Home > Uncategorized > Flowers and martyrdom — visual representations in jihadi propaganda

Flowers and martyrdom — visual representations in jihadi propaganda

I’ve always been fascinated by the visual representations in jihadi propaganda. Especially with the flowers surrounding pictures of martyrs and how these depictions are used symbolically to try to represent that jihadists are/were legitimately following in God’s path.

Usually these pictures have red roses, which as I understand it are meant to depict the blood of the Prophet Muhammad. However, I was told some time ago that the red lily is also used because lilies arose from the blood of the Prophet Muhammad’s son. Often there are pictures of meadows of flowers; this representation is of the blood of the martyr quenching the thirst of the soil where flowers then grow.

Roses are more common in jihadi depictions. I’ve often wondered if this is because it is  easier to find images of them on the internet.  Violets also have a symbolism, and the scent of all three (roses, lilies and violets)  is often described in relation to the scent of martyrdom.  Although the most prevalent description of the aroma of martyrdom is the smell of musk that is believed to emit from the blood of the martyr and can last sometime after death.

Anyway, this is what I’ve been told and/or discovered. If I have it wrong or you have anything to add I’d be interested to hear it.

Below is a fairly typical representation I found on the forums some time ago. It’s a picture of a dead AQAP commander who was killed in 2004.

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  1. hipbone
    02/15/2010 at 7:21 am

    Hi Leah:

    Ibn Siqilli has an ongoing project on the graphics of martyrdom on jihadist websites, and has posted some excerpts here:

    http://occident.blogspot.com/2009/08/art-of-martyr-part-i-martyrdom-in.html
    http://occident.blogspot.com/2009/10/art-of-martyr-part-ii-martyrs-of-mosque.html

    I have been working on a post about the poetics of martyrdom myself, and FWIW, roses are also referenced in association with martyrs’ blood — Anne Marie Oliver and Paul Steinberg (in The Road to Martyrs’ Square) cite a Hamas dictum, “When the blood of martyrs irrigates / the land then roses appear”.

    The imagery of martyrdom can be very compelling for minds not yet trained to consider everything with a pinch of irony, and has its own poetic — some aspects of which can be found in Christianity and Islam alike. Thus the narratives of the fragrance of the martyrs’ bodies found in Azzam’s Signs of Ar-Rahman http://www.scribd.com/doc/23786651/Signs-Of-Ar-Rahman have their analogues in reports of the “odor of sanctity” in Christianity.

    St Ignatius of Antioch uses eucharistic imagery as he faced death, saying “I am God’s wheat ground fine by the lions’ teeth to become purest bread for Christ”, while Muslims frequently use the imagery of marriage, as in the Palestinian phrase “Blood is the mahr [bride-price] of the precious girls” — referring to the houris — in each case welcoming a death that will swiftly carry them to paradise.

    The Islamic imagery of the “green birds of paradise”in which form the martyrs await their resurrection bodies is particularly striking, and occurs in several hadith, such as this one from Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Imara, # 4651:

    It has been narrated on the authority of Masruq Who said: We asked ‘Abdullah about the Qur’anic verse:” Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they are alive, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord..” (iii. 169). He said: We asked the meaning of the verse (from the Holy Prophet) who said: The souls, of the martyrs live in the bodies of green birds who have their nests in chandeliers hung from the throne of the Almighty. They eat the fruits of Paradise from wherever they like and then nestle in these chandeliers. Once their Lord cast a glance at them and said: Do ye want anything? They said: What more shall we desire? We eat the fruit of Paradise from wherever we like. Their Lord asked them the same question thrice. When they saw that they will continue to be asked and not left (without answering the question). they said: O Lord, we wish that Thou mayest return our souls to our bodies so that we may be slain in Thy way once again. When He (Allah) saw that they had no need, they were left (to their joy in heaven).

    There is a video on YouTube that appears to show a green bird flying above what I take to be a martyr’s funeral, although I cannot make out the words — see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQkS8BgU0hY at 1.26-29.

  2. 02/15/2010 at 9:30 am

    Fascinating post, Leah. The study of imagery used in religio-political artwork by jihadi groups, Islamist nationalist groups, and secular nationalist groups in the MENA and wider Muslim world is a topic near and dear to me. Indeed, it’s what initially led to my interest in transnational jihadi movements, specifically the comparison of their artwork with religious-nationalist artwork.

    Thanks, Charles, for the kind words and your valuable insights. The motif of the “bird of Paradise” is, as you point out, another frequent motif used in jihadi materials. Reference to them is also made in the nasheed that begins AQC’s WIND OF PARADISE series, they “warble and sing” around the palaces in Janah al-Firdaws.

    In the midst of finishing some projects, I would just add that red tulips or other flowers are often seen in Shi’i artwork. They represent the many Shi’i martyrs throughout history, such as, for the Ithna ‘Ashariyya, all of their Imams except the twelfth and many other members of the Ahlul Bayt as recognized by Shi’is. In some popular Iranian Shi’i artwork, red tulips are held by Fatima al-Zahra, the Prophet’s daughter and wife of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, to represent her martyred husband and two sons, Hasan and Husayn, the second and third Imams respectively. An example can be seen here, from plates included in one of Kamran S. Aghaie’s book (I can’t remember now if it’s from THE WOMEN OF KARBALA or THE MARTYRS OF KARBALA): Red Tulips, Iranian Shi’i Artwork

    Fields of red flowers also appear in nasheed videos produced by the Lebanese Shi’i socio-political movement and party Hizbullah. In one traditional story about the Day of ‘Ashura when Imam Husayn bin ‘Ali was martyred facing the army of Yazid I and his governor, ‘Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad and the governor’s general, ‘Umar bin Sa’d, the skies are said to have wept with blood. It is the basis of the title of a popular English-language Shi’i film about the tragedy of Karbala. It used to be on YouTube, WHEN SKIES WEPT BLOOD.

    Flowers could also be representative of the “gardens of Paradise,” of Janah al-Firdaws.

  3. Leah Farrall, Australia
    02/15/2010 at 10:13 am

    How fascinating. Thanks Charles and Ibn Siqilli!

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