ISIS, other radical Islamists driven by Muslim eschatology

By Roger Drinnon

ST. LOUIS — To establish a world ruled by Islamic law, Jesus and the Mahdi will battle against the deceiver al-Dajjal and then convert everyone to Islam to usher-in the end times. Wait … what? Jesus?



Muslim extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) seek to bring about this eschatological scenario through terrorist attacks, violent militant operations, well-funded propaganda and aggressive proselytizing efforts, according to one expert on the religion’s eschatology.

Islamist eschatology was the topic of Dr. Timothy R. Furnish’s Oct. 23 lecture at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, titled “Fighting for the End of the (Christian) World.” The lecture was arranged by the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology (EIIT), the seminary’s specialized program of theological education for pastoral leadership within immigrant-based LCMS congregations.

Furnish holds a Ph.D. in Islamic History from Ohio State University as well as a Master of Arts in Religion from Concordia Seminary. He is a veteran of the U.S. Army and consultant to the U.S. military and intelligence community.

“Islam claims to be the corrective to the ‘corrupted’ religions of Judaism and Christianity,” said Furnish. “In the Islamic view, [divine] revelations were given in three major groupings: to the Jews, about 1200 B.C.; to the Christians in the first century A.D.; and then 600 years later, the final revelation to [Islam’s founder] Muhammad.”

Furnish described Islam as a religion based on the theology of works, whereby one is deemed righteous by Allah, the Muslim god, through one’s actions and adherence to Islamic law. He said most Muslims believe as a precursor to the end times, Jesus – who the Muslims believe to be only a mortal prophet, not the Son of God – and the al-Mahdi, meaning “divinely guided one,” will come to establish a worldwide Muslim caliphate where people are either converted to Islam or killed. Both Sunni and Shiite Muslims believe in the Mahdi, even though he is not mentioned in the Quran – the Muslim holy book. Furnish said belief in the Mahdi comes from Islam’s authoritative “hadiths.”

“Information about the Mahdi and the Dajjal, the Muslim equivalent of an anti-Christ figure, occurs only in hadiths,” said Furnish. “The authoritative hadiths are a multivolume collection of sayings attributed to Muhammad which are secondary in authority – but only slightly secondary – to the Quran.”

He said many Muslims have claimed to be the Mahdi over the centuries following the founding of Islam.

Since Muslims believe the establishment of a worldwide Islamic caliphate under the Mahdi’s rule is required to bring about a judgment day, Islamist extremist groups believe violent “jihad” (which linguistically means “struggle” but historically means “holy war against non-Muslims”) will hasten the establishment of the caliphate and thus the divine resolution of human existence. Furnish said some Muslims, especially certain Sunni groups, adamantly believe they can “hotwire the apocalypse.” This apocalyptic goal poses a dire threat to Christians and Western societies in general who are demonized as “infidels” not just by “extremist” Muslim groups but also in mainstream Islamic teaching, following the Quran and hadiths. The threat of groups like ISIS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, continues to be evaluated at the highest levels of the U.S military.

“Some of them seek to establish a sense of political Islam and theocracy under [Islamic] Shariah Law, and some of them are apocalyptic … meaning they have such a worldview … that makes them, I think, especially dangerous,” said Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the Aspen Security Forum in July. “[ISIS] seeks a sense of religious legitimacy; its leaders believe they are the heirs to the Islamic caliphate … They can only sustain that religious legitimacy if they continue to succeed, so this is not a group that can go halfway. It has to keep moving toward its ultimate end-of-days, apocalyptic narrative or it will lose support, because it loses religious legitimacy.”

Furnish said other key elements of the Islamist strategy to establish the global caliphate include well-financed Muslim missionary propaganda, or “da`wah,” and forceful conversions to Islam. ISIS even has its own magazine called Dabiq. Funding for da`wah comes from a variety of sources including Saudi Arabs, non-state donors and ISIS’ illicit profits from criminal activities like human trafficking (a recent issue of Dabiq stated non-Muslims may be enslaved under Islamic law), smuggling and trafficking in looted archaeological artifacts. He also explained how hadiths allow for and even encourage Muslims to deceive non-Muslims with propaganda as part of the strategy for establishing the caliphate — a tactic known as “taqiyyah,” or allowable lying.

Furnish, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, credits his life’s studies to the late actor Charlton Heston. As a youth, Furnish saw the 1966 film “Khartoum,” where Heston starred as British Gen. Charles Gordon, who was hired by the Ottomans to defend the Sudanese city from the forces of a jihadist army led by Muhammad Ahmad (who declared himself the Mahdi), during the Siege of Khartoum in the late 19th century.

Roger Drinnon is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.

Posted Nov. 14, 2014 / Updated Feb. 11, 2015


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10 Responses to ISIS, other radical Islamists driven by Muslim eschatology

  1. adamc November 19, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

    At least the way this lecture is described, the perspective flirts with Islamophobia. I am not saying that some of these troubling readings don’t exist within the Muslim world, they do, but the lack of nuance in presenting them is problematical. Sensitive stuff.

    We certainly don’t need Christian dispensationalists, Muslim extremist groups, or any religious millienialist to “hotwire the end times.” This madness runs counter to the real values of each faith tradition.

