Analyzing Islamic State tactics and strategy


When examining phenomena, it’s vital to recognize the significance of narratives. Social movements, wars, and insurgencies are not simply events that spontaneously occur; rather, they are fundamentally narrative phenomena. Foundational cultural narratives play a pivotal role in either enabling or disabling such occurrences. To understand this dynamic, it’s crucial to differentiate between narratives and stories:

Narratives are overarching cultural constructs that provide a thematic understanding of reality. For instance, “The Heroic Quest” is a narrative.

Stories are smaller, more concrete examples that reflect these narratives. An example would be “The Hunger Games”.

Narratives are not objective reflections of reality; instead, they represent a particular interpretation, often from a dominant group’s perspective. These narratives can hold significant power when they are accepted as metaphysical truths. They create a framework where the ideas and interests of the dominant group are perceived as indisputable realities. However, when a gap emerges between the foundational cultural narrative and the stories on the ground, it leaves the population vulnerable to the introduction of weaponized stories to bridge the gap.

ISIS and the narrative foundation of jurisprudence

Islamic jurisprudence, which involves interpreting Sharia laws from the Quran and Hadith, distinguishes between two categories of Islamic rules: absolute and presumptive. Absolute rules have a single interpretation, while presumptive rules allow various interpretations. These presumptive rules have been exploited by ISIS to shape its ideology and justify atrocities against humanity.

By manipulating these presumptive rules, ISIS has portrayed them as absolute, despite their inherently flexible nature. This distortion has permitted the group to legitimize mass crimes such as murder, torture, and sexual violence as divinely mandated.

Understanding the key principles: Hukum Allah, Hukum Al-Mutagalib, and Hukum Al-Wala’ Wa-l-bara

To delve into the narrative that influences ISIS’s decision-making process, it’s important to examine specific principles:

Hukum Allah (Allah as the sole legislator and authority): This principle asserts that Allah is the sole lawgiver and ultimate authority. It emphasizes that His rules should be enforced by the caliph on Earth.

Hukum Al-Mutagalib (the rule of conqueror/caliph): This rule builds on Hukum Allah, implying that the caliph should implement God’s orders by demonstrating the capability to govern territory under Sharia law.

Hukum Al-Wala’ Wa-l-bara (the loyalty and disavowal principle): This principle highlights unwavering loyalty to the caliph and disavowal of infidels.

ISIS’s theologians and intellectuals, influenced by these principles, have manipulated them to portray their actions as morally and legally valid. They have cited Quranic verses and texts to support their claims to the caliphate and justify their acts against perceived enemies.

Weaponized doctrines: Hukum Al-Tatarus, Hukum Al-Tankeel, and Hukum Al-Tawah’sh

ISIS’s strategy includes doctrines like Hukum Al-Tatarus and Hukum Al-Tankeel, which they have used to legitimize heinous acts against those they consider infidels. These doctrines justify a range of gruesome acts, including burning people alive, enslaving women, and committing genocide.

Hukum Al-Tatarus: This doctrine deals with situations where a group fortifies itself, often involving the use of human shields. Scholars agree that, in such circumstances, Muslims may engage in battle, even if it leads to the killing of Muslims being used as shields.

Hukum Al-Tankeel: This concept involves displaying severe punishment to terrorize the enemy during wartime.

Hukum Al-Tawah’sh: Although not found in Islamic texts, this concept was introduced by jihadists. It involves inflicting severe punishment upon enemies and aims to shock, horrify, and cause destruction.

ISIS, drawing inspiration from these doctrines, has justified its crimes against civilians by intertwining them with the narrative they constructed. These rules, rooted in Quranic and Hadith texts, portray their actions, including mass casualties, as morally and legally valid.

In conclusion, understanding these weaponized narratives and the manipulation of Islamic jurisprudence is essential to counter extremist ideologies. Recognizing the distinctions between narratives, stories, and doctrines enables us to confront the narratives that underpin extremist movements and respond effectively to their actions.

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Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
An internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research-scholar, counterterrorism specialist and editor of Blitz. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers on diversified topics, including international relations, politics, diplomacy, security and counterterrorism. Follow him on 'X' @Salah_Shoaib

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