Isis, IS, Isil or Daesh? How Should We Refer to This Terrorist Group?


One terrorist group with a number of names, all used across the media. But what do these different terms mean and how should they be used? Here we explain what these different terms mean, and why we should just refer to this jihadist group as Daesh.


ISIS is an acronym for ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’ and comes from the group’s original Arabic name of ‘Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham’. While ‘Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq’ translates to the ‘Islamic State of Iraq”, al-Sham’ is used to refer to Syria and its surrounding area. This name was used to convey the declared goal of the group – to restore a caliphate throughout this entire region.


An acronym of ‘Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’, ISIL is often used by UN and US officials to refer to the terrorist group. ‘Levant’ is an alternative translation of ‘al-Sham’ and is another way to refer to Syria itself and the area surrounding it, usually including Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan.



IS simply means Islamic State. Since June 2014, this term of address has been favoured by the militants themselves. The group’s decision to drop the last two letters of the original ISIS/ISIL acronyms illustrates their ambitions to expand their self-declared Islamic State.

Since then, BBC News has been using this term, and though it is usually qualified as ‘self-styled Islamic State’ or ‘Islamic State group’, still the shortened version of ‘IS’ is used for subsequent references.


The term Daesh, or Da’ish as it is sometimes spelt, is essentially an Arabic acronym of the group’s former name,’al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil Iraq wa al-Sham’.

Why do I believe we should be using this term to refer to the so-called Islamic State? For a start, they hate it, and surely that in itself constitutes a satisfactory reason for many. In fact, it has been reported that the militants have threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone who uses the name Daesh in public. The word carries negative connotations, for it sounds similar to an Arabic verb that means to trample or crush something. Thus, in the Arabic-speaking world, the label is widely used, owing to its derogatory overtones and the extreme irritation that is causes the terrorist group.

More importantly, by employing the name Daesh in place of ISIS, ISIL and IS, we are challenging the legitimacy of the group. One could argue that by referring to the militants as IS, effectively Islamic State, we are legitimising this false claim. Frankly, Daesh is not a state, nor does the group truly represent the religion of Islam. It is in fact heavily denounced by faithful Muslims, so why do we continue to refer to them as Islamic State?


Investigations Editor 2016/17. BA Spanish student, aspiring journalist and avid blogger (

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