THE LEVANT EXCLUSIVE – By Farhana Qazi —
When female recruits sign onto ISIS, they may not understand the meaning of martyrdom or consider that marriage to a fighter may be broken or short-lived. Nor do these women consider that tying the knot with ISIS could violate Islamic customs and principles.
Girls looking for love on the Internet have a lot to learn about the online community of extremists. First, the relationship may not be real or long-term.A report by the London-based Quilliam Foundation makes it clear that some women are captivated by an imaginary future. “The promise of an Islamist utopia” charms many of these girls, according to HarisRafiq, the managing director of the foundation. A former female militant told BBC she wanted a “piece of eye candy” and was scouting the internet for militants with good looks, or as she puts it, ISIS men who were “really, really attractive.”Another ISIS bride, a British woman who writes under the name Umm Waqqas, may be among the few recruits who know how to make a marriage work. “Patience to deal with everyday struggles,” she writes. Her overall message to women wanting an ISIS husband is summarized in this one tweet: “There’s no such thing as Prince Charming. It’s actually fictional, but u can mold ur spouse into becoming ur ‘everything I’ve ever wanted.” But even Umm Waqqas knows that her marriage to an ISIS fighter is anything short of a fantasy—a lesson other girls should learn before they take the big step into Syria.
Aside from good looks, marriages to a would-be martyr fulfillsthe desire of being the esteemed wife of a martyr—an honor many women believe will elevate their status as women and hold their place in paradise. An American convert to Islam in the state of Maryland told me, “I will be proud of my husband if he dies for Islam.” At the time, her husband had gone to Syria, taken by its people and the place. White he wanted to be a fighter, his children and wife kept him homebound. Keeping her American name, Stacy said, “I have to respect and support him if this is what he wants to do,”referring to her husband’s desire to join the “brothers” on the battlefield.
Luckily, Stacy is well settled and lives with her husband and children, despite her feelings about martyrdom. Other American woman have been more determined to join ISIS, including Shannon Maureen Conley, a nineteen-year old girl with blond hair arrested last summer in Denver, Colorado for attempting travel to Syria to marry a thirty-two year old Tunisian man—an online love affair is a powerful tool for ISIS recruitment of girls looking for a life with purpose and protection. Sadly, ISIS offers neither.
Third, ISIS cannot guarantee the long-term security and well being of its women. Umm Layth, a moniker for the 20-year old Scottish girl Aqsa Mahmood, seems to recognize that a make-believe marriage, invented partly by the male fighter, can not last forever. In earlier blog posts, she warns both women and men to prepare for spousal separation. “You already know you wanted to marry a mujahid so why did you not read what will be the rulings for you after his departure?” she asks the wives of ISIS. Addressing the men, she writes: “You are responsible for your wife,” warning them to take the time to educate women about the mourning period and learn about iddah, the waiting period for a widow before she can remarry—in this case, the widow may marry another ISIS fighter.
Finally,radical women seeking men online do not understand Islam. Given the girls’ ignorance on the faith, ISIS men can easily manipulate scripture and reimagine principles of duty, honor, marriage and martyrdom to woo the women.Khan lashes out against the women of ISIS for accepting a distorted reading of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, and the Sunnah, oral traditions. “What kind of Islam is this? When at its core Islam calls for the act of peacemaking. Where is this peace in ISIS’s version of Islam…And this stands in stark contrast to centuries of Islamic tradition, a tradition based on mercy, compassion, pluralism, co-existence, and human dignity.”Khan adds that female recruits are poorly versed in Islamic doctrine, and that the so-called Islamic empire is “in direct contrast to the teachings of the Quran.”
To be fair, ISIS is not the first and only Islamic-based group to espouse imaginary rulings on Islam to advance their strategic and tactical goals. During the Iraq war, various Islamic chat rooms and forms compelled women to join. The Abu Al-Boukhari Islamic Network declared that because Islam is under attack, women had to take part in defending their faith and religion, even though it is preferred that women do not leave their homes without the permission of their husbands, fathers or brothers. “In jihad, such an obligation is uplifted,” the network wrote. In a chat room known as Muntadiyat al-Muqawama(The Resistance Forums), a special chat was established for female extremists that allowed them to connect, chat, and communicate about all-things-Islam, much the same way ISIS women do today.
Preventing extremists from engaging online for the purpose of marriage requires an Islamic ruling about whether this activity is halal (permissible) or haram (forbidden). Although there is no consensus how to marry in Islam, some Islamic scholars consider the extremist method of marriage contrary to Islamic law. In March, an Islamic authority based in Egyptwarned Muslim women against marrying fighters online. “Dar al-Ifta warns girls from adhering to these calls that go against Sharia,” a statement said. According to the Islamic scholars, marrying a foreign man through video conferencing is illegitimate. They prefer a face-to-face meeting between a man and woman so the two people involved can make an informed decision—in Islam, a girl has the right to see and speak to a man before she says yes. It is also customary in the Islamic world to involve the parents of the bride and the groom, as well as the extended family, before coming to a decision. However, other Islamic scholars, don’t see a problem with online wedding ceremonies, either by audio or video imaging.
As the debate on this issue continues, the reality remains. ISIS girls and women fail to consider the full breadth of challenges they may face when they marry a male fighter. Instead, these women fall into the trap of marriage that subjugates, rather than empowers, them. As Umm Lath purrs: “Women are not equal to men. It can never be. Men are the leaders and women are [so] special that Allah has given them entire chapter in the Quran.”
Equal or not, perhaps there is only one truth left for the brides of ISIS. That the news of a fighter’s death will come soon enough, leaving these girls alone in an alien country, far from home and family.
Farhana Qazi is a scholar and speaker on conflicts in the Islamic world. For her service to the U.S. military, she received the 21st Century Leader Award by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP) and the Humanitarian Award for her work on women in war from her alma mater in Texas. Her forthcoming non-fiction book is a human-interest story set in Kashmir, titled “Secrets of the Valley.”For more updates on women in terrorism, visit her blog, www.farhanaqazi.com.