By Michael S. Smith II

“O Muslims everywhere, whoever is capable of performing hijrah (emigration) to the Islamic State, then let him do so, because hijrah to the land of Islam is obligatory.”
—Caliph Ibrahim (formerly known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi)

In 2014, as leaders of the group formerly known as ISIS/L rebranded their terrorist enterprise the Islamic State and proclaimed they had established a caliphate spanning territories controlled by their adherents in Syria and Iraq, their initial statements highlighted how importantly access to foreign fighters factors into their bifocal agenda of retaining control of those territories while concomitantly expanding their “caliphate.” The tell: The emphasis placed on the concept of hijrah (ie a call for Muslims to emigrate from their home countries to the caliphal territories), as was evident in both that which amounted to an inaugural address from the terrorist formerly known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, along with the contents of the first edition of the group’s slick e-zine, titled Dabiq. Subsequently, as the group incurred losses from military exercises conducted by members of the Coalition to Counter ISIL, the concept of hijrah was featured prominently in recruitment messages targeting Muslims in the West. Meanwhile, for those unable to make the journey to Syria or Iraq, the group’s mouthpieces have advised these Muslims they are obligated to wage jihad against the Islamic State’s enemies abroad — the list of which ostensibly includes anyone who refuses to pledge allegiance to the terrorist now known to his associates as “Caliph Ibrahim” (ie Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi).

Watching the detectives: DA’ISH propagandists tweet images of a chart used to augment analysis concerning foreign fighters by Dan Byman and Jeremy Shapiro

Building the Narratives

During the summer of 2014, in his inaugural address following his assumption of the title of caliph, the terrorist now called Caliph Ibrahim explained, “The State is a state for all Muslims. The land is for the Muslims, all the Muslims.” Continuing, he advised: “O Muslims everywhere, whoever is capable of performing hijrah (emigration) to the Islamic State, then let him do so, because hijrah to the land of Islam is obligatory. … So rush, O Muslims, with your religion to Allah as muhajirin (emigrants).”

Days later, hijrah was identified as one of the chief topics to be covered within the pages of his group’s new publication Dabiq, English-language versions of which have since been heavily promoted by Islamic State, or DA’ISH, propagandists via social media platforms like Twitter.

With their introduction of Dabiq, DA’ISH propagandists explained, “After reviewing some of the comments received on the first issues of Islamic State News and Islamic State Report, AlHayat (sic) Media Center decided to carry on the effort — in sha’allah — into a periodical magazine focusing on issues of tawhid, manhaj, hijrah, jihad, and jama’ah.” The first edition’s feature piece is titled “From Hijrah to Khilafa,” and it describes a five-step process through which IS established its new caliphate: Immigration to the area of operations (ie Hijrah); Organization of a group of ‘believers’ (ie Jama’ah); Destabilization of the unIslamic Regime; Effecting submission to the mujahidin’s leadership (ie Baya’ah, alternatively Bayat); and, Establishment of a caliphate.

In Islamic traditions, the term hijrah refers to the emigration of the Prophet and his followers from Mecca to the place eventually renamed Medina. After asserting control of Medina, they established the first Islamic governorate, which grew into a caliphate.

In the first edition of Dabiq, hijrah is characterized as a key element of the jihad waged by the “believers” in Iraq while led by AQI’s founding emir, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: “Its jihad would be based upon hijrah, baya’ah (allegiance to a leader), sam’ (listening), ta’ah (obedience), and i’dad (training) leading to ribat and qital (fighting), then [caliphate] or shahadah.” Continuing, the text advises that “Hijrah has been a pillar inherent to jihad.”

Contemporary Iterations

More recently, two discernible and perhaps inconsistent themes have underscored DA’ISH’s appeals for Muslims to heed the call to hijrah. On the one hand, as is the case with a video message from a young Canadian IS member who was reportedly killed in Kobane in January 2015, the group is leveraging a theme of victimization to try to persuade Muslims to travel to Syria or Iraq in order to support the group’s efforts to endure the military operations conducted against it. Conversely, with the more recent release of the final video featuring British journalist John Cantlie’s reporting on conditions in the caliphate, DA’ISH has attempted to cast the environs under its control in the light of the idyllic, thus an attractive new home for Muslims in the West. This latter-released video also concludes with commentary from a “mujahid” whose remarks more directly cover the topic of hijrah.

