Repentance: Financial Income for the Islamic State

01 November 2015

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

The concept of repentance (tawba in Arabic) is key for the Islamic State (IS) whenever it takes over a new area and aims to consolidate control. Whoever undergoes repentance under IS successfully is issued a repentance ID document that stipulates the person has abandoned his/her apostasy and is to be treated like the rest of the Muslim populace under IS rule (Specimen 3V). The repentance process has two main applications. First, it is used to subdue people who had been affliated with rival forces primarily through the quid pro quo principle of sparing one's life in exchange for surrendering all weapons to IS. This generally includes members of Syrian rebel groups, Sunni conscripts to the Syrian army, and members of the Iraqi army and police. For a sample case, see Specimen 1B in the archive of IS admin documents with the case of the Albukamal area in Syria. At times, IS has faced agitation against its rule from those who had repented, such as in the Fallujah area, which led to the tightening of repentance conditions last year (Specimen 6Q).

Repentance is also important for co-opting existing administrative structures as far as possible into IS governance, as many who repent will have worked in jobs that cannot be applied to the IS system and so will be left without actual work (leaving aside salary payments for the moment). Most notable with regards to co-optation within the strictures of IS governance is the attempt to bring the Iraqi and Syrian education systems in areas of IS control in line with IS ideology, which entails securing the repentance of teachers and education admin staff and then subjecting them to 're-education' in the form of Shari'a lessons, using IS textbooks like al-Taqrirat al-Mufida fi Aham Abwab al-Aqida(Beneficial Courses in the Most Important Aspects of Doctrine).

It also turns out that repentance is apparently a source of revenue for IS, as a fee is charged for the initial act of repentance with additional payment required for subsequent 'renewal' of repentance. This is something that tends not to come to light in the documentary evidence. Below I have translated the testimony this month of pro-IS source Omar Fawaz of Mosul regarding payments for repentance. It appears the sums are quite hefty and have contributed to the harsh negative impact on living standards, which will only be compounded by the most recent Iraqi government decision to stop direct salary payments to employees in areas controlled by IS. More generally, the testimony is important in illustrating the economic hardship faced by a growing number of residents under IS rule, something that was predictable from the outset:

"My brothers are coming upon my private account and corresponding with me, for one of my brothers in God has a discussion with me and says: 'Since when did repentance towards God become something in exchange for paying money?' And another says to me: 'When we- those affiliated with the army and police- repented in the last year, the Islamic State demanded from us a sum of $2500 in exchange for accepting repentance and forgiving us, so we paid it and obtained a repentance ID, and days ago we were informed that we must renew the repentance ID by paying a sum of $200, and the one who doesn't renew the repentance ID will be considered an apostate and will be executed in punishment. And on account of the difficult living circumstances we are without employment, and by God sometimes we don't have the means to buy milk for our children, not to mention keep ourselves alive.'

And another says to me: 'We are employees of the elections delegation and the Islamic State today demands us to pay a sum of $1000 in exchange for obtaining a repentance ID, and we have not received any salary for more than a year and we don't even have our daily food on account of the difficult economic circumstances and the lack of existence of any job opportunities in the shadow of these difficult circumstances in which we live.'

And another says: 'Is this the law of God? Is this as the Messenger (SAWS) did?'

My brothers, I do not have anything to do with these matters. I am only a Muslim servant of God. Trust me, I empathize with all your sufferings...and God is the guarantor of success. There is no Lord but He." 



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