Analysis: Islamic State’s current da’wah campaign across Africa

Since the beginning of the year, the Islamic State’s central media apparatus has made a concerted effort to highlight its men engaging in da’wah across the African continent. These actions have so far been seen in both Mali and Mozambique, though more areas could emerge in the near future. 

An Arabic term roughly translating to proselytizing, da’wah serves an important purpose for jihadis as it equates to both proselytizing for their version of Islam to better help build local inroads and a way to build goodwill and support in communities under jihadi control. 

Da’wah activities can range anywhere from religious lectures to community-based events or festivals geared around Islamic principles. This latter form is a popular device used by Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, as part of its da’wah activities in Somalia.

More importantly, such activities are an integral part of the jihadi state-building project and the release of such propaganda helps provide evidence of a form of governance over a specified area. Both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and their respective affiliates and branches, stress the importance of da’wah for this exact reason. 

Historically, the Islamic State’s da’wah efforts in Africa were primarily undertaken by its West Africa Province (ISWAP) in the Lake Chad region, which grew out of the former so-called Boko Haram. In previous years, many photo sets were released showing ISWAP members engaging in da’wah, primarily in northeastern Nigeria but across the Lake Chad area more generally

Currently, however, this focus is left for the Islamic State’s Sahel Province (Islamic State-Sahel, IS-S) and its Mozambique Province (or simply Islamic State-Mozambique, IS-M). Both provinces have been on the upswing and are currently governing, or at least occupying large parts of their respective countries. 

Da’wah in northern Mali

The vast majority of northern Mali’s northern Menaka region, and parts of its Gao region, have been under the Islamic State’s direct control since early 2023. For over a year, the group has governed all but Menaka’s provincial capital, with little to no attention in most international press outlets. 

Part of this governance includes the use of da’wah to help better promote good ties between the jihadis and the civilians under their control. For instance, in April 2023, shortly after confirming its hold over much of Menaka, IS-S distributed leaflets, which were first used by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2014, explaining its ideological tenets to the locals. A month later, as IS-S expanded into parts of Gao, it again showed its men engaging in da’wah practices with locals. 

In the most recent issue of the Islamic State’s weekly Al-Naba newsletter, the Islamic State’s propagandists again took note of recent da’wah activities in areas under IS-S’s control. Photos can be seen of IS-S’s Hisbah, or Islamic police, forces distributing pamphlets, speaking with locals informally, and engaging in religious education discussions in areas presumably in northern Mali, but allegedly also in Niger and Burkina Faso. 

“An aside from the da’wah campaign by the Hisbah units in the Sahel Province.”

Speaking in the newsletter, the Islamic State further said of this campaign:

“Since the beginning of Ramadan and continuing until now, [the Hisbah forces] distributed at least 27,000 pamphlets on doctrine and jurisprudence, among other concepts, in addition to audio clips in local languages for those who cannot read, and distributed Islamic clothing to hundreds of Muslim women.” 

Additionally, the newsletter highlights a relatively rare tertiary case of the use of da’wah in that IS-S also used this recent campaign to chip away at local support for another jihadist group. For instance, al-Naba also states that some parts of this recent da’wah campaign took place to areas under the control of al-Qaeda, referring to its Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM). As such, according to al-Naba, “it became clear to them [the locals] that the rumors about the soldiers of the Caliphate spread by the militia [JNIM] are false.” 

In a space where both IS-S and JNIM are indeed competing for dominance, the use of da’wah to help foster less desirable opinions about the other group presents an interesting way for the rival jihadis to project influence and staying power via the locals. For example, if JNIM were to kick IS-S out of these areas, the locals may have a less desirable view of it given the preaching performed by IS-S. This would make its own influence operations therefore more difficult as a result. 

But the Sahel is not the only place where the Islamic State has recently highlighted its ongoing da’wah campaign on the African continent. 

Mozambican Da’wah

Correlating with a large-scale offensive on the ground that saw IS-M advance in the district of Macomia in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado, the Islamic State’s first highlight in this new campaign came in Jan. 2024.

Photos were then subsequently released by the Islamic State showing IS-M members arriving to various villages in Macomia by boats before gathering local civilians and preaching to them. 

“Soldiers of the Caliphate as part of their da’wah campaign in one of the Muslim villages in Macomia.”

Speaking through its weekly Al-Naba newsletter at the time, the Islamic State stated that: 

“As part of the tours, soldiers of the Caliphate called on the inhabitants to learn more about their religion, and the importance of Tawhid [oneness of God] and Al-Wala wal-Bara [loyalty and disavowal, or obeying what God accepts or rejects] in addition to warning them about the dangers of helping the kuffar [infidels] and standing in their ranks because this amounts to apostasy in the religion of God.”

“Soldiers of the Caliphate preparing to advance to one of the Muslim villages in Macomia as part of their da’wah activity.”

As IS-M continued to advance to other districts in Cabo Delgado, particularly to Chiure, the militants continued to also expand the reach of this da’wah campaign. In Chiure, al-Naba stated that the “mujahideen explained to the locals about the importance of aqeedah [Islamic creed related to having faith], which is of the utmost importance for Muslims.” 

“Soldiers of the Caliphate as part of their da’wah campaign in the village of Mundazia in the Chiure area [of Mozambique].”

These efforts have been reported on in local media. For instance, Zitamar noted in January that in Mucojo, one of the towns under jihadi control in Macomia, citizens are subject to daily religious lectures. Mucojo is seemingly still under control of IS-M as its men recently erected a roadblock on the main road leading to the town. 

Elsewhere, IS-M militants have been spotted engaging in da’wah with locals in the districts of Quissanga, Mocimboa da Praia, and Nangade between January and March 2024. As additionally reported by Zitamar, these moves are part of IS-M’s wider strategic decision to adopt a more friendly relationship with locals. Its more hostile approach hurt its local support during IS-M’s height in 2020-2021. 


To jihadis, da’wah is the proverbial carrot to their usual approach with the stick. While violent expansion is often the main way jihadis can and do expand their territorial conquests, it is not the only way. 

Indeed, da’wah acts as a form of soft power that jihadis can use to help win over new congregants, members, and supporters, and provide for a PR victory in the eyes of locals under their control or influence. As such, the publication of such events can signify the extent to which jihadis feel comfortable operating in the open and in the public domain. 

For the Islamic State, the fact that it has routinely highlighted its da’wah activities in both Mali (and wider Sahel) and Mozambique helps exemplify the extent of its control in both regions. The fact that its forces are taking time to operate in the open with locals implies it feels confident in its ability to engage freely and not be targeted by government forces. 

Though the true extent of the campaigns in both countries is likely exaggerated by the Islamic State, it is clear they are happening on the ground in some capacity. This in turn helps signify the respective reach and capabilities of both so-called provinces of the Islamic State. This alone should sound alarms when gauging the strength of the Islamic State in Africa today. 

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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