ISIS conflict ‘annihilating Middle East Christians,’ says Islam expert at Southern Seminary
Violence erupting in Iraq and Syria as the jihadist group ISIS declares an Islamic state is “annihilating Middle Eastern Christians,” said the director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The Sunni insurgent group sweeping across Iraq and Syria and taking control of its provinces announced June 29 that it established a caliphate, which is an Islamic state led by a religious and political leader — in this case, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The United Nations reports the death toll for the month of June in Iraq stands at 2,417.
“We need to raise our voices much louder on behalf of Middle Eastern Christian communities that have basically existed for 2,000 years,” said J. Scott Bridger, Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Seminary. “You have Christians in this whole area that are basically being exterminated.”
Christians, Shiite Muslims and Sunnis with more democratic ideologies are among the victims of indiscriminate violence ISIS has inflicted on those who disagree with their ambition to create an Islamic state. In June, ISIS released footage claiming to show the mass execution of 160 people.
“Any person who does not align with their particular ideology is declared an infidel, which allows [ISIS] to kill them — to declare them an apostate and take them out,” Bridger said.
The ideology of ISIS, Bridger explained, is based on the belief that state and religion go together and “Islam is the solution.” Originally ISI (Islamic state in Iraq), the group expanded to Syria during the ongoing civil war, where it has fought against both the Syrian government and the opposition forces. The claim of the Islamic state includes territories ISIS captured from Iraq's Diyala province to Syria's Aleppo province.
“What they’re wanting to establish is Islamic states throughout the world and to replace what they see as decadent democratic regimes with Islamic regimes — that’s an Islamist ideology,” Bridger said, while stressing that Islam is a diverse tradition with violent and non-violent factions.
And while the jihadist group has called all Muslims to declare allegiance to its leader, al-Baghdadi, in an effort to revive a caliphate system that has not existed for nearly a century, Bridger said that the idea of a unified caliphate is contrary to history.
“It’s a myth of the modern Muslim mind that there was this one caliphate that had legitimacy for all Muslims in all periods of time,” Bridger said, illustrating the rival caliphates claimed by various regions throughout history. “It’s a romanticized understanding of Islamic history.”
Another misunderstanding of the conflict in the Middle East is evident in the call for peace from government officials. President Barack Obama urged the Iraqi government in June to find a peaceful reconciliation between the Sunni and Shiite conflict, a plea Bridger described “idealistic and naive.”
“You can’t put a Band-Aid on these kind of conflicts,” said Bridger, insisting calls for peace ignore the fact that democracy is a culture that has not been cultivated in the Middle East.
As the conflict rages on during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began June 28, Bridger said it is a timely reminder to pray for both Christians persecuted in the violent struggle and Muslims partaking in this annual observance.
“Oftentimes movements of Muslims to faith in Christ have come out of these intense times of prayer and reflection,” said Bridger, who advised Christians to adopt a people group in prayer with their churches during this month.
For more information about the Jenkins Center, click here.