Saturday, July 09, 2005

Claim of responsibility for the London murders

Language Log has recently posted twice on the bizarre name of the organization claiming to have carried out the attack. An apparently accurate screenshot of the claim can be found on Wikipedia.

The first interesting thing about this statement is the bizarre phrasing of its opening: والصلاة والسلام على الضحوك القتال سيدنا محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم. The Guardian renders this as "may peace be upon the cheerful one and undaunted fighter, Prophet Muhammad, God's peace be upon him." The doubling of "peace be upon him" (a formula added to the prophet's name as a matter of course) is unusual [because of its redundancy] and stylistically flawed, suggesting an imperfect command of Arabic literary style. The phrase الضحوك القتال (ad-Ḍaḥûk al-Qattâl), rendered by the Guardian as "the cheerful one and undaunted fighter", is composed of two words in apposition which Hans Wehr's dictionary renders as "frequently, or constantly, laughing; laugher" and "murderous, deadly, lethal". This extremely unusual epithet is so weird that at first sight I assumed it must be some kind of prank; it may potentially provide some clues to the identity of the killers.

Such an opening has been used at least once before in Europe: the assassin of Theo van Gogh left a note on the body opening after the standard invocation of God's name, with Vrede en zegeningen op de Emir van de Mujahideen, de lachende doder Mohammed Rasoeloe Allah (Sala Allaho alaihie wa Sallam), ie "Peace and Blessings from on the Amir of the Mujahidin, the laughing killer Mohammed the Prophet of God (God's peace be upon him)", which is almost identical, right down to the doubled "peace be upon him". A similar but less repetitive formula was used by Zarqawi in a purported claim of responsibility for the killing of the governor of Nineveh last year on CNN, and a Google search suggests that (again without the repetition) it occurs in other Iraqi insurgent notices. The term itself is probably copied from the 14th-century Hanbali writer Ibn Taymiyya's as-Siyasa ash-Shar'iyya, whose author, living at the height of the Mongol threat, spent much of his time urging people to fight; it does not seem to occur in any of the accepted hadith books.

The third really weird thing about the message is the phrase ابشرى با أمة الاسلام ابشرى يا امة العروبة : "Rejoice oh community of Islam, rejoice oh community of Arabdom". This collocation itself appears to be well-established, if rare - the phrase "community of Arabdom" (ummat al-`Urûbah) gets only 37 google hits, but many are collocations of one sort or another with "community of Islam", and come from speeches or interviews by well-known politicians. However, it does not seem to form any part of the standard rhetoric of so-called "jihadists".

Finally, it's worth noting that the Qur'anic quote at the end (47:7) contains a typo, if an easy one to make: it has لله lillâh "to God" for الله Allâh "God", omitting an alif. (I looked again, and the alif is there; it's just thinner than the adjacent letters, so my eye processed it as part of the subsequent lam. Oops!)

PS: Juan Cole explores, among other things, the implications of the "Arabdom" phrase.

PPS: Shibli Zaman also examines the linguistics of the issue; his summary of the "urubah" issue is more detailed than mine.


Anonymous said...

Do you know where I can find a better copy of the text of that statement? That JPG image on Wikipedia isn't the clearest copy.

Anonymous said...

The Dutch-English translation by Beila Rabinowitz at Militant Islam Monitor is full of simple errors. The opening actually reads "Peace and blessings upon the Emir..."

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Thanks! You know, somehow that doesn't surprise me - look at the source, after all...

Anonymous said...

الضحوك القتال

The expression /al-Dahuuk al-Qitaal/ is explained in
زاد المعاد في هدي خير العباد
Zaad al-Ma`aad by Muhammad b. Abu Bakr Ayub al-Zir`ii Abu Abdullah

محمد بن أبي بكر أيوب الزرعي أبو عبد الله

who died in the year 751 AH.

In a short section on the names of the Prophet, he says,

وأما الضحوك القتال فاسمان مزدوجان لا يفرد أحدهما عن الآخر فإنه ضحوك في وجوه المؤمنين غير عابس ولا مقطب ولا غضوب ولا فظ قتال لأعداء الله لا تأخذه فيهم لومة لائم .

Al-daHuuk al-Qitaal are two names in one, the first of which cannot be separated from the other. It means laughing before the believers, neither frowning nor knitting the brows, showing neigher anger nor crudeness in battle with the enemies of God, not blaming them for their enmity.

It is little used, but has recently been a favorite reference for armed groups in Iraq.

You can see it used several times in announcements made by the Jaysh anSaar al-Sunnah here:

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that "the base" is a very bad translation for "al-qa'idah". For example, "tanzim qa'idat al-jihad fi urubba" would be best rendered 'The Grassroots Organization for Jihad in Europe'.