To tackle Islamic State, we need to understand the dream of the caliphate and its real roots in historyby Jason Burke / August 20, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
In March, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, a former stonemason who is the chief spokesman for Islamic State (IS), issued an audio clip to acknowledge a pledge of allegiance from the Nigerian group Boko Haram. This expansion into a part of the world in which it had previously had no presence was something of a coup for his organisation. However, al-Adnani addressed only a few brief sentences to welcoming the west African “brother mujahideen,” devoting most of the 30-minute statement to a lengthy tirade against the Jews, the Crusaders and the “filthy” Shia.
Among the threats he addressed to IS’s various enemies was the following: “We will surely bring back Badr and Uhud… Mutah and Hunayn… Qadisiyyah and Yarmuk. We will surely bring back Yamamah, Hattin and Ayn Jalut. We will bring back Jalawla, Zallaqah and Balat ash-Shahada… I swear, I swear, Nahawand will return.”
To most western observers, this sounds like nonsense, or at the least the sort of invocation of esoteric religious figures, events or concepts by Muslim extremists that has become wearily familiar over recent decades. Yet it would be wrong to dismiss these lines. Though they refer to events which mostly took place hundreds of years ago, they allow a crucial insight into the thinking and world view of IS, as well as many other Islamic militants active today.
The names cited by al-Adnani are all battles. The earliest—Badr, Uhud, Muta and Hunayn—took place during the last decade of the life of t…