Last week, as media outlets published a map allegedly distributed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) showing the group’s intentions to expand their territorial acquisitions to places such as Spain and Portugal, the point was to alarm the western world to a coming political threat. But experts say the graph is not accurate and reflects western definitions a “caliphate,” or Islamic empire.

ISIS Kurds Iraq

Terrifying ISIS Map Showing its 5-Year Expansion Plan

ABC News, for its part, splashed a headline that read: “See the Terrifying ISIS Map Showing its 5-Year Expansion Plan.” The report traced the map back not to the Sunni militant group ISIS, but to A3P, an American political party that promotes white supremacy, reports have said.

“The idea of the map is kind of screwed up,” Hossein Kamaly, an expert on Middle Eastern history and Islamic studies at Barnard College, was quoted as saying in a report. In particular, there is no clear evidence that ISIS played a part in making and distributing the map and if ISIS had made the map, it would not define the territories based on their current western definitions. “The idea of [the] Muslim past is flawed,” Kamaly said.

“It’s like the Islamic version of the Spanish Reconquista,” John Esposito, professor of religion and international affairs and of Islamic studies at Georgetown University said.  In the period of Mohammad, caliphates extended from North Africa to South Asia, yet the map disproportionately portrays that geography.

When we first reported the news regarding the map we noted our skepticism. Our editor also expressed great doubt about the photos and asked the ABC writer for a response, as well as the original poster of the picture, who did not respond.


ISIS territorial Map

ISIS caliphate

In the past month, ISIS has moved swiftly to take over key cities in Iraq with little resistance. The goal is to establish an Islamic caliphate which divides the countries not along their European drawn boundries, but based on their religious and tribal history.  The group now occupies a territory that stretches from Aleppo province in Syria to Diyala, Iraq and has called on Muslims to support its quest to form a caliphate.

Although ISIS has garnered new weaponry from its conquests in Iraq, notably nuclear materials, US weapons and over $400 million in cash, making it the most well armed and best funded terrorist organization in the world, analysts have said it is not likely to take over land outside of the region. Austin Long, a professor at Columbia University, said the group is not even sure if it can take on Baghdad, let alone invade another country.

Islamic studies experts say ISIS could technically declare a caliphate without occupying additional territory, but historically, people became caliphs by consensus of the governed, implying a vote of sorts might be in the future.  This is wishful thinking to some.

“There is no King without a kingdom,” Kamaly said.