Religious leaders are seen as pious individuals who possess proper religious training and credentials, and thus are considered the chief religious ideologues of the jihadi movement. Their firebrand sermons and writings, distributed throughout the Muslim world, are key motivational tools used for recruiting and inspiring jihadi activists. It is therefore not surprising that such leaders are common motifs in jihadi imagery and are used as symbols of the religious piety espoused by the jihadi movement. Their images serve to religiously legitimize jihadi groups and promote activism along purely Islamic lines. As a strategic leader, the figure serves as an example of someone who is both a religiously pious individual and a militarily successful jihadi commander doing God’s work.
As might be expected, jihadi imagery makes prominent use of Usama bin Ladin, as well as other well-known leaders, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, Mullah ‘Umar and Ibn al-Khattab. Here, Bin Ladin’s picture is used to symbolize resistance to unjust authority and dedication to jihad. The target audience is an English speaking one, or at least Western. Nonetheless, the Arabic phrase watermarked in the background does not go unnoticed; it is a calligraphal representation of the shahada (Islamic testimony of faith holding that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger). Its appearance gives the figure an aura of religious authority, thus implicitly and subtly framing any contemporary events that are linked with U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East as a religious struggle between the U.S. or the West and Islam.