Famous jihadi red beards

Those who follow the Guantanamo trials will have noticed that Khalid Sheikh Muhammed started dying his formidable beard red a while back. Apparently he is using berries because he does not have access to henna. 

As most readers know, dyeing one’s beard red with henna as it goes grey is quite common in the Muslim world, because the Prophet Muhammad reportedly approved of it. There is, for example, a hadith according to which

A man who had dyed his hair with henna passed by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and he said: “How handsome this is.” Then another who had dyed his hair with henna and katam passed by and he said, “This is more handsome.” Then another who had dyed his hair yellow passed by and he said: “This one is more handsome than all the others.” [Abu Dawood (4211) ]

Whether the Prophet himself dyed his beard red, has been debated for centuries. (For the specially interested, there is an interesting academic article on this: “Dyeing the Hair and Beard in Early Islam A Ḥadīth-analytical Study”


KSM is of course not the first jihadi to dye his beard red. Below I’ve put together a small cavalcade of militant henna enthusiasts from the early 1990s till today. (I’ve excluded fighters with natural red hair, of which there are quite a few. Some have even claimed that redheads are overrepresented, but I don’t buy that until I see quantitative evidence.)

Most ageing jihadis assume their grey beards and don’t use henna.

I have no idea why some – and not others – go for the red; presumably it is just a matter of personal taste.

Abd al-Rahman al-Dawsari, aka Barbaros

Abd al-Majid al-Zindani

Hafiz Saeed

Abu al-Hussain al-Libi

Abd al-Karim Tunda

Nasir al-Ansi

Hassan Dahir Aweys

Abd al-Qadir Mu’min

Jumpsuit colour update

On the question of IS jumpsuit colours, someone just alerted me to a passage in a recent investigative report on IS by the Norwegian journalist Eskil Engdal in the Norwegian daily Dagens Næringsliv. It quotes a certain Mohammed Khedr, a “former member of IS’ media division”, as follows:

“The Norwegian’s situation is unusual. IS has not yet levelled specific accusations against him. Other hostages are accused of being former spies or soldiers, but the Norwegian is only accused of being an infidel. That’s why he’s dressed in yellow and not in orange. It means he hasn’t received the death sentence yet”

The source is not currently in IS – and I ask myself how he knows this if IS hasn’t donned prisoners in yellow before – but the quote is interesting nonetheless.

Here’s the article (gated): http://www.dn.no/magasinet/2015/09/11/2131/Reportasje/agentene-i-kalifatet

Thanks to Thea Elnan in Aftenposten for the heads up.

IS jumpsuit colour codes

Why do Islamic State prisoners wear different coloured jumpsuits? Over the past year we’ve seen IS victims in a range of different colours (see below). As far as I’m aware, IS itself hasn’t provided any explanation. I doubt it’s random, because few things are random in IS propaganda, and because the organization would have the resources to provide a standard jumpsuit in, say, orange, in all its locations. 

It is reasonable to think that the colours mark prisoners of different status, but I personally see no clear pattern in the assignment. Orange appears to be used mostly for non-Muslim prisoners (including Arab Christians), but it was also used for the Muslim Jordanian pilot. Besides, it was not used for the Norwegian and Chinese hostages (yellow) or the Ethiopians in Libya (dark blue). Most Syrian and Iraqi soldiers and suspected spies have been executed in shades of blue, but some have also worn red. Incidentally, the Norwegian and Chinese hostages displayed recently are the first IS prisoners to wear yellow as far as I’ve seen. 

To complicate things further, the executioners have not always been dressed in black; sometimes they wear uniforms, the colours of which have varied. On at least on occasion they wore a rather bright mustard yellow (see below). 

The only pattern I see is that jumpsuits in general are reserved for prisoners associated with the enemy in some way. IS “citizens” executed for religious infractions generally don’t wear jumpsuits but regular clothes (see below).