Readers of my writings on the divisions in Islamic State circles that have emerged online will be familiar with al-Nadhir al-Uryan, one of the two main 'extremist' channels on Telegram. To recall, the 'extremists' are highly critical of the Islamic State for (i) retracting the controversial May 2017 statement that included an affirmation that takfir of the idolaters is from the principle of the religion and (ii) issuing in its place an official audio series broadcast on Islamic State radio regarding matters of doctrine. In the view of the 'extremists', the official audio series contains significant problems in manhaj ('methodology'/'direction').
Despised among the 'dissidents' who believe that 'extremists' have too much sway in various bodies of the Islamic State, al-Nadhir al-Uryan has leaked many files (all of them authentic) primarily aiming to discredit the Islamic State scholars revered by the 'dissidents.' It is also correct that al-Nadhir al-Uryan does not consider the Islamic State to be a Caliphate, though it is not necessarily the case that all the 'dissidents' consider the Islamic State in its current form to be the Caliphate. In fact, al-Nadhir al-Uryan is not writing 'against' the Islamic State per se, but believes it needs guidance.
Posting only sporadically in recent times, al-Nadhir al-Uryan published an article on the evening of 26 December regarding the current situation of the Islamic State. For those who track battlefield developments regarding the campaign against the Islamic State, the article provides confirmation that the Islamic State no longer controls Hajin, a town in Deir az-Zor in eastern Syria that was considered one of the last territorial strongholds of the Islamic State.
I have translated this article in full because it gives insight into al-Nadhir al-Uryan's general thinking, while also making one point I consider to be very valid. In sum, while al-Nadhir al-Uryan believes that there are still true 'monotheists' (i.e. people aligned with al-Nadhir al-Uryan's thinking) inside what remains of the Islamic State's holdings, al-Nadhir al-Uryan also thinks that there are far too many hypocrites among the fighters and the families inside the Islamic State. The evidence in the writer's view is that as soon as these people flee and reach the territories held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), they then abandon their religion and attack the Islamic State. The writer notes, for instance, the wives of Islamic State fighters who flee or are sent by their husbands to the SDF areas and then immediately remove their Shari'i dress and even compete with each other to curse the Islamic State and pray for the SDF to attain victory over the Islamic State.
At heart then, in al-Nadhir al-Uryan's view, these people are idolaters, and it is as though they learnt nothing from all their years inside the Islamic State. The author criticizes the Islamic State for thinking that it can rely on such people to attain victory after having persecuted the true 'monotheists'. In al-Nadhir al-Uryan's view, the Islamic State's decline is the result of replacing the 'monotheists' with these inferior hypocrites.
Regardless of what one thinks of al-Nadhir al-Uryan's argument here, the more valid point the author makes concerns the masses who have lived under Islamic State rule. While those masses may have tried to curry favour with the Islamic State when it controlled their lands, they proclaim their welcome of the enemy forces that retake the area from the Islamic State. For al-Nadhir al-Uryan, these people are idolaters, but the author is not surprised about their conduct because they are 'slaves of whoso dominates.'
Outside researchers have often been keen to work out what the masses who live or have lived under the Islamic State 'really' think about the group. In reality, determining an answer can be more difficult than one might suppose. In conflict zones and civil war environments, survival in itself can be an end goal, and so adapting to live under the authority that has the monopoly of force over you becomes key. Thus, many people may have avoided speaking critically of the Islamic State when communicating with outsiders while the group held sway, and may even have tried to court favour with its administration. But when the Islamic State is expelled, people in its former areas of control may come across as extremely critical of the group simply in a bid to avoid trouble with the new authorities. One can think of parallels elsewhere: for instance, some locals in southern Syria who began featuring pictures of Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian flag on their Facebook pages as the government regained control over Deraa and Quneitra. The outside observer should not be so hasty in judging the sincerity of those displays of sentiment.
