Why do Islamic extremists hold up one finger?
August 24, 2014 8:48 PM   Subscribe

What is the meaning of the #1 sign you see in photos of Muslims when they're celebrating a beheading or terrorist achievement?

Is it simply "we're number 1, we're the best" or "one God" or is there a specific Muslim religious meaning to it?
posted by pallen123 to Religion & Philosophy (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are they pointing up to Allah, maybe? The one finger thing appears in a lot of religious paintings and there, it generally refers to them as pointing to God.
posted by Jubey at 8:57 PM on August 24, 2014

Response by poster: Very interesting. Do you know any specific paintings where it appears? I had/have a feeling it doesn't mean "go team we're number 1"
posted by pallen123 at 8:59 PM on August 24, 2014

From Jubey's suggestion.... This is the kind of image of Jesus pointing that I'm familiar with: one example but not his best point.
posted by taff at 9:07 PM on August 24, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks @taff. That almost looks like a "can I trouble you for a glass of water" but I suppose one could argue he's pointing. It seems like if the meaning is really to point up to Allah then in at least some of the photos they would maybe be glancing upwards too. But they're always looking right into the camera like they won the Superbowl. So now I'm thinking maybe it is just "we're #1".
posted by pallen123 at 9:17 PM on August 24, 2014

It is a common trope in old religious art. Here are some other examples: 1, 2, 3, 4.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 9:21 PM on August 24, 2014

OP, do you have a specific one finger terrorist example we can see? I would google it but I really really don't want to see a beheading.
posted by Jubey at 9:25 PM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Awesome thanks @ideal. That seems pretty conclusive. So it really is a "I'm doin this for Allah" thing probably?
posted by pallen123 at 9:27 PM on August 24, 2014

Its a profession of monotheism -- see here for example.

From a recent comment on the blue (which I don't have handy, unfortunately) it dates back to the early days of Islam and efforts to differentiate it from Christianity by claiming that Christians worshipped three gods (i.e., the Holy Trinity) and that only Islam was truly monotheistic.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 9:30 PM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry @jubey I don't have any. I'm with you. I've seen several photos inadvertently on Twitter. They seem to coincide with a gruesome attack or beheading or in the aftermath of a violent execution. During an ensuing celebration.
posted by pallen123 at 9:32 PM on August 24, 2014

It would be interesting to do a study of ancient Islamic architecture, and see if their designs contain the Tryptych features.

A series of three features in religious archetecture usually refers to a "Holy Trinty" of some sort, so it would be interesting to know if ancient Islamic archetecture featured shapes grouped into three's.

I suspect McCoy Pauley has your answer!
posted by jbenben at 10:00 PM on August 24, 2014

posted by zamboni at 10:03 PM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

By "previously", I mean "previous related question".
posted by zamboni at 10:09 PM on August 24, 2014

The gesture typically refers to One God and it is a gesture that takes place during the five daily prayers as well as when reciting the shahadah or declaration of faith. In an Islamic context it is not pointing up at God because God is understood as existing outside of time and space which are attributes of created things.

(Of course I don't pretend to explain what the literalist Orcs of ISIS are thinking or doing when they do it, may they die in a fire.)

The comment McCoy Pauley is talking about is in the same thread I linked to but I don't agree with the framing. Islam arose in contact with Christianity and is different from Christianity but there is nothing to suggest that the extension of the finger to refer to the unity of God is specifically reacting to or denigrating the trinity.
posted by BinGregory at 1:28 AM on August 25, 2014 [19 favorites]

I don't think it's specifically against Christian trinitarianism either. You see it in Christian art often enough (and I've seen it in Zoroastrian art too, with the same monotheist significance).
posted by Segundus at 1:58 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I thought Leonardo's John the Baptist was a famous Christian example, although Wikipedia seems to think he's pointing at Heaven.
posted by Segundus at 2:59 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bin Gregory is correct - and as he seems to be the only Muslim commenting in the thread, I would take him at his word. I would not necessarily superimpose a relationship to/with Christianity on this gesture.
posted by smoke at 3:02 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Bin Gregory, that's exactly the comment I was remembering. Thanks for the additional insight.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 4:52 AM on August 25, 2014

Regarding Jesus above (ie. taff's link and the baby in Ideal Impulse's link 2): Jesus is not pointing, He's blessing/absolving using the two fingered gesture reserved for blessings given by high ranking members of the religious heirarchy (bishops and above).
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:18 AM on August 25, 2014

@taff, that image of Jesus is not an example of what is being asked about, that is the benediction gesture used by some Christian clergy when performing a blessing or making the sign of the cross.

It actually has its origins in Roman iconography rather than being a reference to monotheism or heaven specifically.
posted by Kimmalah at 7:19 AM on August 25, 2014

It's a sign of Shahada, professing the oneness of God, a basic tenet of Islam.
posted by fraula at 7:59 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Of course BinGregory is right, and just to make it crystal-clear: it's not about "Islamic extremists," it's about Islam. It's very important to separate out the things Islamic extremists do because they're extremists from the things they do because they're Muslims; unfortunately, most Westerners don't know enough about Islam to make the distinction.
posted by languagehat at 8:01 AM on August 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

FWIW, in some Christian art, the finger gesture is actually forming a Christogram of the Greek letters for the word Christ. You can read about it here and here, as well as seeing an example here.

Apologies for the derail, but I thought it might be useful based on an image posted above.
posted by 4ster at 7:42 PM on August 25, 2014

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