The al-Khans’aa Brigade, the group of women within the Islamic State’s ‘caliphate’ known for enforcing dress codes and strict rules of law in the group’s stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, released a manifesto on January 23.
The document, which is broken into three parts and was recently translated by the Quilliam Foundation, is a piece of propaganda claiming to describe life under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ‘caliphate,’ while also trying to recruit female supporters. The first part of the report describes how Islamic women should lead their lives while the second portion is a case study of Islamic women currently living under the caliphate. The third section compares Saudi Arabia, or what the author(s) refers to as “the hypocritical state,” to the Islamic State.
The author(s) of the document states that it has not been officially adopted by the caliphate’s leadership, but that its intentions are to “clarify the role of Muslim women and the life which is desired for them,” “to clarify the realities of life and the hallowed existence of women in the Islamic State, in Iraq and in al-Sham, and to refute the rumours that detractors advance against it, using evidence supported and experienced by women living there,” and “to expose the falsity of the tawheed in the Arabian Peninsula.”
The beginning of the release features a general manifesto on Muslim life followed by one directly addressing Muslim women. The author(s) first addresses the concept of materialism and capitalism and how both have detracted from the ability to lead a faithful life. The manifesto specifically references UNESCO and the World Health Organization as groups who have corrupted Muslims with their “worldly sciences.”
The section addressing Muslim women states that women are not fulfilling their fundamental role in society, which, according to the author(s), is in the home, raising the next generation of children. According to the report, women must be educated to fulfill this obligation.
Education for women, as outlined in the manifesto, should take place between the ages of seven and fifteen. From seven to nine, girls should study fiqh (or Islamic jurisprudence), Arabic, and the natural sciences. From ten to twelve, girls should study more fiqh as it relates to women, specifically marriage and divorce. At this time, girls will also learn basic household skills, which include knitting and cooking. From thirteen to fifteen, “there will be more of a focus on Shariah, as well as more manual skills and less of the science.” During this period the girls should also study Islamic history.
According to the document, western influence has corrupted Muslims, claiming that “the model preferred by infidels in the West failed the minute that women were ‘liberated’ from their cell in the house.” Women are to live a sedentary lifestyle in the home while men are meant for “movement and flux,” the report says.
These strict rules for women have three exceptions, according to the manifesto. Women may leave the house and enter the community to wage jihad, to study religion, or if they are a doctor or teacher. But “to have a job is a task reserved only for men.”
The report likens equality between men and women to an inconvenience for women. In discussing circumstances where women must work outside the home, the manifesto states: “women gain nothing from the idea of their equality with men apart from thorns.” Girls are eligible for marriage at the age of nine and “most pure girls will be married by sixteen or seventeen, while they are still young and active.”
The second section of the document, the case study, attempts to paint a happy picture of life under the Islamic State’s rule in Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq. This section includes pictures and captions, showing different aspects of life in the two cities.
The author(s) explains that “despite the raging war and the continued coalition against the Islamic state, the bombing planes in the skies flying back and forth, despite all this destruction, we find continued, patient and steadfast construction, thanks be to God.” The Brigade refers to the coalition forces as “soldiers of the Antichrist.”
According to the section of the case study detailing life in Mosul, women’s return to wearing the hijab across the caliphate has brought a new sense of decency. The author(s) purportedly claims that when the Islamic State took over the swaths of land it now controls, “the people regained their rights, none more so than women.”
As the case study describes various aspects of life within the caliphate, it maintains that many of the problems Mosul’s citizens faced before the Islamic State’s leadership assumed power are no longer an issue. These problems include poverty, access to medicine, electricity, and the state of public services.
As for conditions in Raqqa, known as the Islamic State’s stronghold, the case study describes a place where those who have migrated to Syria from around the world live harmoniously together under Shariah law.
The manifesto concludes by comparing the Islamic State to Saudi Arabia, which it refers to as “the hypocritical state.” In this section, the Brigade points out issues (poverty, injustice, and westernization) women living in Saudi Arabia face, and further claims that such issues do not exist under the caliphate.
Despite the Brigade’s attempt to describe normal life under Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s rule, it fails to mention the gross human rights abuses at the hands of the Islamic State. Recently, a United Nations watchdog reported to several news outlets that Iraqi children are being sold as sex slaves, while others are being crucified and buried alive. And in November, the United Nations released a report detailing the Islamic State’s many atrocities.
In December, the Islamic State published its own pamphlet detailing how to treat female slaves. Among its many disturbing rules, the document states that captors can have sex with female slaves who have not yet reached puberty “if she is fit for intercourse” and that beating slaves is also permissible.
After seizing Mount Sinjar in August, the Islamic State captured between 1,500 and 4,000 Yazidi women and girls. Women who have managed to escape from the jihadist group have testified about awful conditions in captivity, including sexual slavery and forced marriages to the group’s fighters.
Activists working inside Raqqa describe the al-Khans’aa Brigade as a direct threat to their efforts to expose the brutality of the caliphate and its leadership. A recent report in the Wall Street Journal claims that members of the all-female brigade are on the hunt for activists like those working for the group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. Because the women wear black niqabs, activists and residents alike cannot differentiate between who may or may not be an informant.