The Islamic State's days of territorial control and governance in Iraq and Syria are long past, but that does not mean the group has ceased to use memories of those days for propaganda purposes. This week's issue of the al-Naba' newsletter features an example of that with the biography of one 'Abu Hassan al-Sudani', a British-Sudanese medic who joined the Islamic State in March 2015 along with a group of other British-Sudanese medics. Their case was publicized in the British media at the time. Abu Hassan al-Sudani was eventually killed in fighting in northern Iraq in 2017 during the campaign of Iraqi forces to liberate Mosul and Ninawa province from the Islamic State. This biography serves to confirm that he was indeed killed during that campaign.
The main propaganda purpose of this biography is to emphasize that acquisition of earthly skills and scientific knowledge should not have to mean turning away from supporting the religion as the 'Tawagheet' ('idolatrous tyrants') hope when they offer good employment prospects and lives of material comfort for graduates of those courses. While the territorial 'Caliphate' may have vanished, the biography concludes with stressing that Islamic State fighters still need skilled doctors to assist them in their fighting efforts, and so Abu Hassan al-Sudani's life should serve as an example for why medics should support the cause of supporting the religion.
To summarize, the biography stresses that Abu Hassan al-Sudani had a comfortable upbringing (implicitly countering the idea that only misfits and the poor joined Islamic State for reasons of self-interest) and was by no means of a very religious background. The biography says that he had no particular inclination to support the religion until he returned to Britain after medical studies in Sudan and liaised with a group of youth (i.e. the other British-Sudanese medics who went to Syria) supporting the Islamic State cause. The reason for that group of youth's desire to 'migrate' and support the religion- the biography stresses- was that they themselves had seen the establishment of the religion in the Islamic State's project.
Of course, there is considerable truth to this: a significant motivating factor for the wave of foreigner mobilization to go to Syria was the announcement of the Caliphate in July 2014 and the idea of living in a utopia implementing Islamic law- something the biography notes. Further, the biography highlights peer-to-peer interaction with the supporting youth as an important turning point in Abu Hassan al-Sudani's life and his turn to the desire to 'migrate', despite the fact that previously he had not been well acquainted with the religion and the concept of 'migration'. In my view this corroborates an important point by Amarnath Amarasingam, who has pointed out that fanatical zeal for a cause needs to be distinguished from knowledge of that cause. Just as far-right extremists may profess fanatical devotion to their nations while not knowing much about the histories of their countries, so many Islamic State supporters can have the motivation of religious zeal while not knowing much of the finer points of religious doctrines like nullifiers of Islam and rules of jurisprudence on ritual cleanliness: the lack of knowledge does not negate the zeal for the cause.
Further, note that the consumption of Islamic State propaganda releases is mentioned in the biography but seems to be a secondary element to the face-to-face peer interaction, as it was one of Abu Hassan al-Sudani's peers who gave him the material in the first place.
The biography confirms accounts that Abu Hassan al-Sudani worked at first in the health department in Raqqa, but interestingly notes that he then went with his companion Abu Omar al-Sudani (Ahmad Sami Khidr) to the frontiers in the Damascus countryside region, providing medical aid to the fighters there (NB: the exact locations are not specified, but see this article by Aaron Zelin and Oula al-Rifa'i from 2015 on Islamic State in south Syria for some context). He was then mobilized along with Abu Omar al-Sudani and others to head from Raqqa to Iraq in order to try to break the siege of Mosul, but he was then killed in the fighting there. Incidentally, the account differs slightly from the media reports from the time. According to the biography, it was Abu Omar who was killed in an assault on an enemy barracks, while Abu Hassan was killed as a convoy he was travelling in back to positions was hit by enemy helicopter gunfire.
