With the recent capture of Mosul and Tikrit, much has been reported about ISIS, the acronym that originally stood for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and then changed to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but more recently has shortened its name to simply, Islamic State.
The root of the last "S" in ISIS is from the Arabic word "al-Sham.” The English translation means the Levant, Syria or Damascus, but in regards of a global jihad Levant is the intended meaning.
In the past week thousands of Christians have fled the land in northern Iraq they’ve inhabited for nearly 2,000 years. The exodus was caused when ISIS issued its ultimatum last week that by July 19 Christians convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed for their faith.
Reports find fleeing families were stopped at checkpoints and stripped of money, passports and personal possessions.
Caliph Ibrahim mandated the order, the title claimed by ISIS' leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi when declaring the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate.
This chilling fact raises the question, “What are the five things Christians should know about ISIS?”
1. How was ISIS formed?
Under the leadership of Baghdadi, once an affiliate group of al-Qaida, but has since gone on its own, formed in 2003 following the US-led invasion of Iraq. Initially ISIS was the union of several groups, including al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Mujahedeen Shura Council in Iraq, and Jund al-Sahhaba [Soldiers of the Prophet’s Companions].
Christians need to know that even leaders of al-Qaida claim ISIS are too extreme.
In June NPR reported al-Qaida distanced itself from ISIS with its public statements on jihadists websites.
"Al-Qaida announces it is not linked to ... [ISIS], as it was not informed of its creation [and] did not accept it," the statement said. ISIS "is not a branch of al-Qaida, has no links to it, and the [al-Qaida] group is not responsible for its acts."
In his research, “The War between ISIS and al-Qaeda for Supremacy of the Global Jihadist Movement,” Aaron Y. Zelin, the Richard Borow fellow at The Washington Institute, writes there has been confusion in describing the identity of ISIS in relation to al-Qaida.
A History of ISIS Names:
§ 1999–2004 - Jamaat al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad (JTWJ)
§ 2004–2006 - al-Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers (more popularly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI)
§ 2006 - Majlis Shura al-Mujahedin (MSM)
§ 2006–2013 - Islamic State of Iraq (ISI)
§ 2013–present - Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham & Islamic State
While al-Qaeda and ISIS compete against one another for influence and world domination, Zelin maintains ISIS has now “eclipsed al-Qaeda” and is a greater threat to the Middle East as well as Western nations.
2. What is the goal of ISIS?
At the core of its ideology, ISIS seeks to claim authority over all Muslims. Ultimately the Sunni militant group pursues the establishment of a “caliphate,” an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader, known as a “caliph,” which is a successor to Mohammad.
In late June ISIS announced its five-year plan for global domination. The announcement came on the first day of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and spiritual reflection.
England’s Daily Mail reports, “A spokesman for ISIS declared the group's chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the leader of the new caliphate, or Islamic state, and called on Muslims everywhere, not just those in areas under the organization's control, to swear loyalty to him.”
The notion of a worldwide caliphate ruled by Sharia’ law is not new. Over Islam’s 1400-year history a number of caliphates have ruled from Morocco to Central Asia.
The caliphate was eradicated when the Ottoman Empire crumbled in 1924.
3. Who are the fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)?
While exact numbers are unclear, in the core region of ISIS’ stronghold an estimated 6,000 fighters are located in Iraq and another 3,000-5,000 in Syria, including an additional 3,000 foreigners. The foreign militants are said to be from Chechnya and roughly 500 more from France, Britain and throughout other parts of Europe.
Similar to making “Aliyah” (Jews immigrating to Israel, literally, “moving up”), Baghdadi recently called on Muslims around the world to immigrate to the region seized by ISIS to help establish a new Islamic State.
In a 19-minute audio recording posted online, Baghdadi said, “Muslims, rush to your state. Yes, it is your state.”
Baghdadi made a special appeal for doctors, scholars, engineers, judges and people with military and administrative experience, according to France 24.
4. How is ISIS funded?
According to the Daily Beast affluent donors in the countries of three U.S. allies have funded ISIS for years.
In the early season of its existence, wealthy individuals in the Arab Gulf States of Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia provided a majority of the working capital for ISIS to operate.
“Everybody knows the money is going through Kuwait and that it’s coming from the Arab Gulf,” Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Daily Beast. “Kuwait’s banking system and its money changers have long been a huge problem because they are a major conduit for money to extremist groups in Syria and now Iraq.”
Since its takeover of Mosul, ISIS has raided the main bank to the tune of $430 million. Funds are also gushing from the sale of oil in ISIS controlled areas of Northern Syria.
5. Persecuted Christians
ISIS has murdered untold numbers of Christians.
While the situation in the Middle East is complication, the ultimate goal of the militant group is simple -- to rid the world of Christians.
According to the Washington DC-based International Christian Concern, in the past week, ISIS began marking Christian homes throughout the city. The Arabic letter "N," standing for the Arabic word "Nasrani," a name for Christians, was painted on Christians' homes around Mosul, the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports.
"We do not know what will happen in future days," Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako said. "It is clear that the result of all this discrimination legally enforced will be the very dangerous elimination of the possibility of co-existence between majorities and minorities.”
Tera Dahl, executive director of the Council on Global Security, contends over 1 million Christians have been displaced from Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
"The last Christian reportedly left Iraq's second largest city of Mosul at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, ending over 6,000 years of Assyrian history in the city,” Dahl writes from Erbil. “Assyrians have lived in Mosul for over 6,000 years, converting to Christianity over 2,000 years ago. This all came to an end on Saturday, when the last Assyrian Christian left the city."
Former Muslim and PLO member Walid Shoebat, notes that extremist Muslims have marked their foreheads and hands, while giving allegiance to some antichrist and set laws invoking Sharia law on the masses.
“They sing ‘O one who badges his head, in the Levant there is Sharia,’” Shoebat said. “In darkness they chant, ‘We give bay’ah (allegiance) to the Prince of the Faithful, the Caliph, the Husseini the Qurashite, to hear and obey.’”
Shoebat contends that in ritual fashion, Muslims lifts his right sabbabah (index finger), signifying that God is the absolute deity, not a Trinity (three in one: Father, Son and Holy Spirit) as Christian doctrine teaches. It is mandated that every Muslim raise his index finger signifying that God is not the one and only Triune God, but the one god who rules over two worlds as stated in the Qur’an - “multitudes of people and demons” (Qur’an 69:43).
Meanwhile in North America, the Obama Administration has mostly been silent on persecution of Christians.
Pamela Geller, founder, editor and publisher of Atlas Shrugs.com and president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), says, “Obama hasn’t said a word about the global Muslim persecution of Christians (Nigeria, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, etc.), and he won’t,” said Geller. “He only speaks up when Muslims complain about being the victims.”
In regards to the Middle East, well some commentators claim an Israel-Palestinian ceasefire or peace treaty is a moot point as life for Israeli’s just got tougher, in an already sketchy neighborhood.
Russ Jones is co-founder of Christian News Service, a content creation and news distribution firm. He's also a media consultant to a number of cause oriented campaigns and organizations. Russ has been a guest on such programs as the Mike Gallagher Show, the Dennis Prager Show, Bill Martinez Live and Sandy Rios in the Morning. He holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master’s degree from St. Paul School of Theology. He is married to Jackie and together they have four children.
Publication date: July 24, 2014