ISIS Media Campaign Attacks Muslims Fleeing Westward, Especially from Its Islamic Caliphate

An article in the September issue of Dabiq, ISIS's monthly English-language magazine, attacking the Muslim flight to the West.
An article in the September issue of Dabiq, ISIS's monthly English-language magazine, attacking the Muslim flight to the West.


1.  In response to the wave of refugees fleeing to Europe, ISIS recently initiated a media campaign strongly criticizing Muslims emigrating from Syria, Libya, and by implication Iraq as well, to the West (Europe and the United States). To wage the campaign ISIS and its operatives and clerics have used its English- and Arabic-language media.

2.   ISIS regards the exodus of from its Islamic Caliphate to Christian Europe and the United States as particularly threatening (despite the fact that according to ISIS, most of the refugees flee from areas controlled by "infidels," among them Kurds and Shi'ites, and in general from areas controlled by the Syrian and Iraqi regimes). ISIS has based its media campaign primarily on Islamic religious precepts, which regard the emigration (hijra) of Muslims from Islamic countries (dar al-Islam) to countries ruled by "infidels" (dar al-kufr) as a "dangerous major sin." Thus, according to campaign claims, the Islamic state is a home for all Muslims, while those who migrate to Europe lose their religious identity and are exposed to the "indecency" and policebrutality of the European countries(in one of the videos produced by ISIS and the article in its magazine Dabiq there are scenes of police violence against refugees at border crossings in Eastern Europe).

3.   Encouraging worldwide Muslim migration to the Islamic Caliphatedeclared by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is important in ISIS's ideology and strategy. On July 1, 2014, two days after he declared the establishment of the Caliphate, al-Baghdadi issued a recorded speech calling on Muslims to migrate to it [perform hijra], claiming it was a religious obligation.[1] He therefore called on Muslim clerics, army men and managers, academics, doctors and engineers around the globe to join the Islamic State. Thus the flight of Muslims from the Islamic State to Western countries is in complete contradiction to that Islamic religious duty.

4.   However, ISIS's strong objection to the emigration of Muslims also has practical aspects and is not only a religious duty. The flight of residents from the territories controlled by the Islamic State and from various battle zones in Syria is liable to deplete the population, especially of its middle class (whose members have the cultural and financial capabilities to flee). That is liable to cause practical difficulties for ISIS, since it relies strongly on a small core of operatives. It is also liable to harm ISIS's ability to wage its many wars and control broad swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. In addition, the intensive media coverage of the flight of Muslims may underminethe narrative of the Islamic State's "success story" which its media strive to promote.

5.   Moreover, ISIS, which strongly objects to the migration of refugees from Syria and Iraq, has itself contributed greatly to their massive flight westward. Its cruelty and attacks on religious and ethnic groups it regards as "infidel," and its brutal enforcement of Muslim religious law (Sharia) on populations under its control may render its campaign ineffective. That is because the population, which is under pressure both from ISIS and other military and militia forces in Syria, Iraq and Libya, is being forced to flee.

6.   At this point we do not know if ISIS will try to translate its rejection in principle of the refugees' flight into practice. In ITIC assessment, as the wave of refugees increases, ISIS is liable to take steps on the ground to halt the flow, at least in Islamic State territories, and may even encourage Muslim refugees to return to areas under its control.

7.   Below is an Appendix with examples from ISIS's media campaign against the flight of refugees to the West.

[1] Hijra is an important term in the history of Islam, linked by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to the declaration of the Islamic Caliphate. It refers to the migration of the prophet Muhammad and his first followers from Mecca to Al-Medina in 622 AD, who fledbecause of persecution. Thus hijra became a symbol of the policy of Muhammad's faithful followers of isolating themselves from the sins and perversions of society, as well as a symbol of the glory of Islamic society at the source and the birth of Islam (Uriah Forman, Islamioun, Tel Aviv/IDF/Maarachot Publishing, 2002, p. 322 [Hebrew]).