Abu Anwar al-Canadi

In a video IS propagandists have rigorously distributed via Twitter since December 2014, standing before buildings that may have been targeted during airstrikes, Canadian-born IS member John Maguire (aka Abu Anwar al-Canadi) threatens the people of Canada:

The more bombs you drop on our people, the more Muslims will realize and understand that, today, waging jihad against the West and its allies around the world is beyond a shadow of a doubt a religious obligation binding upon every Muslim. And the more Muslims living amongst you, whom you oppress by imprisoning them and spying on them and preventing them from migrating to the Islamic State, the more they will be inspired to punish your citizens with the likes of that which you are afflicting upon our citizens.

Continuing, he argues that, as the Islamic State has established a caliphate, and, as he describes it, this caliphate is now the target of a crusade against Islam, Muslims are obligated by the tenets of their faith to emigrate to the caliphate — leaving behind a world shaped by “manmade laws” to help defend a new world ruled by sharia. If, however, they cannot, al-Canadi asserts they must defend the caliphate by waging jihad against those whom al-Canadi claims are intent upon destroying this caliphate: Governments of Canada, America and Europe, as well as the citizenries enabling these governments’ policies concerning DA’ISH.

Addressing Muslims in Canada, the US, and Europe, al-Canadi states: “Allah says that the disbelievers will never cease fighting you! They will never cease fighting you until they turn you back from your religion if they are able to do! So the mujahidin continue to call you to one of two options: Hijrah, or Jihad.” (Video transcript below)

Screenshot: From Inside Halab

Roughly two months after the release of al-Canadi’s message, the Islamic State released the “last” film in a series by British journalist John Cantlie, titled “From Inside Halab.” Despite highlighting ongoing airstrikes targeting IS elements in the area, inasmuch as the film is intended to portray one of the largest areas of Syria under the de facto control of DA’ISH as a place Muslims should leave behind the comforts of the West to move to, it is also a vehicle for conveying a narrative that calls on those unable to do so to attack DA’ISH’s enemies in the West.

“Today, we’re inside Halab,” Cantlie notes while standing atop rubble and discussing the “indiscriminate bombing by the Assad air force, which has now been joined by the American jets, dropping bombs overhead.” Continuing, he explains the purpose of the video: “What we’re going to find out is, if all these bombs, all this fighting, all this destruction, has even slowed down the advance of the Islamic State.”

As his reporting progresses, the economy of this area is portrayed as vibrant. Meanwhile, as young boys are filmed learning to read and write while being indoctrinated to become the next generation of IS fighters, Cantlie’s commentary suggests the quality of education now available to young children is better than before DA’ISH took control.

The video also highlights DA’ISH’s enforcement of sharia vis-à-vis footage produced in a waiting room where locals are awaiting hearings with a sharia judge. Discussing DA’ISH’s enforcement of sharia, Cantlie explains: “Unlike the laws of democratic countries which change to fit every circumstance, or to fit every different week, the rules of sharia are remarkably simple. For example, if you are convicted of robbery, with the correct number of witnesses and such forth, you have your hand cut off. Sounds harsh, but you’re not going to commit the same crime again. And it will dissuade others from doing the same.”

Also in the video, a segment featuring an interview with a DA’ISH fighter reveals certain amenities of the West are not beyond the reach of those defending this area of the group’s territorial claims, as the jihadi interviewed is donning a Bear Grylls series knife made by Gerber (screenshots below).

“From Inside Halab” concludes with a segment covering commentary from an IS member who notes he had learned of the January terrorist attacks in France days earlier. Conveyed in French, and with English and Arabic subtitles appearing on the screen, his message closely resembles that of the message proffered by al-Canadi weeks earlier.

Addressing Muslims in France, the jihadi states:

Presently, Allah has not facilitated for you hijrah to our State. No Problem. Defend your religion where you are. Kill them with knives. At the very least, strike them in the face. For the religion of Allah needs you more than you think. …

So I call on you to either come here or defend your religion where you are. To all my brothers in France, I say to them: Start carrying out individual attacks. Be wolves on the earth, for each man amongst you can be equivalent to an entire army.

