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What is the Levant?

Updated Jun 17, 2014 10:34am

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Image posted on a militant website appears to show members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS) leading away captured Iraqi soldiers after taking over a base in Tikrit.—AP
Image posted on a militant website appears to show members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS) leading away captured Iraqi soldiers after taking over a base in Tikrit.—AP

Many in the international media are still not sure which of the two acronyms, ISIL and ISIS, is more suitable to describe the Sunni militia that recently made headlines as it captured the Iraqi city of Mosul and its adjoining districts.

Until recently it was referred to as ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant’, hence the acronym ISIL. The acronym now being commonly used is ISIS as the militant organisation is being referred to as ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’. The Sunni militia, in Arabic, calls itself Al-Daulatul Islamiya fil Iraq wal-Shaam, meaning ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham’. Thus calling it ISIS is correct. But few in the media know that Levant is not the same as present-day Syria.

The Levant is an old term referring to countries of the eastern Mediterranean. Some scholars include in it Cyprus and a small part of Turkey. But basically the Levant has throughout history meant Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. This means Jordan, the West Bank (now under Israeli occupation) and Israel itself are part of the Levant.

For Pakistanis there is added confusion because we refer to Syria as Shaam. Which is misleading, because the country we call Shaam is referred to by the Arabs as Soorya.

In Arabic, the Levant is called Baldatush-Shaam, of which Soorya, with its capital at Damascus, is part. The Jordan river’s east bank was also part of Palestine. Now it is the state of Jordan and part of the Levant.

The Levant is the world’s most blood-drenched land, especially the coastal strip, for there is no other place in the world which has been fought for so much, the next being perhaps Flanders.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2014


Comments (9) Closed



Rizwan Jun 17, 2014 11:46am

informative ...thanks

asgher Jun 17, 2014 11:57am

Very informative. Thank you...I wish our media cover a bit more on the ISIS and current affairs in Middle East.

Ishrat Jun 17, 2014 12:53pm

Now, I feel enlightened. But, will the new knowledge give me food or peace ?

Shahid Akhtar Jun 17, 2014 01:21pm

Very informative article. I don't think in Pakistan many people knew the difference between Sham and Soorya.

Ali Jun 17, 2014 02:54pm

waste of time and space .....

Asad Jun 17, 2014 04:13pm

Thanks but wait there is more bloodshed to come.

Faiz Jun 17, 2014 04:34pm

Good information, but I would like to differ a bit. Cyprus is included but not any part of Turkey. This is according to my information.

Shazia Jun 17, 2014 05:14pm

The province shaam about which we have read in history so much is not only Sooriya it is actually levant. It was the same province like country which was ruled by Muwaya. It explains a lot. Plus IsIs is also an eygptiian goddess , wife of Horous..

Prince Jun 18, 2014 05:54am

correction,(ISIS) Islamic state of Iraq and SCAM.