Why Foreign Fighters Are Joining ISIL

Part 1 in a 3 part series.

The beheading of American journalist James Foley by a British ISIL foreign fighter marked the first of several instances in which militant radical Islam appeared to defeat all precepts of Western civilization.

At the same moment, a revived "Islamic Caliphate" emerged as both a nascent "State" and a veritable threat to the free world. Even the president of the United States seemed caught off guard by ISIL's celebration of death, which is so counter-cultural and contrary to all that humanity has achieved and continues to achieve. Both Western governments and media outlets have been slow to acknowledge the absolute threat posed by ISIL's belief system.

While minority Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Turkomen and Jews across the Middle East are physically hunted by ISIL fighters, it is mosques across the Western world which appear complicit in churning out radicalized foreign fighters. These fighters reject all notions of a pluralist, free Western life, in favor of the most regressive philosophy on earth. But much blame can also be laid at the feet of the West's modern lifeblood: the Internet. Witness this terrifying example of a Canadian who self-radicalized, joined ISIL and now threatens terrorist attacks on New York City.

At such a troubled time as this, appreciating the core theology of ISIL is a necessity for Western policymakers, military planners, and media personnel, who are now scrambling for means to collectively defeat this most barbaric enemy after the bombing stops.

Understanding Islamic Eschatology When global progress, both social and technological, is greater than ever, how is it possible that ISIL is growing around the world? What exactly are young Canadians, Brits, Scots, Frenchmen and Germans being taught in their Western mosques and online before being convinced to fly off to carry out jihad abroad?

The nebulous answers to these questions are found in a religious term which the secular Western mind and media might scoff at: eschatology -- that is, the branch of Islamic theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind. In other words, The Islamic End Times.

To understand why ISIL has so rapidly advanced -- both in its military and through its ideology - any serious observer of global affairs must explore the Islamic beliefs and statements about the "end of the world". This knowledge will facilitate a discerning perspective on the grave realities represented by the return of the "Islamic Caliphate" in Syria and Iraq, and will reveal the intellectual threat posed to the world by the ISIL ideology and its growing cadre of sympathetic followers globally.

Islamic Prophecies

On June 29, 2014, when Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared the creation of the "Islamic State", identifying himself as "Caliph Ibrahim," he was issuing a rallying cry to all Muslims, stating that the Qur'an's prophesied "Day of Resurrection", or Yawm al-Qiyāmah will soon be upon humanity.

The gravity of the creation of ISIL is captured in the title of Caliph Ibrahim's manifesto: The Promise of Allah. Akin in spirit to the Charter of Hamas in its explicit hatred of Christians, Jews and non-Muslims, The Promise of Allah proclaims to the world:

Here the flag of the Islamic State, the flag of tawhīd (monotheism), rises and flutters... The Muslims are honored. The kuffār (infidels) are disgraced. Ahlus Sunnah (the Sunnis) are masters and are esteemed. The people of bid'ah (heresy) are humiliated. The hudūd (Sharia penalties) are implemented -- the hudūd of Allah -- all of them. The frontlines are defended. Crosses and graves are demolished... There only remained one matter, a wājib kifā'ī (collective obligation) that the ummah sins by abandoning. It is a forgotten obligation... It is the khilāfah (caliphate). It is the khilāfah -- the abandoned obligation of the era.

By speaking the "Islamic State" into existence, the Caliph asserted that the world's most powerful terrorist force believes that humanity, in 2014, will imminently face Allah's prophesied Judgment Day, Yawm ad-Dīn. Belief in Judgment Day is one of the six articles of faith in Islam, which underscores the theological importance of the revival of the Islamic Caliphate to the global ummah (Islamic community). The appeal of the Caliph's simple end times narrative forms the foundation of an Islamist movement which is driving men to commit unthinkable acts of murder, genocide and suicide attacks against strangers with different religious beliefs. The Promise of Allah describes this disturbing, violent modus operandi in systematic detail, fuelling the expansion of the "Islamic State":

...We took it forcibly at the point of a blade. We brought it back conquered and compelled. We established it in defiance of many. And the people's necks were violently struck, With bombings, explosions, and destruction, And soldiers that do not see hardship as being difficult, And lions that are thirsty in battle, Having greedily drunk the blood of kufr [infidel]. Our khilāfah has indeed returned with certainty And likewise our state, becoming a firm structure. And the breasts of the believers have been healed, While the hearts of kufr have been filled with terror.

Through social media, internet forums and well produced promotional videos, ISIL's agenda is being broadcast to the world without hesitation. While Western powers recognize the terrorist threat posed by ISIL, aside from the United States and a few close allies, many Western European leaders remained convicted to avoid military action initially, lest they stir up unrest within their local Muslim communities.

But this is no problem for ISIL's growth. ISIL foreign fighters have already heeded the Caliph's call in The Promise of Allah that all Muslims must:

"disbelieve in democracy, secularism, nationalism, as well as all the other garbage and ideas from the West, and rush to your religion and creed, then by Allah, you will own the earth, and the east and west will submit to you."

What exactly are the implications of Muslims heeding this call? Part 2 of this series will examine this critical question.