May 4, 2017 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1312

ISIS Sinai And Its Relations With The Local Population – Part II: Establishing ISIS Rule In Sinai – Enforcing Islamic Law

May 4, 2017 | By R. Green*
Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1312

The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.

For the first report in this series on ISIS in Sinai, see ISIS In Sinai And Its Relations With The Local Population – Part I

The Islamic State (ISIS) seeks to make Sinai part of its "caliphate," and to do this it must demonstrate control on the ground and prove itself capable of enforcing its version of Islamic law in the area it controls. However, thus far, judging by information about what is actually happening, ISIS's Sinai Province is operating only on the military level, waging an ongoing military campaign against Egyptian security forces and withstanding Egyptian army efforts to defeat it. ISIS Sinai has yet to take over territory in a way that will allow it to actualize civil rule to any meaningful extent.

The leaders of ISIS's Sinai Province, as well as social media activists who help spread its propaganda, depict the organization as being in control on the ground and capable of imposing its will on the residents and establishing an Islamic regime according to its particular religious vision. The organization operates a hisba department, a religious police, in charge of enforcing shari'a law and meting out religious punishments in accordance with the Islamic principle of "the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice." The head of ISIS Sinai's hisba department[1] said in an interview that his men engage in daily activity to educate and preach about upholding the dictates of Islam and avoiding forbidden practices, and even enforce prohibitions and inculcate them among the population.

However, until recently the organization rarely published evidence of this. The propaganda that ISIS Sinai publishes, consisting mostly of videos, images, and communiques, focuses almost entirely on military matters: attacks, training, and the daily lives of its fighters.

On March 28, 2017, Sinai Province released the video "The Light of Shari'a", which for the first time presented its hisba and preaching activity. The video shows the enforcement of bans of cigarettes and drugs by punishing smugglers of those commodities, destroying their vehicles and so on. The video also shows the destruction of TV sets and satellite dishes, the destruction of graves and more. The video is reminiscent of ISIS publications from other areas, territories where the organization has substantial control; in those provinces, it showcases its social activity, including charity, infrastructure work, religious proselytization such as Koran lessons for children and religion and theology classes for adults, and the stresses peaceful routine of the local people. It should be noted that in other ISIS provinces the organization's contact with the local population, including activity related to religion, society, law, infrastructure, welfare, and so on, is conducted by unmasked and unarmed members, while in Sinai its operatives are generally shown masked and armed, indicating that ISIS still treats the locals with suspicion.

The following is a review of the efforts exerted by ISIS in Sinai to enforce Islamic law according to its worldview:

ISIS Sinai Province Governor: "We Have Fought Unbelief [And] Eliminated Idolatry"

ISIS seeks to present Sinai as an integral part of its "caliphate." In this spirit, a writer on a Telegram channel associated with ISIS Sinai Province boasted: "Praise be to Allah, there are several villages [in north Sinai] in which the Islamic shari'a and hudoud [Koranic punishments] are implemented.[2] The hisba, the zakat [charity] department, and the Islamic police [which is part of the hisba], all operate beautifully. Thanks to Allah, there is no oppression, and the hordes of the [Egyptian] army cannot enter [these villages], thanks to the lions of Sinai."[3]

ISIS Sinai Province Governor Abu Hajer Al-Shami said in an interview with the ISIS weekly Al-Naba that the organization has already realized its vision and has begun implementing shari'a law in Sinai:

"Q: Could you describe the most important milestones in the establishment of the religion in Sinai by the caliphate soldiers, may Allah grant them victory?"

"A: Praise Allah the Almighty, in our blessed province we have fought unbelief, eliminated idolatry, implemented the hudoud, promoted virtue and prevented vice. After we rejected the tyrant [Egyptian President Al-Sisi] and fought him, and after Allah granted us power in parts of His land, we learned that victory from Allah will not come to us and will not remain unless we promote virtue and prevent vice. Therefore, we addressed idolatry and eliminated it; [we addressed] vice and eliminated it. There is no transgression for which the Koran specifies a punishment that we failed to punish. Allah willing, we will follow this path for as long as we can. The Sufis repented and abandoned their idolatry and bid'a [forbidden innovations]. We killed the sorcerers, burned the things that are banned, and prevented vice, and we pray that Allah enable us to continue to do so."[4]

Text on vehicle reads: "Islamic State, Sinai Province, hisba and Islamic Police"

Head Of ISIS Sinai's hisba: "We Have Successfully Fought Many Indecent Phenomena"

The director of ISIS Sinai's religious police likewise gave an interview to Al-Naba, in which he described the province as a proper administrative entity comprising departments with different responsibilities, similar to other ISIS provinces. The organization's [ISIS's] activists, he said, implement and enforce Islamic law wherever possible:

"One of the boons granted by Allah to His worshippers, the mujahideen in Sinai Province, is that he enabled all of them to grab hold of the rope held out by Allah, to fight to make Allah's word supreme, and to withstand the trials and catastrophes of the Jews' and infidels' onslaught against them and the attempts of the enemies of Islam to harm and eliminate them day and night... After all these plots, Sinai Province has only grown stronger and tougher. The faith and persistence of its soldiers has only increased. They continue to fight as one against all the infidels, and they implement the law of the Lord of All Worlds wherever their hand can reach, and as much as possible...

