Islamist Groups Terrorize in the Name of Allah: Is the Misuse of God’s Name the Greatest Sin?

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is on the move, threatening to subdue Baghdad after seizing Fallujah, Mosul, and a host of other territories in the region.

Founded in 2006, the militant Islamist group is an offshoot of al-Qaeda and was once known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. Yet their dreadful brutality is too much even for the notorious terror group, which has denounced ISIS due to their extreme violence.

An hour-long video released online exhibits the group’s barbaric practices. Appalling images of killings, household raids, and drive-by shootings are displayed with apparent glee by the group whose founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, made a name for himself by ruthlessly attacking all who opposed his mission. According to the Washington Post, al-Zarqawi “launched spectacular suicide bombings and gruesome executions targeting Americans, Shiites, and others he saw as obstacles to his vision for a Sunni caliphate stretching from Syria to the Persian Gulf.”

Sunni Muslims, who represent 85 percent of the Muslim world, believe that the caliphs were Muhammad’s ordained successors. The line of caliphs ended in Turkey in 1923. Extremist Sunnis, who are interested in reasserting Islam’s global dominance, want to reinstitute the caliphate. By abolishing the existing Shiite-led government in Iraq, ISIS hopes to achieve just that.

The victims of ISIS’s savagery range from Iraqi policemen to unarmed civilians. Nevertheless, Sunni tribal leaders are backing ISIS because they share a deep dislike for the reigning Shiite government in Iraq. However, Zaydan Aljabri, an Iraqi tribal sheik, insisted he would not endorse the terror group’s effort to establish Sharia law, saying, “We are an Islamic country, but we want to be a developed country, to be part of the world. [ISIS] will not dare try to impose [Sharia] law in Iraq, because he knows the tribes will not tolerate it.”

But ISIS’s very objective is to establish an Islamist state ruled by Sharia law. In Mosul, ISIS has reportedly composed a new charter that lays the groundwork for a theocratic government. Hassan Abu Haneih, a researcher of Islamist movements, says, “The [captured] territories [in Iraq and Syria] already amount to an Islamic state.”

Without even a speck of remorse, Islamists are aimlessly murdering civilians in other parts of the world. An al-Qaeda militant group in Kenya terrorized a town near a popular tourist resort, shooting anyone unable to recite verses from the Koran. According to a report from the BBC, hotels, restaurants, banks, and government offices were torched. Locals watching the World Cup were gunned down as the 50 attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar” [God is Great].

When a civilian was asked by one of the militants if she was Muslim, her husband responded that they were Christian. He was shot in the head and the chest.

In Nigeria, a militant Islamist group called Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden,” has killed thousands of people over the last five years. Two months ago, Boko Haram abducted 300 Nigerian school girls, only some of whom have been recovered.

Mohammed Yusuf, the group’s founder, capitalized on the northern Nigerian population’s resistance to Western education by forming his own Islamic school, which was used as a tool to introduce susceptible children to his radical jihadi philosophy. Even after Yusuf’s death, Boko Haram has actively sought out dissidents to slaughter, including Christian preachers and Muslim clerics who have denounced the group’s activities.

Farouk Chothia, who profiled Boko Haram for BBC News, writes that the organization “promotes a version of Islam which makes it ‘haram,’ or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society. This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers, or receiving a secular education.”

ISIS and other Islamic terrorist organizations in the Middle East and Africa are fueled by a desire to overthrow any governments not based on Sharia law and to establish an Islamic state. In order to achieve their objectives, Islamists target any infidel, including another Muslim, whom they consider impure. These takfir groups do not rely on religious authorities to accuse people of apostasy. Taking matters into their own hands, they unleash fury on any people group and any government they perceive as a transgressor, that is, “anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed.”

ISIS and Boko Haram share a seething hatred of notions of freedom and democracy. Motivated by Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones, Islamists assert that any Muslim not governed by Sharia law is an infidel.

These ideas are widespread, influencing extreme Sunnis across the Middle East. Ayatolla Khomeini once said in a sermon, “Don’t listen to those who speak of democracy. They all are against Islam. They want to take the nation away from its mission. We will break all the poison pens of those who speak of nationalism, democracy, and such things.”

Motivated by hatred — driven to engage in brutal acts of violence — these Islamists continue to shout, “God is Great,” while claiming that their mission is divinely sanctioned.

