Both are dangerous, but one is objectively more terrible.
(It’s the oranges)
Groups like Al-Qaeda and Hamas are certainly terroristic, but they are, startlingly as it sounds, alleviated versions of Islam, while ISIS is its unsullied counterpart. According to Wood, ISIS is the unblemished embodiment of Islam. When we see a line of black-hooded men beheading twenty-one Egyptian Christians, we ought to think, “This is perfectly Islam.”
“The reality is that the Islamic State [ISIS] is Islamic. Very Islamic.” -Graeme Wood
Wood stresses that ISIS is, at its most fundamental level, a religious organization. Like Roman Catholicism, ISIS has a supreme leader to lead their faith. They call him their “caliph.” His name is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and he is the “first caliph in generations.” Some say the first since 1924, when the Ottoman Caliphate ended. The caliph and his Islamic State “requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it.” And in this territory and under this rule this State revives its “medieval religious nature,” which includes “slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings.” Bernard Haykel, the foremost secular authority on the Islamic State’s ideology, writes that ISIS is “smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and [is] bringing it wholesale into the present day.” True Muslims are expected to immigrate to wherever this territory is (in this case Mosul, Iraq) and serve the caliph. Any Muslim that fails to do this is an apostate and is marked for death.
Therefore, to answer Wood’s opening question, which is, “What is the Islamic State?” the answer is, “It’s the epitome of the religion of Islam,” and this is a politically incorrect, yet boldly authentic declaration. Haykel says that Muslims who call the Islamic state “un-Islamic are typically embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion that neglects what their religion has historically and legally required.” “[Haykel] regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance.” “People,” Haykel says, “want to absolve Islam … [with the] ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra.'”
ISIS insists that “they will not–cannot–waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers.” “Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls ‘the Prophetic methodology,’ which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail.” Alongside Muhammad, ISIS has its own version of the Christian Church’s “church fathers,” called Salafism, which means “the pious forefathers.” “These forefathers are the Prophet himself and his earliest adherents.” ISIS “honors and emulates” these individuals “as the models for all behavior, including warfare, couture, family life, even dentistry.”
Thus, the warmongering caliphs in Islam’s history are to ISIS what the peacemaking Jesus, Paul, and Augustine are to the Christian Church.
“Leaders of the Islamic State have taken emulation of Muhammad as strict duty, and have revived traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years.” -Wood
This is a striking thought, especially when one considers President Obama’s statements at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast, where he suggested that the terrible acts of ISIS are based on a “twisted and distorted” view of Islam. According to Wood and Haykel, however, they aren’t. It’s not that ISIS has gotten Islam wrong. It’s that they have achieved it perfectly. ISIS is Islam, at it finest.
Politically correct? Resoundingly not. Historically and religiously accurate? Unapologetically yes.
The stubborn reality is that ISIS believes that, with their new caliph, their kingdom has come. In some ways, the caliph’s return is to ISIS (and therefore Islam) what Jesus’ return is to the Christian (and therefore Christianity). In the way a Christian would want to journey to Jerusalem if Jesus had returned and was physically reigning there is how ISIS feels about their caliph. Baghdadi is no mere leader. He’s number eight of twelve total caliphs that will lead Islam to world domination, via barbaric murders of apostate infidels. And to be clear, everyone who disagrees with ISIS’ Islam, from the Al-Qaeda Muslim to the American Christian, is marked for death. ISIS has released the beast of the Holocaust, but in this case the Jews are but one kind of infidel. You and I are another.
This is the politically incorrect truth that ISIS teaches us about Islam.
To be clear, this is radically different from other religions, particularly Christianity. President Obama, for whatever reason, feels the need to argue that ISIS’ actions are “not unique” to Islam, citing the Crusades as a parallel example for how Christians terrorized innocent people. But there is a big difference. ISIS is the realization of Islam, while murdering innocent people in the name of Christ is, without question, not the realization of Christianity.
Timothy Keller, in The Reason for God, offers sound thoughts on the divisive effects religion can have on the world, but also clarifies the unique peace of Christ and his followers:
“Religion can certainly be one of the major threats to world peace … [but] at the very heart of [the Christian] view of reality [is] a man who died for his enemies … We cannot skip lightly over the fact that there have been injustices done by the church in the name of Christ, yet who can deny that the force of Christians’ most fundamental beliefs can be a powerful impetus for peace-marking in our troubled world?”
Summarized, Keller is saying that Christianity is not the same as ISIS, or any religion for that matter. I think this is proven with ISIS’ most recent beheading video, (as if it hadn’t already been by the others.)
Are there Islamic Muslims who disagree with ISIS’ interpretation of the religion? Of course. Both Wood and Haykel acknowledge this. But it’s imperative that we understand that any non-ISIS Islam is, in the least, a manipulated version of true Islam, (like what Mormonism is to Christianity), but more likely a mitigated version of it. This means that many Islamic Muslims are apostates to true Islam, (but this is a good thing, in some cases better than others, although all cases are unfortunate).
ISIS believes that they play a crucial role in the finality of all things. “The Islamic State … believes that it is written into God’s script as a central character.” ISIS has special interest in the Syrian city of Dabiq, believing that the armies of Rome” (many ISIS sources interpret this as America) will set up camp there. Here ISIS will prevail (which is why they continue to entice us into war), even receiving help from Jesus, who will return to earth and lead the Muslims to victory.
In my biblically expositional estimation, however, the Islamic State (or at least anyone operating in accordance with it) will be astonishingly surprised by Jesus, like Mace Windu was when Anakin chose Palpatine over him and was subsequently Sith Lightning-ed to death. When Jesus comes back he will not defend the Islamic State. He will establish his kingdom, and he will reign as the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
“And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh” (Rev 19:20-21).
“And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev 19:16).
Quotes taken from Graeme Wood’s “What ISIS Really Wants.”