"Despite the fierce battles [taking place] here between Islam and heresy, the centers and offices of our religious departments, such as the legal and public complaints department, the hisba, and the da'wa department, are still operating and fulfilling their roles. Praise Allah, we at the hisba – Allah has granted us success on our path, and we have successfully fought many improper phenomena, including the smuggling of cigarettes, bongs, hashish, Tramadol [an addictive painkiller], and the like. Additionally, we have prohibited people from committing transgressions and violating clear bans, such as women driving [alone without a chaperone] and gender mixing, and [we enforced the] shortening of men's pants,[5] in addition to [enforcing the ban on] smoking, music, and satellite dishes. However, our main focus is fighting idolatry and bid'a, including Sufism, sorcery, fortunetelling, soothsaying, and extremism in [conducting rituals at] tombs."[6]

Examples Of Shari'a Law Enforcement In Sinai Province

Ban On Smoking

One issue that ISIS Sinai deals with often and highlights in its propaganda is its enforcement of the religious ban on selling and smoking cigarettes and on drug use and trafficking. Enforcing this ban allows the organization to boast that it implements shari'a law. However, this is the main hisba activity highlighted in ISIS Sinai publications. It should be noted that enforcing the religious ban on trafficking cigarettes and drugs could be a cover for collecting money from traders and smugglers.

In its video "The Light of Shari'a," ISIS Sinai touted its war on cigarettes and drugs. A speaker on behalf of its hisba, Abu Al-Miqdad Al-Masri, explained that cigarettes are banned in Islamic law since they lead to waste of money and loss of human life: "The members of the hisba notified the cigarette smugglers that this is prohibited and admonished them for their actions, and then punished them." The video shows ISIS operatives dragging alleged cigarette smugglers from their homes at gunpoint and flogging them. The video also shows ISIS operatives burning cigarette shipments that were meant to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip along with the smugglers' trucks. In one case ISIS operatives are seen uprooting Cannabis plants in the yard of a family in north Sinai.

ISIS Sinai makes good use of the fact that a main route for smuggling cigarettes and drugs into Israel and the Gaza Strip passes through the northern Sinai, and post photos and videos of their confiscation and destruction of this contraband. Thus, for example, in February 2016, the ISIS news agency A'maq posted a video showing ISIS hisba members confiscating and burning shipments of cigarettes headed for the Gaza Strip. The armed ISIS members are seen near a vehicle of the "hisba and Islamic Police."[7] Several days later, it was reported that ISIS members in Rafah had distributed flyers outlining the smoking ban, which stated: "We are reissuing our warning to all Muslims: Do not smuggle drugs or cigarettes, and do not distribute, sell, or use them. You must return back to Allah and avoid them entirely. As of this flyer's publication, we will punish anyone using or distributing cigarettes or drugs, in order to combat corruption and transgression against Allah, the Blessed and Almighty on Earth. The word of Allah precedes all and follows all. Praise Allah, Lord of All Worlds."[8]

Hisba members confiscate cannabis plants

Reports of the enforcement of this ban also came from Al-'Arish: The Telegram channel 'Ajel min Sina' reported that Islamic Police and hisba members raided shops in the Al-Samran neighborhood of Al-'Arish, confiscated cigarettes, and warned young people not to smoke them. They also confiscated security camera hard drives, and warned merchants not to aim them at the main street.[9] The channel stated: "The Sinai Province's hisba promotes virtue and prevents vice by burning cigarettes smuggled into Gaza on a daily basis, praise Allah."[10]

Recently, armed ISIS men captured and burned a vehicle used by smugglers who were en route way to deliver cigarettes to the Gaza Strip, and six young men caught smuggling cigarettes into Gaza received a punishment of 30 lashes each.[11]

Cigarette smugglers' vehicle torched by ISIS province – on the left, as seen in a selfie photo taken by a Sinai resident; on the right, from the ISIS Sinai video "The Light of Shari'a"

Armed ISIS members claiming to be from the hisba and the Islamic Police disseminated, for the first time, a manifesto among the residents of Rafah announcing the ban on smuggling cigarettes and drugs: "We reiterate our warning to all the Muslims not to smuggle drugs or cigarettes, or to distribute or sell them, not to use them, and not to consume them. [Anyone who uses them] must return to Allah and abstain from them completely. Starting from the date of the publication of this manifesto, the hisba will punish cigarette smoking and drug use or distribution, in order to fight moral decay and transgressions against Allah..."[12]

