An all-female brigade of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has published a treatise on womanhood in what some analyists say is an apparent bid to recruit Saudi women and others from the Arabian Peninsula.
Produced by ISIL’s Al-Khanssaa Brigade, the manifesto enumerates the ways Muslim women should behave in ISIL-controlled territory, a swath of land that includes much of Iraq and Syria.
The “most pure” women, the text says, must be wed by age 16 or 17, and girls as young as 9 may be married off to an ISIL fighter.
Al-Khanssaa Brigade — an all-female fighting group named after a 7th century poet who wrote elegies for her brothers who died in combat — says women should leave the house only to practice medicine, teach or study religion or if it has been ruled that she must participate in a “jihad.” The ultimate purpose of a woman’s life, the document says, is to produce children.
These ideas, originally written in Arabic, stand in stark contrast to much of ISIL’s rhetoric in English. Many European women fighting with the group have emphasized the more “adventurous” aspects of joining its cause, according to Katherine Brown, a defense studies lecturer at King’s College in London. “The [ISIL] narrative provides young women from North America and Europe with a meaningful purpose of their lives that they don’t necessarily have in the West,” she said.
The guide’s sober picture of what is expected of Muslim women exposes as fabrications the social media accounts posted by many Western female ISIL fighters, said the Quilliam Foundation, which translated the document into English.
“Just as they have sexed up what it is to be a woman living in the so-called [ISIL] caliphate, this document dresses it down. Women, it is unambiguously stated, are homemakers and mothers,” the foundation said in concluding remarks to its translation.
The treatise was disseminated in Arabic and not in English, despite the presence of English speakers in Al-Khanssaa Brigade. This has led some experts to conclude that the pamphlet was targeting women from the Arabian Peninsula.
In couching its message in religious terms borrowed from the Wahhabist branch of Islam, Brown said, the group may be pushing its political goal of opposing the ruling powers of Saudi Arabia.
“By saying, ‘We’re more Muslim than you in a way, we’re going to appeal to your citizens and demonstrate that we’re more Islamic than you are,’” Brown said, “they set themselves apart as a challenge to the monarchy of the Gulf.”
Despite advocating for women’s confinement to the home, the authors encourage literacy, telling women they should study religion, cooking and Quranic Arabic, according to the Quilliam Foundation.
One page of the treatise shows the announcement of the opening of a medical school in Raqqa, ISIL’s operating base in Syria. The text indicates that a girl’s education ends at the age of 15.
There was no mention of the thousands of women who have reportedly been raped and enslaved by ISIL fighters since they launched their brutal campaign across Syria and Iraq.
“There has been a huge amount of speculation about what the role of the women who join [ISIL] — often dubbed ‘jihadist brides’ — is,” Quilliam Foundation Managing Director Haras Rafiq said in a statement.
“[This translation] allows us to look past the propaganda bandied about on social media by Western supporters of [ISIL], enabling us to get into the mindset of the hundreds — perhaps thousands — of women who willingly join its ranks,” the foundation said.
Al Jazeera and Reuters