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Abuse of women by Islamist militants: 'mental disorder' or misreading of Sharia?

Ahram Online investigates the abuse and mistreatment of women by Islamist militants

Ghada Atef , Sunday 28 Dec 2014
Veiled women walk past a billboard that carries a verse from Koran urging women to wear a hijab in the northern province of Raqqa March 31, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

“In the house where I was held each girl was with a man from Islamic State [IS]. These men were aged between 30-40 years; we were aged between 15 and 20. The man who took me as his wife was about 30 and was from Mosul,” an 18-year-old girl told Amnesty International.

Since the appearance of IS in both Iraq and Syria and its capture of large areas of both countries, it has started to implement its own version of Sharia law. Abusing women falls at the top of their version of Sharia.

Abusing women is not only a trend for IS; it can be traced back to fundamentalists in the 90s. Extremist attitudes towards women were held by groups such as the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram. In these groups violence and radical hatred is a phenomenon which is justified under the auspices of religion – namely Islam.

A recent report by Amnesty International gave a detailed description of how IS fighters abused and enslaved Iraqi Yezidi women and girls in August 2014.

The report explained how the girls and women confronted horrific sexual violence by IS militants. Hundreds of Yezidi girls were abducted by IS while trying to flee the conflict in Sinjar town in northern Iraq.

More than 300 women and children were able to flee from IS after a period of confinement, while hundreds remained in captivity. Over 40 survivors recounted their stories to Amnesty.

“Hundreds of Yezidi women and girls have had their lives shattered by the horrors of sexual violence and sexual slavery in IS captivity,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Advisor.

Some of the women could not stand the horrific scenes and preferred to end their lives instead. A brother of 19-year-old Jilan told Amnesty that his sister chose to end her life rather than endure IS sex torture. The news was confirmed later by one of her colleagues, Luna.

Luna, 20, told Amnesty that IS militants were holding 21 girls in one room and one day gave them clothes like belly dancers outfits, and ordered them to wash and wear the clothes. Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself. "She was very beautiful. I think she knew that she was going to be taken away by a man and that is why she killed herself," Luna told Amnesty.

According to the report a large number of the abducted girls were aged 10 to 18-years old.

Earlier in December news websites reported that IS had released a guide for "How to treat sex slaves," and distributed it to residents of their territory in parts of Syria and Iraq. The guidelines recommended fighters to have immediate sex with "virgin girls."

The guidelines, which have been distributed on social media and internet sites, mentioned that selling, buying and gifting a sex salve is permitted, as well having sex with teenage girls who are ready for "intercourse." The Washington Post reported the guideline, saying they mentioned that beating sex slaves was allowable according to an IS fatwa.

Other abusive actions by IS were ordered in late July. The UN expressed its concern when IS khalifa (leader) Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi ordered that all women in the IS dominated areas in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul endure female genital mutilation (FGM).

"The IS are not obtaining the pure teaching of Islam, they only seek their own explanations of Islam to excuse their crimes," Islamism expert, Ahmed Ban, told Ahram Online.

He said the leaders of IS depend on stories related to Sahabah (friends of the prophet) that cut off their enemies' heads and organs. But Islam and the Quran is far from accepting such crimes, Ban said.

Ban also added that Islam came when slavery already existed, but Islam was trying to counter the phenomenon, not spread it. Ban said the Prophet Mohamed himself was buying slaves and freeing them, as well as advising his friends to do the same.

"Most radical and extremist leaders are mentally ill," Ban said.

He explained that jihadists and radical leaders are using religion as a cover for their crimes and their psychological disorders, especially towards women.

“We need revolutionary change from the intellectual heritage that justifies these crimes,” Ban added.

Boko is Haram

On the footsteps of IS's abusive attitude towards women, Boko Haram (Education is Forbidden), the Salafist Jihadist militant group in Nigeria, are on the same track.

