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.

Tariq Ramadan, a professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford, notes that many ISIS top commanders don't have any religious training either, many of them joining the group from Saddam Hussein's secular Baathist government. Mohammed Abdelfadel, an Islamic scholar in Germany who tracks ISIS propaganda, adds that Islam forbids terrorism, murdering non-combatants in war, and forcing Islam on non-Muslims, among other ISIS heresies. You can learn more about AP's findings, and watch Oxford's Ramadan answer questions about ISIS and religion below. Peter Weber

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.