Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani
so-called Islamic State (IS) has just released its first newspaper in the Malay
Language, and declared in it a Wilayah (province) in the Philippines. The
publication of a Malay-language IS newspaper would have implications not only
on Malay-speaking IS fighters in Iraq and Syria but also the Malay-speaking
world in Southeast Asia.
JUNE 24, 2016
On June 20,
2016, Furat Media – an IS-affiliated media agency – published the first edition
of Al-Fatihin, a newspaper meant for speakers of the Malay Language who have
migrated and joined the terrorist group, dedicated to the creation of Daulah
Islamiyah (IS) in Southeast Asia. According to its tagline, “Surat Kabar Bagi
Muhajirin Berbahasa Melayu Di Daulah Islamiyyah”, Al-Fatihin would serve the
existing Southeast Asian “foreign fighters” who are mostly from Indonesia and
Malaysia. Although the choice of spelling and vocabulary reveals that
Al-Fatihin is written in Bahasa Indonesia, it is comprehensible to all those who
speak various dialects and forms of the Malay language.
edition of Al-Fatihin was well-timed to appear in the holy month of Ramadan,
carrying a range of news and reports on the caliphate as well as features on
religion. The 20-page edition focused heavily on the significance of Ramadan,
jihad and the rituals of fasting. In fact, the first three pages contain advice
from the Egyptian ideologue Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir, aka Abu Ayyub al-Masri,
calling on IS fighters to continue their jihadist activities, search for
martyrdom and kill and crucify the polytheists, disbelievers, oppressors and
transgressors. The newspaper also carries a feature on a Syrian martyr Abu
Bilal al-Himshi (dubbed a “Media Warrior”) and various news excerpts from Raqqa
to the Philippines, information and statistics on military operations, a map of
the world showing IS provinces, and Zakat collection and distribution
statistics in Syria.
of a Malay Language Newspaper
to serve the Malay-speaking readers in Syria and Iraq, the newspaper for
“muhajirin berbahasa Melayu (Malay-speaking migrants)” could also serve the
larger Malay-speaking audience in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia,
Singapore, Brunei and Thailand. With the exception of “Jayl al-Malahim” – an
ISIS video depicting Indonesians and Malaysians burning their passports – IS
articles and videos have largely been translated into Bahasa Indonesia and
featured mostly Indonesians.
Al-Fatahin’s twitter account posted content in Bahasa Indonesia from Indonesian
versions of the A’maaq News Agency, IS announcements and Nashir (IS’ caliphate
updates). Marketing Al-Fatihin as a Malay-language newspaper is a strategic
move to reduce the Indonesian flavour of IS propaganda and thereby appeal to a
larger Malay audience, uniting all Malay-speaking jihadists and IS supporters
with a common language that is more accessible than Arabic.
broader Malay language and identity not only helps in disseminating IS
propaganda, it also reinforces IS’ ideology and efforts to unite all jihadists.
Al-Fatihin buttresses IS messages calling on militant groups in Indonesia and
the Philippines to unite and pledge their allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
These calls are often made in IS media such as the video production entitled
“Bersatulah: Jangan Berpecah Belah” (Unite: Don’t be divided) released by
al-Furat Media Foundation. In the latest video entitled “Al-Bunyan Al-Marsus”
(A Solid Structure) released by IS on 22 June 2016, IS fighters from Indonesia,
Malaysia and the Philippines called on all groups in Southeast Asia to unite.
tagline drives the point that, no matter the differences and nuances in
language, identity and origins, Southeast Asian jihadists have a common logos
and as such, all Malay-speaking jihadists should act as one. IS cleverly
exploits the notion of Nusantara or archipelago used by Nadhlatul Ulama (in
their version of “Islam Nusantara” – Islam in Indonesia), and radical and
terrorist groups such as Darul Islam and Jemaah Islamiyah.
significant that there was no earlier attempt by Southeast Asian foreign
fighters (who trained and fought during the Soviet-Afghan war) to publish a
Malay newspaper or newsletter despite their intention to establish an Islamic
state (Daulah Islamiyah) after their return. The publication of
Al-Fatihin is possibly the prelude to the declaration of the Philippines as an
hoped that Southeast Asian jihadists in Syria, Iraq, and the Philippines, and
their supporters all around the world, would see Al-Filibin (The Philippines)
as a province of the far-flung self-declared caliphate. Publication of
Al-Fatihin would also enable IS fighters and supporters in Southeast Asia to
feel that they are part of the caliphate, especially when they receive special
greetings and messages that begin with “O, my mujahid comrade”, and reading
jihadist news from Southeast Asia as well as news from Baghdad, Mosul, Raqqa,
Damascus, Khurasan and Bangladesh.
Anderson argued, in Imagined Communities, that nationalism was made possible
with “print capitalism”, where books and media are printed in the vernacular
instead of “exclusive script languages” such as Latin, Al-Fatihin serves that
precise purpose, by using the Malay Language, and the conception of a Malay
Nusantara to underline a common ideology and nationality.
Al-Fatihin map showing the spread of IS territories worldwide helps readers see
the far reaches of the caliphate from the Middle East and Africa to South,
Central and Southeast Asia, even though IS does not administratively control
most of these territories. Al-Fatihin provides a platform for Malay-speaking
IS-affiliated jihadists to have a common identity and feel part of a community
within a Daulah Islamiyah.
of identity and purpose may motivate IS supporters to act militantly as is
happening in Southern Philippines and Poso. In the video “Al-Bunyan Al-Marsus”,
Abu ‘Aun al-Malizi, a Malaysian IS fighter, called on jihadists in Southeast
Asia who could not afford to make the journey to IS territories in the Middle
East, to either migrate to the Philippines or to kill IS enemies wherever they
may be found, even using vehicles to cause their deaths. IS-related groups have
to be neutralised or eliminated in Southeast Asia for Al-Fatihin to lose its
potency and relevance, along with its plans for a caliphate.
Jasminder Singh is a Senior Analyst and Muhammad
Haziq Jani a Research Analyst with the International Centre for Political
Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), at the S. Rajaratnam School of
International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.