  2. November 20, 2014 at 5:42 am #

    The main stream Islam does not believe in lying nor does it teach “taquiya” ie cheating non muslims or any body for that matter. Taquia or lying to hide the truth was a sheia term used to hide their creed for other muslims (mostly Sunnies) to avoid any embarrassment of attacks.
    I am disappointed with the authors grasp of the knowledge about Islam. The article is misleading in many aspects and is an attempt at creating mischief.

  3. November 20, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

    How can one “flirt with Islamophobia?” Either one hates Islam, or s/he does not. Your charge is simply a polite form of slander. Please explain which of the many citations I made to the Qur’an, the hadiths, and examples from Islamic history are inaccurate.

    yes, taqiyya began as a (Twelver) Shi`i practice, but has spread in recent decades into Sunni Islam: “one of the few books devoted to the subject, At-Taqiyya fi’l-Islam (Dissimulation in Islam) makes it clear that taqiyya is not limited to Shi’a dissimulating in fear of persecution.”

    Dr. Timothy Furnish

  4. Tina November 21, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

    This article is timely and appreciated! Certainly, the lecture would have been interesting to attend. The information in it is supported by other military and Middle East authorities that I have encountered. I pray that many will read the article and consider carefully the implications of what was shared. The Levant, ISIL(evant) includes Israel. The way the US President has treated Israel is a radical departure from the support of the past. Those actively working toward a modern caliphate intend to defeat Israel so that the caliphate extends over all of Israel, murdering anyone who does not submit to Alah. I pray for your continued courage to speak to this vital topic.

    • Joy Kiesling November 29, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

      I agree people need to understand what Islam and especially ISIS is all about and I despise the word Islamophobia. There is no fear on my part of their religion even though they are very mislead and I pray they find Christ but it angers me what they think they are allowed to do in the name of their Allah. They are barbaric and put no value on life. And no I don’t think there are good and bad Muslims , there are simply Muslims!! They don’t all strap on suicide vests they just pretend to be peaceful and secretly agree with what they do. My feelings. God help us all.

  5. Joshua Lake November 22, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

    This is territory for the Church to remain distanced from.

    These issues, from my perspective, lead only to an unhealthy relationship between Church and State, as clearly there are political implications and political motivations for “informing” us about these issues (i.e. the goal to inform, is, perhaps, a somewhat veiled goal to convert us to a political ideology that promotes war – and thereby involve us in State matters unrelated to Our Mission: Administrating Word and Sacrament, i.e. the Preaching of the Gospel of Grace).

    These matters, from my perspective, are best handled by the Left Kingdom (i.e. Earthly Kingdom) as they are the Kingdom entrusted with the Power of the Sword.

    We, as the Right Kingdom (i.e. Lord’s Kingdom), would be prudent in leaving these matters to the State – and not the Seminary (or Congregations, for that matter).

    This opinion, I believe, is thoroughly Biblical, and in keeping with our Confessions regarding the relationship and functions of the Two Kingdoms.

    Let us also keep in mind the ever present reality that there are those who place Politics above the Church, and use the Church only as a means to political power.

    It is furthermore true, that History has shown that “agents of the State” often infiltrate Churches, openly and privily (i.e. ‘undercover’), to inform on, spy on, and encourage allegiance to State activity (i.e. further the State’s agenda) e.g. Communist Russia.

    Politics, in general, is best left to the left hand.

    Only when it impedes such issues as the Right to Life (i.e. Nazi Germany/Abortion) and bans, or impedes, the Preaching of the Gospel are we to then, as stated in Acts, “obey God rather than man” – and disobey (perhaps even resist) the State.

    That is the only, in my mind, “crossover point,” where, We, as the Church, are to become politically involved (and the only time, I might add, where the Sword is allowable to be in the hands of the Church, that is, In Resistance to Tyranny.)

    • Joy Kiesling November 29, 2014 at 7:09 pm #

      Crazy!!! What about all the Christians being slaughtered by ISIS ? We are to stand by and do nothing ? We are our brothers keeper. Do you really think God wants us to just ignore everything they are doing? You are obviously not Lutheran. I would be interested in what you are.

  6. Joshua Lake November 22, 2014 at 8:15 pm #

    It would seem to me most wise to keep ourselves (as the Church) unsullied from the politics of the Mohammedans (other than rejecting their teachings) so as to prevent 1. an unhealthy relationship between Church and State and 2. to keep unnecessary dissensions and opinions regarding State affairs to rise amongst us, and thereby impede our Primary goal – the Preaching of the Gospel of Grace.

  7. Roger Harrison November 23, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    The article says that Dr. Furnish describes the term ‘Allah’ as referring to the Muslim god. But what of the many Arabic and Malay-speaking Christians who also worship God with the name Allah? This has not been a problem anywhere except in Malaysia where Christians are banned from using ‘Allah’ Now, certainly there is a linguistic argument as to whether ‘Allah’ derives from a proper name for the Muslim god. However, does Dr. Furnish intend that all of the Christians that worship Allah no longer use that name and retranslate all of their bibles?

    • November 26, 2014 at 11:38 am #

      Mr. Harrison: a fair question. While linguistically it is true that the Arabic “Allah” simply means “the god (masculine plural),” historically and theologically it is undeniably the case that Allah has come to be associated almost entirely with the Islamic deity. I know my Arab Christian friends would argue that they were using “Allah” in liturgy and perhaps even Scriptural translations before the Muslims–but for most of the world, Allah is Islamic. My major point was to explode the myth that Muslims worship the same deity as Christians–which is certainly not the case.

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