June 29, 2011 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 701

Al-Qaeda's Efforts to Lift the Mujahideen's Spirits

June 29, 2011 | By D. Hazan and R. Green
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 701


In recent months there has been a noticeable propaganda effort on the part of Al-Qaeda's leaders, and its media organs and affiliates, aimed at boosting the morale of rank-and-file jihad fighters and their supporters. It can be assumed that the organization has launched this effort in response to the pessimism and depression that have settled in among its ranks as a result of the recent successes in the U.S. war on terror – namely the elimination of many key jihadi leaders through drone strikes in Pakistan. Indeed, the beginnings of this effort were noticeable even before the elimination of the organization's leader, Osama bin Laden. Following a string of successful attacks on Al-Qaeda and its allies, jihad leaders were compelled to address the high number of casualties amongst their ranks.

They did so through two propaganda trends, which can be viewed as two sides of the same coin. The first was characterized by messages of consolation and encouragement in the face of disaster, which included unprecedented admissions of the setbacks the mujahideen have faced. The prime example of this trend was an October 2010 essay by senior Al-Qaeda figure Abu Yahya Al- Libi, in which he offered solace and inspiration to fighters dismayed by the death and wounding of their commanders and comrades, and motivated them to continue fighting. It should be emphasized that the essay, which discusses the death of jihadi commanders and fighters, was written and published prior to the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

The second trend attempted to portray the mujahideen as living the good life, and present jihad not only as a matter of the noble fight against the enemy, but also as a matter of unique experiences, camaraderie, and even leisure. This trend took the form of propaganda videos, aimed both at boosting morale among jihadis and drawing new recruits.

The following document will present several significant examples of these trends.

Cover of Abu Yahya Al-Libi's Essay

Abu Yahya Al-Libi to the Mujahideen: Take Comfort in Knowing that All That Befalls You Is For the Sake of Allah

On March 10, 2011, Al-Qaeda's media company Al-Fajr released an essay by senior Al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahyah Al-Libi titled "Al-ribbiyyoun wa-masirat al-nasr" ("The Army[1] [of the Prophet Muhammad] and the Path to Victory"). In the essay, dated October 24, 2010, Al-Libi encourages the mujahideen following the recent killing of many of their commanders and comrades, in implicit recognition of the high casualties they have recently suffered.

Al-Libi stresses that the killing of the mujahideen's commanders and the disasters that have befallen them are all part of a test set for them by Allah, and calls on them not to be limp, weak, or submissive, despite the sadness and heartache these events have caused them. He also calls on them to follow the example of the Companions of the Prophet, who did not lose heart when the rumor of Muhammad's death in battle reached their ears but continued to cling to his path and to fight with great tenacity for the sake of Islam.

Al-Libi calls on the mujahideen "to overcome all obstacles and to continue our blessed jihad campaign, without flagging" because, he said, "the convoy of jihad continues, despite the suffering." He suggests that they take comfort in the fact that everything that befalls them is for the sake of Allah, and in knowing that their enemies, too, are beset by calamities and torments. He calls on them to gird their loins and take it upon themselves to conduct themselves in such a way as to ensure victory – including refusing to submit to their enemies, demonstrating patience in light of the difficulties they must face, recognizing that the calamities afflicting them are due to their sins, and repenting sincerely.

The following are excerpts from the essay:

"There is no doubt that the situation and events now afflicting the mujahideen must be examined closely... so that we may fully understand all the many unanticipated developments which have repeatedly [befallen us]. [Only] then will we be able to inquire into the [proper] remedy, and understand what we must do to overcome all the obstacles and continue in our blessed jihad campaign without flagging, hesitation, weakness, or negligence...

"Our goal is to be as steadfast as possible regarding the Koran's instructions and guidelines, so that they may serve as a lamp unto our feet, on our [jihad] path that we hope will end in Paradise, on the seat of honor next to Allah...

"When the rumor spread among the army of the Muslims at the Battle of Uhud that the Prophet [Muhammad] had been killed, many of them were disheartened. Their positions toward this important matter were diverse. Some made unseemly statements because his fall was clearly unanticipated considering his great strength... particularly since this calamity took place after the Muslims' decisive victory at the Battle of Badr... [Those] whose faith was deeply rooted continued as was their wont to cling to the path of truth in word and deed, in light of the storm [aroused by] this rumor, and to strengthen those who were shocked and shaken [by it]...

"The response to this rumor varied among [three groups of people]: the hypocrites and those who awaited the opportune moment [to do evil]; the heretics and those who doubted their faith; and the men of firm and steadfast faith...

