The Root Problem of ISIS and Islamic Extremism

The anniversary of 9/11 and the events transpiring in the Middle East has caused me to revisit the issue of Islam.  The government has been granted extraordinary powers to invade the privacy of Americans in the name of national security.  Moreover, the United States has started two different wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is also engaged in skirmishes throughout the world today against terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram. The United States has lost over 7,000 soldiers and spent over 1.5 TRILLION dollars on the “War on Terror.”

The other change was the awareness of Islam and in particular, ‘radical’ Islam. Overwhelming majority of Americans pre-9/11, I would argue, were uninterested or even unaware of Islamic extremism. There are rough estimates that would suggest that 20% of Muslims in the world are what you would describe as radical with terror associations. Sadly, many Muslims who are not apart of these radical terror networks have been arbitrarily thrown into this category by the media and other cohorts. The American post 9/11 mindset towards Muslims has increased. Following September 11, 2001, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported a 1,700 percent increase of hate crimes against Muslim Americans between 2000 to 2001. There has been attempt to portray Muslims as all terrorists. In contrast, the more liberal leaning media outlets have defended Muslims. The would make the claim that Islam is a religion of peace and the Prophet Muhammad taught peace. Obviously, not all Muslims are in allegiance with terrorist organizations such as ISIS.

Indeed, most Muslims I have met have been some of the most humble, gracious, and pious people I have ever met.  As a Christian, their desires are the same as mine– they desire to know and serve a holy God. Despite our differences, I deeply respect their passion in wanting to know God.  It is inappropriate, and I think demonstrably false, to label all Muslims as terrorists or supporters of terrorism. If you are a Muslim, I hope you know, no matter our disagreements of who God is, that I love you. But because I love you, means I have to ask the hard questions and tell hard truths.

There is a question I have to those who make the claim that “Islam is a religion of peace.” If peace is the cornerstone in Islam, why are people joining these terrorist organizations? The interesting thing about those foreign fighters who, for example, fight with terror organizations such as Al Qaeda or ISIS come from other western countries. Moreover, these foreign fighters who fight for these terror networks are predominately middle-class and are educated; they are not particularly impoverished, uneducated, or afflicted by mental disease. In fact, 45% of people convicted of Al Qaeda-associated terrorist offenses have attended university or higher education institutions, most of them are educated in the West (see Jason M. Breslow’s article on PBS Why Are So Many Westerners Joining ISIS?). The thought is very troubling. It should be expected that impoverished or illiterate individuals would be coaxed into organizations like ISIS. Efforts have been made to solve the terrorist problems. Some have capitulated to reconcile with these groups. For the most parts, these efforts have had no effect. In contrast, countries have opted in eliminating terrorism by going to war with it. The ambiguous “War on Terror,” has proven to be a disaster and ironically, caused a surge in radical Islam. The West’s efforts in either appeasing or fighting Islamic terrorism, regardless of different approaches, have failed and left disastrous consequences.

The problem with Islam is not a political or cultural problem– nor can it be solved militarily. No, the difficulty with Islam is it has a theological problem concerning salvation. I would argue that the reason why there is even such thing as an ISIS, Boko Haram, or Al Qaeda, is because there are no guarantees of salvation in Islam (cf. Surah 4:74; Hadith Vol. 9, Book 93, #555). The only guarantees of entering into paradise is through Jihad which ultimately entails literal warfare against non-Muslims. The best way to overcome this problem is not an Islamic reformation, a political or military solution. The best solution is to give Muslims a better paradigm and more secure way of salvation. Jesus is the answer. 

Before we can explain why Jesus is the cure we must explain further the problem that Islam has. For those who do not understand Islam, it is a religion founded upon theological fatalism– that is essentially God chooses those who go to heaven before they are even born and humans are not free agents. In essence, “what will be will be” (it’s a lot like the movie Final Destination). Muslims typically use the phrase “insha’allah” or “if God wills it.” It teaches God’s foreknowledge, whatever he knows about future events must come to pass, and the participants (humans) cannot choose to do other than what God knows. This is taught in Islam and is founded in numerous passages in both the Qur’an and the Hadiths  (cf. Surah 10:99, 7:29-31, & 81:28-29 & Sahih Muslim, 33:6393). If this is true, then everything you do is predetermined and there is nothing you can do to change it. Allah in his ultimate transcendence, can condemn anyone he chooses to heaven or hell and humans have no free-will to change their circumstances. What will be will be because Allah determines it beforehand. Therefore, the actions of both the Muslims and non-Muslim, are irrelevant since theological fatalism denies human freedom.

