Textbooks of Terror: ISIS Releases its Curriculum

ISIS photos show a child using the group's new textbooks.

Briefing Note

Textbooks of Terror: ISIS Releases its Curriculum

13 Nov 2015

ISIS' efforts to show its state-like credentials has seen the group release a series of textbooks, the content of which gives an insight into how the group is using education to indoctrinate the next generation of jihadis.

ISIS recently published ten textbooks to be used in schools for its "First Sharia Class" course. In contrast to the frequently reactive nature of the group's propaganda, the textbooks provide a formal insight into the beliefs it wants to develop in the children in its territory. Covering subjects as diverse as creed, history, politics and physical education, they offer a comprehensive view of the group's ideological framework.

Despite covering subject areas not usually associated with traditional Islamic scholarship, there is a heavy religious focus in all of them. Physical fitness is introduced with a reported quote of the Prophet that "a strong believer is more beloved to God than a weak believer;" the geography textbook shrouds each section with verses of the Quran referring to the natural world; and the Arabic literature textbook contains poetry describing and encouraging violent jihad.

Four of the textbooks in particular provide further evidence of the importance of the creedal values, objectives, and conduct that the group wishes to project, reinforcing the findings of the recent Centre on Religion & Geopolitics report Inside the Jihadi Mind: Understanding Ideology and Propaganda.

Jihad is described as a proactive effort to establish God's law.

The textbook on 'Sharia Politics' is entirely focused on presenting the context for ISIS' so-called caliphate. After arguing for the necessity of a caliphate, the second chapter on 'The System of Governance in the Islamic State' outlines the group's justifications for establishing a caliphate. As part of the "objectives" of this chapter, students are expected to know what the role of caliph entails, to memorise the "evidence" for establishing a caliphate, and the necessary pre-requisites for being caliph.

The textbook also outlines the rights that the caliph has over the people, which include that they obey orders unquestionably and warn him of enemies. "Strength" and "security" are described as the cornerstones of statehood, and that according to the group's interpretation of Islamic tradition, it is necessary for every state to take up arms. The textbook also presents the responsibilities of the caliphate's administrative areas, including the religious police, the issuing of religious edicts, and the courts.

Over half of all the ISIS propaganda analysed in Inside the Jihadi Mind called for the establishment of the caliphate, so it is of little surprise that the 'Sharia Governance' textbook teaches students arguments in support of the caliphate and that other systems of governance are unIslamic.


The history textbook begins by outlining the different periods of Islamic history, namely the Prophetic period, the period of the rightly guided caliphs, the tyrannical caliphates of the Umayyad's, the Abbasids, and the Ottomans, and the period of "oppressive monarchies" who ruled without the word of God following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The final period of history is the present, the era of the "caliphate based on the Prophetic method." The textbook begins with the terrible state of the world before Islam, and then on to the various stages in the life of the Prophet Muhammad, including 'analysis' of battles during his lifetime.

Students are expected to remember the details of each battle, why they were fought, and what can be learned. "Lesson objectives" from the book include understanding justifications for killing prisoners, and not allying with "hypocrites." There is also an emphasis on the belief that victory in battle is attained through faith, trust, and God's support, and that being outnumbered does not matter. Jihad is described not solely in defensive terms, but rather as a proactive effort to establish God's law. The objectives of ISIS' history textbook correspond to the group's use of previous victories in their propaganda to forge the certainty of victory.


ISIS' textbook on creed may be the most telling revelation of the group's theological underpinnings. The opening chapters focus on its rigid understanding of monotheism (tawhid), explaining the different aspects of monotheism and its virtues. The textbook also defines polytheism (shirk) and presents ISIS' vision of a 'true' Muslim, distinguishing them from Muslims the group rejects. The textbook also has sections on refuting the concepts of democracy, nationalism, patriotism, and Baathism, all of which are considered to represent shirk.

ISIS is bringing the ideological battle into the classroom.

There is a chapter on the concept of loyalty and disavowal (al-Wala wal-Bara), in which ISIS suggests that acquiescence to someone else's disbelief is tantamount to disbelief by consensus. Under such a harsh interpretation, even helping anyone the group does not regard as Muslim in any way is considered an act of disbelief.

The report also demonstrated that creedal values, not only for ISIS but for all Salafi-jihadi groups, play a central role and appear in 62 per cent of propaganda. A textbook devoted to carving out ISIS' rigid interpretation of Islamic creed is part of the group's wider agenda to help continue to produce fighters who espouse its Salafi-jihadi ideology.

Quran and Tafsir

The Quran and tafsir (exegesis) textbook rather selectively focuses on the legislative aspects of two chapters from the Quran, al-Nur and al-Hujarat. The rather narrow selection of chapters and verses points to ISIS cherry-picking aspects of scripture that serve its objectives. The topics addressed include the punishment for adultery, the requirement for women to wear the hijab, and God's promise of a caliphate. However, despite the multitude of major classical tafsir works in existence, ISIS does not cite any in the textbook. Cherry-picked Quranic references often appear in ISIS propaganda materials in the same way as the selective approach of the Quran and tafsir textbook.

Through its production of textbooks, ISIS is bringing the ideological battle into the classroom and using 'education' as a weapon of war. While the group's magazines and videos target those outside the group's territory, the textbooks aim to indoctrinate the children living under ISIS' control.


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