Of course, none of this means that you cannot discern any genuine opinions and data. For instance, if a local under Islamic State rule was willing to speak to outsiders and denounce the group's control back then, there is little reason to doubt sincerity in such a case. In a similar vein, looking at the case of southern Syria, I remember speaking in September 2018 to a resident of one town in the area. That individual told me that the only reason he did not leave for Idlib was that he did not have the means to go from there to Turkey. Had he been able to do so, he would not have hesitated to undertake the venture. I have no reason to doubt his sincerity. My only point is that survival is a natural instinct in these areas of conflict and so that can influence what people say to outsiders.
Below is the article translated in full. Any parenthetical insertions of my own are in square brackets.
In the name of God,
God's peace be upon you our monotheist brothers. I ask God to protect you, and I apologise for my cutting off on account of overwhelming particular circumstances. We ask God to guide our people and protect the monotheists and get them out safely.
In the shade of the recent events that have befallen the Dawla [Islamic State] and disappearance of its land and the fall of the city of Hajin into the hands of the disbelieving atheists: this is painful news for every monotheist, for we still have in the land of the Dawla monotheist brothers who possess no stratagem or way, and in particular the muhajireen [foreign] brothers and their families, after many of the Syrians and Iraqis left in the recent time. We ask God to deliver our brothers and sisters and arrange matters for them.
When I was following the releases of the Dawla, and in particular the releases of the Mosul wilaya [province] at the time of the Rafidite [Shi'i] Hashd's campaign against it, and how those who are called the masses curry favour with and dissimulate towards the Dawla, but when it loses an area, these people come out singing praises and welcoming the advancing enemy, uninhibited as their women take off their Shari'i dress, forsaking God's religion and as though the religion is the religion of the Dawla and is not the religion of God that God imposed: I was not frankly surprised, for most of the peoples are uninclined idolaters who have no religion or ethics, for they are slaves of whoso dominates.
But what I am surprised at is the extent of casting off of the religion that I saw and heard about from previous and current members in the Dawla and their families???
And the strangest thing is that most of these people, as is said, are the crème de la crème who have held out to the last time, and they are of the veterans, as they claim.
For some of those who leave the land of the Dawla from the soldiers fleeing in the recent time: as soon as their foot treads on the land of the Kurds, they cast off their religion at the frontline coverings of the Kurds and replace it with a religion that suits the atheists, and they begin engaging in different acts of kufr [disbelief] from blasphemy, cursing and attacking the Dawla and the religion with it, in addition to other disgraceful behaviours that were used to judge unfavourably against the idolatrous masses, and as though all the years that they have spent in the Dawla enjoying luxury in its resources at the time of its power have gone in vain, just as the Shari'i course to which they were subjected has gone in vain, for they have replaced faith with kufr in the blink of an eye.
As for those soldiers who have remained in the land of the Dawla and sent their families outside it, their state is also no different from those who have left, but rather the acts of kufr are committed by their families instead of them, for as soon as the women of the soldiers of the Dawla arrive at the frontline coverings of the Kurds, there is no distinction between them and the masses. They cast off the Shari'i hijab and begin competing in attacking the Dawla, its religion and, worst of all, they begin competing in praying for the atheists, and each of them displays her skill in leaving and casting off the religion, with a call she rouses for God to give the atheist victory. And I don't know against whom she wants God to give him victory?? Against her husband or son present on the other side???
This of course is a voluntary effort by those who leave, for the Kurds have not forced anyone to do this, and there has arisen no compulsion, but rather they have not even examined closely the dress and affiliation of the women, because they know in advance that they are the wives of the soldiers and that most of those going out are from the soldiers, but disbelieving idolatrous peoples cast off the religion just as they cast off their dress to replace it with another. We ask God for steadfastness.
Regrettably the state of the Dawla now is lamentable and it has become a shock to the enemy before the friend, but it is from among themselves. For do they think that by these idolaters they will be victorious, after they have killed and dispersed hundreds of the monotheists??? And they have raised their head by these idolaters who have abandoned their ranks at the first test of tribulation and disavowed them, and this is the reward of the one who replaces what is better with what is inferior.
We ask God to guide us and them and make us steadfast and make good our conclusion.