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How legitimate is the Islamic State?

How legitimate is the Islamic State?

Satvik Mishra

 “There was never really discussion about texts. It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Quran. Because it has nothing to do with the Quran.” said Didier François, a French journalist who was held captive for months before being released in April 2014 by the IS. The statements made widespread headlines, raising questions as to how Islamic actually are the Islamic State.

 Daesh, more commonly known as the Islamic State, is a Jihadi group which follows a fundamentalist, salafi ideology of Sunni Islam. The group gained their peak of notoriety when they drove out Iraqi forces from key urban areas of Western Iraq and occupied Mosul. Since then, the group has been widely infamous for its bloodshed, be it the Paris bombings, the Sinjar slaughter, alongwith various acts of beheading of soldiers, journalists and the destruction of monuments and cultural sites. Also, “While juggling between the names of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, the group declared a worldwide caliphate in June, 2014 and unanimously adopted the name of Islamic State.”[1]

 One of the major question that may arise in the mind of the reader is that how does the group never fall short of manpower and finances? Also, how does the group justify its actions and how legitimate are the reasons? Through the course of the article, we will be discussing all of it, one by one, bit by bit.

The Aim and the Ideology

The Organisation’s main aim is setting up a worldwide Islamic caliphate lead by religious Authorities under an able leadership, believed to be successors of Prophet Mohammad Himself. ISIS traces the lineage of the current caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, back to Mohammad and believes that there will be only four more Caliphs legitimate enough to run the Caliphate.Its ideology has been connected to various Arabic countries including Saudi Arabia.

“All of the 12 Judges who now run its court systems are Saudis.”[2] Other similar practices include the establishment of Religious Police in the name of protecting the religion and proper enforcement of its practices as well as the widespread use of punishment by death and the destructions of buildings representing religions other than Islam. On the contrary, as the ISIS condemns any religious enhancements thinking it destroys the spirit of pure Islam, it criticism the followers of secular laws, placing the government of Saudi Arabia in the same group.

The organization has been highly criticized for its dual-faced characteristics such as punishing and even executing Muslims for breaking the Sharia law while breaking it itself by allowing women to enter the territory controlled by them without any guardian (wali), providing them freedom to travel, even without the guardian’s wish, using women as honey trap and also creating a women religious force to keep a check.

 The Outreach

In mid-2014, Al-Heat Media Center was established by the group whose target group were the western supporters as it produced materials in various languages including English, French, German, etc. In July 2014, Al-Heat added a new feather to its cap when it introduced a digital magazine titled Dabiq followed by many other magazines including Dar al-Islam and Konstantiniyye. “By late 2016, these magazines had apparently all been discontinued, with Al-Hayat's material being consolidated into a new magazine called Rumiyah.”[3]

A radio network titled Al-Bayan is also run by the organization which broadcasts bulletins in various languages including English and Russian and provides information about the group’s activities in Syria, Libya and Iraq. Christians living in the areas controlled by the Islamic State are asked either to convert into Islam or pay a religious tax named Jizya in order to live, failing to do so would lead to a death sentence. Sharia School curriculam is implemented in areas controlled by the organization which prohibits the teaching of art, music and literature.While the group bans the use of any form of social media by its soldiers and bars the use of music or other forms of multimedia, both of them are used by the group itself to attract more followers and distribute its propaganda, thereby adding another arguments against its legitimacy.

Condemning the use of the Holy Quran

In September 2014, 126 Islamic Scholars and Sunni Imams from around the world signed An open letter addressed to al-Baghdadi, stating that they clearly and firmly reject the organisation’s interpretations of the Islamic sciptures, specially the Hadith and the Holy Quran, which is used by the Islamic State to justify their action. It condemns the group for carrying out killings and acts of brutality in the name of Jihad saying that sacrifices without ideal cause “is not jihad at all, but rather, warmongering and criminality”[4]

 The Blood-money

As well known as it can be, oil trading has been one of the most well known as well as the most profitable source of income for the Islamic State. According to a 2015 study, IS has prioritized the hydrocarbon sector in the Middle East, attacking, holding, operating and/or targeting infrastructure in Libya, Iraq, Egypt and Syria.[5] The revenues from oil trade and that of other refined oil products went up-to US$ 40 million per month, way back in 2015.

And as shocking as it may be, the second most profitable source of income is neither the ransom money from kidnapping nor is it the sale of produced narcotics. The second most profitable source, surprisingly, is the illegal trade of antiquities.IS profits from the illicit sale of antiquities through two primary methods; IS run excavation and looting operations and the taxation of any non IS-run excavation, looting, or smuggling operations.[6] Thus, no matter where the excavations took place under its territory, IS either directly sold the antiquities found during the excavations or took revenue from the parties who did the same.

Early in 2017, the group had control over 4500 cultural sites13. Many of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. IS took control of various museums and archaeological including the palace of Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II, so as to provide them a smooth supply of antiquities to be sold in the market.

 The antipathy for idolatry in Islam is a fundamental principle and is central to the Kaa‘ba in Mecca becoming the most sacred site in Islam. Yet IS justifies profiting from the sale of these idols in black-market instead of destroying them. Even if we keep the ‘so called illegitimate’ objectives and the methods of outreach aside, the modes of finance don’t seem to be legitimate either. 


The terrorist group has justified its criminal actions by providing an ideological justification, amending and sometimes re-writing its operational doctrines as and when necessary. IS opposes modernity and Western society to which attributes depravity, amorality, and secularity. Yet, it has managed to justify and manipulate Western tools such as affordable global travel and multiculturalism, mass communication and the Internet as weapons against it.Although IS may be able to explain away its loss of  territory as part of a broader grand narrative, without Iraq and Syria, and a depleted source of funding the group will need to re-brand. The lessons learned in countering IS, just as they were in countering previous terrorist groups, should inform tactics and strategy of states, therefore enhancing the capacity to counter IS. As far as the question of how legitimate the existence of Islamic State is, the arguments defying a reasonable ground of its aims, its ideologies and its methods are clearly mentioned. Yet, every reader is free to apply their rational mind, think every aspect in depth and agree or disagree with whatever they feel like.



[1] Brian L. Steed, ISIS:An Introduction and Guide to the Islamic State, ABC-CLIO, 2016

[2] “Crime and Punishment in Saudi Arabia : The other Beheaders”, The Economist, 20 September 2014

[3] Institute for the Study of War, ‘The Virtual Caliphate : ISIS’s Information Warfare (2017)’

[4] Samuel Smith, “International Coalition of Muslim Scholars refute ISIS”, The Christian Post, 25

September 2014

[5] Geoff D. Porter, “Terrorist Targeting of the Libyan Oil and Gas Sector”, CTC Sentinel, 25 February


[6] John Pipkins, “ISIL and the Illicit Antiquities Trade”, International Affairs Review, Vol. XXIV, 2016

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