On one of the pictures in my previous post, I noticed one of the guys had a tattoo, which is rare in jihadi circles. Tattoos are common in many other extremist and criminal subcultures because it is a so-called costly sign of commitment. In radical Islamist groups, however, you don’t see them very often, because in Sunni Islam, tattooing (washm) is discouraged. See this excellent article by Göran Larsson for an overview of the religious arguments.
Shiite theologians take a more liberal view, so you find more Shiites with tattoos (here’s a long forum thread with lots of examples). Hezbollah fighters, for example, often have tattoos – see for example here, here or here. Incidentally, Hizbollah has also allegedly practiced forced tattooing on Sunni prisoners.
In my work on jihadi culture, I’ve only come across a handful of examples of active Sunni militants with tattoos. One was the Bosnian radical Amir Bajric, who reportedly had Bin Ladin’s name tattooed on his chest. Then of course you have the converts with unfortunate tattoos from their earlier life, such as the guy with a large scull on his back, the ISIS fighter with a Pyramid/Ankh symbol, or the Taliban fighter with an Aston Villa tattoo.
Some US inmates also get jihad-themed tattoos, but these must be seen in the context of American prison culture.
I am not quite sure what the story might be with our miswak-chewing friend. I can’t read the calligraphy. If any readers has suggestions, ping me on Twitter (@boredjihadi).
Some pictures from an IS outpost in Aleppo province