Introduction to the Study of Boko Haram’s Hausa and Arabic Poetry

One way of understanding what drives Boko Haram members is by focusing on the Hausa and Arabic poetry (nashīds) that speaks of the group’s vision and the underlying theme of an apocalyptic battle or cosmic war between good and evil, most of which cannot be put in plain terms except through poetry.

Throughout its existence, Boko Haram videos have mostly featured Arabic nashīds produced by Ajnad Foundation for Media Production of the Islamic State. Depending on the content of a video, Boko Haram’s use of poetry can be classified into four categories (A) Praising nashīds — This genre of nashīds also known as ‘madih’ in Arabic are dedicated to praising the generosity, bravery and heroic deeds of fighters. (B) Martyrdom nashīds — This category of nashīds describes the joy of paradise and it encourages Boko Haram fighters not to give up their fight © Mourning nashīds — This genre of nashīds also known as ritha’ in Arabic are related to Martyrdom nashīds but in this case, it is composed for a person of high standing like Muhammad Yusuf. (D) Battlefield nashīds — This category of nashīds are used to mobilize and encourage Boko Haram fighters. The themes of this category of nashīds mostly tell the stories of the heroism of their fighters who are not afraid of death and the theme of recovering lost dignity and freedom.

Some of the popular nashīds produced by Ajnad Foundation for Media Production of the Islamic State and featured in Boko Haram videos include (1)أَورِ اللظئ (The Burning Hellfire) http://bit.ly/2qYupok (2)موكب النور (Caravan of the light) http://bit.ly/2q2JUGI (3)الحمد لله (Praise be to God) http://bit.ly/2pZxcJV (4) في سبيل الله (In the Way of God) http://bit.ly/2q2naH8 (5) قريبا, قريبا (Soon, Soon) http://bit.ly/2rkXWZd and others like (“We will move forth to excellence” http://bit.ly/2pZCO6F) (“Our Shari’ah” http://bit.ly/2qDmfyS) (“Clanging of the Swords, Nashīd Of The Defiant” http://bit.ly/2qDpkyH) (“The Regiment of My [Islamic] State” http://bit.ly/2qYzNb1) (“The Life of Humiliation Is Not Acceptable” http://bit.ly/2rl0KW3) (“My Ummah, Dawn Has Appeared” http://bit.ly/2rygrqb) (“My Ummah Was Not Satisfied With Weakness” http://bit.ly/2ry9Jja)

Aside from the use of Arabic nashīds, Boko Haram has also produced Hausa poetry. The use of Hausa poetry is a potent tool that Boko Haram employs to infiltrate the psyche of its members, denounce the Islamic establishment that opposes their campaign and to also draw support and legitimacy from the Muslim population. The poetry below is a translation of one of the Hausa poetry of Boko Haram featured in the video of the “Raid on Giwa Barracks” released on March 26, 2014 (This nashīd is from 13:53–19:00 in the video):

We will fight our jihād to bring back the sharī`a. We will defeat you the enemies of sharī`a. We will kill you. We will not leave you!

We will fight on the path of jihād. We will shoot and cut with swords. We will kill the unbelievers so they do not engage in destruction.

We will follow [you to] your churches and demolish them. You should not take this poem as a joke. It is the truth and what we are doing. You will see us do it.

We will fight with law-making unbelievers; those unbelievers who are making obnoxious laws. There is no law except that of Islam.

O you ṭāghūt, all of you should come and follow Allah. You should follow the sharī`a and undertake your prayers. If you refuse, you will be faced with war.

You see we are here waiting for you. You and your soldiers should come, all of you. Let us have a duel and let us know those who are courageous.

Mobile police and [other] police, you should move away from our place. You are too small to hinder us, you are women. We have understood you.

We have come with disease, disease of jihādi. We will push aside destruction, disease and corruption. No unbelief, only Islam.

We will come out to defend our sharī`a. We will fight the unbelievers who want to kill us. Carry the weapons and defend the Muslims!

It is martyrdom we want. They should spill our blood; paradise is what we desire. Even if we are trounced, let them see us increasing.

O, Allah! Give us firmness to kill them. We should destroy their churches and barracks. We would slaughter and shoot them.

O, Muslims! Come let us fight jihād. If you refuse and prefer corruption, Allah will hear you. He will capture you.

And if you refuse, unbelievers will kill you. They will slaughter the adults and even the young ones among you. They will kill women and will engage in mischief.

You should not follow the people who will deceive you. You leave jihād and you are chasing after the world; Allah will hold you and no one will save you.

You should come let us fight with unbelievers, engaging in mischief. We should fight big thieves and the cheaters! We should scatter unbelievers so that they will not engage in destruction.

Whoever wants to know whether we are brave, he should ask Borno, Bauchi, Kaduna and even Abuja. There are no contentions [about that].

Or you should ask those unbelievers of Plateau; on the day of `Id, it was a hyena that they lost. On the day of their `Id, we burnt them. Ask the unbelievers of Adamawa and Gombe, or the ṭāghūt that resides in Yobe. We have dispersed them and drove them away.

If you want to know we are not afraid, we do not have doubt, and they cannot win against us with their gathering [of troops]; you should ask the battlefield and it will tell you.

We will fight our jihād to bring back the sharī`a. We will defeat you the enemies of sharī`a. We will kill you. We will not leave you!

Question: Which genre of nashīd is the nashīd in the video?

For further reading on Boko Haram’s Hausa and Arabic Poetry, you can pre-order “The Boko Haram Reader: From Nigerian Preachers to the Islamic State” http://amzn.to/2oyl01s

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