zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Jihad culture: its music, poetry, rituals and dreams

Jihad culture: its music, poetry, rituals and dreams

[  by Charles Cameron – jihadist studies, Hegghammer, culture and influence ]


It is the evening of the tenth anniversary: the day is almost over.


In an engaging interview with Abu Muqawama posted today, terrorism and violent Islamism expert Thomas Hegghammer discusses his new project about jihad culture, or “the things jihadis do when they don’t fight”.

It is inspired by the observation that militants in the underground spend a lot of time doing things that appear to serve no immediate military purpose, like singing songs, reciting poetry, or discussing dreams. They also do unexpected things like weep on a regular basis, notably when reciting the Qur’an. The infamous Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi, for example, was known among fellow militants as both “the butcher” (al-dhabbah) and “a weeper” (baki). All this “soft matter” of jihadism remains virtually unstudied; one reason, I think, is that it has been considered less consequential than the hard stuff of terror, such as attacks, resources, organizational structures and the like. My hypothesis is that jihad culture is not inconsequential at all; instead I think it may shed important new light on the processes by which jihadi groups recruit, exercise organizational control and make tactical decisions. I am sure that the military men and women reading this blog will find all this rather intuitive, because they have experienced the important role of music and rituals in their own organization.

As a first step in the inquiry, I am currently working with a great team of scholars on an edited volume that will explore various dimensions of jihad culture. I have recruited subject specialists – including a musicologist, an Arabic poetry expert, and an anthropologist of dreams – to help document and decipher al-Qaida’s internal culture.

I hope the book will cover miracle stories and the odor of sanctity, too…


Hegghammer is co-author of the forthcoming Meccan Rebellion (Amal 2011), which I very much hope to review here on Zenpundit, and which is likely to be the definitive work on the Mahdist takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979.

Needless to say, I’m delighted at the news of Hegghammer’s upcoming project.

One Response to “Jihad culture: its music, poetry, rituals and dreams”

  1. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Hi Charles,
    Hegghammer will find patterns in their communications—unique to each group.

Switch to our mobile site