After ISIS: Muslims Still Dreaming of a Caliphate?
With ISIS largely defeated, is the dream of an Islamic caliphate uniting the Muslim world dead? Or is Muslim unity still possible in the future?
Three years ago, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) rose to power and sent shock waves around the world with their brutality. They slaughtered children, threw homosexuals off buildings, murdered Shiites while they were praying in mosques, kidnapped and sold women as sex slaves, recruited child soldiers and encouraged terrorist attacks around the world. Some dismissed ISIS as an ultra-radical group of psychopaths.
But just dismissing them clouds the fact that they represented an extreme form of Islam. Their actions were driven by their genuinely held religious beliefs, not insanity. Many ISIS fighters believed they were living in the end times and that they were called to help fulfill apocalyptic prophecies. They used their beliefs to rally Muslims around the world to support them.
The rise and fall of ISIS
Their quick success sent shock waves throughout the Islamic world. Many saw their expansion as fulfillment of the caliphate, an Islamic empire with a Muslim leader ruling with (and enforcing) Sharia law. At its height, the group controlled a population of around 8 million in vast swaths of Syria and Iraq. They controlled oil fields, refineries, grain stores, smuggling routes, and stockpiles of arms and powerful modern military equipment.
At its height, ISIS was the most powerful, wealthiest, best-equipped jihadi force the world has ever seen. They successfully used social media to project a glorious caliphate and recruited many young Muslims to either flock to the caliphate or pledge to wage jihad in foreign lands.
Recently, U.S.-backed forces took ISIS capital and stronghold, Raqqa. Raqqa’s residents erupted in celebrations when liberating forces took the city, with some saying they just came out of hell. Though many residents are happy ISIS is gone, the sad reality is that the city has been left in ruins, with many roads and buildings booby-trapped with explosives. It will take years for Raqqa to recover from the effects of ISIS rule.
Another attempt at a caliphate?
Though ISIS has lost most of its territory, it will likely live on as a terrorist group, inspiring “lone wolf” attacks around the world. But for many Muslims the dream of a caliphate is not over. They see ISIS as a failed attempt to reestablish a caliphate in modern times and are willing to accept that it may take several tries to get it right. This was explained in a Jan. 12, 2018, New York Times opinion piece by Azadeh Moaveni, titled “The Lingering Dream of an Islamic State”:
“Almost none of this discussion has considered the impact of the Islamic State on the dream of some form of Islamic homeland, which predated the militants’ caliphate. If anything, it has been revitalized by this failed experiment in Islamic governance, among everyone from young, disenfranchised professionals and activists in the Arab world to at least two generations of European Muslims, middle-class and marginalized alike, who feel increasingly alienated by societies in which they were born. …
For many Muslims the dream of a caliphate is not over. “Would an idealized Muslim community be a conventional state, but governed by the Shariah? Would it be a federation of Muslim-majority countries under the banner of Islam, a proto-Islamic bloc like the European Union? Would it be a caliphate in the classical, historical form, a sort of empire in God’s name with a modern commitment to Islamic banking? Would it be sectarian? There are no solid contours yet to what form all these inchoate yearnings would take, but the sentiments are there, as real and inescapable a part of the modern landscape of the Muslim world as celebrity imams and Nike hijabs. …
“The discussion about the post-Islamic State world purports to be about security, but it fundamentally neglects the fact that what the Islamic State claimed to represent—the idea of a caliphate—remains squarely in the minds of Muslims, even if many forces conspire to keep those sentiments from the public view. The majority who long for an Islamic state are not jihadist-minded, nor do they advocate the murder of civilians.”
Muslim unity prophesied
The Bible prophesies that a Middle Eastern power will arise in the end time. This seems to be a bloc of Islamic nations, perhaps even calling itself a caliphate. The book of Daniel describes a power called the “king of the South,” which will be located geographically south of Jerusalem. This seems to refer to some kind of pan-Islamic grouping of nations in the future.
At the “time of the end,” the king of the South will attack a revived Roman Empire in Europe, known as the “king of the North” (Daniel 11:40). As a result, the European power will invade the Middle East with great military force and conquer many nations, including Egypt, Libya and Ethiopia (Daniel 11:40, 42-43).
Psalm 83 records a companion prophecy to Daniel 11, showing a confederacy of mostly Middle Eastern nations who will unite to form the king of the South partially motivated by their hatred toward Israel. It should be no surprise that Muslim fury is primarily directed at the modern Israelite nations today—the State of Israel, the United States and Britain. But ultimately this pan-Islamic confederation will clash with Europe, continuing the historical clash between these two regions that includes the Battle of Tours and the Crusades.
Watch the Middle East, as volatility in this region tends to trigger world-impacting and far-reaching events that affect you and me.