Like all extremists, Boko Haram has radical thoughts and attacks the country to impose Sharia. It also prohibits all education for girls, except the Quran.

Since 2009 Boko Haram has abducted over 500 women and girls, who were forced to marry fighters, convert to Islam or raped by the militants, according to a Human Rights Watch report. In mid-April, Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 school girls, more than 46 of them were able to escape, and the rest are in the captivity of Boko Haram until now.

The report said that Boko Haram was targeting school girls and Christians, and threatening their victims with death or to convert to Islam and wear hijab as well to stop attending school.

A 19-year-old survivor told HRW that she and five of her friends were going home after the school day when Boko Haram insurgents stopped their vehicle and one shouted, “Aha! These are the people we are looking for. So you are the ones with strong heads who insist on attending school, “didn’t we say ‘boko’ is ‘haram.’ We will kill you here today,” the report added.

Concerns were raised about the girls, protests spread across Nigeria calling on the government to free the girls, social media started a campaign with the Twitter hashtag #BringOurGirlsBack until Boko Haram’s leader came out in a video claiming that all the girls had been married off to Boko Haram fighters.

“Such practices taken by fundamentalist groups are a kind of sex mania and blood obsession, being covered behind Islam,” Mamdouh Al-Sheikh, an Islamic affairs researcher, told Ahram Online.

Al-Sheikh said that the jihadist militants' treatment of women is going back to the wars before Islam when violating and attacking women was permitted. “IS considers those who do not follow 100 percent of their ideology to be non-Muslims, and must be punished,” Al-Sheikh said.


The Afghan Taliban was ousted by the US 13 years ago, but women still suffer

The Taliban controlled large swaths of Afghanistan from 1996 until the American attack in October 2001. During this time women lost most of their rights.

During the Taliban era women were prohibited from learning any kind of education but the Quran. And whoever had been proved to be studying any other education faced lashes.

Also, women were not to see any men from the age of eight years unless the man is a husband, father or brother. As well they were not allowed to show their faces, or wear makeup or perfume. Also women were beaten in the streets by the Taliban religion police if she raised her voice, took off her burqa (niqab) or wore high heels.

Moreover, women were being defaced by cutting the nose or ear if they didn't obey their husbands' orders, especially to perform sexually.

Years after the Taliban were defeated by American forces women still suffer in Afghanistan, according to the 2013 US State Department report.

Sixty percent of Afghan girls are forced to get married before the age of 16, the State Department report read. The report also added that violence and endemic societal discrimination against women and girls are increasing.

Psychiatrist Ehab Kharat explained the militants' hostility towards women is among the violent accumulations that unconsciously engraved in the collective memory of all mankind from the very primitive generations.

“Those generations that used to hunt, kill their prey, and attack other tribes, left for their successors a mass disorder that is being called on similar situations like religious and ethnic wars,” Kharat said.

Among the warrior’s privileges in these very early ages was raping the attacked tribe's women, or having sexual privileges with his own tribe’s women and girls, he said.

The psychiatrist also added that raping women, enslaving them, and narrowing their rights cannot be explained through religious teachings.

Women joining militant groups

In spite of crimes that have been committed by militant groups, women still join the ranking of jihadists, whether by engaging in the fight or getting married to the fighters.

Many photos and videos are being spread on social media of women carrying weapons, following the same radical thoughts of IS, Taliban, Al-Qaeda and defending them.

During the American invasion of Afghanistan the media highlighted that women were fighting in the Taliban lines. As well as the Al-Qaeda female Mujahideen (fighters) who were being recruiting to the fighting, and have been used in suicide bomb operations.

In 2005, Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Mosaab Zarqawi, announced the recruitment of female fighters to the group, and lots of suicide operations, especially in Iraq, were attributed to women.

And now, despite all its crimes, women are still joining Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, not only from Arab Muslim countries, but also foreign teenage girls. Information from Europe, Canada, and Australia indicates that foreign women are estimated to be about ten per cent of the total number of IS fighters.  

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