On the Origin of the ‘Name’ DAESH – The Islamic State in Iraq and as-Shām

On the origin of the name DAESH

It seems more and more Western media are using the derogatory DAESH when they’re talking about the Islamic State in Iraq and as-Shām (commonly known as ISIS).

As nobody seems to have the faintest idea what DAESH stands for, here’s an attempt to explain.

The capitals in the word DAESH point out it is an acronym of some sort. And indeed if we single out the beginning letters of the Arabic name for ISIS : الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام

we get the Arabic: داعش

د = Dawlat (Nation)
ا = (al-) Islāmiyya
ع= (fī’l-) ‘Irāq
ش = (wa’s-) Shām (Greater Syria or the Levant)

So, roughly transcribed to the Latin alphabet that leaves us with DAESH. (The E stands for the ‘ayn in ‘Iraq)

At first the name DAESH was merely an acronym indeed. Activists and more moderate rebel coalitions used it as referral to Dawlat al-Islāmiyya fī al-Irāq wa s-Shām. But it didn’t take long before all kinds of interpretations arose.

In se the Arabic word داعش doesn’t even exist. But if we look at the tone of voice within circles (opposing ISIS) ever since they introduced the acronym, we might conclude the acronym has a double meaning.

Most likely ISIS opponents are referring to the Arabic verb دعس, meaning : to thread underfoot, trample down, crush (see The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, p. 325 and 326)

Another theory is that the name refers to the Jāhiliyya (pre-Islamic) strife between two Arab tribes on the Arabian peninsula : داحس والغبراء

Dāhis wa’l-Ghabrā’ can be literary translated as ‘felon and dust’ (see http://ar.wikipedia.org/wiki/داحس_والغبراء ). This referral seems to have a more theological background yet it seems unlikely all sources using this would have in depth knowledge of the Jāhiliyya.

Which ever theory suits best, it is quite clear that the acronym DAESH (داعش) is mostly, if not only, used by opponents of ISIS in Syria.

An example of anti ISIS propaganda using the acronym داعش


A cartoon about ISIS (original upload here) by @ibrahem_swaid


All comments welcome at @p_vanostaeyen and @SimNasr

192 comments on “On the Origin of the ‘Name’ DAESH – The Islamic State in Iraq and as-Shām

  1. I am using a quote from this article with link back to this page in a FaceBook comment. I used the word “Daesh”, then someone asked the meaning. I found a few references, but your blog page seems the most objective. Thank you.

  2. ISIS is just glorified Nazism w/ help from Zionistic bankster funding jewtards … WTF? oops … Kill ’em all Marine Corps motto! bunch of lazy asswipe jerks!

  3. Nicolas B. says:

    Thank you for this insight.

    But the letters look wrong. Why DAESH? The acronym has to be DIISH, no?

    Can you explain that?

    Thank you.

    • No. Please re-read the relevant section of the article, which explains the origins of the acronym in detail.

      Remember: The initial letters from which the acronym is formed are dal-alif-‘ayn-shiin. Therefore the acronym should be pronounced approximately as “daa’ish” or “daa’esh.”

  4. Nicolas B. says:

    I wrote and sent a comment. And… nothing. My comment is not here. No error message. No success message. We don’t understand. Censorship? Bug? We do not know. It would be nice to fix this system. Thank you.

  5. Nicolas B. says:

    Another thing.

    Islamiya starts with a Alif, no? So why Islamiya with a I and not a A?

  6. Nicolas B. says:

    The acronym in arabic is not properly transcribed as DAESH. Translitterated, maybe. I think the transcription is DIISH.

  7. Judy Tabb says:

    It would be nice if our government could find one, consistent term for the Islamic Extremists most commonly known as ISIS. Just another way of confusing average americans.

  8. Judah YesReally says:

    Transliterations of Hebrew and Arabic (other languages too, for that matter) don’t work in the English tongue. Just as other languages don’t have the “th” of English (Germans pronounce it “d” or “t” and the French insist on “z”), most English-speakers truly cannot pronounce “ayin” in either Hebrew or Arabic (just as most English-speakers say “walla” instead of pronouncing “voila”, “dayja voo” instead of “deja vu”, or my personal fave: “Heavy doody” or “doody free”… either/or is poopy any way you say it.

    Eneehoo… “DAESH” is the commonly accepted transliteration and really, why bother debating that part. The important (I should think) point is:
    If it offends… in this case… USE IT indeed. (FYI: I completely reject ANY form of “political correctness”. I’m a “Baby Boomer”… we’ve no time for such nonsense.)

    I’allah! (Yallah) (what-ever)

  9. Thank you for your enlightening treatise. However, throughout the essay, you use the acronym ISIS. To be concise, let me assert that Isis is an ancient Egyptian Goddess; ISIL is a more appropriate acronym for the Islamic State since ISIL stands for “Islamic State in the Levant.”. Do you not agree, DAESH is attempting to hold dominance over greater territory, the Levant, than Iraq and Syria?


    E.Landon Hobgood

    The struggle continues!

    • pat says:

      is-is, All disrespect intended…. Islamic State in Iraq and as-Shām or (Syria)

      • Hatheru@aol.com says:

        Very cute! But the point is, “ISIL” (The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,) is more accurate. Disespect intended or not, the letters I-S-I-S are only appropriate when referring to the ancient Egyptian ‘Virgin queen.’ The struggle continues _http://PapaGino.Info

  10. Shafiu says:

    Why salafists are never diffentiated from peace loving Muslims? All the brutal Islamist are salafists the Saudis promote.is a disaster

  11. Cecil says:

    What is this ‘struggle continues’ ? Man I hope you aren’t referencing illiteracy because you didn’t go to school when it was free. You know the struggle continues to feed my family because I never came with an original idea to replace the school that I missed and now I’m caught in retard heaven. Is that the struggle that is continuing.

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