Why the Polarization Concerning Islam and Violence?
Few questions regarding Islam are as salient to current events and public discourse as the relationship between Islam and violence, and few questions are as polarizing. Outsiders looking into the house of Islam have reached conflicting conclusions, with American Presidents defending “the religion of peace” while others connect acts of terrorism and violence directly to “the traditional, orthodox, and classical version of Islam…”
Many Muslim theologians consider Jesus Christ the most important aspect of Islamic eschatology. In fact, the Qur’an declares Mary and Jesus as a “sign for all people” (19:21; 21:91; 23:50).² When he returns, he will slay the false Messiah (Anti-Christ, or dajjal) and establish peace and righteousness on earth. Some commentators feel that the Qur’an is referring to this occasion when it says, “And on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them” (4:159).
One of my students asked me why would any Muslim in his right mind join ISIL. I said to her that I can give you right away at least five reasons but if you are willing to wait till tomorrow I will come up with a longer list. ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, was the first name that was given to the organization since its territory was in Iraq and Syria. Their vision is far bigger than Iraq and Levant. They want to expand into Asia, Africa and Europe. The next morning I gave my students 25 reasons why Muslims are eager to join ISIL; here are 10 of them.
Success and a staying presence. Muslims see the black flag raised on expanding landmarks and they appear to be winners. Unlike foreign armies who would sooner or later leave, these people are there to stay.
Up-to-date attractive social media. Unlike the boring monologues of Ayman Zawahiri, the current leader of al Qa’eda, they use clever propaganda videos that have an appeal to the youth.
Purpose for living. So many young men and women whether in Muslim countries or in the West have no demanding or consuming purpose for living. ISIL offers young Muslims what they see as a large enough purpose for living and for dying.
America’s support for Israel. A Muslim American young man was arrested on his way to Turkey to join ISIL in Syria. His reason for wanting to join ISIL was: “Why should the taxes of American Muslims go to support Israel killing Muslims in Gaza.”
Western Societies are immoral. In spite of the abundance of church buildings in Europe and in the United States, Muslims see moral standards deteriorating rapidly as they see Americans and Europeans accepting as normal same sex marriages and people living together without being married.
Shock and Awe through decapitation. With their “shock and awe” strategy of decapitating some of their captives or burning them alive, they are aiming to intimidate not only individuals and armies but even nations. ISIL fighters are volunteers who are not afraid of death.
Influence of bridge builders. There are several famous bridge builders such as Anwar al-Awalaki who are well equipped to use the internet and can motivate and recruit disillusioned young men and women in the West to join ISIL and other radical groups.
The Shiites got inflated with power and they abused it. The Sunni majority in Iraq perceive the Shiites as syncretistic or even heretical. They would rather be ruled by the Sunni ISIL rather than by the abusing Shiites.
ISIL’s strong financial status is attractive. ISIL has a strong financial base. They have captured banks, sell oil, get taxes and get easy money in exchange for hostages. Muslims see ISIL as an organization which will keep going for a very long time and cannot be disarmed, dismantled and destroyed.
Hope for a restoration of the Caliphate. Many Muslims yearn for a day when the Caliphate will be restored and Muslims around the world will be united under one leader like Catholics are united under the Pope. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the Caliph of the Islamic State and called himself Caliph Ibrahim.
The world is in a mess, with Muslim nations seemingly experiencing more than their share of struggles. Not long ago, news focused on the utter devastation and death caused by a massive earthquake in Southern Turkey and Northern Syria. In Turkey, loss of life numbered in the tens of thousands, with millions displaced, but in Syria the situation was even worse. Over 5 million were reported homeless and suffering from freezing temperatures, while most aid was held up over diplomatic quarrels. The grief and sorrow were palpable, yet even before this turmoil, a deeper crisis existed. The article suggests that the hardships Muslims are suffering from are drawing them away from Islam and toward the gospel in many cases. As Christ followers, our concern for Muslims is not only for earthly hope and peace but to know the assurance of an eternal destiny in Heaven.