A Muslim woman in Philadelphia was arrested this week and accused of attempting to join ISIS. 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. The next morning I gave my students 25 reasons why Muslims are eager to join ISIL.
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. The acronym in Arabic “Dae’sh,” has four Arabic letters, D, A, E’, Sh. D stands for al-Dawla (state), A stands for al-Islamiya (Islamic), E’ stands Iraq and Sh stands for Sham (Levant). Sham nowadays stands for Damascus or Syria but in its historical Islamic context Sham or Levant included Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine. So a more accurate name for the organization is ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. As ISIL’s vision grew larger it changed its name to IS which stands for Islamic State. Their vision is far bigger than Iraq and Levant. They want to expand into Asia, Africa and Europe.
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. The next morning I gave my students 25 reasons why Muslims are eager to join ISIL. According to these Muslims’ perceptions, here are 10 reasons.
1. Success and a staying presence. Muslims see the black flag raised on expanding landmarks and they appear to be winners. They have a staying power. Unlike foreign armies who would sooner or later leave, these people are there to stay. In Afghanistan, the British came and left, the Soviets came and left and the Americans came and will leave. The Afghanis and the Taliban are there to stay. They know that Americans have no nerve for another war with boots on the ground.
2. 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. Through the internet they recruit people from across the world to go and join them. If travel to Syria and Iraq becomes difficult, through the social media they encourage the “lone wolfs” to do what they can to serve the ISIL’ cause in the countries where they reside.
3. 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. Living with hope for a good job in the future is a luxury that not many Muslim young men can realize these days especially in Europe. ISIL offers young Muslims what they see as a large enough purpose for living and for dying. Furthermore some Muslims in Europe feel marginalized and do not experience a place of belongingness in the countries of their residence. When they go to Iraq and Syria they get accepted as brothers and sisters who are warriors and heroes.
4. 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. The government of Israel is using this money to kill Muslims in Gaza.”
5. 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.
6. Shock and Awe through decapitation. With their “shock and awe” strategy of decapitating some of their captives or burning them alive, they have intimidated the Syrian and the Iraqi armies. Unlike the soldiers who are in the Syrian or Iraqi armies who enrolled to collect monthly salaries, ISIL fighters are volunteers who are not afraid of death and some wear suicide belts in battles because they would rather die than be taken as prisoners. They are aiming to intimidate not only individuals and armies but even nations. Nations have to think twice before they commit to send ground forces to Iraq and Syria.
7. Influence of bridge builders. There are several famous bridge builders 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 most powerful bridge builder was Anwar al-Awlaki who was born in New Mexico of Yemeni parents and was killed by a drown strike in 2011 and was called the Osama Ben Laden of al-Qaeda on the internet. Before his departure to Yemen he preached at a Mosque in Virginia that had a membership of about 3000 and three of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers went to that mosque. Al-Awalaki was fluent in both the Arabic and the English language since he lived most of his life in the United States. He was a talented recruiter and motivator and he knew how to use the internet to his advantage. Nidal Malik Hasan (Fort Hood shooting) and Abdulmutallab of Nigeria were a couple of his recruits.
8. The Shiites got inflated with power and they abused it. Saddam Hussein, who belonged to the Sunni minority in Iraq abused his power and treated the Shiites majority as second class citizens. The Iraq war liberated Iraq from the Sunni control and empowered the Shiites. Nour al-Maliki, the former Prime Minister of Iraq who is a Shiite, abused his power and sowed the seeds of Sectarianism in Iraq. 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.
9. ISIL’s strong financial status is attractive. Unlike al Qaeda of Ayman Zawahiri, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, al-Shabab in Somalia, Nusra Front in Syria, Nusrat Beit al-Maqdes in Sinai in Egypt and Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, ISIL has strong financial base. They have captured banks, and they sell oil, get taxes and they 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.
10. Hope for a restoration of the Caliphate. Since the death of Muhammad in 632 AD and for centuries, Muslims had Caliphs uniting Sunni Muslims, the absolute majority, all over the world. The Caliphate continued till 1924 when the last Caliph, Sultan Abdul Majid ll, in Constantinople was banished when Kamal Ataturk declared Turkey a secular republic. Since then, many Muslim 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 stated aim of the US government is to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. Perhaps the aim in the short run is only containment. In a TV show, a former CIA man who is quite informed about the situation in the Muslim world was asked by the TV host, how long will it take to destroy ISIL. He responded by saying that it might take one hundred years! It takes ideas to destroy ideas and that takes a long time.
The “teacher” in the book of Ecclesiastes looked at his world and came to the conclusion that pleasure, wisdom, hard work, political power and wealth are all meaningless since all of them fall short of giving man that peace he longs for. Life under the sun is meaningless and out of control. But life under the SON, the Lord Jesus Christ, is a different matter. If Europe becomes one day a Muslim continent, will God panic? Does a secular Europe bring more pleasure to God’s heart? We know from the Scriptures how history will end and therefore we can have a Kingdom of God perspective and know that the gates of hell cannot stand against God as he accomplishes his purposes.
In the book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon got inflated with power and lost his mind. Finally as he was brought down to his knees he lifted his eyes to heaven and his sanity was restored. Then he came to the realization that God was in full control of the universe and stated that fact as we see it in Daniel 4:34-35 “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.”