On 30 August 2009, Jordanian journalist Murad Batal al-Shishani published a new article in al-Hayat where he asserts that an Islamist’s clothes are often political statements and can indicate his precise type of Islamist orientation.
Al-Shishani states that during the 1980s, the Salafi style of “short clothing” (a likely reference to the ankle-high pants Salafis commonly wear) became prominent along with “Afghan clothing,” which is the shalwar kameez and which represented solidarity with the Afghan-Arab Mujahidin. Today, he claims that someone with a beard is often described as one of the “brotherhood.”
He writes that two prominent differences in clothing currently exist. The first is the contention between those who follow Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and the “neo-Zarqawis,” who consider themselves as the legacy of Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi. The second is between Hamas and the jihadi groups in Gaza.
In the al-Maqdisi—neo-Zarqawi split, al-Shishani states that the neo-Zarqawis wear a black skullcap, which some consider a representation of the Salafi-jihadis. Al-Maqdisi himself said the black skullcap, or any color skullcap for that matter, did not accurately represent someone’s religious tilt. Rather, he claimed, to know someone’s religious affiliations one should look into someone’s heart and actions. However, he did acknowledge that “some simple and novice youth” recognize the black skullcap as a Salafi-jihadi symbol.
As for the Hamas—Salafi-jihadi split, Abd al-Latif Musa, AKA Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi, a former preacher for Jund Ansar Allah stated on 15 February 2009 that the Salafi-jihadi wears dark-colored Pakistani clothes with “a military jacket” that is a bit larger than the person so he can “hide his personal weapon or radio under it. He wears a small black hat that resembles the hat Abu-Mus’ab al-Zarqawi … [wore]. Some of them allow their hair to grow to their shoulders covering it was a piece of cloth called a hatteh or a shaleh.”
Al-Shishani provides a practical guide on the type of clothes one could expect a jihadi to wear. However, he warns that in the case of Salafi-jihadis, they will not likely wear their typical jihadi clothes during an operational mission because doing so could garner unwanted attention.
(In case anyone is interested, the article reminded me of this unrelated piece about the Qubaisiyat, a secretive female Islamic group in Syria.)