Islamic State’s Gruesome Muslim Death Toll

Journalist and comedian, Dean Obeidallah, reaches beyond the headlines detailing the horrific treatment by the Islamic State of ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. Here he discusses the Islamic State’s impact on fellow Muslims in response to a September report drafted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the human rights office of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq.

In a piece written for the Daily Beast website on October 7, 2014, Obeidallah provides important insight on the Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Iraq: 6 July – 10 September 2014. He begins, “Last Thursday, the United Nations released a report that could provide us with one of the keys to defeating ISIS. Unfortunately, it received almost zero media attention. What makes this 26-page report so powerful is that it describes to us the gruesome circumstances in which ISIS has killed fellow Muslim. We are talking beheadings, killing of women for objecting to ISIS policies, and executing Sunni Muslim clerics for refusing to swear allegiance to ISIS.”

He continues: Why is this important? This information can hopefully help dissuade other Muslims from joining or financially supporting ISIS. And it may even persuade other Muslim countries to join or increase their efforts in fighting ISIS. The reason being that slaughtering fellow Muslims is seen as universally wrong across the Muslim world and as a violation of Islamic values. In fact, Al Qaeda has even publicly criticized ISIS for this very conduct.

Obeidallah decries ISIS’ horrific attacks against Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities, but admonishes a media apparatus puts the spotlights on the non-Muslim victims of the so-called Caliphate. A great amount of attention has been give to the plights of minority groups and Westerns; indeed, reports and images of the grisly beheadings of American journalists and Western aid workers, and stranded religious-minority refugees have been covered extensively by our media. What’s been missing, though, is attention to the Muslim victims of ISIS. Obeidallah concedes that this may be due partly to the lack of information surrounding those events. “After all,” he says, “ISIS releases videos of its gruesome actions that it wants the world media to discuss but doesn’t publicize events it understands can hurt its cause.

The report, a joint initiative by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the human rights office of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, changes that trend, providing evidence about the specifics of ISIS’ treatment of fellow Muslims. The report is based on an investigation that conducted more than 500 interviews with witnesses and visited locations across Iraq to determine the number of civilian casualties in Iraq between July and September 2014.


What did the UN find? ISIS had “carried out attacks deliberately and systematically targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, with the intention of killing and wounding civilians.” Obeidallah provides specific examples of the methodical crimes against Muslims, not all of which attributable to ISIS:

On September 5 (2014), ISIS executed three Sunni women in Mosul. What was their “crime”? They refused to provide medical care to ISIS fighters.

On September 9, ISIS executed a Sunni Imam in western Mosul for refusing to swear loyalty to ISIS.

On August 2, a man from the Salah ad Din province was abducted and beheaded for refusing to swear allegiance to ISIS.

On August 19, a female Muslim doctor south of Mosul was killed for organizing a protest to object to ISIS’ mandate that female doctors cover their faces with religious veils when treating patients

On August 31, 19 Sunni Muslim men were executed in Saadiya for refusing to swear allegiance to ISIS.

On July 22, a Sunni Imam in Eastern Baquba was killed for simply denouncing ISIS.

On September 9, ISIS executed two Muslim women by shooting them in the back of the head. Their exact “crime” was not known.

He adds, “and the list goes on from ISIS slaughtering 1,500 Iraqi soldiers in June to blowing up numerous Sunni mosques because apparently the leaders of those mosques refused to swear loyalty to ISIS.”

ISIS has claimed it has legitimate reasons for targeting Muslims, which generally entail besmirching their character or claiming self defense. For example, Obeidallah writes that ISIS claimed in one issue of its graphically sophisticated and glossy magazine, Dabiq, that “some of the Sunni Muslims they killed were “drowning” in alcohol and drugs and had more than four wives.” When it comes to the UN report though, it is evident that ISIS’ killings of Muslims is not related to Islam, but to power, and is as indiscriminate as its targeting of other groups. ISIS expects complete submission to its rule.

View image |

Generally, the trend has been to profile exceptional cases involving minorities and international workers or journalists in some detail. We learn about individual families, careers, personalities, and traumatic experiences exacted by ISIS rebels or government forces. Muslim bystanders are recorded by numbers as victims of roadside, mosque, or market bombs; they are not presented as individuals but part of a daily casualty count. Should the media alter the way it covers victims of the conflict? What impact would a more complete narrative of ISIS have – on the global military response, on the perception of Islam vs. terrorism, on ISIS’ appeal to its followers?

Obeidallah concludes with the following remarks on how changing media coverage could change the conversation about ISIS:

Those Muslims who gave their lives fighting against or refusing to give into ISIS in our common struggle should be recognized in the media for their bravery. It would be very powerful to see images in our media of the Muslims killed by ISIS, not just Westerners.  Going forward in our war against ISIS, sadly we will likely see more gruesome acts perpetrated by them against Americans. These acts will understandably receive extensive media coverage. But that is only one part of the story in our fight versus ISIS. The Muslims being slaughtered by ISIS on a daily basis is the other, bigger part. And it’s this other part of the story that might just hold the key to defeating ISIS.

For the full article, and for a link to the report itself, visit here.


Support TeachMideast

Make a Donation

Your generous contributions help make TeachMideast, and our efforts to educate and provide high-quality information on the Middle East and North Africa, a reality. Help support the students and educators in your community by clicking the button below.

Scroll to Top