A Letter to the Caliph
Background: The latest headline-making iteration of Islamic terror is the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which split with Al-Qaeda in 2010 because (believe it or not) Al-Qaeda was too timid in their use of violence and too slow in implementing a trans-national Islamic state known as a Caliphate (from the Arabic for “succession”). Considered the successor to the Prophet Mohammed, the Caliph is the political and spiritual leader of the world’s one billion Sunni Muslims (at least in theory). The ISIS commander, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, has declared himself to be the Caliph. Al-Baghdadi and his jihadists have startled the world with the swiftness of their conquests in Iraq and their brutal effort to obliterate the Christian communities from the region. Their stronghold is now Mosul, ancient Nineveh, the 2nd largest city in Iraq. Despite his rapid rise, there are realities that Mr. al-Baghdadi and his followers need to know. Christians should remember these, too.
Mr. Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi
Dear Mr. al-Baghdadi,
Recently, you publicly presented yourself as the Caliph, the leader of a new order for the Islamic world. In your inaugural sermon at the mosque in Mosul near the ruins of Nineveh, you said, “If you see me on the right path, help me. If you see me on the wrong path, advise me and halt me.” I’ve given that offer some thought and wanted to follow up with you.
Your reputation for unbridled terror has contributed to battlefield success and dramatic territorial gains in Syria and Iraq. As a result, tens of thousands of Christians have suffered at your hands. Those who could not flee your fury have been forced into dhimmitude. Others have been beheaded, some even crucified — making a mockery of their agony and making a mockery of Jesus the Messiah.
I think it’s best that you know that you will not succeed. You and your Caliphate are destined for failure. Of course, all empires, caliphates, and reigns of terror eventually come to an end, but something else is happening — another kind of failure in your command over the Islamic world. It’s that Jesus Christ is building his Church, and he said that “even the gates of hell” (which sounds a lot like Mosul right now) cannot stop its advance.
Christ is building the Church by gathering worshipers to himself from every tribe and language and people and nation — and that includes many, many among your subjects. From North Africa to Indonesia — and at many points in between — I’ve spoken with a number of formerly committed Muslims who are now joyful Christians. Several of your erstwhile subjects told me that Islamic terror in the name of Allah was what broke their faith in the only religion they had ever known. Having rejected Islam in their heart, when they heard the gospel, they believed! They told me that the September 11th attack — what your mentor (the late Osama bin Laden) did — first opened their hearts to the love and grace that is in Jesus alone. And so, Osama bin Laden and his kind have been unwitting agents in the gospel’s advance.
That’s why I said you can’t win. The gospel will continue to be heard in more and more places in your realm because our King will continue to send his servants there. These are men and women who are willing to die, but not like the suicide bombers that you use so often. The King’s servants are not bringing death; they are bringing life. As they go, they will risk everything, driven not by hate, as your servants are, but by the love Jesus demonstrated by dying for us.
Some days ago, your sledgehammer-swinging and explosive-detonating disciples destroyed the tomb of the prophet Jonah. The God of Jonah, whose name was first proclaimed there in Nineveh by Jonah, is nothing like the god you claim to kill for. Jonah’s God, the only God, showed grace to his enemies in Nineveh. God’s mercy would later reach its greatest, deepest, widest expression in his Son Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection forever secured life for all who come to him — even you, if you would come.
May the life-giving Christ, the God of Jonah, have mercy on your people once again. May they turn to him and live. May their ransomed voices shout with Jonah, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!”