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The Islamic State Hisbah

The Islamic State Hisbah video features 25-year-old Abu Hamza, a Syrian from Deir ez-Zor interviewed in 2016 in Turkey by Anne Speckhard and Ahmet S. Yayla. The video was produced and edited by Zack Baddorf and ICSVE staff.

Abu Hamza’s job in ISIS was to work with their hisbah, or morality police. In that capacity he viewed their many abuses. Abu Hamza narrates that the ISIS hisbah was responsible for enforcing anti-smoking regulations, making sure women were covering their bodies as per ISIS regulations, and that they collected zakat,i.e. what ISIS called their taxation imposed on locals. He tells about the his bah punishments of floggings, being taken to dig tunnels, imprisonments, disappearances, etc. that occurred when someone sells cigarettes, or if a woman is not considered properly covered.

Abu Hamza notes that women were also employed by the ISIS hisbah. Indeed, in Raqqa, ISIS began employing women to placate local men who were not happy about ISIS men enforcing dress codes, etc. on their women. In our ICSVE research with Syrian ISIS defectors we have learned that foreign women were generally invited by ISIS to serve in the hisbah and to be Internet propagandists for the group.  Local Syrians also served in the hisbah and both categories of women were known for their ruthless flogging of other women and biting them in the fleshy parts of their bodies with metal teeth that caused bleeding—and sometimes death. Foreign women who served in the hisbah carried Kalashnikovs and answered to hardly anyone.

Abu Hamza also refers to drinkers and drug addicts that join ISIS.  They are at first tolerated but later “caught” and severely punished by beheading to serve as an example to others.

Timed transcript of The Islamic State Hisbah video:

0:01     Women are usually in the hisbah [religious police].

0:07     The hisbah is against smoking.

0:11     and against women whose faces are not covered.

0:16     And it collects zakat [Islamic taxes].

0:20     This is their job.

0:23     For example, we heard about a guy who is selling cigarettes.

0:27     They will raid his house and take him.

0:31     They will fine him 1,000 Syrian lira, simply for having one carton of cigarettes.

0:36     They burn the cigarettes.

0:40     He will get flogged

0:43     or taken to a village to dig tunnels from one region to another.

0:49     If they see a woman showing her face or hands, they will take her out of her house.

0:50     ABU HAMZA

Former ISIS Soldier

0:59     They will call her husband.  He will have to flog her in front of people.

1:10     They will take her husband to dig tunnels, and they will also flog him [as punishment].

1:17     He would stay for six to seven days in prison.

1:23     A lot of things happen

1:26     Some people completely disappear.

1:29     Where do they go? I don’t know. Do they kill them or . . . ?

1:36     As for prayers, during the prayers, the mosque has its adhan[call to prayer].

1:42     [The hisbah] patrol mostly during prayers.

1:47     If you have a shop and they see that you didn’t close it, they will [disappear you].

1:55     Abu Hamza found that ISIS imposed their rules injudiciously and unjustly in areas they controlled.

2:00     We hear that some [defectors] get caught and some others don’t.

2:05     Some get beheaded on the spot.

2:08     Some joined our group, and it was all about hashish and alcohol.

2:22     You will find people who do hashish or drunk people joining [ISIS].

2:32     In the beginning, [ISIS] will let them do whatever they want.

2:35     Then they would catch him to behead him in front of people.

2:42     They will say that it’s his fault.

2:46     The Truth Behind the Islamic State

2:49     Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism

2:54     See more at

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 600 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past two years, she and ICSVE staff have been collecting interviews (n=78) with ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS, as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and consulting on how to rehabilitate them. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism experts and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA and FBI and CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: and on the ICSVE website  Follow @AnneSpeckhard

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