Below is the biography translated by me in full. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Story of a Martyr
Abandoning the bounty of this world seeking the bounty of the Hereafter
The doctor Abu Hassan al-Sudani (may God accept him)
Abu Hassan al-Sudani with the companion of his path Abu Omar al-Sudani [photo caption]
The Tawagheet of the Earth are keen to distance those of 'material sciences' away from the religion, and to inculcate their minds with kufr [disbelief] ideas and doubts during the different stages of their study, and make imitation of the disbelievers of the West in all matters of their life as an objection for them, and that living among their backs and serving them should be a dream for them to strive to achieve. In addition they promote the notion that preoccupation away from supporting their religion, and indeed hostility to Islam and its people should be a necessary quality for them, and in this deviant thought they become the best help for the Tawagheet in controlling the land of the Muslims, and the most evil example they call the youth to follow, as an example of success in life, even if they are among the biggest losers in the Hereafter.
But God Almighty insists that His light should be fulfilled, so He guides towards it by His grace youth through whom He supports His religion, and makes their zeal to put to use what they have learnt to wage war against kufr and its people, and He makes them proof upon those like them who bear knowledges and skills that are urgently needed in all affairs of the Muslims, and especially the mujahideen among the who pray to their Lord to strengthen them through their brothers and give them victory though them against the disbelieving people.
Abu Hassan al-Sudani- may God accept him- is from the land of the two Niles, Sudan, a surgeon, who preferred to wrap bandages around the wounds of his oppressed Ummah and to serve his mujahideen brothers in the path of God Almighty to meet the reward from the Exalted rather than the comfortable position and the societal status in the land of disbelief. Then he finished his life with martyrdom in the path of God Almighty, after he forsook university qualifications and scientific titles. We reckon him as such and we do not vouch for anyone over God.
An ordinary upbringing and a carefree life
Abu Hassan was raised in the land of the Crusaders in Britain. Then he moved with his parents to Bilad al-Haramain [Saudi Arabia], before travelling to Sudan to complete medical studies there. And he was known for his excelling in his university studies as he was the first in his cohort during the time of his studies.
He was not known for any inclination to support the religion during his upbringing and the time of his studies, but rather he was like other youth who spent the time of his studies and awaited the employment and salary that he expected at the end of the path. Also he was from a wealthy family, which opened for him all the gates of this world in a country that has suffered- and still suffers- from poverty and calamities- something not hidden to anyone.
The impact of companionship and support
And God Almighty willed for him guidance to the truth, as we reckon, and to be employed in supporting the religion, in a placed as far removed from that as can be: in the land of kufr Britain, to which he returned after completing his studies in Sudan. For God Almighty facilitated for him the companionship of good from the youth of Islam supporting the mujahideen, who burn with zeal to support the religion, even if many of them procrastinate and delay in that, until God should make for them a cause to remove from their burden all the excuses and remove from their mind all the justifications, and to proceed hurriedly to their Lord that He may be pleased. For they find it has come by decree and appointment from God the Exalted and that what just deeds have gone past them, they can recompense for that by the permission of God with more effort and expending for this religion, such that the certainty comes to them and they are upon that.
And among the reasons for the guidance of many of the Muslims in the world has been the fact that the mujahideen of the Islamic State established the religion in the land, and their implementation of the law of their Lord, and their announcement that what is under their hands is an abode of Islam, and that their league is the group of the Muslims arising on a book that guides and a sword that gives victory and an imam that governs them in what pleases God, and their call for the Muslims in every place to migrate to them, and to wage jihad with them. So the people looked and behold the Islamic State had returned to life again, such that in their souls kindled the fire to strive to support it, and to seek migration to it to live under the rule of God in it, and seek death under its banner.
His fitra [natural inclination] awoke so he proceeded as a muhajir to God
Most of what distinguishes the story of Abu Hassan is the speed of his embrace of the truth in a time in which those who embrace the truth have been few in number. And his guidance was after he graduated from the college of medicine and his return to Britain (whose nationality he held), awaiting his almost guaranteed position, and at the time some of his colleagues were secretly planning to migrate to the land of the Caliphate, and Abu Hassan noticed the frequency of their meetings and asked them about the reason for their repeated meetings at late hours, so one of them sensed the good in him, and informed him they wanted to migrate.
So when he asked: "What is migration?" He clarified to him that it is a duty on every Muslim who cannot show his religion in his land, to leave the abode of kufr for the abode of Islam, as was the case of the Companions (may God be pleased with them) in the beginning, and a discussion occurred between the two of them in which Abu Hassan asked questions and the other answered him. It concluded with him being giving some of the releases of the Islamic State, then the two separated.
