Academic journal article Military Review

How Daesh Uses Language in the Domain of Religion

Academic journal article Military Review

How Daesh Uses Language in the Domain of Religion

Article excerpt

Jihadis can't seem to get enough anashid [devotional songs, often with ideological themes]. They listen to them in their dorms and in their cars, sing them in training camps and in the trenches, and discuss them on Twitter and Facebook.

--Thomas Hegghammer

This article examines the religious words and ideas the terrorist group Daesh, sometimes called Islamic State, uses to attract recruits. These words and ideas--from the name of its organization, its leader, and its online propaganda magazine, to key figures and ideas of Islam, including the prophet Mohammad, the end-of-days prophecy, and the caliphate--are components of the domain of deen, an Arabic word that means faith or religion. (1) We must understand the complexity of the domain of deen, where Daesh operates, before we can "degrade and ultimately defeat" it. (2) This article will demonstrate that words are the weapons of Daesh, and it will show how words can help defeat it.

Which Is It: Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh?

Militants threatened to cut the tongue of anyone who publicly used the acronym Daesh, instead of referring to the group by its full name, saying it shows defiance and disrespect. (3)

--Associated Press news story

What we call the enemy is important. The fact that we and our friends and allies have yet to definitively agree on a name for this enemy speaks volumes about our lack of understanding. We use acronyms interchangeably, such as ISIS for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIL for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Using those names and their acronyms, however, gives these terrorists the religious and political veneer they seek. Those names acknowledge that the group is Islamic, and that it is a state. Neither premise, however, is legitimate. Therefore, this article uses the name Daesh, which is based on the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Daesh sounds similar to an Arabic word that means to bruise or crush; the group's leaders consider the word insulting. This article uses it with the intent to strip away any religious or political legitimacy that other acronyms suggest. (4)

Our friends and allies are encouraging others to use the name Daesh, just as the Arab League and France currently do. (5) Why then, would we in the United States continue to call the enemy ISIS or ISIL, with our own choice of words giving legitimacy to a terrorist group we seek to destroy? Perhaps it is because we do not understand how much words matter to Daesh.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Quraishi, Leader of Daesh

Verily the chiefest among you all for love and devotion to me is Abu Bekr. If I were to choose a bosom friend it would be he. (6)


The Daesh leader uses the name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Quraishi for its religious significance. While not his real name, it conveys themes that resonate with his followers. Abu Bakr, "father of the virgin" in Arabic, was the name of the prophet Mohammad's best friend. (7) This friend was the father of Aishah, the only virgin bride of Mohammad. When Mohammad died, Abu Bakr (sometimes spelled Bekr) became the first successor, or caliph. The Daesh leader's middle name, al-Baghdadi, refers to someone from Baghdad, and his last name, al-Quraishi, refers to someone from the Quraish family.

The Daesh leader wants to associate himself in the minds of his followers with the first caliph of Islam. He wants to recapture the fervor and spirit of the first "rightly guided caliph," and, supposedly, to put the Islamic community, or ummah, back on the straight path of early Islam. The Daesh leader is the father of a young daughter and can use the name Abu Bakr in a literal sense.

In fact, his middle name is used to mislead, as he is not from Baghdad. He hails from the town of Samarra, revered by the Shia because it contains the tombs of the tenth and eleventh imams. Samarra is thought to be the birthplace of the Mahdi, a religious figure that Muslims believe will appear at the end of days. …

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