No one has been able to give a source for this map. It just “appeared on the Internet” as a map of the “Islamic State” envisioned by the eponymous rebel army that has taken over cities in Syria and Iraq. Is this map for real?
So many people have reposted it (including some so-called news sites), yet none of them know where it originated. So let me share what I can about the unfamiliar names the map gives for regions of a supposed Islamic State.
Several of the names don’t make sense, while others are misspelled. The map boundaries also suggest that the mapmaker is unfamiliar with the geography of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. These facts make it unlikely that the map represents anything authentic. More likely, it was made to generate fear, either by an armchair ISIS supporter (like this guy) or by an Islamophobe (like these people).
Here are the names of the regions on the map, in alphabetical order:
- Anathol is probably meant to be the Arabic form of Anatolia, the region that roughly corresponds to modern Turkey. A more convincing name choice would be Rūm, the name the Seljuk Turks used when they established a sultanate there in the 11th century. Rūm is Arabic for “Rome,” referring to what we call the Byzantine Empire. (The “Byzantines” called themselves Romans, so the Arabs extended them the same courtesy. The name of the Muslim poet Rumi means “the Roman,” because he was born in Anatolia.) Whoever came up with this map probably has not read the Qur’an, which devotes a chapter to “Rūm.” The Qur’an never mentions “Anathol.”
- Andalus is the Arabic name for the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), much of which was under Muslim rule for centuries, from 711 to 1492. The Spanish region of Andalusia gets its name from the Arabic. But Muslims never ruled all of Iberia, as this map pretends.
- Hijaz (Arabic: الحجاز al-Ḥiǧāz, literally “the barrier”) really is the historic name for the western coast of Arabia, on the Red Sea. This is the homeland of Muhammad and the location of Mecca and Medina. This map, though, extends “Hijaz” all the way across the peninsula to the marshy east coast on the Persian Gulf. This is sort of like including California in the American Midwest. It suggests profound ignorance of the actual geography and history.
- Iraq (Arabic: العراق al-‘Irāq) is of course a familiar Arabic name, roughly corresponding to the Greek name Mesopotamia. Iraq is a very old name in Arabic, older than the Arab conquest in the 800s. The boundary between “Sham” and “Iraq” on this map is arbitrary and ahistorical.1
- Khurasan (more commonly spelled Khorasan) is a very old, pre-Islamic name for the eastern reaches of the Persian Empire. On this map it is used to take in the majority-Muslim countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the five post-Soviet republics in central Asia, each of which have their own distinctive languages and cultures. Bizarrely, the map also shoves India, the world’s second largest country, into “Khurasan,” but it fails to include neighboring Bangladesh. India is less than 14 percent Muslim; Bangladesh, more than 86 percent Muslim. Whoever made the map apparently doesn’t know that.
- Kordistan is a misspelling of Kurdistan. it is supposed to correspond to the territory within present-day Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran that is occupied mainly by ethnic Kurds. Considering how diligent the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds have been in fighting against ISIS, it seems unlikely that Kurds would be rewarded with their own contiguous state. That suggests that this map did not originate within ISIS.
- Land of Alkinana: OK, I’m stumped. This area includes Egypt, which is Misr in Arabic (pronounced Masr in the Egyptian dialect). Alkinana seems to come from the name of an Arabian tribe (Banu Kinanah) that claims descent from the prophet Elijah. But I could not find any link between any version of the name “(al-)Kinana,” on the one hand, and Egypt or northeast Africa, on the other.
- Land of Habasha: “Habasha” comes from an old Arabic name for the Ethiopian Highlands. It is a mountainous region containing some of the highest peaks on the continent of Africa, and (contrary to this map) it lies entirely within the boundaries of the country of Ethiopia. Considering the ruggedness of the terrain and the facts that Ethiopia is both a Christian nation and the oldest independent state in Africa, it is ludicrous to include this territory in an ISIS fantasy league. The map also fails to distinguish the overwhelmingly Muslim east coast of Africa from the mostly non-Muslim interior of north central Africa. Besides, it is simply ignorant to extend the “Land of Habasha” all the way across the waist of Africa to the Atlantic coast.2
- Maghreb (Arabic: المغرب, al-maġrib) means “sunset, west” and is the name of the country we call Morocco. This map projects that name over all of West Africa, ignoring other historic Muslim names for those regions. “Maghreb” properly refers only to the (northern) Mediterranean coastal region of West Africa, where Arabs and Berbers form the majority. The western Atlantic coast is Mauritania, not Maghreb. The interior, of course, is mostly uninhabitable desert. Sahel is the Arabic-derived name for the arid but habitable zone south of the Sahara. And once again, it is absurd to include the densely populated, mostly non-Muslim southern coastline of West Africa in an “Islamic” domain.
- Orobpa is an apparently meaningless name, applied here to the Balkan region of Europe. I could find no references to “Orobpa” that were not simply lists of the names on this map. As there is no “P” consonant in Arabic, this name can’t even be spelled in standard Arabic script.3
- Qoqzaz is a misspelling of Qoqaz (Arabic: قوقاز), the Arabic name for the Caucasus. This region is divided between Russia and several smaller countries, and the Russian portion includes ethnically distinct Muslim minorities. The most significant of these are the Chechens. Americans may recognize Chechnya as the homeland of the Tsarnaev family whose two sons detonated bombs at the Boston Marathon in April 2013. Most of the Russian nationals who have gone to join ISIS or its allies are believed to be Chechen. So presumably an authentic “ISIS map” would spell “Qoqaz” correctly.4
- Sham is the Arabic name that corresponds with “Levant” or “Orient” (in the older sense) in English. All three terms mean “the East” or “where the sun rises.” The boundary between Sham and Iraq on this map is arbitrary and ahistorical. We’re probably meant to notice that the State of Israel is absorbed into “Sham.”