And on the following day immediately, his brothers were surprised at Abu Hassan's coming to them announcing to them the decision to migrate with them! And the brothers greatly rejoiced at the companionship of Abu Hassan, and God facilitated for them the migration after expending effort planning in secrecy and arriving in the Islamic State.
And the sound fitra and the humbling of the self to the truth are two signs of the guidance of success from God to man. For he- may God have mercy on him- did not cite excuses as pretexts and he was not deceived by the multitude of the contraveners and the 'ulama [scholars] of the Tawagheet, and he did not turn in haughtiness from the truth through his qualification and position in society. Thus we reckon him.
And arrogance is among the obstacles to guidance! And a reason for the lack of truth reaching the heart. The Almighty has said: "I will turn away from My signs those who are haughty in the land without right. Even if they see every sign they will not believe in them. Even if they see the path of guidance, they will not take it up as a path. And if they see the path of transgression they will take it up as a path: that is because they have declared Our signs to be false and they were heedless of them"- (al-'Araf 146).
In the Diwan al-Siha in Raqqa
As soon as he arrived in the Islamic State, his parents and relatives opposed him, and the brothers feared for him that he would change and recant, as he was newly established on the path of jihad, but they were surprised about his steadfastness. For the reprimand of a blamer did not seize him in the cause of God and he was yearning to deepen understanding in the religion, and those who were with him testified that he was fasting and rising.
And he was entrusted with working in the hospitals in al-Sham, so he worked for a time in the hospital of al-Raqqa treating the sick and wounded of the mujahdieen and the victims of air-bombing raids from the citizens. So he attained the affection of the people and their prayers of good for him, because of his good manners and surgery expertise he quickly acquired from his colleagues. Also he had a hand of good in training and teaching through various medical courses in the medical institute for the mujahideen.
From Raqqa to the frontiers of Damascus
After this he moved to the Damascus countryside, and he was the best helper for the companion of his path Dr. Abu Omar al-Sudani (Ahmad Sami Khidr)- may God accept him- who was an amir for medical matters in the Damascus frontiers. And the two men- may God accept them- insisted on seeking direct participation in the expeditions and battles, but their amirs reminded them of the hadith of the Messenger (prayers and peace be upon him): "Blessed is a servant who takes up care for the reins of his horse in the path of God: his hair unkempt and feet dusty. If he is in the vanguard, he is in vanguard, and if he is in rearguard, he is in the rearguard" (narrated by al-Bukhari). And they reminded them that their role behind their brothers in the frontiers is no less important than the role of the mujahideen in the first rank, for the importance of what they offer to the mujahideen in the frontier of medical aid in the battles and the expeditions is not hidden to anyone. So the two continued in their effort and jihad on this frontier until their expected appointment with martyrdom came.
In the epic battles of Mosul
The parties of kufr surrounded the city of Mosul, a little before the kindling of the epic battles in it, and the soldiers of the Caliphate were mobilized to break the siege of it, so Abu Hassan and Abu Omar were enlisted with the assault battalions heading from Raqqa to the al-Ba'aj area located south of Telafar, to head from it to fight the mobilizations of the Rafidites who besieged Mosul. And there the two did well in the fight with their brothers, as they participated in assaulting the screen against the idolatrous Rafidites, and after the mujahideen assaulted one of their barracks, Abu Omar- may God accept him- was killed by a grenade thrown towards him by one of the apostates hidden inside the barracks, and as the mujahideen returned to their positions a helicopter of the enemy got in their way, so the mujahideen clashed with it such that during that the doctor Abu Hassan was killed and he joined his companion Abu Omar (may God Almighty accept them both) among the martyrs.
And the mujahideen on all the fronts are still in most urgent need of the brothers of Abu al-Hassan al-Sudani (may God accept him) from the skilled doctors who heal the wounded of the mujahideen, and aid them in their jihad. So they will have in every Muslim life they save the great good, and in every scene they bear witness to with the mujahideen they will have a share in the reward of their fighting the idolaters, and only those who have endured will meet it. And only the one of great fortune will meet it. And praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds.