The Jihad News Network

Jihad Media Network 360

In the past few years there has been a surge in the quality and quantity of jihadi media, evident from the wealth of texts, films, and other multimedia content that is distributed by Islamist websites on a daily basis. What started as a handful of jihadi media organizations in the early 2000s has within just a few years mushroomed into a vast network of regional and international media branches throughout the Middle East, Asia, the Americas, and Europe. Surprisingly, these news outlets which claim to operate independently from each other and autonomously from a global umbrella organization, exhibited only a modest learning curve. The professional quality of their news productions is indistinguishable from that of most Middle Eastern mainstream broadcast channels such as Al-Jazeera. Moreover, the product that they purportedly create independently across multiple theaters of operation is uniform in both style and content and conforms to commercial media standards.

In this post we will examine these implicit and explicit claims of independence and try to determine if the jihadi media outlets—whether global or local—are operating under a centralized organization with a coordinated media network (which more resembles a large news cooperation) rather than local grassroots cells.

The Jihadi Media Network
In 2010, the following four media organizations generated the bulk of the original jihadist internet content:

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Logo

Organization Name

1

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Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF)

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Al-Furqan “The Criterion”

3

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Al-Fajr “The Dawn”

4

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Al-Sahab “The Cloud”

Figure 1: The four primary jihadi media producers

Aside from these four organizations which monopolized the mainstream jihadi media landscape, there was a multitude of smaller outlets that ostensibly acted as independent distributers of jihadi material (Figure 2). Over the next six years, many of these previously unknown entities began producing regional content specializing mostly in low visibility conflict areas. The content generated by these secondary media organizations encompassed multiple subjects such as battlefield operations, news releases, and political commentary. The content was multilingual, carefully scripted, and edited to reasonable broadcast standards, and targeted both domestic and  international audiences.

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Logo

Organization Name

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Logo

Organization Name

1

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Al-Andalus

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Shield of Islam Brigades

2

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Al-Ansar

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The Jihad Media Battalion

3

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Al-Malahim

 

12

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Hizb Al-Islam of Turkistan Media Center

4

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Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

13

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Leemedia Network

5

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Al-Yaqeen Media

14

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Manba’ Al-Jihad

6

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Islamic Party of Turkistan

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Nida Al-Jihad Center for Media Production

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Jaysh Al-Islam

16

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Taifetul Mansura

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Abdullah Azzam Brigades

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Jama’at Al-Tawhid wa’l-Jihad

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Kataib Siham Al-Haqq

 

Figure 2: Secondary jihadi media producers and distributors

The  Al-Fallujah jihadist forum
Figure 3:
A snapshot from Al-Fallujah jihadist forum

Traditional Media Distribution Channels
Though the secondary jihadi news outlets (SJNO) appeared to brand the media as their own, the evidence raises doubts regarding the actual independence of these outlets. As autonomous local media producers and distributors with a limited budget, we would expect SJNO to utilize only low cost and free Web 2.0-3.0 publication platforms such as video-sharing sites (e.g. YouTube and LiveLeak), third-party websites, forums, and blogs to distribute their own material independently.[1] Yet, often SJNO have their films and texts distributed simultaneously by multiple mainstream news outlets using expensive broadcast TV and satellite channels. In terms of scope and outreach, these organizations successfully emulated the broadcast models of large news networks such as the BBC and France 2.

image                image
Figure 4: Al-Rai TV broadcast of Al-Ansar     Figure 5: Al-Zawraa TV broadcast

A case in point is Zawraa TV,  which later became Al-Rai TV.[2][3] This Syrian-based channel, owned by Mish’an Al-Jabouri, transmitted looped satellite programming focusing mainly on pro-Sunni, anti-Shi’ite propaganda, and broadcasted 24/7 footage including violent attacks by local jihad organizations against U.S. forces.[4] The channel made no effort to hide its affiliation with the jihadi groups as logos of the Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI) and other jihadi organizations periodically appeared in its footage and films.[5] As can be seen from Figures 4-5, in this dual mode, the host of the show would periodically assume the role of a pistolero by shedding his tailored suit and slip into army fatigues, bullet proof vest, and a keffiyeh. Clearly, the relations between Al-Rai and the SJNO whose products the channel broadcasted were not the typical business relations one would expect to find between a commercial TV station and an advertising client. If Al-Rai TV was true commercial for profit television, broadcasting through it would not have been economically feasible for the SJNO. The fact that the channel mostly devoted itself to broadcasting SJNO video and commentary suggests that the relationship between the two was more political/ideological than commercial.

Presence and Significance of Metadata in Jihadi Archives
The presence of metadata in the jihadi film footage is another indication that the videos are intended for broadcast and not merely for online circulation. Metadata, which is attached to films, consist of digital information intended to describe and identify the media, similar to information a library would attach to a book in its catalogue to describe and identify it. In the case of jihadi films, the metadata usually consist of the media title, a short abstract, the name of the organization, the date of the event, the film’s duration, the logo of the producing organization, and other catalog details.

Adding such data in post production is a time-consuming undertaking, considering the hundreds of films jihadists produce annually. Such an effort would only make sense in the context of a well-established archival and content managed system as is typical of a larger media organization. For large digital archives, metadata is crucial, as it allows fast indexed access to the content and enables fast retrieval so that there would be no need to view each film. For local media branches, creating all of this metadata would be time consuming and would require editor and librarian resources, just as creating a full library book cataloging system would be impractical for the private individual with a few hundred books in their library.

Formatting and Packaging of the Jihadi Movies
Evidence of how these films are packaged and produced further supports the argument that these videos are designed for commercial broadcasting and thus are most likely created by large media organizations. Videos of IED attacks, for example, have all the necessary “ingredients” for primetime viewing. They are high quality; they are short (up to 90 seconds) and include all the crucial background information about the organization carrying out the attack as well as about the attack itself. In a sense, they are created as self-contained infomercials made to fit a rigid television programming schedule. Such a format would be unnecessary if the films were intended for random distribution on the internet, where video clips can be uploaded and viewed in many formats, lengths, and qualities.

Another feature which makes it unlikely that the videos are produced by local media branches is the fact that their content is produced in multiple languages (i.e. Arabic, English, French, German, etc.), packaged in varying formats (i.e. Windows Media Player, Quick Time, RealPlayer, etc.) and recorded for diverse narrowcasting and audiences (in a wide range of formats and sizes, for high-speed Internet, dialup connections, embedded use, and mobile devices).[6] Such complex, professional, and very expensive production would be prohibitive for field outlets. Moreover, for local groups which simply wish to publicize their successes, such complex production would be overkill as they could achieve their goal by relying on video-sharing sites or jihad forums for posting their films.

Uniformity of the Jihadi Films’ Media Structure
The uniformity of the various media elements such as titles, credits, transitions, and duration, also indicates that the material is produced under the auspices of one or more large, centralized, and standard-conscious organizations. The following video clips presenting IED attacks illustrate some of these canonized formats:

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Media Outlet: Al-Furqan Media Production

Clip Number:

1

Clip Number:

2

Clip Title:              

Destroying a US Hummer in Ramadi

Clip Title:

IED vs. 2 Iraqi Army Humvees – Baghdad

Duration:

01:04

Duration

01:05

Release Date:

28/01/2007

Release Date:

22/08/2008

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Clip Number:

3

Clip Title:

IEDs on American Foot Patrol – Anbar

Release Date:

18/05/2007

Duration:

01:08

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Media Outlet: Al-Ansar Media Foundation

Clip Number:        

4

Clip Number:        

5

Clip Title:               

IED US Tank – Ninawa Province – Mosul

Clip Title:

IED on an Army Hammer – Mosul

Duration:               

00:58

Duration

01:03

Release Date:

28/12/2008

Release Date:

03/01/2010

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Clip Number:        

6

Clip Title:

IED vs. US Minesweeper – Ninawa Mosul

Release Date:

28/12/2008

Duration:

00:52

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Media Outlet: As-Sahab Media Production

Clip Number:        

7

Clip Number:        

8

Clip Title:

IED on Afghan Army Car- Metshedad

Clip Title:                 

Powerful IED Strike Destroys US Humvee

Duration:

01:00

Duration:               

00:43

Release Date:

26/03/2008

Release Date:  

07/08/2008

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Clip Number:        

9

Clip Title:

Powerful IED Strike Destroys US Humvee

Duration:               

00:43

Release Date:       

07/08/2008

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Media Outlet: Al-Andalus Media Production

Clip Number:        

10

Clip Title:              

Three IEDs on the Algerian Army

Duration:               

08:04 (3 movies 1.15 minutes each)

Release Date:  

14/10/ 2009

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Clip

Introduction

S. Effects

Titles

Abstract

Captions

Transitions

Clip Length

Logo

Credits

1

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x

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64 seconds

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2

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65 seconds

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3

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68 seconds

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4

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58 seconds

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5

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63 seconds

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6

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52 seconds

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7

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60 seconds

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8

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43 seconds

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NA

9

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x

x

x

x

88 seconds

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10

x

x

x

x

NA

x

75 seconds

x

x

Figure 6: Video clip matrix

As can be seen in Figure 7, a comparison of films of similar genre (attacks using IEDs) produced by three ostensibly distinct and geographically remote jihadi media outlets reveals a high level of similarity. The films’ length in all cases is approximately 90 seconds. All clips open with high impact logos and special effects animation. Each frame’s duration prior to the transition is carefully timed, with the initial intro followed by special effect screens and the clip title.