"The doubters and heretics said: 'Muhammad has been killed – [now] revert to your previous religion.' Those who were among the Prophet's Companions said: 'Fight in the name of that for which Muhammad, your Prophet, fought… until Allah gives us victory or you join him [i.e., Muhammad, in death.]' And the others said: 'If Muhammad was killed, then he has completed [his mission] – thus, fight for your religion'...

"The Convoy of Jihad Continues, Despite the Suffering"

"Based on these statements, I wish to discuss these verses and to connect their content to our current situation:

"a. In the past, there have always been many instances in which leaders, commanders, the best of the religious scholars, honest men, and others have been killed in jihad, and this is expected [to continue]. This in itself is not an indication that [the mujahideen] are deviating from the path of righteousness... As it says [in the Koran]: 'And how many a prophet has fought, with whom were large bands of godly men; so they did not become weak-hearted on account of what befell them in Allah's way, nor did they weaken, nor did they abase themselves; and Allah loves the steadfast...' [Koran 3:146] That is to say, it is no unique occurrence for a prophet to be killed in a specific war. [On the contrary,] many times has a prophet been killed, in or outside of battle, and with him many of his followers – and whoever among them is left behind does not sob or become weakened, but continues in the path of his brothers...

"Bodily harm, loss of life, the loss of loved [ones], and the accruement of grief weaken neither hearts nor resolve; [they] do not bring about defeat and do not cause the abandonment of jihad... The convoy of jihad continues, despite the suffering... The Battle of Hamra Al-Assad [in 625], in which the Prophet [Muhammad] commanded his Companions to wage jihad despite their wounds, and they obeyed, is considered the apex of will power and tenacity... He who had tasted the bitter pill of defeat, of the pains of injuries from blows, gunfire, the stab of swords, he who had been utterly engulfed by the sorrow of losing loved [ones], quickly pulled himself together, felt a bit of joy over having been spared death and having reached safety – and then was called once more to jihad, before his wounds had even coagulated and stopped bleeding, and [before] his strength had returned. But despite all this, he got up and answered the call out of his will power... This is how those who follow in [the footsteps] of the mujahideen must stand up to their calamities and before Allah...

"These Calamities which Befall the Mujahideen... Outwardly Seem Humiliating and Weakening... But the People of Steadfast Faith... Do Not Surrender to Them"

"b. The many killed and injured in jihad – both among commanders and [rank and file] mujahideen – is a calamity, but, at the same time, it is a test to which Allah puts his faithful servants, the mujahideen... Not all are killed or injured, but since all are of one body, the killing of one of them causes grief and sorrow among the others... This is a sign of the strength of their cohesion and cooperation...

"The killing of commanders and soldiers among the mujahideen necessarily diminishes their numbers and empties many of the jihad fronts [of their mujahideen]... It causes [the mujahideen] distress and perplexity, requiring them to be patient. This is what tests people's inner essence... and exposes the strength of the faithful who trust in Allah and believe wholly in what they are doing, as these hardships actually strengthen their faith... Allah turns [these killings] into a sort of test by means of which the patient, steadfast, and faithful mujahideen are revealed...

"[Therefore,] everyone whom Allah has enabled to follow the path of jihad must prepare himself mentally for [seeing] many killed from among the best [of the mujahideen], and for a dearth of money and equipment... He must not think that the convoy of jihad always travels along the path of ease, safety, consecutive victories, and comfortable situations, and then be routed by the first obstacle he encounters – [as part of] the test he will undergo – and doubt Allah... which will bring about his death...

"These calamities which befall the mujahideen... outwardly seem humiliating and weakening... but the people of steadfast faith... do not surrender to them, and do not allow them to take control of them and their souls, or to cause failure, weakness, or capitulation to their enemies, but rather repel them with the strength of their faith...

"Allah noted three opprobrious things for which the adherents [of jihad] are to be praised if they succeed in distancing them from themselves: limpness, weakness, and capitulation. What strengthens the heart and distances limpness and capitulation to the enemy are: the mujahideen's prayers to Allah to strengthen them...; steadfastness in battle without fleeing [from it]...; following the example of those predecessors who [demonstrated] resolve, courage, and forbearance...; the soul's taking comfort in the fact that pains also befall the infidels, just as they do the mujahideen... and that, in Islam, it is not knightly or noble to be weaker [than the infidels]...; faith that [one's] reward will be equal to [one's] suffering and distress...; [and] guarding at all costs against transgressing the commandments of Allah...

"If the mujahideen occupy themselves with preparing for jihad... Allah will [ensure] peace among them, unite their ranks, and fortify their strength. [But,] if they occupy themselves with infrastructures for roads and the quarrels of the market, and waste their time with meetings over empty talk – disagreement, hostility, and polarity will spread among them, and their enemies will quickly get the upper hand...

