Not long ago Barack Obama proclaimed, “ISIL is not Islamic.” Certainly he has a right to express his opinion, no matter how uninformed or perhaps emotionally informed he may be but that doesn’t make his declaration correct or accurate. I have always been intrigued by those who want to define faith claims by something other than the historical teachings on the essentials of the faith by its adherents as well as the definitions provided in the texts of what the faithful believe are inspired Scripture. This is not a new issue and is used fairly often to diminish a difficult or inconvenient situation or, on the other hand, to expand a faith to include someone it would not in normal understandings include.
We have this happen with regard to the Christian faith quite often. John Dominic Crossan, one of the founders of the Jesus Seminar, represents himself as being a Christian while denying the essential doctrines of the Christian faith (the death, burial and physical resurrection, deity of Christ, etc). He is by his own admission during debates, an agnostic. (We address some of his views in our article The Hysterical Search for the Historical Jesus) Likewise, Oprah Winfrey claims to be a Christian while denying the essentials of the Christian faith. Even Barack Obama calims to be a Christian but as we demonstrate in Barack and the Borg his claims are based on something other than the biblical and historical Christian faith.
The prerequisite doctrines are easy to understand and taught early on. In Romans 10:9-13 Paul outlines some specific things. The first is that one much confess the Jesus is Lord. In that culture it was more than simply saying he was powerful. At that time the culture encouraged belief in multiple gods but one must confess Kaiser Kyrios, Caesar is Lord, meaning that Caesar was the supreme deity and Paul co-opted this declaration and applied it to Jesus. He then went to state what must be believed, that Jesus was raised (physical resurrection is in view here) and lastly, he again confirmed that one must believe that Jesus is YHWH (God in the O.T) by quoting from Joel 2:32 and applying this passage to Jesus. Similarly he writes out the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.
Why do those who deny or treat lightly or unimportant essentials of the faith claim to be Christians? For a variety of reasons. Some are simply lacking any real teaching on what Christianity is or claims but pick Bible verses here and there out of context to create a definition which includes them and something special to them. Somehow attaching Jesus and Christianity to their claims seems to give their ideas some legitimacy. Christianity is simply reduced to a cultural way of living nicely with others.
The other aspect of the faith comes from the question of how the main giver of the faith lived. For example, someone may point to Westboro Baptist Church which claims to be Christian in an attempt to discredit Christianity but Westboro does not reflect the life of Christ, Paul or the 12 Apostles and in many cases does not overtly teach the essential doctrines of the faith. So, when analyzing if an individual or group is what they claim to be we need to ask if they hold to the essential historical doctrines of the faith and ask if their actions are in conformance to or reflective of the originator of their faith claims.
When we look at ISIS we would be hard pressed as a matter of both history and behavior to disagree with ISIS that they are in fact, Muslims. It is interesting to note that many Muslims who are not themselves carrying out the acts of beheading, kidnapping and raping young girls, etc., none-the-less, say little in attempting to deny ISIS is an Islamic religion. Why is that? Simple, the teachings which are guiding ISIS originate in the Qur’an and Hadith and are consistent with the life of Muhammad. While it is true that Muhammad’s early writings in the Qur’an seem to be friendly to Jews and Christians, that was because he really thought both groups would embrace him as a prophet. When they did not his later writings were quite vitriolic and his behavior very bloody toward non-Muslim followers.
So, those who get to define what they are, are the ones who are following the historical teachings of their faith and their behavior simply demonstrates the accuracy of their claims. Wouldn’t it really be the case that those who are not carrying out the Jihad with or like ISIS are the ones who are living inconsistently with the teachings of Islam? On what basis would a theological and historical illiterate have any authority for declaring that ISIS is not Islamic?Ω
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