Which in lies the problem: there is no standard to which Allah judges people. The concept of grace in Islam is that Allah will arbitrarily save whomever he likes without judging them to the standard of any divine law which means justification is arbitrary. In other words, those who were not a good Muslim or a Muslim at all could be lifted up in heaven despite them living a life in disobedience. Likewise, Allah could decree that the good and observant Muslim could be thrown into hell. An example of this is found in Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri’s Hadith. Al-Khudri reported that there was a man who was a serial killer. He had murdered 99 people. The serial killer was directed to a monk to see if there was any chance of repentance or acceptance. The monk replied “no”, so the man who killed 99 people murdered the monk. The man now has murdered 100 people. He then travelled to see to a scholar and asked, if there was any chance of repentance or acceptance for him. The scholar replied, “‘Go to such-and-such land; there (you will find) people devoted to worship of Allah. Join them in worship, and do not come back to your land because it is an evil place.'” So the man who murder 100 people took the journey to these people who worshipped Allah (which is implied in the text to be the Muslims. But before the man could reach the Muslims, he dies. Then the angels of mercy and the angel of punishment appear and debate whether or not this man should go to heaven or hell:


“So he went away and hardly had he covered half the distance when death overtook him; and there was a dispute between the angels of mercy and the angels of torment. The angels of mercy pleaded, ‘This man has come with a repenting heart to Allah,’ and the angels of punishment argued, ‘He never did a virtuous deed in his life.’ Then there appeared another angel in the form of a human being and the contending angels agreed to make him arbiter between them. He said, ‘Measure the distance between the two lands. He will be considered belonging to the land to which he is nearer.’ They measured and found him closer to the land (of piety) where he intended to go, and so the angels of mercy collected his soul.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)


So what does this story tell us about salvation in Islam? From this story and what the Qur’an says, there is no real standard in which Allah judges the righteous or unrighteous. Rather, Allah capriciously decrees who can go to heaven or hell and there is no standard in which he judges his humans on. Allah judges arbitrarily and capriciously like any monarchal despot has in history.  Where as in Christianity, God judges his people on the basis of his law and justifies them by way of the cross. Ultimately, the Islamic view of salvation is a faulty view of how man is to be reconciled and justified before God. This is because in Islam, a good Muslim, someone who does good works and observes the five pillars of Islam perfectly– this is how someone is saved (see Surah 5:9, 42:46, & 8:29). However, no Muslim can perfectly live up to Allah’s standard. Even Muhammad admitted in Surah 40:55 he was a sinner and asked for Allah’s forgiveness for his sin. Muhammad himself was unsure of his own salvation (cf. Surah 46:8-9). This is suppose to be the man or the paradigm of godliness in Islam! So there is no way to know if someone is truly saved or not in Islam.

Since salvation is not guaranteed for even the most pious and obedient in Islam. Allah is seemingly capricious in how he judges creation. In the Islamic view of hell, Jahannam, is vividly depicted by the Qur’an and the Hadith. According to these writings, hell in Islam is located below heaven and is broken up into seven sections based off of the sinners offense and severity of it ( According to the Qur’an, “Hell shall be a place of snares, the home of transgressors, to abide therein for ages. No coolness shall they taste nor any drink, save boiling water and liquid pus. Meet recompense!” (Surahs 88:1-7; 2:38; 3:197; 14:20, 43:71-78). Al-Bukhari describes in his Hadith his vision of hell:

 [it was a place that] was built inside like a well and it had side posts like those of a well, and beside each post there was an angel carrying an iron mace. I saw therein many people hanging upside down with iron chains, and I recognized therein some men from the Quraish. (Al-Bukhari 87:155).

