“They supplicate what they worship and die upon their paganism.”
These are the subtitled words shown in the 5 minute ISIS video right as they are showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians on the shore in Libya. At the most gruesome point of the explicit video, as men kneeling on the backs of their victims are literally sawing through their necks with knives, those are the words on the screen. Coincidence? This is a thoroughly edited video—it is no coincidence.
Western media overlooks these words. Christians cannot. Theology matters. It matters to worldview as well. And when it comes to ISIS militants, it is vital. That’s one of the reasons secular Westerners can’t seem to predict or anticipate their actions—a secular mindset is not up to the task.
I, like many of you reading this brief article, could not suppress the feelings of anger that arose in my heart as I saw these images. Yes, I watched the whole thing. Comes with my job. There is surely a part of me that would love to see a Hellfire missile come in at the end and take the whole bunch out. Justice, at least, would be served. But then I am reminded to think as a Christian. And when I do, I realize that 1) if justice were to be done, a Hellfire missile would have to take me out, too—at least prior to my bowing the knee to Christ, and 2) that group of militants is just one large band of men named Saul, of Tarsus. Blind zealots engaging in mindless evil out of ignorance and deception. Oh sure, I know some of them are doing it just because they love murder and bloodshed and evil. But some of them do it because they really believe Muhammad was a prophet and that Muhammad showed them the way the day he and his cohorts did exactly what they did on that beach…not to 21 Christians but to between 400 and 900 Jews of the Banu Qurayza tribe. (Click here for a more in-depth discussion of this event in Muhammad’s life).
Now, I am well aware of the fact that Islamic apologists say this was a just act because the Jews had, allegedly, betrayed Muhammad in the Battle (or, non-battle, in a more realistic sense) of the Trench (AD 627). But the reality is that Muhammad was a man of war, not a man of peace. You are changed when you personally behead someone. The blood may wash off the hands, but it is not washed out of the mind. Muhammad died in 632, so this was done toward the end of his life. The progression of his life was from peaceful monotheistic prophet to warring leader and general, not the other way around. Add in the doctrine of abrogation and you can see why the scholars of Al Qaeda and ISIS and Boko Haram have plenty of material to draw from in forming their theology. They teach that the later revelations abrogate earlier ones (such as the later command not to consume alcohol abrogates the earlier commands which allowed it even though in moderation). Sadly, that means the later sections of the Qur’an, which contain the warfare passages, are considered by most (not all) Muslims in the world to be more authoritative than the peaceful passages that came earlier.
The fact is that the sources from which Islam derives its theology and practice are radically incompetent to provide a means of self-correction and consistency. You can, by choosing your scholars and sources carefully, construct a peaceful construct in which to interpret the Qur’an and hadith. At the height of Islamic civilization, that is what was done. Here is a recent example of a scholar condemning ISIS:
You will note, however, that, well—bless the fellow, he’s not overly compelling. The young clerics associated with ISIS and Boko Haram, etc., can obviously preach someone like that under the table, and that seems to be what matters most. Because you can choose your scholars, and sources, from the Qur’an and hadith, and come up with the worldview that allows you to think you are doing God’s will by kneeling on a man’s back, yanking his head back, and sawing his head off with a sharp knife, from the very same sources. And it is a lot easier to do. It’s a bit surface-level, surely, but isn’t that what sells on TBN, too? Here are just a few examples:
إِذْ يُوحِي رَبُّكَ إِلَى الْمَلَائِكَةِ أَنِّي مَعَكُمْ فَثَبِّتُوا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا ۚ سَأُلْقِي فِي قُلُوبِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا الرُّعْبَ فَاضْرِبُوا فَوْقَ الْأَعْنَاقِ وَاضْرِبُوا مِنْهُمْ كُلَّ بَنَانٍ ﴿١٢﴾
[Remember] when your Lord inspired to the angels, “I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.” (Surah Al-Anfaal, 8:12)
