to take place, involving the “separation of mosque and state.” With this type of separation, the state would protect the freedom of the religion and the religion would respect the role of the state. Then, when there is proper balance between these “two worlds,” there can be peace. However, a theocratic nation will always be at war with the secular state, or a Muslim nation that does not follow sharia law.

What should be our Christian response? First of all, Christians should love Muslims because they have also been made in the image of God and need his salvation. We also need to realize that Islam, itself, is the problem, not Muslims. In order to confront heresy, we need to shine the full light of truth on error. If we deny that there is a problem, then we will never resolve it. Thus, our best defense is to construct a proper apologetic approach. First of all, we need to seek to understand Islam. Christians need to be informed of the basic teachings of Islam. Secondly, we need to learn how to defend key Christian doctrines, such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the crucifixion, and biblical authenticity. Thirdly, we need to learn how to refute error with gentleness and respect.

This conflict with “power Islam” may last a long time, especially since the foundation of their actions is firmly sanctioned in the Qur’an, the Hadith and the Sunnah of Muhammad. However, we also know that God has a plan for his nations, and we need to realize that in the last two decades more Muslims have come to Christ than in the preceding 1400 years. This is why we need to hold fast to the Word of God, preach boldly, and always be prepared to give an answer for what we believe.

There have been two main responses to jihad recently. Some leaders have repeatedly asserted that radical Islam has nothing to do with Islam, while others seem to view radical Islam as the only form of Islam. However, it is dangerous to measure a religion by extreme positions. Robertson McQuilkin, former president of Columbia International University, often said it is easier to go to one extreme or the other rather than to remain in the center of biblical tension. In this same way, Islam has been cast as either a religion of peace or a conduit of terror. The truth lies in between. As Nabeel Qureshi suggests, Christians may not know how to end the struggle, but they should at least begin “with the truth about Islam and with compassion for Muslims.”[37]


Truth and love

The historical evidence has revealed Islam as a faith where devout believers who follow the Qur’an and Muhammad have consistently come to the conclusion that they are to “struggle” against the non-Muslim world until all people submit to Allah. This is a position that does not promote peace. Facing the truth, then, reveals that there has been a tremendous amount of violence in Islam from its very foundations. This reality has to be acknowledged in order to reach beyond violence to real peace. As Qureshi notes, “As long as Muslims place their primary emphasis on the person of Muhammad and following the teachings of the Qur’an, without successfully supplanting the canonical texts and traditions, the end result will be the same. Islam will direct its adherents to its violent foundations with violent results.”[38] Leaders, then, must recognize this truth about Islam in order to carry out the necessary conversations that will allow Muslims and non-Muslims to bring about real change. Otherwise, continued obfuscation and cognitive dissonance will only cloud the real issues and prolong the charade.

However, truth without love will only lead to further rejection rather than persuasion. How can Christians show love to Muslims? First of all, Quereshi suggests that Christians need to be proactive rather than reactive. This means that Christians need to initiate positive relationships with Muslims so that a mutual understanding will develop. This will also reduce the fear Christians often have when they think of the Islamic issues. Instead of fear, which tends to alienate, Christians need to be able to reach out in love.

It also must be understood that fighting will only bring limited solutions and will only prolong the devastation. This is why Qureshi concludes “Fear and fighting both fuel the radical fires. We need something that breaks the cycle, and I think that can only be love.” This love puts others above ourselves, even at the cost of one’s own life. In a sense, we need radical love in order to fight radical Islam. We need a frame of heart and mind that will shape the way we respond. Qureshi’s reflection on the interaction of these two features is very poignant: “That frame of mind is truth and love, and both elements are essential. Without truth we will not be able to identify the real problem and without love we will not be able to formulate an enduring answer.”[39]

What does this look like in the real world? We need to reach out to Muslims with love and friendship so that we can engage them in conversations that are based on truth rather than lies, the Christian gospel rather than politics, and true peace rather than rhetoric. The gospel is always the way forward, and the love of Christ is always the final solution.

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[1] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/17/in-nations-with-significant-muslim-populations-much-disdain-for-isis/

[2] http://foxct.com/2014/09/10/full-transcript-of-pres-obamas-isis-speech/

[3] http://www.nationalreview.com/aNovemberrticle/427444/why-does-left-continue-insist-islamic-terrorism-has-nothing-do-islam-jonah-goldberg

[4] http://www.mediaite.com/online/french-president-hollande-attackers-have-nothing-in-common-with-muslim-faith/

[5] http://ijr.com/opinion/2015/12/251190-islam-religion-peace-came-politicians-need-stop-saying/

[6] Robert Spencer, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to ISIS (D.C.: Regnery, 2015), 222.

[7] Quereshi, Answering Jihad, 91.

[8] Ibid., 88.

[9] Graeme Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants,” The Atlantic Monthly, March, 2015. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/ (Accessed 9/5/2016).

[10] Adapted from Beck, It Is About Islam, 69-71.

[11] https://www.thereligionofpeace.com/attacks/american-attacks.aspx

[12] The Levant includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel.

[13] Spencer, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to ISIS, 8.

[14] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35694311

[15] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35694311

[16] Dabiq, issue 15, 26-29. http://www.clarionproject.org/factsheets-files/islamic-state-magazine-dabiq-fifteen-breaking-the-cross.pdf. (Accessed 8/18/2016).

[17] Dabiq, issue 15, 26-29.

[18] Dabiq, Issue 15, 31.

[19] ‘Christianity and Islam’ from Oxford Islamic Studies Online”, November 13, 2014 http://bridgingcultures.neh.gov/muslimjourneys/items/show/198. (Sahas, 23)

[20] Ibid. (Gaudeul, vol. 1, 65).

[21] Robert Wilken, “Christianity Face to Face with Islam” (First Things, January 2009).

[22] Michael Dougherty, “Why is the West so afraid of Islam?” http://theweek.com/article/index/265535/why-is-the-west-so-afraid-of-islam (accessed 9/26/2018)

[23] Middle East Forum: https://www.meforum.org/articles/2014/confusion-over-jihad (accessed 9/26/2018).

[24] http://www.meforum.org/4818/confusion-over-jihad (accessed 9/16/2014).

[25]  Speech on July 1, 2014: http://www.memrijttm.org/in-new-message-following-being-declared-a-caliph-islamic-state-leader-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-calls-for-jihad-promises-support-to-oppressed-muslims-everywhere-calls-for-people-with-expertise-to-emigrate-to-the-islamic-state.html (accessed 9/16/2014).

[26] see Trifkovic, The Sword of the Prophet.

[27] A Muslim who is said to have committed apostasy, or at least is considered one who has turned away from true Islam.

[28] CBN News, April 5, 2010. http://www1.cbn.com/content/uk-muslim-leader-islam-not-religion-peace.

[29] The “Islamoscale” illustrations and content has been developed by the author.

[30] Wood
The Atlantic Monthly, March 2015.

[31] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/john-kerry-interacts-with-iit-delhi-students/liveblog/53940540.cms (accesed 9/26/2018).

[32] Dabiq, vol. 15, 75.

[33] Ibid., 78.

[34] Ibid., 28.

[35] Sun Tzu, Art of War, Chapter 3. http://classics.mit.edu/Tzu/artwar.html (accessed 9/26/2018).

[36] Graeme Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants,” The Atlantic Monthly, March 2015

[37] Qureshi, Answering Jihad, 143.

[38] Ibid., 144.

[39] Ibid., 147.

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