Question: "What is Islamism?"

Answer: Islamism is different from Islam. Islam is a religion with several branches, while Islamism is a religious and political movement within Islam, based on certain literal interpretations of the Quran. In particular, Islamism seeks to conform society to Sharia, the moral and religious system of law that comes from the Quran. Sharia defines a strict moral code for almost every aspect of societal and personal life—everything from trade regulations to personal hygiene—and it interprets the word islam (which means “submission”) quite literally, requiring that every person either submit to Sharia or die.

Not every Muslim is an Islamist, in the same way that not every Christian is a member of the Westboro Baptist Church. Islamism is largely political in nature—Islamists are interested in conquering. Some Islamists believe that the best way to do this is by revolution or invasion, conforming the world to Islamism through terror and state power. Others believe it is better to achieve their goals through reformation of society from the ground up.

Because of the terrorism that Islamism has spawned, there is a great deal of fear directed toward Muslims. Some of this fear is deserved. Conversion or death is a very real and terrifying aspect of Islamism. But Christians should try to remember that, while every Islamist is a Muslim, not every Muslim is an Islamist. In fact, many Muslim people are persecuted by Islamists because they do not want to conform to Sharia law or because they come from the wrong sect of Islam or live in the wrong community.

What is a biblical response to Islamism? Believers in Jesus Christ should think of their enemies as people who are lost and facing a Christless eternity. Islamists are trapped by a dark and desperate religion, doing Satan’s will while they think they’re doing God’s will. Jesus foretold of people like the Islamists: “The time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God” (John 16:2).

Christians should take comfort in the fact that this world is not our ultimate home. Whether or not we “win” the war against terrorism and Islamism is not the Christian’s ultimate concern. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). When faced with death at the hand of His enemies, Jesus reminded everyone that His people are not here as conquerors but as rescuers—we are ambassadors of Christ’s love and forgiveness (2 Corinthians 5:20).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43–45). The Islamists, following the Quran literally, are filled with hatred and ruthlessness toward those who do not submit to Sharia; they know nothing of the love and forgiveness of God. We must pray for those trapped in Islamism, that they would see the truth about Jesus Christ. It was while Paul “was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1) that he encountered the Lord and was born again. May the same happen to the leaders of Islamism.