فَإِذَا لَقِيتُمُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا فَضَرْبَ الرِّقَابِ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا أَثْخَنتُمُوهُمْ فَشُدُّوا الْوَثَاقَ فَإِمَّا مَنًّا بَعْدُ وَإِمَّا فِدَاءً حَتَّىٰ تَضَعَ الْحَرْبُ أَوْزَارَهَا ۚ ذَٰلِكَ وَلَوْ يَشَاءُ اللَّهُ لَانتَصَرَ مِنْهُمْ وَلَٰكِن لِّيَبْلُوَ بَعْضَكُم بِبَعْضٍ ۗ وَالَّذِينَ قُتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ فَلَن يُضِلَّ أَعْمَالَهُمْ ﴿٤﴾
So when you meet those who disbelieve [in battle], strike [their] necks until, when you have inflicted slaughter upon them, then secure their bonds, and either [confer] favor afterwards or ransom [them] until the war lays down its burdens. That [is the command]. And if Allah had willed, He could have taken vengeance upon them [Himself], but [He ordered armed struggle] to test some of you by means of others. And those who are killed in the cause of Allah – never will He waste their deeds. (Surah Muhammad 47:4)
And here is where the fundamental deficiency of Islam as a religious and political system comes to the fore in the mind of the Christian: given there is no recognition of original sin, no recognition of the fallenness of man, and hence no doctrine of regeneration (any man is capable, in and of himself, of repenting and converting to Islam by saying the Shahada—listen carefully, my synergistic Christian friends), Islam struggles to define a “true Muslim” from a “false Muslim.” Indeed, how can this be done, in reality? Even those Muslims who have been brave enough to speak out against ISIS are hesitant to say that those militants are anything other than true Muslims—just “misguided” in a fashion, but still Muslims. Combine this fundamental deficiency in the system as a whole with the contradiction and incoherence of the primary sources (Qur’an and Hadith), and you have a recipe for…exactly what we are seeing in the world today.
So let’s return to the video before wandering too far afield. An English speaking coward (yes, coward—I doubt Paul hid his face during Stephen’s stoning, but these men hide their identities—I find it cowardly) who reads the message makes reference to Jesus returning and “breaking the cross, killing the swine, and abolishing jizya.” This is a quotation of an oft-repeated hadith found in Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sunan Abu Dawud:
Allah’s Apostle said, “By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, son of Mary (Jesus) will shortly descend amongst you people (Muslims) as a just ruler and will break the Cross and kill the pig and abolish the Jizya. Then there will be abundance of money and nobody will accept charitable gifts.” Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 3, Book 34, Number 425
Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until the son of Mary (i.e. Jesus) descends amongst you as a just ruler, he will break the cross, kill the pigs, and abolish the Jizya tax. Money will be in abundance so that nobody will accept it (as charitable gifts). Sahib Al-Bukhari Volume 3, Book 43, Number 656
The Prophet (pbuh) said: There is no prophet between me and him, that is, Jesus (pbuh). He will descend (to the earth). When you see him, recognize him: a man of medium height, reddish fair, wearing two light yellow garments, looking as if drops were falling down from his head though it will not be wet. He will fight the people for the cause of Islam. He will break the cross, kill swine, and abolish jizya. Allah will perish all religions except Islam. He will destroy the Antichrist and will live on the earth for forty years and then he will die. The Muslims will pray over him. Sunan Abu Dawud Book 37, Number 4310, though listed as Number 2025 in The Alim.
Remember, the leader of the ISIS murderers quoted from these hadith right before beheading the Copts. What do these words mean? It seems obvious that breaking the cross means destroying Christianity. Swine are, of course, haram to the Muslims, a detestable beast, impure and revolting. Some have connected the swine, however, to the Jews. Jizya is the subjugation tax taken from Jews and Christians to live in the Islamic state. Hence, to do away with that would mean that Jesus will end all other religions other than Islam. Most Christians are completely unaware that Jesus holds a central role in Islamic eschatology—but he does. Of course, this is not the Jesus of the Bible, this is the Jesus of Muhammad, a mere shadow of the historical and biblical Jesus.
The point of the citation by the ISIS murderer is clear: these men are claiming to act on the basis of seeking to establish Allah’s reign over this world. They are acting upon a theological basis. And here is where I want to focus: their actions are based upon a fundamental ignorance located in the thinking of the founder of Islam itself. It is, therefore, systemic.
