by CS Riggs
In recent times the world has seen numerous Islamic terrorist organizations come and go. Many Christians have developed a hatred for members of these terrorist organizations, and some even hate Muslims as a whole. The situation has increased the enmity between Muslims and Christians.
Because of their shocking display of brutality, there is one organization that has demanded the attention of the entire world. This terrorist group has many different names, but for this article we will refer to it as ISIS, an acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This group is infamous for their acts of cruelty: beheadings, crucifixions, rapes, and enslavements.
What Situation Allowed ISIS to Get Started?
In order to find the origin of this group, we must first go back to the situation that helped form a void which allowed ISIS to take power.
After 9-11 the US invasion of Iraq led to the execution of long-term dictator, Saddam Hussein, who had been master of Iraq for 24 years. The Sunni Muslims which he led had held absolute power over Iraq’s Shi’ite majority. During the American occupation, the Americans tried to encourage democracy in Iraq, and a new Shi’ite Muslim-backed government rose to power. Hussein’s Baath Party was deposed. The oppressed Shi’ites had a chance to oppress their former oppressors, the Sunni Muslims.
Though Saddam’s government was an oppressive one, there were many people in his Baath Party who were well-trained to run the country. The overthrow of the Sunni Muslim-backed Baath Party government left many well-trained military leaders, bureaucrats, doctors, lawyers, and other influential people jobless. These capable people felt angry and suffocated. Many experienced soldiers were left unemployed and put under the control of a Shi’ite Muslim led government.
It was a politically complex set of circumstances. The Sunni Muslims in Iraq became desperate. Since ISIS is made up of Sunni Muslims, they found capable men in Iraq ready to fight to re-establish any Sunni government.
Forming A Caliphate
A very tangible goal of ISIS is to form a caliphate, which they first announced on June 29th, 2014. A caliphate is an Islamic form of government with Islamic law (Sharia) in place and a leader who is believed to be a descendant of the prophet Mohammed. They declared their leader to be Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, whom they think is a descendant of the prophet Mohammed. His story is a revealing one. In 2003 he was the head of a group that fought the US. He was imprisoned in 2004, but was then released because he was believed to be a “low level prisoner.” He began to lead the terrorist group in 2013. Since that time he has been the spearhead behind their attacks, goals, and strategic direction. Al-Baghdadi is highly respected within ISIS, though his current condition is unclear.
According to Islamic tradition, the establishment of a worldwide caliphate also helps fulfill end time prophecy. ISIS members believe that a global caliphate will result in a peaceful society where all people adhere to Islam.
ISIS is not aimlessly attacking cities, but it is strategically executing plans with long-term goals in mind. According to Islamic traditions, a caliphate must continue to conquer new lands. This has been a key trait of ISIS as it continues to attempt to expand their holdings.
Mosul, one of the largest cities in Iraq, was taken over by ISIS in early June of 2014. The people of Mosul were expecting the invasion, so over the course of three days they evacuated over half a million citizens. This made it very easy for ISIS to take over, and at the time of this writing Mosul is considered to be one of the main headquarters of ISIS and their hub for operations in Iraq. The city of Rakka in Syria, which is one of the largest cities in the country, was one of ISIS’ main conquests in 2014. ISIS captured this city and its approximately 300,000 citizens. Rakka is now the main base for ISIS’ operations in Syria. Though the goal of ISIS is to continue to expand its territory, they have not had many major victories since the invasion of Mosul. ISIS now is controlling a region of land shared by Iraq and Syria that equals the size of the country of Belgium.
At best, non-Muslims are given second-class citizenship in a caliphate. ISIS is famous for their ill treatment of religious minorities within the regions they control. The Christians living in the city of Mosul fled, while many Christians in other areas were beheaded or even crucified if they would not submit to ISIS’ demands that they convert to Islam. Ethnic minorities such as the Turkmen and Kurds have been experiencing much terror from ISIS. Shi’ite Muslims are especially targeted for persecution.
How Should We Respond?
How should believers respond to people who live by the sword and threaten all who live nearby? Throughout Church history the kingdom of God has expanded through the sacrificial love of missionaries who were willing to lay down their lives for Christ. In Church history we see men like Raymond Lull and St Francis of Assisi who both lived in times much like today. Islam was advancing by direct force and war. The Roman Catholic Church responded by raising up an army to fight back. By contrast, Lull and Francis responded by putting their lives on the line for these men of violence. St Francis of Assisi even allowed himself to be captured by a Muslim army in order for him to be able to share the gospel with Egyptian Islamic leaders. Franciscan missionaries, who modeled their lives after St. Francis, were often martyred by Muslims in the years to come. Lull was the first missionary martyred by Muslims, and he was known as the “Apostle of Love.” These men presented examples of how the gospel can be extended to those who live violent lives.
May we respond in our hearts like Raymond Lull or St Francis of Assisi. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus said to pray for those who persecute you. The response may be somewhat different for each person, but I believe God is calling the Church to respond in their hearts much like these men.
Pray that the Church will not give way to fear, but respond to ISIS with prayer, fasting, and sacrificial love.
Pray that God will reveal Himself to members of ISIS.
Pray for spiritual and physical deliverance for people under the control of ISIS.
Pray that those who are suffering will encounter Jesus and be filled with hope.
by Keith Carey
Dear Praying Friends,
Recently I have been thinking about how the Lord can bring beauty from ashes. Throughout much of the Arab World today there are “ashes” from the various armed conflicts, and we have been praying about them every December. This month we are focusing on the people groups affected by ISIS, perhaps the most brutal and destructive Islamist movement to date.
Although there is much death and destruction from their efforts, God is using the ISIS situation to bring about a spiritual wake up call to Muslims. We will be focusing our prayers this month on that wake up call. If you want to read more about it, read an article on day 13 by Dr. Dave Cashin in our sister publication, Mission Frontiers.
You will be inspired by this thought provoking article!
The people who are suffering in the Middle East are as human as the rest of us. How are they responding to the mayhem? Their natural response is to try to get revenge. The spiritual stronghold of unforgiveness is reinforced every time an atrocity is committed. We need to pray for spiritual healing for these Middle Eastern lands. This will require a supernatural cleansing of hearts by none other than Jesus Christ.