The oppression of women and girls in the Islamic State’s ‘caliphate’

European officials estimate that about 300 women from the United States and Europe have joined the various jihadist groups fighting in Syria’s civil war. Women from countries including Norway, Canada, the United Kingdom, Austria, France, the Netherlands, and the US are known to have joined the Islamic State. In October, three schoolgirls from Denver, Colorado attempted to travel to Syria to join the jihadist group in Syria, but were stopped in Germany and sent back home. But others have completed the journey, and stayed.

On Dec. 2, a female claiming to live within the Islamic State posted to her Twitter account ways women can help in jihad without fighting. 

In response to a question from a user asking how she could “defend Islam and the oppressed there,” Muhajirah Witness, formerly known on Twitter as Muhajirah Amatullah, explained: “So much U can encourage, financially equip a Mujahid, lo0k [sic] after his family, refute the liars etc & make genuine effort 4 Hijrah.” Hijra is the Arabic word for migration. 
The owner of the Twitter account changed her name to Muhajirah Witness following the exposure and arrest of the man behind the well-known pro-Islamic State Twitter account Shami Witness.

In the past, Muhajirah Witness has tweeted about life in Raqqah under the Islamic State, boasting about the domestic role women play in everyday life. She has also tweeted about slavery under the caliphate, claiming that Islamic rulings permit men, women, and children to be slaves if they are prisoners of war.

Despite Muhajirah Witness’ tweets trying to describe some semblance of a normal life in Raqqah, her statements conflict with the Islamic State’s own description of how its fighters treat women.

On Dec. 3, the Islamic State’s “Research and Fatwa Department” published a pamphlet detailing how its fighters are to treat female slaves when they are captured. The pamphlet was recently translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

The 27 question-and-answer pamphlet explains that Islamic State militants are allowed to have sex with female captives, can capture unbelieving women, and can perform darb ta’deeb, or “disciplinary beatings.” The pamphlet makes distinctions between the types of beatings that are allowed (it claims “beating for the purpose of achieving gratification” is not permitted) and discusses when pre-pubescent women are “fit for intercourse.”

For example, one of the questions translated reads: “Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?” The Islamic State answers: “It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however, if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.”

Another question addresses how female slaves are expected to dress and cover parts of the body; “Question 14: What private parts of the female slave’s body must be concealed during prayer?” The Islamic State’s fatwa contains this answer: “Her private body parts [that must be concealed] during prayer are the same as those [that must be concealed] outside [prayer], and they [include] everything besides the head, neck, hands and feet.”

The pamphlet also explains that militants are not allowed to separate pre-pubescent children from their mothers by buying or selling them, but can do so “if the children are grown and mature.”

After seizing the town of Sinjar, Iraq in early August, the Islamic State captured what the US State Department estimated is between 1,500 and 4,000 Yazidi girls and women. These women have been raped, tortured, and in some cases even forced to marry the group’s fighters. On Dec. 17, several news outlets reported that one Islamic State militant murdered 150 women in Fallujah after the women refused to marry the group’s fighters. The mass killings could not be independently verified by The Long War Journal.

The Islamic State’s pamphlet highlights the brutal treatment that Yazidi women and others have suffered and will continue to face under the organization’s harsh interpretation of sharia law. Yazidi women who have been rescued from the Islamic State have recounted repeated rapes by the group’s fighters. Meanwhile, in its official English-language propaganda magazine, “Dabiq,” the Islamic State defends its treatment of the Yazidi women, citing Islamic law as its reasoning for capturing and enslaving them.

Despite female Islamic State recruiters describing “positive” aspects of life in Raqqah on their social media accounts, the group’s own material shows a different side, one that exposes its real and brutal treatment of women.

Clearly, life in Raqqah is nothing like the rosy picture painted by the Islamic State’s female boosters. In November, the United Nations released a report documenting the Islamic State’s various war crimes and other atrocities. One section is titled, “Violations against women.” In Islamic State-controlled “areas of Syria, women and girls have largely been confined to their houses, excised from public life.”

All aspects of their lives are covered by the Islamic State’s draconian sharia laws. The UN report notes that these laws are enforced not only by male members of the organization, but also by an “all-female brigade, Al-Khans’aa, which assists in monitoring adherence to dress codes and enforcing punishments.”

The Islamic State “has executed women, as well as men, for unapproved contact with the opposite sex, resulting in charges of adultery.” In Raqqah, on “three separate occasions” between June and July this year, groups of women were executed “on these grounds,” the UN report states. Most of them were “stoned to death, ostensibly for adultery.”

The situation is so dire that, according to one witness interviewed by the UN, a 19-year-old “university student” committed suicide rather than marry an Islamic State member, as her parents commanded.

The Islamic State’s female supporters do not tweet such horror stories. They prefer to pretend that the oppressive laws they live under are necessary and just.

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