Understanding the Islamic State’s Treatment of Women

At a recent a Congressional hearing on the Islamic State’s violence against women and girls, Edward Watts, director and producer of Escaping ISIS, spoke about the accounts of women who have escaped from Islamic State territory. He spoke about IS’s extensive violence towards women, and in particular towards the Yazidis, explaining how many of them … Continue reading "Understanding the Islamic State’s Treatment of Women"

BY Caitlin Anglemier · | August 6, 2015

At a recent a Congressional hearing on the Islamic State’s violence against women and girls, Edward Watts, director and producer of Escaping ISIS, spoke about the accounts of women who have escaped from Islamic State territory. He spoke about IS’s extensive violence towards women, and in particular towards the Yazidis, explaining how many of them are captured, forced to marry Islamist fighters, and used, traded, or sold as sex slaves. It is well known that the Islamic State utilizes and promotes sex slavery, with Bloomberg News publishing a story about a recent “Price list” offered by Islamic State for captured girls based on age.

While it is horrifying to hear about such treatment there was no recognition during the hearing that Islamic State’s views towards women are derived from Shariah, Islamic law. Indeed one witness proposed utilizing Islamic scholarship to oppose IS ideology. The Bloomberg article cites James Madison University professor, Kerry Crawford, on violating “taboos” in an attempt to explain the behavior:

“If you and your group are doing something that is considered taboo, your doing it together forms a bond,” [Professor Kerry Crawford] said. “Sexual violence does really create fear within a population.”

The assumption that sexual violence is a taboo to Islamic State fighters is wrong.  Islamic State does not view itself as violating a taboo. Rather they say their position is based on solid Islamic jurisprudence saying sex slavery is permissible.

In ‘The Reliance of the Traveler: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law’ by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (d. 1368) and published in English translation by Nuh Ha Mim Keller in 1994 under the section “Rules of Warfare” states:

o9.13 When a child or a woman is taken captive, they become slaves by the fact of capture, and the woman’s previous marriage is immediately annulled”.

That ruling is derived from Quran Sura 4:25, where women acquired through war are referred to as those “that your right hand possesses.” Shariah law prohibits adultery or illicit intercourse (zina), but this does not apply to women captured during Jihad.

It’s worth pointing out that this understanding of sexual slavery isn’t limited to just Islamic State and its fighters. In 2011, a female Kuwaiti lawmaker also called for reinstating sexual slavery.

Islamic scholars and leaders who adhere to Shariah doctrine can point to specific verses and sections of the Quran that condone such behaviors, and so attempting to devise a counter-messaging campaign which relies solely on utilizing Islamic themes becomes problematic.

Likewise, researchers have proven befuddled by the role played by women in the Islamic State’s recruitment and indoctrination efforts. The media repeatedly covers stories of women traveling to Islamic State held territory in order to marry fighters.

The Quilliam think tank provides a translation of a “Manifesto on Muslim Women,” a document used as a propaganda piece to attract Arabic-speaking women to the Islamic State. The document discusses the ideal Muslim woman, how the western model for women has failed, and the role of a Muslim woman outside of the house and states,

“…woman was created to populate the Earth just as man was. But, as God wanted it to be, she was made from Adam for Adam. Beyond this, her creator ruled that there was no responsibility greater for her than that of being a wife to her husband”.

Islamic State cites Quranic and juridical sources for their assertion that Muslim women are not destined for roles outside of the house, except for in specific circumstances, or when they suggest that a woman’s role revolves around working towards being a better Muslim, being a good wife by taking care of her husband and providing for his needs, bearing children and raising them in strict accordance with Shariah law. Indeed, Islamic State insists that women, not be “illiterate or ignorant”, saying that they must “learn to read and write, about their religion and fiqh,” fiqh meaning Islamic jurisprudence and the understanding of Shariah.

The Islamic State aggressively emphasizes its ability to provide Muslim women with a fully Shariah compliant life. It is actively seeking to recruit those who are opposed to “westernization.” This includes the strict enforcement of Mahram (guardian) requirements, and the strictest enforcement of the “hijab” modesty requirements as given in Quran Sura 33:59:

Allah says to the Prophet Mohammad, “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks all over their bodies. That will be better, that they should be known, so as not to be annoyed”.

The Islamic State then criticizes even other Islamic governments (like Saudi Arabia), for not adhering accurately to Shariah strictures regarding women.

This is quite a different picture than the average Western view. For those accustomed to hearing about “gender equality”, “equal pay for men and women”, and feminist ideals, the role of women in such a system can seem repellant and unacceptable.

But it does have its appeal with the intended audience of shariah adherent believers, and that appeal must be understood.

While efforts to attract young men to join jihad are fairly well understood, the effort by Islamic State to attract young women is a reflection of their effort to not just wage jihad, but to establish a functioning caliphate.

As Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi declared in his first official statement as Caliph:

“The State is a state for all Muslims. The land is for the Muslims, all the Muslims. O Muslims everywhere, whoever is capable of performing hijrah (emigration) to the Islamic State, then let him do so, because hijrah to the land of Islam is obligatory. …”

Emigration is considered “obligatory” in Islamic jurisprudence in cases where a Muslim cannot practice their religion in their native land. Thus Islamic State’s insistence to its female audience that the West, and even the Gulf States are not permitting the free practice of obligatory requirements (such as hijab, etc), creates an impetus to join IS and leave their home countries. This then provides the legal justification for Islamic State to push other boundaries by permitting young women to leave their parents and travel to the Islamic State and to marry without parental permission.

As Western countries continue to struggle to defeat Islamic State, and to disrupt the terror groups ability to recruit internationally, they must understand Islamic State’s treatment of women, whether as obedient wives or oppressed sexual slaves, is grounded in the group’s understanding of Shariah. Crafting responses based on the misattribution or misunderstanding of IS’s motives is a recipe for failure.



Truces & Dual Messages

Under Islamic law, the maintenance of a peaceful status quo cannot serve as the basis for a truce when the milestones favor Islamic success in Jihad.

Taqiyya, Trust & Debating Shariah

According to Islamic law, one of the areas in which lying is permitted, and sometimes required, is where it will be advantageous in dealings with attempts to gain the submission of non-believers.


Child Brides in Germany

Sharia treats girls as marriageable at very young ages, following the example of Muhammad himself.


Muhammad “History’s First Feminist”??

An article claims that Muhammad was history's first feminist. Let's look at a few examples of why this is a silly thing to say.


Domestic Violence and Sharia, the UK versus Saudi Arabia

The UK's system of sharia courts seems to be undermining the criminal law against domestic violence among British Muslims, while the Saudis introduce a new innovation in whipping.