Dress Code Enforcement

ISIS members have recently begun enforcing a strict Islamic dress code for women. On February 22, ISIS set up a checkpoint on the Al-'Arish-Rafah road, stopping a bus full of women teachers and schoolgirls on their way to work. They demanded that the women and girls don Islamic garb and cover their faces with a niqab, and warned them not to expose their faces in public. They identified themselves as members of the organization to promote virtue (that is, hisba) in Sinai Province. According to one report, they set a two-day deadline after which any of the teachers not wearing the niqab would be flogged.[13]

The Facebook page Sinai24 published a call to Egyptian state authorities by the teachers who had been on the bus: "We were explicitly threatened [that if we did not comply with] a mandate requiring a mahram [male chaperone] to accompany the women teachers when they go to work, in addition to [a requirement] to wear the niqab, and a requirement that men must grow their beards and dress in accordance with religious law, [we would] face Koranic punishments." The teachers demanded immediate help from Egyptian authorities so that they would not be a target for ISIS members.[14]

The teachers threatened by ISIS describe their plight at a meeting with Egyptian authorities (, March 5, 2017)

One teacher described the events: "A [Hyundai Accent] vehicle obstructed our bus, and three armed men with covered faces got out of it. The first stood with the driver outside the bus, and the other two got on [our bus]. One of them began filming, with a video camera, the speech delivered to us by the other." She added that the speaker began by saying "welcome to Sinai Province" and reported on his speech, saying: "The masked man spoke to us for about seven minutes about the duty to adhere to Islamic dress codes and the virtues of 'the daughters of Muhammad.' He cited hadiths and said things like 'my Muslim sister, do you want to go to hell? Do you not wish to adhere to the Sunna of Muhammad?' He concluded afterwards by stressing that he and his friends were members of 'the organization to promote virtue and prevent vice in Sinai Province."

ISIS members stopped the teachers' bus a second time on February 25, and delivered their final warning to the passengers, stating that if they would not wear Islamic garb and continued to travel without a male chaperone, they would be punished in accordance with the Koran. Asked what the punishment would be, they were told it that it would involve floggings and acid.[15]

It was later reported that armed ISIS Sinai members distributed flyers calling on women to don veils and refrain from wearing tight clothing.[16]

Destroying TVs and Satellite Dishes

In recent years, ISIS has fought the ownership of television sets and satellite dishes in areas under its control, and has encouraged people to destroy any they own.[17] ISIS Sinai is enforcing the same kind of ban. A Telegram channel associated with ISIS Sinai recently reported that "gunmen have blown up a TV antenna in western Rafah" and added, "It should be noted that several months ago, after informing the residents of central Rafah that [owning] a TV was banned because it spreads poison among the Muslims, members of the Sinai Province Islamic police collected all TV sets [in the area] and burned them in public."[18] This incident was featured in a segment of the video "The Light of Shari'a," in which members of ISIS hisba department are seen destroying TV sets and satellite dishes with hammers and burning them.

ISIS operatives destroying TV sets in Rafah

Collecting Donations For Charity

Except for the abovementioned statements by ISIS Sinai officials, there is no information on any ISIS collection of charity donations from local residents. In one incident, citrus farmers in western Rafah reported that armed ISIS Sinai members demanded that they pay zakat (charity) out of the profits from their produce.[19]

* R. Green is Director of MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor project.


[1] The religious police in Saudi Arabia has similar duties.

[2] Hudoud – literally, boundaries. In Islamic law the term refers to punishments set by God in the Quran for specific transgressions, which include: fornication, adultery, apostasy, theft, robbery, and rebellion against the Muslim ruler. The punishments include death and the cutting off of limbs.

[3], March 6, 2017.

[4] Al-Naba issue 60, December 12, 2016; p. 8-9.

[5] In Salafi Islam, men's clothing must not hang below the ankles.

[6] Al-Naba, issue 58, December 8, 2017; p. 8-9.

[7], February 5, 2016.

[8], February 18, 2016.

[9]'Ajel Min Sina' 15, January 4, 2017.

[10]'Ajel Min Sina' 15, January 23, 2017.

[11], March 5, 2017.

[12], February 18, 2017.

[13], February 25, 2017.

[14], February 26, 2017.

[15], February 27, 2017.

[16], February 28, 2017.

[17]In 2015, ISIS hisba issued a fatwa banning the possession, sale, or repair of satellite dishes. See MEMRI JTTM report ISIS Fatwa Bans Sale, Use Of Satellite Dishes In Its Territories, December 22, 2015. In March 2016, ISIS published a leaflet explaining why satellite dishes should be destroyed, which indicated that the ban on the possession had been issued by ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi himself. See MEMRI JTTM report, ISIS Orders Residents In Its Territories To Destroy Their Satellite Dishes, Threatens To Punish Those Who Do Not , March 27, 2016.

[18], March 4, 2017.

[19], December 23, 2016.

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