Anasheed or jihadi chants (Anasheed Jihadiya) are forms of creative expression that serve a number of purposes including enjoyment, celebration, consolation, or even manifestation of anguish or anger. Anasheed are performed in accordance with a set of Islamic beliefs, practices, etiquettes, storytelling conventions and histories within the general Islamic cultural ecosystem and consist of value sets familiar to jihadist groups.
This is not specific to literal content but also includes structural patterns that frame the contents of anasheed in a non-instrumental recitation; which makes them markedly different from songs; a generic form that is the subject of disagreement between moderate and hardline religious scholars. However, anasheed are closer to Quranic tajweed. In other words, jihadist chanting is performed in a way that combines the spiritual effect of cantillation, invocation, and the impact of hymns could have in terms of preserving the sense of belonging. Anasheed also use catchy, violent tunes to express the heroic character of altruism and jihadism.
Since jihadist chants do not involve the use of musical instruments and derive their power from the subtle effect of the vocal melody, the singer’s voice should be in a perfect harmony with the chorus.
Neuropsychological studies have shown that the brain responds more to melody than to language, and music has a profound effect on arousal, mood, and emotion.
Jihadist chants are spread via various social media platforms, and on jihadist activist websites. With a single click, social media users can find hundreds of videos and audio recordings of jihadist fervent chants, the content of which covers incitement, excitement, condolences, farewells, victory celebrations, revenge, defiance, and persistence. These are all situations that can lead vulnerable listeners to experience psychological alterations characterised by dynamic sublimation and a shift in self-esteem to collective narcissism.
The main strategic objective of such modes of communication is to deliver a narrative that raises the level of enthusiasm, reduces awareness, and increases identification with the heroic reference symbols that tolerate violence.
In the virtual world, al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) have adopted the same methods used inside training camps, where chanting is used as a tool to mobilise their fighters. The purpose is to instrumentalise the emotional charge induced by beautiful chanting voices and the deliberate intercalation of Quranic tajweed and hence convey values of magnanimity and salvation. The overall aim is to attract young teenagers, enhance their socialisation and achieve a ¨phase change¨ that culminates on conversion.
In practice, the attractiveness of anasheed lies in their soft and strong melodies, so the listener does not hesitate to recite them even if he/she does not understand their meanings. Generally listeners are not impacted by the lyrics and their meaning, but rather by the emotional attraction created by voices that carry overtones of nature, motherhood, and anger. This boisterous mixture fits with the state of mind of a confused or rebellious teenager: “very calmly, it gives you some kind of spiritual experience…But most people have absolutely no idea what they’re listening to.”
For example, the famous jihad chant ‘Saleel al-Sawarim/Clashing of Swords’ (produced by IS in 2014), which has hundreds of thousands of views, focuses on double messages to target followers, sympathisers, and fans. Chants are effective in recruiting and indoctrinating people. It is a melodic acapella hymn. The lyrics discuss bloodshed and jihad.
The song was produced by the IS media platform the Ajnad Foundation, with the recitation of the vocalist known as Abu Yassir. After the success of the first release, Ajnad Foundation produced a series of videos under the same name, and with the same artistic structure that combines the power of the word with expressive images that show the ‘victories’ of IS, and the ‘justice’ of its cause.
The content of Saleel al-Sawarim is deceptive, but also alluring; it presents death as a beautiful heroic adventure; a death that morphs into life:
- Dying to end injustice— attract sympathy.
- Killing to save the oppressed—attract support.
- Fighting for justice — promote engagement.
The impact of this hymn therefore resides in its compositional power of three values that condone force and justify violence: victory to achieve justice, defeat the enemy to achieve dignity and eliminate humiliation. Death for the sake of God becomes the guarantee of good.
The path of fighting is the path of life.
So amidst an assault, tyranny is destroyed.
And concealment of the voice results in the beauty of the echo.
Clashing of the swords: a nasheed of the defiant.
By it my religion is glorified, and tyranny is laid low.
So, oh my people, awake on the path of the brave.
For either being alive delights leaders, or being dead vexes the enemy.
So arise, brother, get up on the path of salvation,
So we may march together, resist the aggressors,
Raise our glory, and raise the foreheads
That have refused to bow before any besides God.
With righteousness arise,
The banner has called us,
To brighten the path of destiny,
To wage war on the enemy.
Whosoever among us dies, in sacrifice for defence,
Will enjoy eternity in Paradise. Mourning will depart.
Indeed, anasheed celebrate bloodshed and holy war. Violent extremist groups tell their fighters that the path of fighting, sacrifice and defence is the way of life. The ideological thrust of anasheed is predicated on the following implications. Proponents of violent extremism maintain that Muslims are persecuted by the enemies of Islam and disbelievers. They therefore mobilise the tools of the modern film industry of terrorists. Being aware of the psychological risks of media coverage in terms of generating public emotions, the proponents of violent extremism produce their own brand of jihadist hymns. They manage to channel emotions in a specific direction and thus give anasheed an authentic hallmark that is specific to violent extremist groups.
The soundtracks of the jihad are mainly composed in Arabic, and more specifically in Eastern accents, excluding women’s voices. Jihadi chants have become increasingly vital to jihadist groups’ identities. These hymns seek to create a collective reality in the subconscious of adherents to violent extremism who feel a certain sense of psychological unease, fear as well as isolation. This pushes them to create a spirit of brotherhood that is in turn strengthened by ties of loyalty based on “love for the sake of God” and total rejection and aversion to opponents and enemies.
Jihadist anasheed aim to give a meaning to the jihadi project of groups like al-Qaeda and IS. They present jihad as a project for the whole Umma to fight against injustice, heal wounds, make dreams come true, and lead back to the way of God by reconstructing the caliphate.