The imperial aspirations of ISIL shouldn’t be underestimated. The jihadists look back at the glory days of the Umayyad Caliphate in the eighth to 11th centuries, when Muslims controlled areas of Asia, Africa and Europe. It was the largest empire the world yet had seen, the fifth largest in history. Even the Roman Empire at its largest in 117 CE did not hold sway over as much real estate as the Umayyads.
A stated objective of ISIL is to restore the caliphate. The map (above) shows the caliphate almost at its largest in 750 CE. It stretched from modern-day Pakistan westward across Iran, Iraq and most of the -stans, a small part of present-day Russia, to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine), the entire Arabian peninsula, across North Africa (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco), and into Europe across the Straits of Gibraltar (Spain and Portugal). Sicily and Sardinia were conquered later.
The Roman Empire at its height, for comparison:
ISIL or ISIS?
It began as ISI, the Islamic State of Iraq. Then it annexed Syria, becoming ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIL includes much more than just the original two territories. The “L” is for Levant (the countries on the eastern side of the Mediterranean). The scope of its ambitions continues to grow.