Publication: Survival: Global Politics and Strategy December 2017–January 2018
20 November 2017
It is reasonable to ask whether the Islamic State can survive as a non-territorial entity. The group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has distinguished itself from other jihadi factions by virtue of its success in capturing and governing territory. ISIS claimed that its territorial strength (tamkin) showed it to be the legitimate Islamic state, promised by God in the Koran (24:55).
Indeed, in April 2014, two months before the proclamation of the caliphate, its spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, was so sure of the group’s destiny that he implored God that, if the group turned out not to be the promised Islamic state, he should defeat the group and kill its leaders.1 In Islamic parlance, Adnani’s challenge amounted to a mubahala, a public supplication echoing the Koran (3:61). God’s verdict is meant to be demonstrated through deeds; in this case, ISIS’s success would attest to its legitimacy and its failure to illegitimacy.
If divine governance is at play, for about a year after Adnani’s mubahala, God’s signs appeared favourable to ISIS as the group continued to capture large cities in Iraq and Syria. For the past two years, however, God’s signs have seemed different. Judged through a religious lens, either ISIS supporters have deviated from the right path, or ISIS was not the state that God promised.