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Defining ISIS, ISIL, The Islamic State and Daesh

Turn on any news station these days and you will most definitely hear mention of the terrorist group plaguing much of the world today: ISIS. But discussions around the terror group can get confusing when different terminology is thrown around: ISIS, ISIL, the Islamic State, Daesh. So what do these terms mean?

The Islamic State:
This is the English term for the umbrella organization that is currently terrorizing the region. The organization carved out a territory for itself within Iraq and Syria and in the summer of 2014 Abu akr al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS, declared The Islamic State to be a caliphate. The caliphate is a sacred institution in Islam established after the death of Prophet Muhammad as a way of keeping the Muslim community united with a spiritual leader. A majority of Muslims do not recognize al-Baghdadi as the Caliph.

“Unfortunately, they use the religion of Islam but it’s a political and military group. The majority of Muslims, based on the Quran, Sunnah [actions of Prophet Muhammad] and Hadith [sayings of Prophet Muhammad], they will disagree with this militant group and agree they are far away from the religion,” said Dr. Gahad Hamed, Associate Professor at King’s University College in London, Ontario and founder of the Institute for Middle East Studies, Canada.

ISIS is the acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This is the term used for the Iraqi and Syrian branch of the Islamic State. The group started out as a division in Iraq of the terror group al-Qaeda after the U.S. invasion but was later rejected by al-Qaeda. With war ravaging Syria, Al-Baghdadi then sought to unite all militant groups both in Syria and Iraq and changed his organization’s name from al-Qaeda in Iraq to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

This term stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. This is also a geographical division of the Islamic State, expanding its presence to cover a larger area. The Levant is a term used to describe the region encompassing countries like Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Jordan.

The Levant Map-01


“Basically the difference in the terms ISIS and ISIL is related to the geographical region, so it depends on which region they belong to. ISIL is talking about beyond Iraq and Syria. The abbreviation of both of them includes IS, which is the Islamic State. This means both ISIS and ISIL have to be under the umbrella of the Islamic State,” said Hamed.

This is an acronym for the Arabic name of the Islamic State, “al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham,” which almost directly translates as ISIS in English. According to an article published in International Business Times, the militant group hates this term and according to Boston Globe writer Zeba Khan, using Arabic wordplay, it can be considered an insult.  In Arabic, the term Daesh, depending on its conjugation, could mean anything from “trample down and crush to a bigot who imposes his view on others.”

Watch FRONTLINE as they investigate the miscalculations and mistakes behind the brutal rise of ISIS.


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Mishall Rehman

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Mishall is a freelance journalist pursuing her passion for writing in her new homeland Canada. She currently lives in Trenton, ON with her husband.

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