Muhammad did not understand the cross. He undoubtedly saw inappropriate, unbiblical veneration by the Christians of his day. But if Surah 4:157 tells us anything, it tells us Muhammad did not understand the cross. As a result, I have yet to meet a Muslim today who has even the remotest concept of the atonement as it is found propounded in the text of the Bible. And given that so many Christian missionaries around the world are likewise presenting the cross as a wish rather than the powerful, God-ordained means of His own self-glorification and redemption of His specific people, it is hardly surprising that most Muslims think the way they do.
True Christians do not “supplicate what they worship and die upon their paganism.” The very words this graphic video displayed while Muslims murdered helpless Copts are based upon their own ignorance and the misrepresentation of Christian faith in Islamic sources, aided and assisted by unbiblical practices and teachings readily present in Roman Catholicism and even Coptic Christianity. We cannot and do not excuse these murderers from engaging in their atrocities simply because they are themselves ignorant or that they have been taught by ignorant men. But we cannot at the same time ignore the fact that false teaching and practice has only aided in the production of the errors of Islam. Christians do glory in the cross, as Paul explains:
But may it never be that I should boast—except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).
A true Christian boasts in the cross—but that is not in the context of bowing down before a cross, or worshipping a cross, or any such thing. As the text makes clear, we recognize our being crucified together with Christ (Galatians 2:20), so that the life which we now live we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself in our place. When we live as those who have already died, the world and its lusts and its perishing desires are dead to us, and we to them. This boasting then is only known by those who live the Christian life day by day, purposefully. It has not meaning to cultural or nominal Christianity.
To my Muslim readers: I know you see Roman Catholics prostrating before crucifixes and praying and lighting candles. And you think that represents Christianity. Please, think with me: what represents Islam, if not that which is truly and fully in accord with the Qur’an? Look at the Christian scriptures: you will never find them invoking worship of anyone but God—and remember, we do NOT associate a mere man with God, the Bible is clear in telling us Jesus was MORE than just a mere man, He was the Word made flesh. We worship only one God, and we do not worship the cross. We glory in what God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit did on that cross. All of time before the cross looked forward to it—all time will forever look back to it. It is the center point of time. There the God-Man gave Himself utterly freely, voluntarily, becoming sin in the place of every man, woman and child who would ever put their faith and trust in Him as their sin-bearer, as their Savior. God joined His people to the Messiah there on the cross, which is why He had to be so much more than a mere prophet. He bore in Himself the wrath justly due to their sin, so that they could have forgiveness. How can we not, I ask you, Muslim friend, glory in the cross? For there the God of Abraham fulfilled what He had pictured on the mountain when Abraham offered his unique son, so long ago. God gave us life at the cross, and we rejoice. And our deepest desire is that you, too, come to know that life, through Him who gave Himself so freely there.
There is a deep-seated, long-standing detestation of the cross in Islamic theology, history, practice and thought. It goes all the way back to the earliest sources, as seen in Surah 4:157 and in the ahadith cited above. But it is a detestation based upon falsehood and ignorance, and that speaks loudly to the truth claims of Islam itself.
There is one more thing that honesty and truth drives me to address. We grieve for these men, their families, their children, their friends. But we must likewise avoid adopting the position that if ISIS kills you, you are, thereby, granted a free pass to heaven. I do not know these men’s hearts. I would like to think them all true believers, simply because they did not, seemingly, do the easy thing and convert to Islam to escape their gruesome execution. I have met believing, vital Coptic Christians (yes, despite my many criticisms of practices and beliefs, I know of evangelical Copts who have a vital faith, despite the official teachings on certain topics). But let’s remember: ISIS mainly kills Muslims, hence, being killed by ISIS is no guarantee of the next life. We pray that these men were ready to meet their maker, but we cannot simply assume that if you meet your end in a particular horrific fashion that this somehow vitiates the just wrath of God against sin. There is only one way to eternal life: a vital faith relationship with Jesus the Messiah.
Which leads me to another word of warning. Horrific acts like this feed the angry and the unhinged on the other side of the conflict as well. “Christian crusaders” like Walid and Theodore Shoebat will call for Christian jihad in response to such actions, showing they have no more understanding of the Prince of Peace than the Muslims kneeling on the backs of helpless men. Jesus rules the nations with a rod of iron, but He grows His kingdom by subduing rebellious hearts by grace, not by Hellfire missiles. As much as our flesh cries out for vengeance, Christ teaches us to pray for these men, that they may come to know the very one they are persecuting, just as Paul did so long ago.