3 Feb 2014

Five Reasons Why It Is Stupid To Say ISIL Instead of ISIS for Al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria

Some in the media continue to refer to the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Here are five reasons why that's stupid: (joking, don't shoot).

1. "Al-Sham" is a word often used for Syria, and more specifically for Damascus. "Bilad al Sham", on the other hand, is Levant or Greater Syria. 

2. When the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra spoke about their move from Iraq to Syria to form Jabhat al-Nusra, he spoke of moving to "al-Sham".

3. When ISIS was formed, they certainly didn't mean the group would operate in all of Greater Syria or Levant. It was only recently that they announced they would open a branch in Lebanon. People forget that ISIS was a merger between Islamic State of Iraq and "Jabhat al-Nusra for the Support of the People of Sham". After a year and two months from creating Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, Al-Baghdadi unilaterally announced a merger between his group and Jabhat al-Nusra, in other words between the group that operates in Iraq and the group that operates in SYRIA. Jabhat al-Nusra did not mean, and does not say, it is a group for supporting the people of all the Levant but the people of Syria. So the initial merger was Iraq & Syria, not Iraq and the Levant. It was later that the name of the new merger "broadened" to include other areas, as ISIS announced a chapter in Lebanon and more recently in Jordan. So, in short, this is less about the meaning of "al-Sham" and more about that fact.

4. Often when there are Arabic words whose translation into English is disputed, it's better (academically speaking) to use the Arabic word and explain what it is – in this case, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (still ISIS).

5. If we concede again that "al-Sham" means not only Syria, then there is a name for that: Greater Syria. When we use the older term "Levant", that should be used alongside the older name "Mesopotamia" for Iraq. When you use modern "Iraq", use the modern term "Greater Syria" -- in that case, it's the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (still ISIS).


(I added a few lines to #3, see the ones in italics, in response to the reader comments below)


  1. And to think Kerry and McCain once referred to them as "the Syrian rebels" and poked President Obama to try and get him to send them military aid!

  2. Mr. Hassan, you make a good point regarding reason #4, however referring to reason #1 Al-Sham is not used for Syria it is used to refer to Damascus but not Syria. people have on the other hand refereed to "Bilad Al-Sham" as Al-Sham which as I'm sure you know refers to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine, which in English is the Levant. Syria is Sooria, not Al-Sham if that was the case the country wouldn't be called Syria. In regards to reason 3,ISIL was refering to "Bilad Al- Sham" when it was created. its called delusions of grandur just like how the United Arab Republic was meant to be for all Arab countries but only included Egypt and Syria (not Al-Sham)

    Thank you.

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  4. On June 29, 2014, the group renamed itself the Islamic State. Unfortunately, most American journalists have not adapted.