ISIL and the Caliphate

Umayyad Caliphate at its greatest extent

Umayyad Caliphate at its greatest extent in 750 CE (Wikipedia)

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:

The Roman Empire in 117 BCE (Wikipedia)

The Roman Empire in 117 BCE (Wikipedia)


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.


Filed under Foreign Affairs, Islam

3 responses to “ISIL and the Caliphate

  1. Wafa Faith Hallam

    Hi Diane,

    How are you, my friend?

    I always enjoy your posts – some more than others – but this one left me a bit perplexed. Comparing the mad ambitions of a barbaric terrorist group to the greatest era in Arab history made me wince to say the least. This only contributes to giving credence and importance to a murderous bunch of thugs who only survive because of the over decade long US destruction of Iraq. There would not be an ISIS if America had had any clue of the history and politics of the region and if Bush had not believed he would easily secure the oil fields of Iraq for American interests.

    I felt I had to tell you how your article made me feel directly.

    Be well, Wafa

    • I’m glad you wrote, Wafa. Apparently I didn’t express myself well at all. Of course there is no comparison between the barbaric extremists and the Umayya and the other dynasties of the Caliphate. I only meant to show how large the Caliphate was and that ISIS aspires to conquer and rule an empire that would be just as far-reaching (but nowhere near as grand). Since most of the terrorists are barely educated, they couldn’t possibly attain the high culture of the Islamic Golden Age: the marvels of art–architecture, calligraphy, painting, glass, ceramics, textiles, etc.– as well as philosophy, literature, science and learning in general. Islamic scholars translated the lost Greek manuscripts for a Western world that knew of Greek philosophers, et al., but had no knowledge of Greek. I could go on and on– I should write a post explaining myself.

  2. Pingback: Notes on the 4th GOP Debate | V B I

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