News / Middle East

Islamic State Recruits Women to Support Its Fight

Issue of
Issue of "Al-Shamikha" magazine also referred to as 'Jihad Cosmo'.
Ayesha Tanzeem

A few months after the militant group Islamic State, or IS, took over the Syrian city of Raqaa and set up checkpoints, it encountered a problem: the militants' enemies were escaping the city disguised as women.

Male fighters could not physically check women who were dressed in traditional long robes and had their faces covered with veils. Their response was to launch the all-female al-Khansaa brigade. The brigade, named for a famous poet who was an early follower of the Prophet Muhammad, has taken other roles as well, including policing Raqaa to make sure women comply with the Islamic State's code of conduct.

Members move around Raqaa in groups, often carrying weapons. They stop and interrogate any woman who is without an escort, check couples to make sure the male chaperone is a relative allowed to travel with the woman, and ensure that women are dressed according to IS requirements. 

The brigade also helps counter a public relations problem for the Islamic State.

“So we have an example of three Iraqi women who were raped by ISIS, who then committed suicide. This is bad press for them,” explained Mia Bloom, author of several books on women and terrorism.

Such bad press could hamper efforts to recruit women who are committed to the Islamic State's conservative ideology to come to Raqaa to marry their fighters. Humera Khan is with the Washington social activist group Muflehun, which works to counter violent extremism. To set up a society of like-minded people, Khan says, IS needs families, it needs its fighters to settle down and stay in the area; it needs wives who will encourage their men to go on jihad, and mothers who will indoctrinate their children.

Social media

To this end, women of IS and similar groups play up their sisterhood and camaraderie on social media. They create support groups, exchange recipes and discuss their friendships. They guide new recruits on what to do and what to expect.

“They give them tips on how to get to Syria without detection,” says Khan, noticing the contradiction to their own rules that women cannot travel without a companion. It is not the only way in which IS breaks its own rules for convenience.  

Traditionally, Muslim women ask permission of their male guardian, or vali, for marriage. Khan recalls the case of a British woman who went to Syria to get married. She called back to get permission from her father, but when the father denied permission, IS leaders offered her a substitute vali.

Social media also facilitates marriages between IS fighters and women living outside Iraq and Syria. Khan follows Twitter accounts that belong to women in Europe who act as conduits and advertise on behalf of male fighters looking for wives and vice versa.  

Beauty tips for Jihadi wives

The IS group is not alone in trying to create a female community to support its fighters. In 2004, the first web magazine for women called al-Khansaa was launched (despite the name, it is not linked to the al-Khansaa brigade). The magazine was aimed at creating a support community for wives of jihadi fighters.  

It gave beauty tips and advice, says Bloom, such as “don’t get fat while your husband’s away, don’t spend all the money, be supportive of his desire to embark on the jihad.”

In 2011, al-Qaida introduced another magazine called al-Shamikha, meaning The Majestic Woman. Its slick treatment earned it the nickname  "Jihadi Cosmo," referring to the American version of Cosmopolitan magazine. Its beauty and skin care tips conformed to the militants' strict ideology, like staying indoors or keeping the face covered to avoid sun damage. The first issue included interviews with the widows of militants and advice on how to marry a fighter, or raise a son to want to fight.

But Bloom says Shamikha went a little further in terms of women’s roles in jihad. Readers were encouraged not just to be good wives and mothers to their jihadi men, but also to pitch in as propagandists and fundraisers.

Coerced suicide bombers

While women who support the ideology of these groups are mostly confined to traditional roles in their societies, women who are considered outsiders are often used as a tactical tool.

Boko Haram is known to have coerced kidnapped women to become suicide bombers, through torture, threats of rape, or threats of violence against their families. An Iraqi extremist group, Ansaar al-Sunna, used the culture of shame associated with women’s sexuality. Its fighters first raped women, and when the women were rejected by their families and their communities, approached them and offered suicide bombing as a way to eradicate the shame brought on their families by the rape.   

“And in the process you reinvent yourself as a martyr, a shahida, and 72 of your closest relatives get into heaven right away,” Bloom explained.

Bloom fears that hundreds of school girls kidnapped in April by Boko Haram may suffer a similar fate. “If they’ve been raped or sexually molested, the same honor code will apply that was used in Iraq.”

You May Like

US Gives Malaysia Questionable Upgrade in Human Trafficking Ranks

Malaysia’s upgrade seen as removing barrier to country’s participation in the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Turkey, US Try to Establish Buffer Despite Differences

Coalition airstrikes in proposed zone would aim to drive out Islamic extremists, allowing targeted area to come under sway of anti-Assad rebels More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: MUSTAFA from: INDIA
August 27, 2014 11:25 PM
Sucide Bombers is not the teaching of Islam. Islam never ever teaches us to kill helpless and poor human beings, rape girls in the name of Islam. Islam is religion of peace. This is wrong interpretation of Islam to produce Sucide Bombers or produce Human Killers. Please show me their acts approve by Quran. Quran is a book who teaches us who is right and wrong. Take guidance from Quran which is available in English and other languages.

by: meanbill from: USA
August 27, 2014 11:40 AM
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi "Emir of the Believers" and the "Caliph of all Islam" and leader of the (ISIL) Sunni Muslim army adherers to the strict Islamic Sharia Laws handed down to Muhammad by the Angle Gabriel, and appoints Qadi's (judges) who's qualifications are, they be free, sane, adult, trustworthy, and a Sunni Muslim, to mete out swift Islamic Sharia justice in captured cities and towns and on the battlefield.... (and the decisions by the Qadi (judge) is final and irrevocable).

According to Islamic Sharia Law handed down to Muhammad, concerning prisoners of war.... the decision is left to the Qadi (judge), to either kill the captive men, or exchange them for Sunni Muslim captives, or "enslave" them.... Women and children are not permitted to be killed, but must be exchanged for Sunni Muslim captives, or "enslaved" as a Sariyyah (concubine), maids, or slaves... (Holy Muslim warriors may not have sex with a married female slave of any religion), that's why the husband is killed.... (and the (ISIL) Sunni Muslim Holy warrior cannot be refused free food, shelter, aid, and his spoils of war, and that's why the (ISIL) army continues to grow?).

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs