Last week, media outlets all over the world picked up and published a map, allegedly distributed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), showing the group’s intentions to expand the caliphate to places such as Spain and Portugal. But experts say the graph does not represent the traditional mindset of a caliphate, which is what ISIS declared itself June 30 when it also changed its name to the Islamic State.
“The idea of the map is kind of screwed up,” Hossein Kamaly, an expert on Middle Eastern history and Islamic studies at Barnard College, said.
— ThirdPosition (@Third_Position) June 16, 2014
ABC News' headline read: “See the Terrifying ISIS Map Showing its 5-Year Expansion Plan.” It traced the map back not to the Sunni militant group, but to A3P, an American political party that promotes white supremacy. Other media organizations that published the map include The Daily Mail, The Blaze, a conservative news site founded by Glenn Beck, and iO9, a blog launched by Gawker Media in 2008.
Yet there is no clear evidence that ISIS played a part in making and distributing the map. In fact, experts say, if ISIS had made the map, it shows the groups’ “idea of [the] Muslim past is flawed,” Kamaly said.
John Esposito, professor of religion and international affairs and of Islamic studies at Georgetown University said in the period of Mohammad, caliphates extended from North Africa to South Asia. But, Kamaly said, the map disproportionately portrays that geography.
“It’s like the Islamic version of the Spanish Reconquista,” he said. “The names on the map weren’t even that way in medieval times -- the entire Iberian Peninsula is called Andalusia.”
In the past month, ISIS has moved swiftly to take over key cities in Iraq to establish an Islamic caliphate. It now occupies a territory that stretches from Aleppo province in Syria to Diyala, Iraq. The group has called on Muslims to support its quest to form a caliphate.
“So raise your ambitions, O soldiers of the Islamic State! For your brothers all over the world are waiting for your rescue, and are anticipating your brigades,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph, said in a video message, purportedly recorded at the Al-Nouri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq.
Although ISIS has garnered new weaponry from its conquests in Iraq, analysts have said it is not likely to take over land outside of the region. Austin Long, a professor at Columbia University, said the group is not even sure if it can take on Baghdad, let alone invade another country.
Islamic studies experts say ISIS could technically declare a caliphate without occupying additional territory, but historically, people became caliphs by consensus of the governed.
“There is no King without a kingdom,” Kamaly said.