The Islamic State (IS) – What does it stand for, and what are its intentions?

Brief Overview

In June 2014, the group formally declared the establishment of a “caliphate” (Khilāfah) – a state governed in accordance with Islamic law, (Sharia), by God’s deputy on Earth (caliph).

It has demanded that Muslims across the world swear allegiance to its leader – Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarrai, better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – and migrate to territory under its control.


Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

IS has also told other jihadist groups worldwide that they must accept its supreme authority. Many already have, among them several offshoots of the rival al-Qaeda network.

IS seeks to eradicate obstacles to restoring God’s rule on Earth and to defend the Muslim community, or ummah, against (kafr) infidels and apostates.

The group has welcomed the prospect of direct confrontation with a Western-led coalition, viewing it as a harbinger of an end-of-times showdown between Muslims and their enemies described in Islamic apocalyptic prophecies.

al-Qaeda versus Islamic State

In broad strokes, al-Qaeda acts like an underground political movement, with worldly goals in sight at all times—the expulsion of non-Muslims from the Arabian peninsula, the abolishment of the state of Israel, the end of support for dictatorships in Muslim lands. The Islamic State has its share of worldly concerns (including, in the places it controls, collecting garbage and keeping the water running), but the End of Days is a core motif of its propaganda.

The Islamic State has attached great importance to the Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo. It named its propaganda magazine after the town, and celebrated madly when it conquered Dabiq’s strategically unimportant plains. It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, that the armies of Rome will set up their camp. The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Waterloo or its Antietam.

In contrast to al-Qaeda, ISIS has not made the US and its allies its main target. Where al-Qaeda directed its anger at the “distant enemy,” the United States, ISIS wants to destroy the near enemy, the Arab regimes, first. This is above all a war within Islam: a conflict of Sunni against Shia, but also a war by Sunni extremists against more moderate Muslims—between those who think the Muslim world should be dominated by a single strand of Wahhabism and its extremist offshoot Salafism and those who support a pluralistic vision of Muslim society. The leaders of ISIS seek to eliminate all Muslim and non-Muslim minorities from the Middle East—not only erasing the old borders and states imposed by Western powers, but changing the entire ethnic, tribal, and religious composition of the region.

The ideology that has produced this interpretation of Islam is Wahhabism—a Sunni sectarian view of Islam that is the official creed of Saudi Arabia and some of the Arabian Gulf states. The eighteenth-century founder of Wahhabi teachings, Muhammed Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1791), was neither a jihadist nor a promoter of violence and hatred. He was part of the anti-colonial revivalist movement within Islam at that time and his only abhorrence was Sufism, the mystical side of Islam.

However, as part of its campaign to gain control of the Arabian Peninsula, the Al Saud tribal confederacy adapted Wahhabism to allow for the practice of two extremist ideas. The first is Salafism, which aims at recreating what is believed to be the puritanical Islam of seventh-century Arabia, when the Prophet Mohammed was alive. The second is the practice of Takfir—declaring all Muslims who do not follow the path set by the Salafis to be unbelievers and therefore worthy of having their throats slit.

Is the Islamic State Islamic?

Many mainstream Muslim organizations proclaim today that the Islamic State is, in fact, un-Islamic. But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, one leading expert on the group’s theology, stated, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”

People want to absolve Islam,” he said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Sunni Muslims, not just the Islamic State. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”

Muslims can say that slavery is not legitimate now, and that crucifixion is wrong at this historical juncture. Many say precisely this. But they cannot condemn slavery or crucifixion outright without contradicting the Koran and the example of the Prophet. The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid. According to the Islamic State, that really would be an act of apostasy.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and terrorists but the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

What does the Islamic State stand for?

In November 2014, the Islamic State released an infomercial-like video tracing its origins to Osama bin Laden.

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden

It acknowledged Abu Musa’b al Zarqawi, the brutal head of al‑Qaeda in Iraq from roughly 2003 until his killing in 2006, as a more immediate progenitor, followed sequentially by two other guerrilla leaders before Baghdadi, the caliph.

Abu Musa’b al Zarqawi

Abu Musa’b al Zarqawi

First Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al Zawahiri, the Egyptian eye surgeon who currently heads al‑Qaeda.

Ayman al Zawahiri

Ayman al Zawahiri

The second is a Jordanian cleric named Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, who is considered as al-Qaeda’s intellectual architect.

Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi

Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi

On most matters of doctrine, Maqdisi and the Islamic State agree. Both are closely identified with the jihadist wing of a branch of Sunnism called Salafism, after the Arabic al salaf al salih, the “pious forefathers.” These forefathers are the Prophet himself and his earliest adherents, whom Salafis honor and emulate as the models for all behavior, including warfare, couture, family life, even dentistry.

