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How 'Caliph' Baghdadi Aimed His Sermon at the Muslim Devout

Author: Ed Husain, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
July 18, 2014


I have been waiting for two weeks now for someone to explain the deeper meaning of the "Caliph" from Mosul's Arabic message for Muslims around the world. His appearance on Friday 4th July might have coincided with America's Independence Day, but his sermon was not written for Westerners. He aimed at Muslims with both his words and his deeds.

Here are seven points of religious symbolism from his sermon that resonated deeply among observant Muslims, but were missed by most outsiders who looked on aghast at Ibrahim al-Baghdadi's triumphalism:

1. He ascended the minbar (pulpit) slowly, deliberately climbing one step at a time. This was how the Prophet and his companions were reported to have acted —not rushed, but serene while the call to prayer was given. An important role of the Caliph historically was to deliver the Friday sermon, and Baghdadi's actions illustrated to those in the mosque and elsewhere that he was not a novice.

2. While sat on the minbar, and as the call to prayer continued, Baghdadi reached for his pocket and took out a small wooden stick – known as a miswak and used widely across the Muslim world – with which to clean his teeth. It is understood that the Prophet Mohammed carried such a cleaner, his objective being hygiene and fresh breath. Today, that translates as Colgate and an electric toothbrush. But to a mind that wishes to return to the seventh century, the Prophet's purpose is lost and clinging onto external practices alone becomes precious. Baghdadi's actions with his miswak – captured and highlighted by his cameraman – were designed to further bolster Baghdadi's credentials as a successor to the early Caliphs.

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