(Screenshots covering the entirety of his remarks are available below this report)

The Strategic Picture

Ejected from the al-Qa’ida fold in February 2014, DA’ISH has since been competing with al-Qa’ida for support from jihadis and terrorism financiers who are fueling the Global Jihad movement.

To this end, DA’ISH sought to galvanize global jihadist elements by claiming it has achieved that which al-Qa’ida’s founding documents described as the goal of al-Qa’ida’s jihad: Restoration of the caliphate. Concurrently, in an effort to eclipse the specter of al-Qa’ida in the West, DA’ISH’s strategy entails an effort to inspire more attacks in the West than those inspired by its former parent organization.

For al-Qa’ida, inspiring Muslims to wage “lone jihad,” as American-born al-Qa’ida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki put it, is now a top priority. In recent years, the group launched production of a publication whose contents are largely concerned with mobilizing attacks in the West executed by nonmembers (ie Inspire). Further, before the group now calling itself the Islamic State was disowned by al-Qa’ida’s senior leaders, al-Qa’ida emir Ayman al-Zawahiri acknowledged the value added to al-Qa’ida’s ongoing brand-building efforts in the West by so-called “lone wolf” attacks like those executed by the Tsarnaev brothers in 2013 during the Boston Marathon, and by Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood in 2009.

As its propaganda demonstrates, DA’ISH is clearly striving to out-al-Qa’ida al-Qa’ida on inspiring attacks in the West. Both groups apparently assume this will galvanize support for them from Salafist communities in the West. At the same time, this will demonstrate to publics in the West that these groups are undeterred by the military campaigns focused on shuttering their operations abroad.

Meanwhile, restoring the caliphate requires doing more than that which DA’ISH has thus far accomplished. First, DA’ISH must retain control of territories part of the “caliphate” it claims to have established. Next, in accordance with the model provided by those whose actions DA’ISH strives to emulate, the Salaf (ie the first three generations of Muslims, who rapidly expanded the initial caliphate to encompass one of the largest contiguous empires in world history), DA’ISH must expand its so-called caliphate.

Moreover, as is evident in DA’ISH’s efforts to do the same which al-Qa’ida has been striving to accomplish in the post-Arab Spring era, the group is endeavoring to establish the infrastructure in Syria, Lebanon, in Jordan, and in the Sinai — all supported by a rear operating base in Libya — that will be leveraged to launch a jihad against Israel.

Put simply, whichever group can first launch a war to liberate al-Aqsa Mosque, and whichever group first raises “the victorious banners of jihad atop al-Mukabber Mount in the beloved, stolen Jerusalem,” as al-Qa’ida emir Ayman al-Zawahiri put it in a July 2011 message that announced al-Qa’ida’s support for the Syrian Revolution, that group will probably (re)claim control of the Global Jihad movement.

Ultimately, DA’ISH’s ability to retain and expand control of territory, and open a jihad theater in Israel will be defined by its capability to amass a larger stable of foreign fighters than those currently in its ranks. (As noted in recent analysis furnished here at DOWNRANGE, the same applies to elements of al-Qa’ida’s network in Syria and in the Sinai.)

In the case of foreign fighters, there are fewer psychological barriers that will deter them from terrorizing local Muslim populations into submission than DA’ISH members whose entire lives have been spent living alongside these Muslims. Also, theirs are the most effective voices for encouraging others living beyond portions of Syria and Iraq controlled by DA’ISH to heed the call to hijrah. Plus, once there, foreign fighters are not as likely to be encumbered by the parochial concerns that can cloud Syrian and Iraqi jihadis’ views of horizon lines that extend much farther than their immediate environs.

Therefore, inspiring Muslims the world over to heed the call to hijrah is a crucial objective part of DA’ISH’s strategy to expand its operations in the Middle East and North Africa. This goal will be realized not only at the expense of al-Qa’ida’s interests, but also at the expense of the interests of most countries in these areas — and their economic and counterterrorism partners beyond.


