GUEST POST: Famous Anasheed: ‘Madin Kas-Sayf’ by Abu Ali

NOTE: As with all guest posts, the opinions expressed below are those of the guest author and they do not necessarily represent the views of this blogs administrator and does not at all represent his employer at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Jihadology.net aims to not only provide primary sources for researchers and occasional analysis of them, but also to allow other young and upcoming students as well as established academics or policy wonks to contribute original analysis on issues related to jihadism. If you would like to contribute a piece, please email your idea/post to azelin [at] jihadology [dot] net. Pieces should be no longer than 2,000 words please.

Past Guest Posts:

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Tara Vassefi, “Perceptions of the “Arab Spring” Within the Salafi-Jihadi Movement,” November 19, 2012.

Jack Roche, “The Indonesian Jamā’ah Islāmiyyah’s Constitution (PUPJI),” November 14, 2012.

Kévin Jackson, “The Pledge of Allegiance and its Implications,” July 27, 2012.

Behnam Said, “A Brief Look at the History and Power of Anasheed in Jihadist Culture,” May 31, 2012.

Jonah Ondieki and Jake Zenn, “Gaidi Mtaani,” April 24, 2012.

Joshua Foust, “Jihadi Ideology Is Not As Important As We Think,” January 25, 2011.

Charles Cameron, “Hitting the Blind-Spot- A Review of Jean-Pierre Filiu’s “Apocalypse in Islam,” January 24, 2011.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Why Jihadi Ideology Matters,” January 21, 2011.

Joshua Foust, “Some Inchoate Thoughts on Ideology,” January 19, 2011.

Marissa Allison, “Militants Seize Mecca: Juhaymān al ‘Utaybī and the Siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca,” June 9, 2010.

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

When it comes to media articles on jihadism, one of the least explored aspects is the phenomenon of anasheed (‘songs’ [sing. ‘nasheed’]- distinguished in this context by lack of use of musical instruments as per a widely held Islamic view that instruments are haram). Of the munshid artists who produce songs of this type, one of the most prominent is Abu Ali, of Saudi origin.

While Aaron Zelin regularly provides links to more recent anasheed, I decided to translate the lyrics of one of Abu Ali’s most well-known songs: ‘Madin kas-sayf’ (‘Sharp Like The Sword’): famous at least in jihadist circles. The tune is in fact identical to another nasheed he composed, entitled ‘It blew like the wind’– a song that does not refer to jihad but rather calls for the revival of the Ummah’s glory and encourages believers to seek knowledge and help each other out (in the Youtube video linked to for ‘It blew like the wind’, the user has misidentified it as ‘Sharp like the Sword’).

Given the glorification of suicide bombing that becomes very clear towards the end, the reference to ‘the occupier’ and al-Aqsa, one might expect that this nasheed was composed around the time of the Second Intifada, which saw numerous instances of suicide bombings. Yet the earliest instance I know of its use is in a 48-minute video released by the Somali al-Qa’ida affiliate Harakat ash-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, entitled ‘Labbayka ya Osama’ (‘I am at your service, oh Osama’) in 2009 (H/T: Phillip Smyth).

Here is a translation:

‘Sharp like the sword, the wind, the billows in abundance.
Strong like the horse, the lion, the thunder, sparkling.
Sharp like the sword, the wind, the billows in abundance.
Strong like the horse, the lion, the thunder, sparkling.

Bold, he seeks his upheaval and sees good tidings in death.
May the Taghut of the world that only rules stones vanish.
He discards them like Ababeel that tear through his wall with fright.

He has rejected humiliation and has arisen, weaving his pride with might.
Like a weary fugitive has his day concealed him and passed by in concealment.
Like the roaming star, his orbit falls on the path of glory.
He was once not satisfied with the world at all, and injustice is his oppressor.

Sharp like the sword, the wind, the billows in abundance.
Strong like the horse, the lion, the night, the thunder, sparkling.
Sharp like the sword, the wind, the billows in abundance.
Strong like the horse, the lion, the thunder, sparkling.

