The Final Analysis: Why Extremist Women Write

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Writing from behind-the-screens, female propagandists are viewed by their followers as credible messengers, speaking out in volumes about life, death, marriage, martyrdom, and more. For the girls and women of ISIS, emerging literature addresses these how-to topics:

  • how to fit in when you come to Raqqa, the ISIS-controlled city in Syria;
  • how to behave with other women;
  • how to act with your new husband;
  • how to live when your husband dies; and
  • how to be a pure Muslim woman.

In their purity, women’s personal honor is used to uphold “the image of the pure nation,” a theme echoed by scholars who assess that national struggles and programs use women to “internalize the desirable national image of mother and wife, of desexualized members of the community.” Outside the Muslim world, such as within the Catholic community in Ireland, women have “symbolically represented the purity and tradition of the country,” and encouraged to embody the “ideal of Mary [the mother of Jesus] in their own ‘essence’.” The same expression is applied to Muslim girls,who are raised to emulate the actions, behaviors, and practices of the early Muslim women in Arabia.

False Promises & An Imaginary Future

A brief look at ISIS propagandists reveals their simplicity and ignorance of Islam. Screenshot 2015-03-05 01.15.06Under the cover of Umm Layth, Scottish-born Aqsa Mahmood maintains a blog titled “Diary of a Muhajirah,” in which she proudly tweets about the Afterlife. In 2014, she posted:

My sisters. We made hijrah [migration] together. May Allah grant us shahada [martyrdom] & unite us in Jannah,” or heaven.

Another English-speaking ISIS woman, under the guise of Al-Brittaniyah, posted: May Allah grant all the wives of the Mujahideen Sabr [patience] and re-unite them in the Highest Jannah with their Husbands.” Dressed in a niqab or face-veil, another Muslim woman brandishing a Kalashnikov declared:

“I know what I’m doing. Paradise has a price and I hope this will be the price of Paradise.”

Regarding marriage and love, the women of ISIS fail to recognize that their relationship may not be real or long-term. A report by the Quilliam Foundation indicates that some women are captivated by an imaginary future. “The promise of an Islamist utopia” charms many of these girls, according to Haris Rafiz, the managing director of the foundation. A former radical woman told BBC news that she wanted a “piece of eye candy” and was scouting the Internet for radical men with good looks—men who are “really, really attractive.” Another ISIS woman, writing under the name Umm Waqqas, may be among the few women who know how to make a marriage work. “Patience to deal with everyday struggles.” Her overall message can be 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.

Not surprisingly, many extremist women seeking to marry men online do not study or understand Islam. They are taught by the most ignorant Muslims.

Given the women’s ignorance of the faith, women are easily lured into the scripture that radical men reimagine and reinterpret; principles of honor, marriage and martyrdom are extolled and radical women are therefore easily persuaded to accept a distorted reading of the Quran and Islamic history. To be fair, ISIS is not the only group to espouse imaginary rulings on Islam to advance their strategic and tactical goals.

During the Iraq war, various Islamic chat rooms and forums compelled women to join. The Abu al-Boukhari Islamic Network, for example, told women that because Islam is under attack, they are obligated to defend their faith and the men. For radical women, ignorance is not bliss. One ISIS female recruit, using the moniker Umm Lath, wrote: “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,” a reference to Sura al-Nisa (Arabic for ‘The Verse on Women).

Failing to understand and study Islam denies these women their rights.

Instead, extremist women under the tutelage of ISIS choose a life of austerity, patriarchal authority, and an absence of normalcy.

A complete analysis of extremist women’s literature will appear in a Chapter titled: The Muhajiroon: Tracing the Literature of Radical Women, to be published in a forthcoming book titled Soft Power, edited by Dr. Ajit Maan. You can read the complete chapter on Academia.edu.

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