While the U.S. government decides how to respond to the resurgence of Islamic terror groups like ISIS, in order to prevent them from establishing a safe haven from which to plan attacks on U.S. soil and train insurgents, Christians ought to pray for the conversion of Muslims around the world. Dr. Jim Dennison writes, “Christians’ greatest contribution to this struggle is to pray for spiritual awakening in the Muslim world. More Muslims have come to Christ in the last 15 years than in the previous 15 centuries, many after seeing visions and dreams of Jesus. When we pray for Muslims to make Jesus their Lord, we are praying for that transformation which leads to true peace.” (Summit speaker Nabeel Qureshi documents his conversion to Christianity in his first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.)

As we pray for peace and support the government’s efforts to promote the safety and security of American citizens against the unbridled hatred that energizes Islamist terror groups, we should also consider how we Christians use God’s name. By praising God’s greatness in the midst of a murderous rampage, Islamists are clearly misusing the name of God. While our misuse of the name may not be as blatant or atrocious, we must ensure that the things we do in the name of God are not a hindrance to others considering faith in Christ.

According to conservative commentator Dennis Prager, misuse of the name of God is the primary reason that people avoid religion.

Are we Christians properly reflecting the God whose name we bear? Or are we acting in a way that prevents people from seeing the light of Christ and professing faith in the only one who offers genuine peace (John 14:27)?

Biblical Insights

Is misusing the name of God the greatest sin (Deuteronomy 5:11)?

“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Deuteronomy 5:11)

In the Deuteronomic version of the Ten Commandments, the same Hebrew word appears in both the third commandment (above) and the ninth commandment (“You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor”). Just as we are commanded not to lie about the character and the activities of our neighbors, we are commanded not to lie about the character and the activities of God. To misuse the name of God is to bear false testimony about God’s nature and his ways.

Patrick D. Miller, an expert on Old Testament theology, writes, “The reality of God, of God’s purpose and character, is uncovered by all that is said and done in and through the one named YHWH. … It is by all the words and deeds associated with this name YHWH that one shall know who and what God is, what God is like, and what God does. Through this name, human beings have access to the knowledge of God. By this name, God is present, and through this name, God is worshipped.”

The God who revealed his name in Scripture is the God we represent as followers of Jesus Christ. In many cases, unbelievers’ only experience with God — their only encounter with him — comes through the actions of those who profess his name, and who thereby claim to act on his behalf. As followers of Christ, who acknowledge his Lordship in every area of our lives, our every action is properly scrutinized because our every action ought to testify truthfully to the nature of our God, who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod. 34:6).

In his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus, while sitting with his disciples, says to the Father, “I have made your name known to them” (John 17:26). By making God’s name known, Jesus makes the invisible visible. Similarly, when we emulate Jesus’ meekness, his righteousness, his love, and his mercy (Matthew 5:1-12), we make God’s name known. The fruit of the spirit of which Paul writes (Galatians 5:22-23) is the true witness to God’s character. When we bear such fruit, we properly use God’s name.

As Christians, we cannot avoid it — our every action says something about the God we claim to follow. “Whatever you do in word or deed,” Paul writes, “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).

When Islamist militants blow up buildings, killing innocent civilians while praising Allah, they are testifying to Allah’s character.

When we are at our homes, schools, and workplaces, we are testifying to our God’s character. What are our actions saying about God? Are we bearing true testimony, or are we, in violation of the third commandment, bearing false testimony about the character of the Lord?

Writing about “the greatest sin,” Dennis Prager notes:

“When a secular person commits evil, it is surely evil, but it doesn’t bring God and religion in disrepute. When a person commits evil in God’s name, however, he destroys the greatest hope for goodness to prevail on earth — widespread belief in a God who demands goodness (ethical monotheism). There is nothing as evil as religious evil.

“The chanting of ‘Allahu akbar’ (‘Allah is the greatest’) by militant Muslims as they commit barbaric acts against innocents around the world is the greatest sin a human can commit.

“The Nazis were as cruel, and so were the Communists. But they only sullied their own names (though in the case of the Communists, not nearly enough), not the name of God. But the immense amount of evil being caused by those Muslims murdering and slaughtering innocents in the name of God is hurting God’s reputation.”

In our daily lives, are we sullying God’s name, or are we witnessing to his being, goodness, and truth?