With the Physical Caliphate Defeated, The IS Highlights its Salafi Credentials in Music

Adam Hoffman examines the Islamic State's use of music for propaganda purposes.

The Islamic State recently released a new Arabic-language nasheed (an Islamic a cappella song; plural, anasheed)  titled "The Banner of Tawheed." The nasheed highlights one of the central characteristics of the IS – its claim to represent pure Islam, following Salafi doctrine – yet unlike much of its propaganda, makes no mention of the "remaining" nature of the Islamic State or its self-declared caliphate.

Tawheed – the pure monotheism of Allah – is a central concept in Salafi thought, and Salafi-Jihadis such as the IS justify many of their actions by claiming to implement tawheed by waging jihad against the "enemies of God." The famous black banner of the IS is known by the group as "the banner of tawheed," and the expansion of the group's governance activities in Iraq, Syria, and beyond was often presented as "the arrival of the banner of tawheed" to those territories. More importantly, its caliphate declaration in June 2014 specifically identified "the banner of the Islamic State" as "the banner of tawheed."

Given the centrality of tawheed to the IS (as well as other Salafi-Jihadis), the release of the nasheed by the group is hardly unusual. While the IS's propaganda is mostly known for its high-definition videos and multilingual Rumiyah magazine, anasheed are usually released in Arabic and targeted primarily at the IS's own base of fighters and supporters who are already familiar with its ideology. Using Ajnad Media Foundation, which was founded by ISIS in August 2013, the IS has used anasheed to spread its message since its founding and rally supporters in hard times. One of its most well-known anasheed, "My Ummah, Dawn Has Appeared," became the group's a quasi-official anthem and served as the soundtrack for many of the videos published by the IS following its caliphate declaration.

Recently, the IS's anasheed focused on the everlasting essence of its caliphate: in June 2017, the group released a nasheed titled “My State Remains,” which claimed that the IS "is remaining, not vanishing," and that "its path will not be eliminated." Similarly, in November 2017, another IS nasheed was published under the title “My State Is Unbeatable.” However, unlike these anasheed, "The Banner of Tawheed" focuses only on the pure Islamic creed of the IS, without mentioning the IS’s governance activities or the state-building project of its caliphate.

As such, the IS's latest nasheed could be yet another indicator of the group's admission of the defeat of the caliphate as a territorial entity. As previously discussed in Jihadiscope, recent IS propaganda emphasized the importance of jihadis' patience and steadfastness in light of the group's territorial setbacks. However, focusing on religious themes alone may signal a change in emphasis in the IS's internal propaganda and a return to an earlier stage in its history, before the rapid expansion of its state-building project across Iraq and Syria in Summer 2014.