"c. The adherents [of jihad] who distance limpness, weakness, and capitulation from themselves are also worthy of praise in light of their patience in the face of the hardship their enemies inflict on them; Allah will prove his love for them for this patience... What helps the mujahideen to demonstrate patience is the knowledge that all [the calamities] that befall them are for the sake of Allah...

"d. ...We must emulate the characteristics of the chosen ones [i.e., the Prophet's Companions], and fault ourselves when we experience calamities... [We must] repent fully... and be strong... and patient before our enemies, and humble and meek before Allah... [We must] admit our powerlessness, and recognize our sins... One of the ways to attain strength and repel humiliation and weakness is to stop sinning...

"Aside from preparing [their] strength, getting ready to meet the enemy, and [waiting] patiently for the war against him, the mujahideen must ask Allah for forgiveness and absolution, and to return to Him, and [they must] fault themselves for every [calamity] they suffer... They must examine themselves more meticulously than they examine their fellows... One must repent of sin and ask for Allah's forgiveness at all times: before, during, and after war...

"e. The [Prophet's Companions] did not ask Allah to help them to become stronger and defeat the infidels until they asked for His forgiveness for their sins... They prefaced [this request] with an admission of [their] sins and repentance of them, with the knowledge that [their sins] were the reason for the calamities that befell them... They did not ask for a life of wealth and ease, nor even for reward and recompense, not in this world or the next... Rather, [they asked that Allah] forgive them their sins and help them to become stronger and defeat the infidels – and they asked for victory not for themselves, but in order to defeat apostasy and punish the infidels...

"The fortification of hearts and strength is in the hands of Allah, and victory can only be attained if He wishes it. [Therefore,] the mujahideen... [should] regard [the Prophet's Companions] as exemplars, in order to merit the great results which they merited, in this world and the next.

"f. The battle of the [Prophet's Companions] against their enemies started out with many killed and calamities among them. They faced [these circumstances] with strength, resolve, and patience, and endured [the battle] by virtue of their repentance, asking for absolution, and supplication to Allah to help them emerge victorious... This is the greatest proof that, if one follows the path of jihad and its laws... the doors of mercy are opened before him in this world and the next.

"This is a sincere call to my brothers, the mujahideen – whose situation has become difficult, [whose] enemies have beset them, and who have suffered various calamities – for them all to stand honorably... and follow in the path of [the Prophet's Companions]... Their God, who brought them victory, exalted, and honored them, is our God... and He can honor us as He did them and humiliate our enemies as He did theirs.

"Therefore, let us gird our loins and make a decision, from the depths of our hearts, on several matters that will ensure nothing other than victory...: not to surrender to the enemies, no matter what their tactics may be; to devote our intentions to Allah...; to wage jihad for Allah's sake and in order to exalt His word...; to demonstrate patience in the face of the difficulties of the path and its calamities...; to continue to ask for Allah's forgiveness, to repent sincerely, and to recognize that the calamities which have befallen us are the result of our sins...; to demonstrate our dependence on Allah...; and to pray to Him a great deal to strengthen us... both while waging wars and at the outset of the long path of jihad on which we are embarking..."

Al-Qaeda Film: "The Mujahid Is Among the Happiest of People"

The gloomy reality described by Abu Yahya Al-Libi in his essay, that of death and wounds as the lot of the mujahideen, stands in stark contrast with the message conveyed by several videos released of late by Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. These films push a propaganda line seeking to paint a rosy picture of the mujahideen's everyday life and of the state of jihad in general. These messages are aimed not only at recruitment, but also at instilling a sense of euphoria among followers and supporters in the wider circles of the global jihad movement.

One theme which recurs in these videos is the notion, fairly new to such films, of the good life enjoyed by the mujahideen. Viewers of jihadi films have grown accustomed to videos centered on action, showing footage of operations against enemy targets or scenes of training drills, which are meant both to aggrandize the mujahideen as bold and valiant warriors and to present what they consider their victories against the enemy.

The newer videos present viewers the positive, attractive aspects of the everyday experience on the mujahideen: the adventurous life on a jihad front, the joys of companionship, the satisfaction of fulfilling the task of waging holy war, the unique experiences of traveling to distant lands, the communal meals, etc.

One particularly noteworthy example of this trend is the film "Yawmiat Mujahid" ("The Mujahid's Diary"), released March 10, 2011, by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated media company Al-Sahab. The nine-minute video follows the daily lives of a unit of Al-Qaeda fighters in the Zabul province of Afghanistan.

