Most ISIS recruits apparently don't know much about Islam

An Iraqi soldier holds an Islamic State flag after driving ISIS out of Fallujah
(Image credit: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images)

Many of the foreigners who traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State, at least in ISIS's big recruitment push in 2013 and 2014, had only rudimentary knowledge of Islam, with two Britons who joined ordering The Koran for Dummies and Islam for Dummies from Amazon to prepare for jihad, according to an Associated Press review of leaked ISIS documents, court testimony, and interviews. A look at more than 3,000 entry forms for ISIS volunteers acquired by the Syrian opposition group Zaman al-Wasl, for example, found that 70 percent of recruits had the lowest level of knowledge of Shariah law, "basic," while 24 percent were listed as having "intermediate" knowledge and only 5 percent were advanced, with a total of five recruits having memorized the Quran.

This was just fine with ISIS, according to Islam experts and escaped ISIS recruits, because it meant ISIS could indoctrinate these enlistees with its own radical and violent interpretation of Muslim doctrine and because, according to a study by the U.S. Military Academy's Combating Terrorism Center, "those with the most religious knowledge within the organization itself are the least likely to volunteer to be suicide bombers." In fact, ISIS recruiters in Western Europe would reportedly troll for recruits in bars and nightclubs.

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Peter Weber, The Week US

Peter has worked as a news and culture writer and editor at The Week since the site's launch in 2008. He covers politics, world affairs, religion and cultural currents. His journalism career began as a copy editor at a financial newswire and has included editorial positions at The New York Times Magazine, Facts on File, and Oregon State University.