Initially Maqdisi taught Zarqawi. In time, though, Zarqawi surpassed his mentor in fanaticism, and eventually earned his rebuke. At issue was Zarqawi’s penchant for bloody spectacle—and, as a matter of doctrine, his hatred of other Muslims, to the point of excommunicating and killing them. In Islam, the practice of takfir, or excommunication, is theologically perilous. “If a man says to his brother, ‘You are an infidel,’ ” the Prophet said, “then one of them is right.” If the accuser is wrong, he himself has committed apostasy by making a false accusation. The punishment for apostasy is death. And yet Zarqawi heedlessly expanded the range of behavior that could make Muslims infidels.

Maqdisi wrote to his former pupil that he needed to exercise caution and “not issue sweeping proclamations of takfir” or “proclaim people to be apostates because of their sins.” The distinction between apostate and sinner may appear subtle, but it is a key point of contention between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State as well as the ideology of the Islamic State compared with Salafis.

Denying the holiness of the Koran or the prophecies of Muhammad is straightforward apostasy. But Zarqawi and the state he created take the position that many other acts can remove a Muslim from Islam. These include, in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one’s beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates. Being a Shiite, as most Iraqi Arabs are, meets the standard as well, because the Islamic State regards Shiism as innovation, and to innovate on the Koran is to deny its initial perfection. That means roughly 200 million Shia are marked for death. So too are the heads of state of every Muslim country, who have elevated man-made law above Sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not made by God. That includes Bashar al-Assad.

Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. So far, Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims.

The Islamic State considers that no other Muslim territory has been applying Sharia according to the Koran, meaning IN FULL. According to the Islamic State, by proclaiming a Khilāfah Muslims are obliged to follow Sharia exactly. In theory, all Muslims are obliged to immigrate to the territory where the caliph is applying these laws. The caliph is required to implement Sharia. Any deviation will compel those who have pledged allegiance to inform the caliph in private of his error and, in extreme cases, to excommunicate and replace him if he persists. (“I have been plagued with this great matter, plagued with this responsibility, and it is a heavy responsibility,” Baghdadi said in his sermon.) In return, the caliph commands obedience—and those who persist in supporting non-Muslim governments, after being duly warned and educated about their sin, are considered apostates.

Sharia has been misunderstood by Muslims and non-Muslims because of its incomplete application by a regime such as Saudi Arabia, which does behead murderers and cut off thieves’ hands, but, places like Saudi Arabia have only implemented the penal code and not the social and economic justice of the Sharia. This includes free housing, food, and clothing for all.

The Islamic State versus Salafism

The other strand of Islam that offers a hard-line alternative to the Islamic State—just as uncompromising, but with opposite conclusions is Salafism. Islamic State supporters know how to react to Muslims who ignore parts of the Koran: with takfir and ridicule. But they also know that some other Muslims read the Koran as assiduously as they do, and pose a real ideological threat.

Baghdadi is Salafi. The term Salafi has been villainized, in part because authentic villains have ridden into battle waving the Salafi banner. But most Salafis are not jihadists, and most adhere to sects that reject the Islamic State. They are committed to expanding Dar al-Islam, the land of Islam, with the implementation of practices such as slavery and amputation—but at some future point. Their first priority is personal purification and religious observance, and they believe anything that thwarts those goals—such as causing war or unrest that would disrupt lives and prayer and scholarship—is forbidden.

Salafis believe that Muslims should remove themselves from politics. These “quietist” Salafis, as they are known, agree with the Islamic State that God’s law is the only law, and they eschew practices like voting and the creation of political parties. But they interpret the Koran’s hatred of discord and chaos as requiring them to fall into line with just about any leader, including some manifestly sinful ones. “The Prophet said: as long as the ruler does not enter into clear kufr [disbelief], give him general obedience,” Quietist Salafis are strictly forbidden from dividing Muslims from one another—for example, by mass excommunication.

Quietist Salafis believe that Muslims should direct their energies toward perfecting their personal life, including prayer, ritual, and hygiene. Through this fastidious observance, they believe, God will favor them with strength and numbers, and perhaps a caliphate will arise. At that moment, Muslims will take vengeance and, yes, achieve glorious victory at Dabiq. Many modern Salafi theologians argue that a caliphate cannot come into being in a righteous way except through the unmistakable will of God and they do not recognize Baghdadis caliphate as authentic.

The Islamic State on the other hand claims that God has anointed Baghdadi. Salafis argue that dissent itself, to the point of bloodshed or splitting the umma, is forbidden. According to them, the Khilāfah is something that Allah is going to establish and it will involve a consensus of scholars from Mecca and Medina.