Bold, he seeks his upheaval and sees good tidings in death.
May the Taghut  of the world that only rules stones vanish.
He discards them like Ababeel that tear through his wall with fright.

He hearkened unto glory when Al-Aqsa summoned its revolutionaries.
He chanted, filled with longing for death, and proceeded to play his lute.
The occupier set up his trickery, and his broker was seduced by it.
He molded the words as promises, he embroidered his dialogue with deception.

Sharp like the sword, the wind, the billows in abundance.
Strong like the horse, the lion, the thunder, sparkling.
Sharp like the sword, the wind, the billows in abundance.
Strong like the horse, the lion, the thunder, sparkling.

Bold, he seeks his upheaval and sees good tidings in death.
May the Taghut of the world that only rules stones vanish.
He discards them like Ababeel tears through his wall with fright.

They cultivated his path in fright, they imposed his blockade with starvation.
So he advanced; cunning did not divert him, even as it summoned its false steps.
How preposterous! He makes a truce until he should wipe away his shame with might.
A volcano of faith; this Talmud is his frenzy.

Sharp like the sword, the wind, the billows in abundance.
Strong like the horse, the lion, the thunder, sparkling.
Sharp like the sword, the wind, the wave in abundance.
Strong like the horse, the lion, the billows, sparkling.

Bold, he seeks his upheaval and sees good tidings in death.
May the Taghut of the world that only rules stones vanish.
He discards them like Ababeel that tear through his wall with fright.

So he [the occupier] built his strongholds in fear, he raised his walls in them.
So he [the mujahid] blew himself up among them in anger; he fixed his nails in them.
You see him as splinters of fire; a commando makes his raid.
He did not slow down his pace until he carried out his decision in death

Sharp like the sword, the wind, the billows in abundance.
Strong like the horse, the lion, the thunder, sparkling.
Sharp like the sword, the wind, the billows in abundance.
Strong like the horse, the lion, the thunder, sparkling.

Sharp like the sword, the wind, the billows in abundance.
Strong like the horse, the lion, the thunder, sparkling.
Sharp like the sword, the wind, the billows in abundance.
Strong like the horse, the lion, the thunder, sparkling.

Bold, he seeks his upheaval and sees good tidings in death.
May the Taghut of the world that only rules stones vanish.
He discards them like Ababeel that tear through his wall with fright.’

Explanatory Notes:

Taghut- An Islamic term used to describe idolatry and error. It is one of a group of words that occur in the Qur’an with the –ut termination (cf. ملكوت- ‘kingdom’, especially as in the ‘Kingdom of God’). In the 19th century, Geiger contended that the word is of Rabbinical Hebrew origin, since, he said, ‘no pure Arabic word’ ends with the –ut termination. In any event, the etymology is a matter of much dispute; for an attempt to connect the term with Ethiopic, see this discussion by Gabriel Said Reynolds.

Ababeel– Mentioned in Qur’an 105:3 (in the chapter known as ‘The Elephant’). These are apparently birds sent by God against an Aksumite force that tried to conquer Mecca in the 6th century, driving off the invaders with stones.

How preposterous! He makes a truce until he should wipe away his shame with might– Appears to be a reference to how some Islamist militants interpret the concept of hudna (Arabic for ‘ceasefire’). The idea is to sign a truce with your enemy and then wait until you think you have the upper hand, at which point you should resume hostilities.

Alternative Reading (Update and Revision: 26 May 2013)

On account of the quality of the recording, multiple interpretations can arise as regards the transcription of the Arabic lyrics. I have listened to this nasheed a number of times and I think one can propose some plausible alternatives:

*- Alternatively, this line could be transcribed as ‘نازل طاغوت الدنيا, لا يملك غير حجارة’ (‘He has clashed with the Taghut of the world. He has possession of nothing except stones’). The next line would then be referring to how he throws those stones, presumably at the occupier.

Translation of Arabic lyrics by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, who is a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University. His website is http://www.aymennjawad.org