As a secular agnostic, I perceive both Islamic State and Saudi Arabia as extremely theocratic Sunni Muslim governments.

But to some people, Islamic State must be offering something that Saudi Arabia doesn't, otherwise people wouldn't be flocking to fight for them (unless they just like fighting for the heck of it). What is it they offer that Saudi Arabia doesn't?

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    They honestly state that they are at war with the rest of the world, unlike Saudi Arabia which pretends that they are not. Both divide the world into two sections Dar Al Islam (the section undisputably theirs) and Dar Al Harb (Region of War - the area in dispute) Apr 22, 2016 at 14:03
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    KSA is "Islamic bourgeoisie", ISIS is "Islamic revolutionists".
    – Matt
    Apr 24, 2016 at 8:12
  • Does Saudi-Arabia pay mercenaries? IS does.
    – liftarn
    Apr 26, 2016 at 6:55
  • @SVilcans- What's the difference between a mercenary and an IS fighter? Apr 26, 2016 at 7:25
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    @gerrit- I don't know why I asked that question. It was almost a year ago, so I know that answer, and I know I knew it back then. Shrug. I would shy away from calling it insanity. If it is insanity, it's the same kind of insanity that kept schoolgirls in Saudi Arabia in a burning building because they didn't have the right clothes to go outside in. This is religion. (EDIT: I said it was in Pakistan, but it was in Saudi Arabia. My bad.) Feb 27, 2017 at 12:19

1 Answer 1


As I've said in other questions, people's individual reasons for joining IS will be different. But there are huge and basic differences in what these two organisations are.

Saudi Arabia doesn't fight the West

In the middle east a lot of Muslims hate the West, especially the US. The way they see it, there's a conflict going on between Islam and everyone else. Not necessarily a violent conflict, but a conflict nonetheless. I don't think this is a majority view (most people probably don't care) but it is a significant minority that feels this way.

So some think there's a conflict, and some of those think there's a violent conflict. Some of those will be willing to do something about it, and Saudi Arabia is hardly the poster child for Jihad.

They're effective

The sad fact is that these people have an ideal to fight for, something they're willing to die for. That willpower makes them dangerous, so they turn out to be an effective fighting force. They've been able to make incredible gains with a small number of people. This has a theological advantage too- I'm sure their recruiters use it as a sign from Allah. It bolsters their theological claims and makes people want to be a part of it because people want to win.

Many of Saudi Arabia's policies aren't deemed to be extreme enough

Saudi Arabia's policies are pretty oppressive, but they've been getting slowly more liberal over time. To those in the West it's a subtle difference, but I imagine it's quite stark to the inhabitants of the region.

Islamic State is claimed to be the Caliphate

This is probably the most important reason. Saudi Arabia has never claimed to be the Caliphate, whereas Islamic State has declared that they are. That means that they have claimed that their leader is the leader all Muslims, everywhere. That's a grand claim that essentially declares their intention to impose Sharia over the entire Muslim world.

They actively recruit in other countries

Islamic State has been extremely skilled at using modern technology to recruit people. They use social media, their recruiters contact people, and they build up a movement in other countries. They spread their ideology, deliberately, and make it practical for people to join them. If you merely wanted to live under Sharia (as many do), you probably wouldn't know how to do that. It would just be a distant dream. But if you have someone contacting you, telling you that you can make a difference, giving you directions, then that's very different.

  • daily reminder that nearly every mosque in europe is funded by saudi arabia. Apr 26, 2016 at 19:53
  • @hownowbrowncow- What's your source for that claim? Apr 27, 2016 at 7:53
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    link Apr 27, 2016 at 13:22
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    Saudi Arabia has never claimed to be the Caliphate, whereas Islamic State has declared that they are. I don't understand this Point, as the IS has in my view not at all the authority to do so. In my view, no one has that authority. How does the claim to be the caliphate of the IS would differ from someone arbitary else claiming that? Why do muslims believe the IS? That doesn't make sense to me. Is it just naivety?
    – uuu
    Apr 28, 2016 at 6:21
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    @toogley- IS MIGHT be the Caliphate, whereas Saudi Arabia clearly isn't. I think that's the line of thought. Perhaps it just naivete, but it's an argument they use. Apr 28, 2016 at 7:45

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