Images of alleged Islamic State currency from Twitter.


When a Sunni jihadist group declared the beginning of an Islamic State last year, it was easy to discount its ambitions. Could the mass murderers who beheaded and burned prisoners alive actually run a country?

Now, after its recent stunning territorial gains, the Islamic State has reportedly taken on one of the greatest responsibilities of a sovereign nation: issuing money. Images of two coins called Islamic dinars appeared on the Twitter account of Radio Sawa’s Zaid Benjamin — the journalist said to be the first to report the video of James Foley’s beheading. Benjamin said they were the “first time in use.”

In a video, the BBC unpacked the coins and their symbolism, saying the currency is based on that used in a 17th-century Ottoman caliphate. Made of 24-karat gold, the dinars are allegedly worth about $139 in U.S. currency. They include images of a map of the world and seven wheat stalks that, according to a November 2014 report from the Los Angeles Times about the planned currency, may reference a verse from the Koran: “Those who spend their money in the name of Allah are like a seed that has yielded seven wheat stalks, in each stalk there are a hundred seeds, and Allah multiplies … for whoever He wishes.”


An Islamic State fighter in Raqqa, Syria, last year. (Militant Web site via AP)

The coins, with a motto in Arabic, also have the Islamic State’s answer to “In God We Trust”: “The Islamic State — A Caliphate based on the doctrine of the Prophet,” as the BBC put it.

Last November, the Islamic State said it would mint copper and silver coins as well, and planned denominations are 1, 5 and 10. The terrorist group’s goal: to escape the “tyrannical monetary system that was imposed upon the Muslims” and avoid becoming “easy prey for the Jews and Crusaders,” as the L.A. Times reported.

Some saw this coming.

“It has officially established a central bank, the Muslim Financial House, which may help to set economic direction, and it would not be too surprising if the Islamic State developed its own currency, given the penchant for centralized control,” Quinn Mecham wrote in The Washington Post in February — though Mecham gave the group a “3 out of 10” when it came to “facilitating economic growth.”

But if the Islamic State now has its own currency, that doesn’t mean it will succeed in its dream of establishing a caliphate — or already has.

“These days, the dream of setting up an alternate monetary system isn’t limited to Islamic State; state-hating libertarians have long yearned for a return to gold and silver as the basis of monetary value,” Stephen Mihm wrote for Bloomberg View. “But as any goldbug can tell you, competing against state-issued paper money is challenging, and the jihadis are certain to discover that the path to freedom from the ‘satanic usury-based global economic system’ is a far more difficult proposition than in the days of the caliphs of the Islamic Empire.”