Structure of Jihadi Video Segment
Figure 7: The complete video editing, production and structure (click image to see full size)

The message after the title usually shows a Quranic verse or other religious text followed by the feature movie with the targets of interest usually tracked by either an arrow or a circle. The moment of the attack is replayed three times and then, finally, the film ends with credits and organizational logos. Needless to say, such a definable formulaic pattern cannot be accidental.

Preparation of Jihadi Films for a Pre-Set Viewing Schedule
The distribution of jihadi film content is almost never done ad hoc; rather, it is done according to a pre-planned schedule. Analysis of the main jihadi media archives as far back as 2006 reveals a steady flow of postings to fileshare sites such as Archive.org, Adrive, Zshare, FDCupload, and gettyfile. How they are organized and classified is more easily seen at websites such as As-sahab.blog.com and the jihad archive http://www.jarchive.info.

An examination of new online jihadist films and stills indicates that a great deal of the material was scheduled in advance for distribution and publication. This was done as part of the ongoing effort to keep the war effort on the front burner by taking advantage of the mainstream media’s gullibility and willingness to broadcast these materials whenever they become available. The release of these materials indicates that there is a significant amount of regional field coordination of insurgency activity and there is a planned broadcasting schedule. It also indicates that media is maintained in some form of global archival infrastructure.

A vivid illustration of this throttling method of opportunistically posting content can be seen in a video clip titled “IED Completely Destroys a US Minesweeper – Ninawa Province – Mosul,” documenting a November 14, 2006 attack that was released over six months later, on May 22, 2007. Another example is a clip titled “Shooting a F16 US Plane,” an incident documented as having taken place on November 27, 2006, while the clip was released nearly a year later, on September 13, 2007.

Event Title:

IED on an American Hummer

Event Title:

Shooting a F16 US Plane

Event Date:

14/11/2006

Event Date:

27/11/2006

Publication Date:

23/05/2007

Publication Date:

13/09/2007

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Mario D. Gonzalez

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Troy Gilbert

Figure 8: Event date vs. media publication timeline

Is There a Global Jihadi Media Policy?
Evidence suggests that jihadi media follows a global policy. For example, a “Media Exuberance” document released by the Al-Boraq media group on September 21, 2006 indicates that jihad media production must abide by legal mandates and guidelines regarding plagiarism, alteration of content, source crediting, and media usage. This strongly implies the existence of an umbrella organization which sets rules and professional standards aimed at better message control, brand building, and further reinforces the trans-regional media production theory.

The Al-Boraq policy paper for example defines “media exuberance” as media publication activity undertaken “without official authority or prior study”,  which apparently refers to any individual postings of jihadi materials without the sanction of a recognized publisher. The paper notes that while some individuals engage in this activity out of a genuine desire to support the struggle, others have “lost the sense of the importance of distribution rights and the authority to conduct work.” The intellectual property violations enumerated include: “distribution of jihadist audio and video products without official sanction or permission from the producer, the distribution of statements by jihadist groups under personal names and user IDs, [and] the release of personal http://and%20video products and works under the names of jihad groups.” The author concluded that these type of practices undermine the “credibility” of jihadist media and distract attention from “official sources.”[7]

Centralized or Independent Media Production?
The frequent adherence to traditional content distribution of jihadi media, as opposed to reliance on low cost or free Web 2.0-3.0 publication platforms such as wikis, blogs and mashups, as well as the creation of metadata, the expensive and sophisticated contents packaging, the uniform appearance of the various media elements, the staged publication schedule, and the apparent global jihad media policy all suggest that what is ostensibly a production by local and independent jihad media entities could in fact mask a spoke and hub centralized organizational structure.