The Islamic State loathes this talk, and its fanboys tweet derisively about quietist Salafis. They mock them as “Salafis of menstruation,” for their obscure judgments about when women are and aren’t clean, and other low-priority aspects of life.

What is the strategy of the Islamic State?

Firstly we need to define “grayzone” as far as its use by the Islamic State. After September 11th, the world became divided into two opposing camps Ummah (the Islamic Nation) versus the crusaders (the West). Since the creation of the Islamic State, it uses the term Ummah to mean their Islamic State–it is the Islamic State versus the crusaders. Accordingly, the “grayzone” has different implications for both times. In the past, it consisted of the hypocrites, deviant innovators, and abandoners of jihād. After the caliphate and the subsequent crusade, the grayzone also encompasses “independent” and “neutral” Islamic parties that refuse to join the caliphate.

According to a leaked document (which is VERY long) the following excerpts give a pretty clear view of the strategy of the Islamic State. It contains many Islamic words and concepts and is not easily read, but I have included the most essential parts below, just as it was written.

Shaykh Usāmah Ibn Lādin (rahimahullāh) [Sheik Osama Bin Laden] said, “The world today is divided into two camps. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ Meaning, either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.”

The operations quickly exposed the different deviant “Islamic” movements, the palace “scholars,” and the deviant du’āt, not to mention the apostate tawāghīt [The tawāghīt had always been open apostates in the camp of kufr, but due to the support they received from the palace “scholars” and the deviant movements (the Sufis, the Surūriyyah, the Ikhwān, etc.), many of the ignorant did not understand the blatant apostasy of these rulers. Because of this confusion, the tawāghīt were only “gray” in the sight of the ignorant. Only in this sense did the events of September 11th drive the tawāghīt out of the grayzone.], as all of them rushed to serve the crusaders led by Bush in the war against Islam. And so, the grayzone began to wither…

But the fiery zeal of the broken Muslim Ummah began to cool by the hazy events known as “the Arab Spring” as well as the lack of a body representing Islam (the Khilāfah) then. The Muslims saw the same aforementioned movements, “scholars,” callers, sects, and even the apostate tawāghīt get involved in “supporting” the cause of the oppressed Muslims in Shām [Syria]. And so confusion spread, and the withering of the grayzone was slowed or almost halted. Once again, the heretical call to the gates of Hellfire – the religions of the tawāghīt – was answered by many of the ignorant.

Then came the announcement of the Islamic State’s expansion to Shām followed by the subsequent announcement of the Khilāfah… bringing the grayzone to the brink of permanent extinction… by reviving the great body of Islam and so no Muslim had any excuse to be independent of this entity embodying them and waging war on their behalf in the face of kufr [infidelity].

Now, a stance of “neutrality” or “independence” would doom him, as it entailed major sin, which would cause him to commit greater sins until he could commit kufr for the sake of his sinful interests, as the scholars stated, “The reward for sin is another sin,” and “Sins are the gateway to kufr.”

The destruction of the grayzone is comparable to the division resulting from the Islamic message when it was first conveyed by the Messenger (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam).

And when a grayzone formed and a “masjid” was established for it, Allah (ta’ālā) revealed to His Messenger (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) al-Fādihah (the Exposer, Sūrat at-Tawbah) by which the grayish were exposed as well as their harmful “masjid.” Rasūlullāh (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) went on to demolish this “masjid”… again ridding the Ummah of the destructive gray movement, as the grayzone was the hideout of the hypocrites.

The different factions in Shām – as occurred in Iraq – began to split into two camps: the Islamic State versus the Sahwah backed by the crusaders, apostate regimes, and deviant movements… and those who tried to preserve the grayzone for different partisan interests found the grayzone withering rapidly before them, as their sincere soldiers abandoned them to join the Islamic State while their sick-hearted soldiers rushed to join the Sahwah factions.

This division found its way quickly into different lands, as sincere mujāhidīn saw their former leaders fearful of losing power and influence rushing to futilely resuscitate the grayzone, even if it necessitated supporting the interests of the secularist, nationalist, and heretical parties waging war against the Islamic State on behalf of the crusaders and Arab apostate regimes. The grayzone – for these leaders – was a place to continue existing as independent parties and thereby preserve their own power. The Khilāfah’s establishment finally pushed the sincere mujāhidīn to abandon their former leaderships, who were too busy burying themselves alive in the garbage dump of history.

