Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Osama Bin Laden's Parrots: Parrot Lore in Pakistani Art

This has got to be the weirdest parrot story we've encountered so far this year. If ever! A new painting by a young Pakistani artist named Amir Raza features Osama bin Laden staring out at an army of shadowy figures. Each carries a machine gun and has the head of a parrot. This from an article posted on of all places, describing the boom in Pakistani art coming out of Pakistan's most violent decade in history. This violent decade has become a boon to Pakistan’s artists, with prices of paintings, number of art galleries in major cities, and frequency of exhibitions all multiplying.

Which got us to thinking. What the hell do parrots have to do with Osama bin Laden? Or Al Qaeda? Or even Islam for that matter?

The parrot heads look suspiciously like Indian Ringneck, or Rose-ringed parrots, the only species of parrot endemic to Pakistan. Actually, four species of parrots: Alexandrine parakeet (Psittacula eupatria), Rose-ringed parakeet (Psittacula krameri), Slaty-headed parakeet (Psittacula himalayana), and Plum-headed parakeet (Psittacula cyanocephala).

We know little about Indian Ringneck parrots, except that they seem to have a fearsome reputation for such a small package. Indian Ringnecks apparently are ravaging Burma, and terrorizing London. Seemingly the perfect parrot to figure in Al Qaeda lore. Thankfully there are no naturalized flocks of Indian Ringneck parrots in the United States outside of Bakersfield, that we know of.

As far as we can tell there is little in the way of parrot mythology associated with the religion of Islam, not surprising for a religion that came out of Arabia. Google was not much help. We couldn't find any reference to parrot lore in Islamic tradition. We did find references to bird symbolism in Islamic tradition on a website called

The unknown bird symbolizes the Archangel of Death; a traveller; labour; or a man’s actions or deeds. Big and ferocious or rapacious birds are the kings, chiefs, prominent people, scholars, and rich people or those who make a good living.

Possibly the parrot motif in Amir Raza's Osama bin Laden's Parrots painting symbolizes Al Qaeda fighters as angels of death. We'd love to ask Amir Raza what his painting means. Unfortunately Amir Raza seems to be the Michael Jones of Pakistan. When we Googled the name we came up with pages and pages of Amir Razas.

If anyone has any insight into parrot lore and mythology in Islam, please let us know.

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