In this scenario, a patchwork of regional field offices and cells maintain territorial presence in various parts of the world, (Iraq, Afghanistan, Algeria, Somalia, Gaza), collecting raw footage. They upload/deliver the content to centralized media studios—either state-sponsored or private—which process and brand it accordingly and distribute it to the appropriate regional media outlets. The production and branding, however, is virtual, and is carried out remotely in well-equipped studios with professional video editors and in safe locations away from the conflict zone.

The 2007 arrest of members of the Al-Furqan media organization by U.S. intelligence may help shed some light on this process. According to the case details, regional Al-Furqan teams gathered the raw material from various provinces in Iraq and passed it on to a larger Iraqi Al-Furqan media hub for processing. Surprisingly, this hub, which had a large amount of media storage devices (65 hard drives containing terabytes of electronic files, 18 thumb drives, over 500 CDs, and 12 standalone computers), did not have the proper editing equipment that one would expect to find in a media center that creates films on the advanced level of the Al-Furqan videos.[8]

AQI Media Hierarchy
Figure 9: Structure of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AIQ) media organizations

The captured equipment, appeared to be more for field packaging and distribution of copies of existing product rather than for creating the master itself. This equipment could not have independently produced the Al-Furqan films which contain blue-screen editing, multi-frame overlays, spliced third-party archival material, usage of multiple soundtracks, and the ability to perform blurring facial features, tracking objects—post processing and editing features and techniques which require sophisticated equipment and software usually only found in larger production studios.

The case of Said Namouh, a Moroccan-born Canadian citizen arrested and convicted as a member of the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), offers important insight into how local jihadi news is produced in more of a global fashion.[9] According to the court documents, Namouh spent countless hours translating, mixing, repackaging, and distributing numerous videos from diverse geographical locations that included images of attacks against coalition soldiers and of suicide bombings.[10] After his arrest, investigators found videos and other propaganda materials on his computer. It emerged that he had been in charge of publishing video and materials related to Iraqi, Austrian, German, and Gaza terror activities (such as the kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston by a Palestinian group known as the Army of Islam).[11][12]

The question, however, remains: who are the state(s) sponsors or large commercial news organizations behind these global media productions? The data at hand does not provide a specifc answer. Nevertheless, the cases of Al-Zawraa TV and Al-Rai TV provide important hints of how international media and news outlets that utilize multinational satellite broadcasting networks are operating in the service of jihadi organizations, undoubtedly with the full approval and the active sponsorship of sympathetic nation states.

This paper was co authored with Dr. Alshech and was originally published by MEMRI. 

References
[1] Wikis, blogs, forums, and mashups
[2] Al-Zawraa TV, the pro-Sunni satellite television channel owned by former Iraqi MP Mish’an Al-Jabouri, broadcased via satellites operated by the Riyadh-based Arabsat.
[3] Al-Rai TV broadcasted from Syria via the Eurobird 2 satellite, which belongs to the European Eutelsat company, as well as via the Atlantic Bird 4 satellite, which also belonged to Eutelsat, but was leased in September 2005 to the Egyptian Nilesat company, and is now called Nilesat 103.
[4] Channel owner Mish’an Al-Jabouri is known to have close operational and financial links to insurgency groups in Iraq.
[5] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2054, “In the Footsteps of Al-Zawraa TV, a Channel. Affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Saddam Regime Broadcasts Anti-U.S. Terror Attacks – This Time from Syria,” September 17, 2008.
[6] Dissemination of information to a narrow audience, not to the general public.
[7] September 21, 2006 study by the Al-Buraq media group titled “Media Exuberance
[8] US targets al Qaeda’s al Furqan media wing in Iraq
[9]
Moroccan terrorist fights to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds
[10] Defense attacks the credibility of the terrorism expert
[11] Video Released Of BBC Reporter Kidnapped In Gaza
[12] The abduction of British journalist Alan Johnston

The Salafi Style Guide

The Salafi Style Guide

Since 9/11, the discourse about the Jihadi movement has diverged into two distinct camps (1) the apologetic and (2) the sensationalistic. Unfortunately, beyond the MSM’s focus on the gory details of terrorism, little is being done in the way exploring the inner workings of this phenomenon. The Jihadi movement remains largely a taboo subject in the media, academia, and government. The same applies to the social and political characterization of Salafism and how/if it differs from other Sunni groups.

Salafism is associated with strict interpretation of Islam–especially in the West–and is the leading ideology of the Jihadists who espouse violent jihad against non−believers (Kafirs) and those they deem to be enemies of Islam which may even include other fellow Muslims. Some of the better known Salafi organizations are the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, Al−Qaeda, and ISIS/ISIL. Since the early 1990s, the Salafi movement has gained a strong foothold in many urban centers in the West. Currently there are over 200 Salafi mosques in the US and this number is growing steadily.

