A New Book on Islam, Women, and Counter-Terrorism


Twenty years of research on women, Islam and terrorism is captured in a new book and written as a collection of stories. I traveled to numerous cities and countries in the Muslim world, including Western countries, to answer this oft-repeated question: If Islam is a loving and peaceful religion, why do some Muslim women kill?

What are the reasons why some women and girls join violent extremist groups? Why do they support a radical and false interpretation of Islam? 

There is no easy answer. As you can probably guess, there are numerous answers to that question. But there is one truth that I have believed in and lectured on for years. 

Ignorance of Islam disempowers Muslim women, who have rights in Islam. They are honored and equal members of society. But violent extremism disgraces and dishonors Muslim females.

In my work, I have found that terrorism is very personal for women and girls. Loss is a powerful motivator and it’s one of many drivers. The loss of a husband, brother, cousin, father, and other male relatives are reason enough for some women and girls to join men in defending their families, communities, countries and yes, their honor too. My new book offers a wide range of reasons why some women kill. Or don’t kill. After all, most Muslim women and girls are non-violent: they are peaceful, practicing Muslims, some of whom speak against the victimizers. 

My Personal Story

All these years, I have tried to understand the desperate or determined Muslim female in violent extremism. I have tried to imagine myself in her context to deepen my understanding but ultimately, I can’t empathize nor sympathize with violent women. What I can do, as a researcher and counter-terrorism expert, is build a profile, recreate her entire life story including childhood and early adulthood events, as well as look inside the “mind” of a would-be female extremist to answer the “why” and “how” questions.

And after all these years of studying these violent women and girls, I still do not–I can not– accept that Islam justifies their actions and supports their journey to Paradise. 

Violence is against Islam. Therefore, the women of violent groups are denigrating themselves and their faith when they turn to violence.

When these violent women and girls commit suicide, they have lost their right to Paradise, a key theme in the book. After all, Paradise is for the pious and peaceful. Through suicide terrorism, female radicals are committing acts that are ultimately selfish, senseless, and sorrowful.

No doubt, these women are sick at heart.

Through my counter-terrorism work, I have discovered or rediscovered Islam. As an American Muslim woman, I know Islam to be based on principles of love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and tolerance for everyone. Leading Muslim scholars, including the world-famous California-based Shaykh Hamza Yusuf focuses on the concept of mercy, one of God’s great attributes that needs to be reintegrated into the Muslim community and preached to Muslims ignorant of their faith.

Click here to watch a short lecture on mercy.


The Stories of Violent Women

My inspiration for writing Invisible Martyrs is a file that landed on my desk when I was in the U.S. Government. I couldn’t believe that she–name disclosed for security reasons–could propagate violent action when she, herself, was a highly educated woman who happened to be from Pakistan, my birth country. 

Can educated women become extremists? If so, what are they hoping to achieve?

What I discovered through this very real case study is that I couldn’t sit behind a desk. I had to go to women’s homes, offices, prisons and other “hidden” places to listen to what they had to say. This is what travel writing is all about–half the journey is being “in context,” a phrase I use all the time to mean immersing yourself in another culture and country to see, feel, and of course, understand the local people. 

At times, it was uncomfortable listening to a young woman tell me she wanted to be a suicide bomber. Or learning about the girls of Colorado who almost arrived in Syria because they believed that Islam called for violence. I went to the doorstep of one girl’s home to speak to her, but her father was so ashamed and the girl cloaked herself in darkness. She has yet to return to her ‘normal’ life. 

These are the stories of some women and girls who tread a dangerous path. Because they are ignorant of Islam. Because they are searching for belonging, identity, love, and family outside of their own community. 

To learn more, click here for the summary on Amazon. 


Available Now

You can order your copy at Amazon.



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