The Islamic State (ISIS) regularly publishes a glossy, professionally produced magazine called Dabiq. Until their August 4th issue, they have always aimed it at recruiting Western Muslims into their ranks. This month, for the first time, ISIS directed their magazine towards Western non-Muslims, particularly Christians and secularists. One article in particular they titled with unavoidable clarity: "Why We Hate You and Why We Fight You."
ISIS headlined their 15th issue Break the Cross, a reference to Muhammad's end-times prophecy in which Jesus will return to earth as a Muslim and cause Christians and Jews to perish, "breaking the cross and killing the swine." This has been the mainstream Islamic view of end times for centuries, though in modern days it is often interpreted peacefully. ISIS, of course, does not interpret it so, and the cover of the magazine depicts a man atop a conquered church casting down the cross and replacing it with the Black Standard of ISIS, the flag proclaiming Islamic monotheism.
The issue's first article is written by an ISIS soldier, Abul-Harith ath-Thaghri, who shares a story that is more human than one might expect. While defending the frontlines during a chilly evening, he was startled by a cat that came to him for warmth. He allowed the cat to warm itself on his lap, and as the cat purred, Abul-Harith pondered the beauty of God's creation, that Allah would allow the soul of a man to connect even with the soul of a cat. The article proceeds to ponder the beauty of love between spouses and the "cuteness" of babies and their "chubby cheeks." These sentiments all fall under their notion of fitrah, or the "inborn human nature."
Although ISIS sets out to appeal to common humanity in this issue, they do not hesitate to include pictures of what they are known for as well: dozens of slaughtered individuals from Bangladesh to Orlando, including graphic images of public beheadings. How are we to understand these apparently contradictory poles of emphasis?
The magazine's editors answer this question in what appears to be the issue's centerpiece article, "Why We Hate You and Why We Fight You": Hating sinners and killing disbelievers is also part of fitrah. According to ISIS, it is the Muslim's duty to kill sinners and non-Muslims.
ISIS displays frustration in the article against "liberal journalists" who "would like you to believe that we do what we do because we're simply monsters..." They lament the fact that their mujahideen, Muslims waging jihad, "have repeatedly stated their goals, intentions, and motivations" but that it is too "politically incorrect" for the media to reveal the truth. To set the record straight, ISIS clarifies "to the West - yet again" why they fight us. They provide six reasons in this article:
1. Because we do not believe in Islamic monotheism.
2. Because we do not obey Allah.
3. Because of the atheists among us.
4. Because of our crimes against the religion of Islam.
5. Because of our crimes against Muslims.
6. Because of our invasion of Muslim lands.
While discussing the first reason, ISIS says, "just as your disbelief is the primary reason we hate you, your disbelief is the primary reason we fight you, as we have been commanded to fight the disbelievers until they submit to the authority of Islam, either by becoming Muslims, or by... living in humiliation under the rule of the Muslims."
The command to which ISIS refers, to fight disbelievers, is found in the Quran, 9:29, which says, "Fight the Jews and Christians who do not believe in Allah... until they pay the ransom tax and are humiliated." This was one of the last commands of Muhammad to his people, and ISIS specifically cites this verse as their reason for fighting Jews and Christians. Their basis for killing all others is 9:5, which says, "Slay the idolators wherever you find them," another verse ISIS cites and applies literally.
Their point is clear: They kill us primarily because we are not Muslim. Leaving no room for doubt, the article goes on to say, "Although some might argue that your foreign policies are the extent of what drives our hatred, this particular reason for hating you is secondary, hence the reason we addressed it at the end of the above list.... [O]ur primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam."
ISIS is fighting a theological battle of loving Allah by hating Allah's enemies. They write, "Jihad is the ultimate show of one's love for his Creator, facing the clashing of swords and buzzing of bullets on the battlefield, seeking to slaughter His enemies - whom he hates for Allah's hatred of them." This manner of thinking derives from the Quran, 60:1: "Do not take My enemies and your enemies as allies, extending to them affection while they have disbelieved."
As I explore further in my book, No God but One: Allah or Jesus?, the proper response to this theology of hatred must be a theology of love. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5.45-46) This suggestion would sound naïve to me, were it not for the fact that in my life, when I was a Muslim encountering the violent reality of the Quran's final commands and deciding whether or not to continue following Islam, it was the loving message of Jesus that took hold of my heart and changed me. As a part of our response to ISIS, we must approach potential recruits to their theology of hatred by offering them a theology of love.
Only when we understand our enemy can we find the tools to overcome them, and ISIS is making it abundantly clear that they are fighting a theological war. To deter any self-delusion, they leave a final message for us: "you can continue to believe that 'those despicable terrorists' hate you because of your lattes and your Timberlands... or you can accept reality and recognize that we will never stop hating you until you embrace Islam." Bombs and bullets will never overcome conviction. Relying on brute war will only stoke the flames of their fervor and recruit new soldiers to their ranks. Part of the path to defeating ISIS must be a powerful, pre-emptive, and theological response to hatred. In the words of Paul of Tarsus, "Love never fails."