To the public who is not versed in Islamic history, religion, and culture, all Muslims seem to behave monolithically, but that is not the case. There are many variants in the Syafii, Hanafi, Maliki, and Hanbali streams that make up the Sunni school of Islam. Each of these four groups exhibit specialized traits through dress and ritual observance. This is even more pronounced with the adherents of Salafism who demonstrate unique characteristics among all Sunni practitioners.

It is true that you don’t need to know how to build a watch in order to tell the time but a watchmaker ignorant of the inner workings of a clock makes for a lousy horologist. So in this spirit, I dedicate this post to all of you watchmakers out there who in 2012 and onwards had to burn/shred/swallow all of the in-depth training materials on the subject.


Salafi Movement 101

By way of a quick introduction, the Salafi movement is an offshoot of Wahhabism and Hanbalism. It’s a relative latecomer (18th−19th century) and unlike evolutionary streams like Sufism, it represents a romantic and idealized view of history. In many ways, it is similar to other contemporary sociopolitical movements like anarchism, communism, and fascism that emerged at the same time and attempted to reshape the traditional bonds of religion, economics, and politics and align them with the post industrial world.

The emergence of modern Salafism can be roughly traced to:

  1. The formation of the 18th−century Wahhabi movement in the Arab Peninsula. One of the triggers for this was the Arab ruler’s disdain for the corrupt Ottoman Empire. In several regards, this was a replay of the Abbasid Revolution of the 7th-8th centuries.
  2. The late 19th century birth of European inspired nationalism in Egypt. This movement formed as a counter response to British and French imperialism as it was manifested through first the Napoleonic conquest of Egypt and then through massive colonial projects like the British railway in Egypt and the French Suez Canal.

At its core, the Salafi movement advocates a return to the traditions of the salaf  (literally: ‘ancestors’ or ‘the pious predecessors’). These are taken to be the first three generations of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad who died in 632 CE.

There is a lot of legal and ceremonial literature about Salafism but there also seems to be a shortage of basic how−to guides. This appears to be an ongoing problem for new recruits and converts. As Salafi organizations around the world expand through Internet outreach programs, they frequently re−publish various visual aids in an effort to impart the complex religious practices to their new followers.

Pray like a Salafi
Image 1: An example of a Salafi Do’s and Don’ts guide showing the basic positions for a prayer sequence

Upon a closer examination of Salafi doctrine, we can find that even the simplest ritualistic practices such as the position of the toes and fingers during prayer trigger passionate legal debates. Their literature is full of fatwas (religious rulings) on almost every aspect of personal and communal life including subjects like food, hygiene, social interaction, dress, makeup, facial hair, and even use of jewelry. Because of the highly formulaic and ritualized nature of this movement, among the distinguishing marks of Salafi practice are the dress and the prayer routines. All Muslims are commanded to pray five times a day and go through certain steps during the prayer sequence such as kneeling and prostration. Salafi practitioners, however, maintain a rigid set of movements that is unique to them. Image 2 illustrates the prayer variations within Sunni streams and Shia.

Variation in Sunni Prayer Sequences
Image 2: Variations in the performance of the various steps in the prayer sequence across various schools of Islam

Many Shades of Gray
The uniqueness of the Salafi prayer style and practices like dress and grooming are based on the doctrine of a return to the ‘perfect’ historical period of the 7th century. Because of this, the Salafi dogma rejects religious innovations (bid’ah) such as obedience to the secular state and practices such as watching movies and playing music. It also calls for the implementation and strict enforcement of sharia (Islamic law) anywhere Muslims live.

Below are two guides that focus on the details of Salafi dress, grooming, and daily prayer sequences. Due to the limited real−estate on this page, you will have to click on the posters in order to view and read them in full size.

Salafi Dress Characteristics Poster
Image 3: Typical Salafi dress, grooming, and appearance. The dress styles represent multiple geographical regions such as the Arabic peninsula, Afghanistan to the Levant

Salafi Dress 3    Salafi Dress 1 Salafi Dress 2    Salafi Dress 4
Additional variations of in dress and attire (supplement to Image 3)

Salafi Prayer Sequence Poster
Image 4: The Complete Salafi Prayer Sequence

 

© Copyright 2018 Yaacov Apelbaum, All Rights Reserved.