This revival of the Khilāfah gave each individual Muslim a concrete and tangible entity to satisfy his natural desire for belonging to something greater. The satisfaction of this desire brought life back to the zeal latent in Muslims’ hearts and when this entity embodying them was threatened by the crusaders, attacks were immediately carried out by the zealous Muslims in different kāfir lands in a way uniquely different to all attacks before. For years, different jihād organizations had called for individual attacks to be carried out against the crusader homelands, but their calls were met with minimal response. After the revival of the Khilāfah, numerous attacks were carried out in a period of months. This is something that the crusaders should deeply reflect over…

Europe was struck by attacks that killed multitudes more of kuffār than those killed in the recent Paris attacks. The 2004 Madrid operation and the 2005 London operation together killed more than 200 crusaders and injured more than 2000. Europe also witnessed an attack against “free speech” when a mujāhid assassinated Theo Van Gogh for mocking Allah (ta’ālā), His verses, His religion, and His Messenger (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam). So why was the reaction to the recent attacks much greater than that of any previous attack? It is the international atmosphere of terror generated by the presence of the Islamic Khilāfah… It is the lively words contained in the Khilāfah’s call. When its spokesman Shaykh Abū Muhammad al-‘Adnānī ash-Shāmī (hafidhahullāh) made his call to Muslims everywhere, ordering them to carry out attacks against the crusaders wherever they may be found, his call was answered immediately, with different individual operations executed within hours…

And of those who answered the call recently was the brave mujāhid Abū Basīr al-Ifrīqī (Amedy Coulibaly – rahimahullāh). It was the address“Indeed Your Lord Is Ever Watchful” that moved him most. He had given his bay’ah to the Khilāfah beforehand – immediately upon its announcement – and sat in wait for instructions from its leadership, while never traveling to Iraq nor Shām. It was the living and breathing entity of Islam, which he pledged allegiance to, that inspired his soul. He met with the Muslims and mujāhidīn in France, calling them to give bay’ah and defend the Khilāfah, while refuting the doubts spread against it. He provided others – including the two mujāhid brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi (rahimahumallāh) – with money and weapons so as to call to jihād under the banner of the Khilāfah.

And thus, the time had come for another event – magnified by the presence of the Khilāfah on the global stage – to further bring division to the world and destroy the grayzone everywhere.

If merely sitting silently with the kuffār during a gathering of kufr is kufr, how much more so is it to rally on behalf of a newspaper mocking the Messenger (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam)? Or give verdicts in defense of the newspaper, against the mujāhidīn who killed those who mocked the Messenger (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam)? Or raise banners and slogans with the words “Je Suis Charlie” on them? There is no doubt that such deeds are apostasy, that those who publicly call to such deeds in the name of Islam and scholarship are from the du’āt (callers) to apostasy, and that there is great reward awaiting the Muslim in the Hereafter if he kills these apostate imāms…

Again, the announcement of the Khilāfah preceding the events in Europe further demolished the grayzone, as many Muslims living in Europe and the Americas justified their residency amongst the kuffār with the fact that the Muslims’ lands were under the rule of apostate tawāghīt. Now, with the presence of the Islamic State, the opportunity to perform hijrah from dārul-kufr to dārul-islām and wage jihād against the Crusaders, the Nusayriyyah, the Rāfidah, and the murtadd regimes and armies, is available to every Muslim as well as the chance to live under the shade of the Sharī’ah alone.

The presence of the Khilāfah also magnifies the political, social, economic, and emotional impact of any operation carried out by the mujāhidīn against the enraged crusaders. This magnified impact compels the crusaders to actively destroy the grayzone themselves, the zone in which many of the hypocrites and deviant innovators living in the West are hiding.

{And they will continue to fight you until they turn you back from your religion if they are able. And whoever of you reverts from his religion [to disbelief] and dies while he is a disbeliever – for those, their deeds have become worthless in this world and the Hereafter, and those are the companions of the Fire, they will abide therein eternally} [Al-Baqarah: 217]. {And never will the Jews or the Christians approve of you until you follow their religion. Say, “Indeed, the guidance of Allah is the [only] guidance.” If you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, you would have against Allah no protector or helper} [Al-Baqarah: 120].

The Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize and adopt the kufrī religion propagated by Bush, Obama, Blair, Cameron, Sarkozy, and Hollande in the name of Islam so as to live amongst the kuffār without hardship, or they perform hijrah to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.

In so many words, the Islamic State is foremost going after infidels among Muslims and due to their campaign either the hatred from the west (Crusaders) will destroy the “grayzone” (Muslims in the West) or the Jihadist will or they join the Islamic State – there is nowhere for them to hide. Once all the righteous Muslims are united, the western infidels will be next…

Information Credit: The Atlantic


  1. Well done! I find this text informative and interesting. It seems that you have done quite a bit of research before writing this text. Cudos.

    1. Quite a bit…

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