- Finally there’s Yaman (or Yemen) in southern Arabia. It’s anyone’s guess why Yemen gets its own domain while other Arab states — say, Oman — do not. Possibly it’s because Yemen often makes the headlines these days because of civil war, terrorist bombings, and U.S. drone strikes, so it’s considerably scarier than Oman.
It’s hard to overstate how silly this “ISIS map” is. I believe it relies on Americans’ (and others’) unfamiliarity with world geography and Islamic history to push across some absurd ideas.
Let me make a comparison with the United States. Imagine a map that took in the entire South, from the Chesapeake Bay to the Texas shore of the Gulf of Mexico. The name of that vast territory is “the Land of Smokey Mountains.” That’s how this map’s “Land of Habasha” seems in its African context.
Now draw a crude boundary around the northeastern states. Heck, throw a bunch of Canada in there as well. This territory is called, oh, I don’t know, “Narnia.” Welcome to the “Land of Alkinana” in northeast Africa.
By now the mapmaker’s ignorance of basic facts (or indifference to them) should be obvious. I’ll also accuse him (I assume it’s a guy) of laziness. Besides misspelling several of the names on the map, he didn’t even draw a boundary line between “Qoqzaz” and “Khurasan.”
Apparently he ran out of ideas for names, too, because he forgot to name the remnant of Iran on the north shore of the Persian Gulf. That probably also explains why he crammed so many large countries under the heading “Khurasan.” He was out of ideas.
So who made it?
If ISIS didn’t produce this map, who did? I can’t tell, but certain features of the map suggest a partial answer.
Notice how different text labels on the map are in different sizes. There’s no particular reason why HIJAZ, for example, should be printed four times larger than IRAQ.
Notice, too, how four text labels (Andalus, Anathol, Yaman, The Land of Alkinana) are attached to their regions by rays with a dot at one end. Is there any reason why “Andalus” has to be stuck far out in the Atlantic? Or why “The Land of Alkinana” has to be printed over the Indian Ocean rather than fitted into its region of the map?
I’ve noticed these weird map practices before, and I don’t think they’re accidental. I believe they are meant to give the map a more chaotic, complicated, hence intimidating appearance.
Steven Emerson (a once-reputable journalist and researcher who has swapped his objectivity for lucrative fear-mongering against Muslims) has displayed similar maps when making his case that America is crawling with potential suicide bombers. I have an example that was shown to a Senate subcommittee back in 1998.
And here’s a close-up:
Notice the varying font sizes. The way the three alleged “Muslim Brotherhood” outposts in Cleveland, Columbus, and Indianapolis are labeled haphazardly. The two “Muslim Brotherhood” text labels seem to compete for prominence. A giant “HAMAS” label hovers over Colorado, sending a ray shooting east to Kansas City.
I have no reason to conclude that Emerson or his people made this so-called ISIS map. But there are definite signs of influence — not excepting the glaring ignorance of the region and its history.
Don’t assume that criticizing the alleged “ISIS map” means I support ISIS (or whatever it’s called). The “Islamic State” is neither Islamic nor a state; it is a vicious criminal organization that I believe is doomed, first, to failure, and second, to being remembered with hatred and contempt, even by many of those in Iraq and Syria who initially supported it.
ISIS, or DAESH to use the Arabic acronym, has won victories and taken territory only because of the level of chaos in Syria and much of Iraq. There are two main causes: One is the Syrian president’s implacable war on his own people, causing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. The other cause is the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, a cornucopia of crisis since 2003. History will remember “ISIS” as only a footnote to these two historic tragedies.
I wonder how long it will take for Americans to learn that very few problems have military solutions. It seems that we always reach first for the sledgehammer.
2 FWIW, a more authentic “Islamic State” map probably would have drawn the boundary to take in lands where Muslims are in the majority, and it certainly would have used different names — perhaps the medieval names Zanj (Arabic: زنج) and Bilād as-Sūdān (Arabic: بلاد السودان, literally, “country of black people”). The latter is the origin of both Sudan and South Sudan, of course. ↩
3 I found one item that provides a terminus post quem for the alleged ISIS map: July 2, 2014. It comes from a German satirical yearbook on world affairs, Die Achse des Blöden (Axis of Idiots). Axel Gundlach, “Flächenwahn,” 2 July 2014, in Die Achse des Blöden: Jahrbuch 2014. ↩
4 Chechnya declared independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia responded by invading the country twice, in 1994 and 1999. The First and Second Chechen Wars cost about 100,000 civilian lives and provided a fertile breeding ground for Islamist radicalism. Chechnya is now trying to find its place as part of the Russian Federation while rebuilding. I am convinced that the Chechen wars were, at least in part, a cynical scheme to employ Russian soldiers returning from posts in the former Warsaw Pact states and unable to find work in the Russian domestic economy. The two wars got rid of at least 11,000 “surplus” Russians. Now that’s leadership!
<sarcasm type=“bitter” /> ↩