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The Islamic Hand Gesture

This past month, a Pentagon spokesperson suggested that ISIS is in a state of resurgence. Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie Jr, commander of U.S. Central Command, said of ISIS: "We believe they continue to aspire to regain control of physical terrain. Without sustained pressure, they have got the potential to do so in a relatively short period of time." The last field action against ISIS in Syria was in March 2019. Seven months later, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the self-styled caliph of ISIS, killed himself during a U.S. raid.

One of the unique characteristics that ISIS pushed with their media department was the Islamic hand gesture. For a while, during their 2014 to 2018 reign of terror, you could recognize an ISIS jihadi in the media by watching for the hand gesture. You can still find those pictures on the Internet. Just google "ISIS Islamic hand gesture images." Make sure you click on the "images" selector. You will see all kinds of hand gestures, but if you look closely, quite a few show the single index finger pointing to heaven. Even one picture shows President Obama making the hand gesture, but the actual video where it occurs shows that the picture is out of context.

So, what does this hand signal mean? Muslims contend that there is only one God to worship. Under Islam, the so-called Trinity is blasphemous as it suggests that the Son of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (an angel), are to be worshiped in addition to God. Knowledgeable Christians know that angels are not revered, and Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet, not a divine being. That leaves God alone to be worshiped. This unitary nature of God known in Arabic is tawhid.

The gesture was traditionally used during sermons, but religious fighters for Islam, sometimes referred to as jihadis, signify God's unitary feature by making a hand gesture with the index finger pointing up. Simultaneously, the thumb wraps underneath and presses against the digital phalange of the center finger. The remaining digits are squeezed against the palm to spotlight the long forefinger. The single finger pointing up is a reminder to others that there is only one God. All believers understand the hand gesture to be a symbolic form of the shahada, the Muslim affirmation of faith, that "Allah is the only God, and that Muhammad is his prophet."

Quite often, in propaganda videos put out by the Islamic State, jihadi fighters will show the hand gesture with the finger as if it is pointing to heaven when, in fact, it stands for the number one - as in a unitary God. With ISIS in resurgence, we can probably expect to see in the media ISIS soldiers using the hand gesture in any battlefield victories they happen to achieve. While the hand gesture is known and understood by all Muslims, it is ISIS that has branded it for their identification.

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