Divine Test or Divine Punishment? Explaining Islamic State Losses

Since it began losing territory in Iraq and Syria in 2016, the Islamic State’s official line for explaining its losses has been that God is subjecting the believers to a test or trial (tamhis, ibtila’). The theme was introduced in May 2016 by Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani, the Islamic State’s official spokesman until his death later that year, in an audio address recalling the struggles of the Islamic State of Iraq between 2006 and 2012. Al-‘Adnani reminded listeners of “God’s practice of testing and trying the mujahidin,” hinting that more of the same lay in store. In October 2016, an editorial in the Islamic State’s official Arabic weekly, al-Naba’, spoke similarly of God’s habit of “trying the believers with misfortune and hardship … before God’s victory will descend upon them.” In other words, so the message goes, take heart and despair not, for the divine tribulation will surely pass and the

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