MMA fighters enter ring to jihadi anashid

Last weekend, the audience at a mixed martial arts gala in the Swedish city of Umeå were in for a surprise. A fighter entered the ring accompanied by the famous Islamic State nashid Salil al-Sawarim. An Arabic-speaking member of the audience alerted the organizers, who proceeded to report the incident to the police. The organizer said they had reviewed the clip in advance without realizing that it was a jihadi battle hymn. 

When I first saw this report, I thought it was a funny instance of inadvertent nashid use. According to press reports, the fighter was a Latvia-based man who had expressed “shock” at learning where the song came from. He said a friend had sent it to him. Latvia is not known for its many IS sympathisers, so it must have been an accident. Or so I thought. 

On closer inspection, it may not be that simple. According to the list of results, there was only one Latvian competitor, a certain Edgars Skrivers. In this video  from the weigh-in on Friday, we can see

(at about 2′25′’) Skrivers posing for the camera with his index finger raised while his opponent raises his fist. 

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On the way off the podium, Skrivers addresses the camera, raises his index finger again and says “al-hamdu lillah, Allahu akbar” before going into the wardrobe. 

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I cannot know for sure, of course, but it it possible that Skrivers knew exactly what he was doing when he played Salil al-Sawarim upon entering the ring. 

This, by the way, is not the first time something like this happens. At another MMA event in Poland in May this year, a fighter named Aziz Karaouglu did exactly what Skrivers did, though with a different nashid. He was fined £150,000 and excluded from his club. After the event, Karaouglu, who is of Turkish origin, issued a statement saying it had been a mistake. 

For context, it is worth noting that martial arts is quite popular with radical Islamists. There are several examples of European Islamist militants who trained martial arts, and the French sports educator Médéric Chapitaux has written an entire book about the problem of radicalization in French gyms. The incident in Umeå may therefore not be as innocent as it seems.

The eminent Romain Caillet alerted me to this tweet containing a rather interesting video. It shows Abu Iyad al-Tunisi, the leader of Ansar al-Shari’a in Tunisia (AST), at the vigil of Muhammad al-Zahawi, the late leader of Ansar al-Shari’a in Libya (ASL). The video is politically significant because it confirms that AST has close links to ASL, and that by extension, AST has close links with al-Qaida, something that AST has been loathe to officially recognize.  

From a cultural point of view, the video also is interesting because it shows an aspect of Islamist funerary practices that is not captured very often on camera.   

Azzam on jihadi pastimes

In his lecture al-Tarbiya al-Jihadiyya wa’l-bina’ from the mid-1980s, Abdallah Azzam offers advice to aspiring mujahidin about how they should spend their free time: 

“Work on making good use of your time. Do not waste your time. Always try to bring about some benefit from your social gatherings. 

So, if you see people talking about food, drink, telling jokes, etc., tell them: ‘Guys, I read a story today to tell you about something that happened in Syria, or something that the Afghans did,’ or say: ‘What do you think about this hadith? I read the tafsir of this verse to tell you about,’ etc. Benefit them in this gathering, and occupy them with something that will benefit them. 

Sit down together and read the Qur’an, read the biographies of the Prophet and the Companions, a simple explanation of the Qur’an such as ‘Tafsir al-Jalalayn’ – a simple, general explanation – and read a simple book of Fiqh, especially regarding how to pray. Read the entire section on how to pray, such as ‘Fiqh as-Sunnah.’ Read in detail how to make wudu’, because it doesn’t make sense to sit for thirty years not knowing the proper way of making wudu’, performing prayer, etc. – you pray while not knowing the fundamentals of the prayer and wudu’, and you do not know the details of optional fasting, etc. So, do all of this combined with good friends and a pure, truthful intention.”