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.
Most Americans would be unaware that Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, begins June 18 this year. Many would only be casually aware that this is one of the five pillars of Islam; the date changes each year due to the lunar calendar, but faithful adherents fast from dawn to dusk until the month concludes with the Feast of Eid.
In the more fanatical countries fasting is compulsory though allowances are made for foreigners and non-Muslims. All do without food, but the more devout don’t drink water and some don’t even swallow their saliva. Not much gets done during Ramadan as offices are open for only a few hours, no one has the strength for much physical labor, and it is easier to endure the personal denial of food by sleeping through the afternoon.
While most Muslims observe the fast because they are commanded to, and believe there is merit to be gained, many do it as a perfunctory obligation. However, for the devout the Muslim month of fasting is actually for the same purpose we, as Christians may occasionally fast–the desire to know God in a deeper more intimate relationship.
Testimonies are abundant of those who have dreams and visions of Jesus appearing to them and saying, “Follow Me.” Others will be impressed to find someone with “the book” that tells the way to eternal life. None of these revelations are sufficient for salvation, but they break down the barriers in their heart, they lead to an inquisitiveness to find out who Jesus is or to know what the Bible says.
What does this have to do with us? What if Christians fervently prayed during the month of Ramadan that God would reveal Himself to Muslims in this time of seeking? What if we covered millions of fasting Muslims with 30 days of intense intercession that something would happen in their spiritual search? Believing in the power of prayer, could we not expect God to respond to our heart-felt burden for the lost millions of the world?
When we first arrived in Indonesia we were irritated at the dissonant sound of the call to prayer from the mosque five times a day, especially when it awakened us at 4:30 am! But it became a call to us and a reminder to pray for Muslims as they were praying to Allah. Join me this month in fervently praying for Muslims in our own communities as well as those around the world. After all, Christ died for them, too. God’s loves them; shouldn’t we?
Muslims Celebrate how God Ransomed Abraham’s Son with a Sacrifice
Many Christians are unaware that Muslims have an annual celebration that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and God’s merciful provision of a substitute ram in his place. The celebration is called Eid-al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice). The celebration takes place at the end of the Hajj or pilgrimage. Everyone who is financially able purchases an animal to sacrifice. The animal must be killed in accordance with Islamic law in order to be considered Halal or permissible. This entails a short prayer of blessing while slitting the animal’s throat, giving careful attention to drain all the blood. The meat is then shared with family, friends and the poor. The celebration happens all over the Muslim world but it is certainly not limited to Muslim countries. Here in the United States I have seen goats and even a cow sacrificed to celebrate Eid. It is always a treat to see the interaction of my Muslim friends with rural South Carolina farmers negotiating the purchase price of an animal.
Several years ago, I memorized the story of Abraham and Isaac so that I could go to the Mosque and share it with my Muslim friends during this celebration. As I entered the mosque my friends greeted me with excitement, “Eid Mubarik” or “happy Eid!” The atmosphere reminded me of Christmas celebrations. The food was abundant. Everyone had on new clothes. The mood was genuinely joyous. I sat down with a small group of guys I knew fairly well from previous mosque visits. I told them how I had memorized the story concerning Abraham and his son and asked if they would like to hear the story. Everyone wholeheartedly agreed and so I began: “God told Abraham to go to a mountain and sacrifice his son…” but before I could continue, a young man interrupted, saying, “I have heard this story, it’s about Abraham and his son Ishmael.” Someone else in the group replied, “no, the story is not about Ishmael, it’s about Isaac.” Within seconds people began taking sides. My friends looked to me and said, “Well, which is it?”
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).