There is a story of Muhammad’s uncle, Abu Talib, was on his death bed and Muhammad pleaded that he repented from paganism and embrace Islam. Abu Talib died on his death bed unrepentant and did not convert to Islam. Muhammad pleaded to Allah that his uncle could be put in the best place in hell. The best place in hell was “Of the inmates of the Fire, the one with the easiest punishment will be Abu Talib; he will be wearing a pair of shoes which will cause his brain to boil” (Al-Bukhari).  Muslims are taught this and the price for disobedience or not pleasing Allah is extreme to say the least.

There is only one way of guaranteeing salvation and escape from Jahannam for Muslims. According to both the Hadith and the Qur’an, Jihad is the only way to ensure your salvation is secure. In the Qur’an, Surah 61:10 states the following:

“You who believe, shall I show you a bargain that will save you from painful punishment? Have faith in God and His Messenger and struggle [jihad] for His cause with your possessions and your persons—that is better for you, if only you knew—and He will forgive your sins, admit you into Gardens graced with flowing streams, into pleasant dwellings in the Gardens of Eternity. That is the supreme triumph. Martyrdom and death fighting the polytheists.”

Essentially, you have to laid down your life in order to be accepted and to please Allah. Moreover, you have to kill Allah’s enemies to be accepted by Allah. Muslim apologists could make counterargument: “well Jihad is a spiritual struggle in defending the truth of Islam and does not entail offensive warfare.” However, in every instance with Muhammad and his followers are engaged in Jihad, it always within in the context of offensive warfare against non-Muslims. Terror organizations such as ISIS, are very literalistic in their interpretation of the Qur’an and the Hadiths. Otherwise, where do they get the paradigm of beheadings and crucifixions of non-Muslims? The gruesome examples of beheadings and crucifying individuals come right out of the Qur’an. Surah 9 is the last written chapter of the Qur’an and this is what it tells it’s reader how to treat the non-Muslims:

And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (At-Tawbah, Surah 9:5).

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter…(Surah 5:33)

It is He Who has sent His Messenger (Muhammad) with guidance and the religion of truth, to make it superior over all religions, though the Mushrikûn (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah) hate (it). (Surah 9:33)

Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection. (Surah 9:29).


There are 107 other verses such as these that command Muslims to fight, wipe out, and subject non-Muslims to Islamic rule. The Qur’an explains in Surah 4:104 “And be not weak hearted in pursuit of the enemy; if you suffer pain, then surely they (too) suffer pain as you suffer pain…” Likewise, the Allah states that,”I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them” (Surah 8:12).  No reasonable person would interpret this to mean a spiritual struggle. The last Surat is At-Tawbah and is where the most majority of the sword verses are found. Because of the laws of abrogation in Islam (see Surah 2:106), At-Tawbah abrogates all the peaceful and tolerant verses found in the Meccan Surahs. In other words, these Surahs found in At-Tawbah are still relevant today.

Where as in stark contrast, Christianity teaches that God sent His one and only begotten Son to laid down His life for us. That’s the difference between Allah and Jesus: Allah demands his followers to martyr themselves to be accepted by him. But Jesus martyred himself so that we could be accepted by God.  Allah demands that people be punished and tells people to die in his stead for his glory. But Jesus gladly laid down his life and took upon our punishment– the punishment we rightly deserve. Allah demands Muslims to kill his enemies because he hates them. But Jesus died for his enemies because He had love for them. It says in Romans 5:8, “That even though we were sinners, Christ still died for us.” That’s the scandal of the gospel. Jesus will have mercy on His enemies, even if it kills him. Religiosity condemns and enslaves us to sin. Where as Jesus shows mercy and liberates us from ourselves.

Jesus atoned for all sin and cast it as far as the east is from the west. When we accept this free gift given from God, we can be totally assured of our salvation. For Christ said, “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). In Jesus, there is a total assurance that we are accepted, justified, atoned, loved, and saved by way of the cross. That’s how you defeat ISIS. You defeat them by sharing the gospel, not waging war or violence. Give them a better paradigm for salvation. Give them Jesus. He has always been the only answer and the only way.


2 thoughts on “The Root Problem of ISIS and Islamic Extremism

  1. Hello,
    I came across your instagram last night and saw that you had a word press too. My major is international studies focused on the Middle East with a minor in Arabic. I am currently in three Islam classes and have quite a few Muslim friends. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and would love to hear your thoughts on Syrian Refugees. 🙂

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