How Should Church Leaders Talk about ISIS, Radical Islam and Jihad?

ISIS has been topping our headlines daily, and it’s not just for their violent presence in the Middle East. With recent terrorist attacks in Paris, homegrown terrorist attacks in San Bernadino, California, and a wave of fear that has overtaken the Western world when it comes to refugees, ISIS’s presence is known and felt in the U.S. and in church pews.
What do we know about ISIS?

Isis Training 3Dr. Bob Brenneman, Professor of Intercultural Studies at North Central University led a training at Transform Minnesota for evangelical leaders and pastors on ISIS, Jihad and our response as Christians.

Below is a synopsis of the training to teach Christians about divisions within Islam, ISIS’s radical beliefs, and Islamic Eschatology. We hope this brief summary helps Christians to better understand recent terror attacks, and that it will address the fears many Christians feel surrounding ISIS and radical Islam.

Does Islam mean peace or violence?

The Qua’ran speaks to both of these ideas. The questions that remains is what type of Islam will prevail?


Allah created diversity and tolerance: “And if Allah had pleased He would have made you a single people, but that He might try you in what He gave you. So live with one another in virtuous deeds. To Allah you will return, so He will inform you of that wherein you differ.” (Qur’an 5:48)


The Quran justifies jihad: “Fight those people of the book who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day who do not prohibit was God and his Apostle have forbidden… until all of them pay the jizya (a tax) in submission (Surah 9:29)

“So when you meet in jihad, those who disbelieve, smite their necks off till when you have killed and wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly on them and take them as captives. (Surah 47:4)

The Qua’ran was revealed to Muhammed and written over 22 years. Muhammed taught more peaceful surahs earlier in his life, when he was in relationship with Jews and Christians, who still hoped Muhammed was a prophet for the same God of Israel and Jesus. When Muhammed was rejected by Jews and Christians later in his life, Muhammed became more violent toward them, the tone of the Qua’ran changed and the later surahs become more violent.

2 Islamic Schools of Thought when comparing contrary verses in the Qur’an:

  1. Principle of Abrogation (Naskh) – The latter verses are the valid ones. For radical Muslims, the violent verses are valid and they do not apologize for them.
  2. Muslims who advocate for peace say that the earlier verses are universal, whereas the latter Qur’anic surahs were for specific times in specific locations when the Muslim community was in trouble.
ISIS: an Outgrowth of Islamic Divisions

The main divisions within Islam are Sunni (85-90%), Shiite (10-15%), smaller sects like Alawite. Alawite is a small offshoot of Shi’ism, centered in Syria, and the religion of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Even though Alawite Muslims are in the minority in Syria (16%), where there is a majority of Suuni Muslims. Al-Assad has allowed ISIS to gain strength in Syria, making him the lesser of two evils.

Eschatology as a Recruitment Tool: 

[pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”]“When the US invaded Iraq, it put the US as perceived as Rome, hence apocalyptic fever burnt bright.”[/pullquote] ISIS believes the fight against the West if fulfilling Islamic End-Times Prophecies. When America liberated/invaded Iraq, it seemed to play right into end-time beliefs. There was a lot of apocalyptic fever after U.S. invaded Iraq. Muslims believed the prophesied redeemer of Islam would come again.

ISIS Attempting to Instigate the End Times:

ISIS is trying deliberately to instigate a war between Sunnis and Shiites in the belief that a sectarian war would be a sign that the final times have arrived. In the eschatological literature, there is a reference to crisis in Syria and massacre of Kurds. ISIS is exploiting these apocalyptic expectation to the fullest. ISIS is trying to provoke Americans into sending ground troops, so it will play into ISIS’ hands, giving credence that this apocalyptic scenario.

ISIS’s 30,000 fighters don’t worry if their numbers are dwindling or if their people are being killed off. Their hope is to be in paradise as martyrs. And since it is prophesied that all Caliph Fighters must be killed leaving only 5,000 left. ISIS fighters have nothing to lose.


Our Prayer as Christians

Isis Training 2[pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”]Our prayer is for disillusionment…[/pullquote] Our prayer is for disillusionment. When radical Muslims see it not happening like “it’s supposed to be happening” we hope for disillusionment, and that people will leave Islam. ISIS appears more to Muslims abroad than in the Middle East heartlands. When ISIS loses, it breaks the myth of invincibility that the early Muslims demonstrated.

Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.