Jihadi displaying a fish he caught, in "The Mujahid's Diary". Zabul, Afghanistan

The video's message is that life on the front lines of jihad is not all hardship and battle, but a happy life with a significant amount of leisure and recreation. Mujahideen are seen hiking in the mountains, swimming in a river, fishing, and eating collective meals. They are portrayed smiling and laughing, and seem content with their lives. The overall atmosphere the video depicts can be likened to that of a summer camp or a field trip.

The film opens with a narrator saying: "Many people think that the life of the mujahid in the battle zone is full of fighting and pursuit at the hands of the enemy, and that in the hills and caves, he lives a life of misery and wretchedness and cannot find anything to fulfill his needs. This is a stigma. The truth is that the mujahid is among the happiest of people, and he leads a life of comfort. He finds rest, peace, and ease which he did not enjoy before [coming to the jihad front]..."

Jihadis enjoying a swim in the river, Zabul, Afghanistan

ISI Film: "The Mujahid's Life is Full of Happiness and Optimism"

On May 29, 2011, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) which is Al-Qaeda's branch in Iraq, released a new film produced by its media company, Al-Furqan, titled "The Chant of the Martyrs II." The film, aimed at recruitment and boosting morale, depicts the good life of jihad fighters on the Iraqi front.

Jihadis diving into a river in Iraq

The film contains footage of various scenes taken from the daily life of ISI fighters – or at least this is the impression its producers wish to give viewers. These scenes are interspersed with fillers, featuring clips from Saudi TV channels and images of leading Saudi leaders and clerics, while the narrator lambasts the Saudi regime for falsely portraying jihad.

Festive meal in an ISI camp

The film opens with footage of ISI fighters slaughtering a sheep and preparing a festive meal. Most of what follows are scenes of ISI fighters sitting in groups and chanting hymns glorifying jihad, martyrdom, and so forth. The video also portrays jihadis wrestling and grappling playfully, as well as jihadis gathered around listening to an amusing combat tale told by one of their comrades.

Barbecuing lamb in Iraq

In one of the fillers between these scenes, the video's narrator says: "The mujahid's life is not a bitter life... full of hardship, sorrow, and fear, as the enemies of Allah portray it. On the contrary, it is a life full of happiness and optimism, contentment and certitude."

Women Urged to Motivate Their Husbands to Wage Jihad

Another example of Al-Qaeda's effort to motivate and encourage its rank-and-file fighters came from its magazine for women, Al-Shamikha, which sought to encourage women to motivate their husbands and sons to set out to wage jihad. In the magazine's first, and so far only, issue, a woman calling herself Um Muhannad and presented as "a mujahid's widow" is interviewed regarding her experience as the wife and widow of a jihad fighter. In the interview, she urges all Muslim women to fulfill their role of supporting jihad and encouraging their husbands and sons to depart to a jihad front.

Following are several excerpts from the interview:

"Q: [Tell me about] the day [your husband] set out forth on jihad and said goodbye to you."

"A: "In the period before he left to wage jihad, I noticed a real change in my husband. He was full of eagerness and activity. Seeking a way [to reach the battlefront], he was like a bereaved mother looking for her son... until [one day] he told me he would soon join the convoy [of the mujahideen]. Despite the [joyful] nature of the news, it came as a shock to me, because it never occurred to me that one day he would leave [for the front] without me. But I thought it my duty to encourage him and not to stand in his way, so I did not ask him to wait until he found a way for me to [come with him]...

"The minute it became possible, he did not wait even a single day... I encouraged him to go... One day before he went, he told [me], with tears in his eyes: 'I wish you were a man, so we could go together...'

"Q: Do women motivate [men] to wage jihad, or do they stand in their way?"

"A: Of course, this is considered a problem by many of the brothers and sisters, for they believe marriage to be an obstacle to jihad... If the woman's appetites for this world and its pleasures surpass her love for Allah and His Messenger, she becomes one of the primary obstacles to jihad... But she can just as easily be one of the main [factors] motivating [the man to set out for jihad], if she has faith in her heart and knows the path of truth... A woman has a pivotal role in spurring [her husband to jihad] and supporting [the mujahideen]... When a woman is convinced of something, she becomes a source of support [for her husband] and spreads it all around her. [In the case of jihad], she teaches [her son] to become a mujahid from childhood, and encourages him until he achieves his goal [i.e., martyrdom]. More than anything, a mujahid needs someone to support and help him..."

*D. Hazan and R. Green are research fellows at MEMRI.


[1] The original term Al-Ribbiyyoun appears only once in the Koran (3:146) and has been interpreted in numerous ways, including "masses of people," "followers," and "religious scholars." Al-Libi uses the term to refer both to the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad and to the mujahideen and their supporters.

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