“Message of the Mujahid No. 5” By Abu Anwar al-Canadi
Video accessible here

All praise belongs to Allah, and may peace and blessing be upon his messenger Mohamed, his family, and his companions. Peace be upon those who follow the guidance.

O people of Canada, you are said to be an educated people. So what is preventing you from being able to put two and two together, and understanding that operations such as that of brother Ahmed Rouleau of Montreal and the storming of Parliament Hill in Ottawa are carried out in direct response to your participation in the coalition of nations waging war against the Muslim people?

Your leaders, those men and women whom you have elected to represent yourselves in the running of your country’s affairs, have gone far out of their way to involve themselves in the global war against the Islamic State. Your representatives and your leaders have voluntarily chosen to join the coalition of countries waging war against the Muslims.

So it should not surprise you when operations by the Muslims are executed where it hurts you the most: On your very own soil — in retaliation to your unprovoked acts of aggression towards our people. You have absolutely no right to live in a state of safety and security when your country is carrying out atrocities on our people.

The more bombs you drop on our people, the more Muslims will realize and understand that, today, waging jihad against the West and its allies around the world is beyond a shadow of a doubt a religious obligation binding upon every Muslim. And the more Muslims living amongst you, whom you oppress by imprisoning them and spying on them and preventing them from migrating to the Islamic State, the more they will be inspired to punish your citizens with the likes of that which you are afflicting upon our citizens.

Your people will be indiscriminately targeted, as you indiscriminately target our people.

I warn you of punishment in this worldly life at the hands of the Mujahidin. And I would also like to warn you of a greater punishment: And that is the eternal punishment of hellfire promised for those who die not having submitted as Muslims to the one true god of all that exists.

I was one of you. I was a typical Canadian. I grew up on the hockey rink, and spent my teenage years on stage playing guitar. I had no criminal record. I was a bright student and maintained a strong GPA in university.

So how could one of your people end up in my place? And why is it that you own people are the ones turning against you at home?

The answer is that we have accepted the true call of the prophets and the messengers of God. A call to worship no deity except the one true god alone, who created us to worship him — who has no partners, and no son, and to whom we will all return on the day of judgment. And then it is either eternal paradise for the believers, or eternal hellfire for those who disbelieve.

And after submitting to God, and accepting the religion of truth, we have answered the call to jihad, striving with our wealth and ourselves for the sake of God — in obedience to him — to establish his laws on the earth. Because the right to legislate laws for the creation belongs only to the creator.

I warn you, and I warn you clearly: The promise of our lord is true. The day of judgment will come. So I sincerely advise you to read the Quran and search for the truth yourself.

To the Muslims who are still residing in Canada, I say to you: How can you remain, living amongst the disbelievers, under their unjust manmade laws, which are slowly but surely eliminating the rights of the Muslims, especially now that the caliphate has been established?

And, furthermore: How can you stand to live amongst them peacefully, when their leaders, who represent the masses, are waging a crusade against your Muslim brothers and sisters at this very moment?

According to Islamic principles, you are living in a land of war. A land that his relentlessly oppressing, and constantly in support of the oppression of the Muslims all around the world.

A Muslim has absolutely no place living in a land such as Canada, or America, or Europe today, except to carry out his duty of fighting in Allah’s cause.

Do not be deceived by Western leaders telling you that they have nothing against Islam and Muslims, and that they’re only fighting terrorism. The results of their carpet bomb airstrikes speak for themselves: They are attacking the Muslim people as a whole.

Have you forgotten that Allah tells us how the disbelievers will behave towards the believers?

Allah says that the disbelievers will never cease fighting you! They will never cease fighting you until they turn you back from your religion if they are able to do! So the mujahidin continue to call you to one of two options: Hijrah, or Jihad.

You either pack your bags, or you prepare your explosive devices! You either purchase your airline ticket, or you sharpen your knife! You either come to the Islamic State and live under the laws of Allah, or you follow the example of brother Ahmed Rouleau, and do not fear the blame of the blamers.

I ask Allah to guide us to the straight path, and may peace and blessings be upon his messenger Mohamed, his family, and his companions.


“From Inside Halab”


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