The lion, which is an important motif in Islamic art and culture, evokes qualities of bravery, strength and valor for Muslim audiences. The motif recurs in the Qur’an, the hadith (prophetic traditions) and classical Arabic poetry. For example, Muslim historians have compared the divine voice that was heard in Mecca during the time of the Prophet to that of a lion roaring in the desert, and according to Islamic tradition the phrase “the lion will lie down with the lamb” is used to describe the eschatological peace that will be constituted under a just and worthy ruler on judgment day. In the modern era, the lion has been deployed by Islamist authors such as Sayyid Qutb, and has become a key motif in jihadist propaganda as a symbol of honor for both major jihadi leaders and for low-ranking militants. It may also be used to suggest martyrdom or designate a martyr-to-be. Here, the image shows a large lion’s head surrounded by the photographs of major jihadist leaders associated with the Chechen jihad: In the top left corner is “Amir Khattab” who fought in various jihadist regions, and was killed in Chechnya; in the bottom left corner is the Chechen leader “Shamil Basayev”; in the bottom right corner is “Abu al-Walid al-Ghamidi” another Saudi leader who fought in various jihadist regions, and was killed in Chechnya; Abdullah Azzam’s photo is in the top right corner.
At the center of the image, superimposed on the lion’s face, and thus symbolically becoming the head of the lion (or, in this case, the “head lion”), is a picture of Usama bin Ladin. Flanking both sides of the lion’s head are two calligraphical representations of the text of the takbir (the words “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is greatest”). At the bottom of the image is a Qur’anic verse (33:23), which reads: “min al-mu’minin rijalun sadaqu ma ‘ahadu Allaha ‘alayhi, faminhum man qada nahbahu wa-minhum man yantazir wama badalu taddilan” (“There are those among the faithful who have been true to what they had promised God; and there are those who have been killed, and those who still await, though they have not changed a thing (in their promise)”). The use of the verse is intended to give praise to the jihadi leaders in the image and associate them with text directly from the Holy Writ.