While IS imposes severe restrictions on women of Raqqa, Western women who head to Syria enjoy some leniency
Raqqa used to be called the “Bride of the Revolution,” the first Syrian city that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad lost to rebel fighters. The city of 1 million fell under the control of a variety of rebel groups in 2013 but a year later, the Islamic State (IS) took full control of the city, now with a population of only 400,000.
Raqqa’s residents who used to work for the regime and those that criticized IS, were killed, disappeared or escaped with their families to neighboring Turkey. Alchol, smoking and music were banned in the city that used to be compared to Damascus; freedom of movement was restricted and communication with the outside world limited.
But while many have tried to escape the de-facto capital of the so-called “Islamic State,” many others have come, among them women from Britain, Australia, France, Canada and the United States. Girls have come in droves, joining hundreds of others who have left the comfort of their homes to become “jihadi brides,” marrying the foreign fighters of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
One such girl was Britain Aqsa Mahmood who disappeared from her home in Glasgow in November 2014, and flew to Syria to marry an IS fighter.
Since then, Mahmood has reportedly managed to convince dozens of other western girls to follow in her footsteps to the Islamic State. Her family lawyer, Aamer Anwar, was quoted by the BBC saying that Mahmood is “now engaging with other young people and trying to recruit them.” Mahmood is rumored to have been in contact with one of the trio of British teenagers, Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, who recently made international headlines when they were confirmed to have arrived in Raqqa after crossing into Syria from Turkey.
Abu Ibrahim a-Raqawi, a founding member of the activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), has said that “the people who came in the beginning from Britain and Germany… their goal was not to fight, but to recruit for the Islamic State.”
One of the driving forces of this recruitment is the all-female modesty police, the al-Khansaa Brigade, which was established soon after the Islamic State took control of Raqqa. The brigade is believed to be led by Mahmood and is full of western women who have gone to Syria. Azuz al-Hamza, the deputy director RBSS, told i24news that there are an estimated 800 girls in the brigade and at least 100 of them are British.
Joining al-Khansaa isn’t easy Al-Hamza told i24news. “It’s a hard process” he stressed. Women who aspire to join the brigade need to first join a special camp where they learn weapons training; fighting lessons; take classes on sharia (Islamic law), as well as Arabic classes as many have come with little or no knowledge of the language. Al-Hamza said that following the training, one can easily spot members of the brigade in groups of 4 or 5 with “Kalashnikovs on their shoulders.”
According to Al-Hamza, members of the brigade receive a monthly salary of about $700-$1500, which varies depending on their marital status, if they are married to an IS fighter, and whether or not they have children. And while there are a lot of women from around the world, including Asians, it is the western women who receive the higher salaries.
When the Islamic State first took control over Raqqa in January of 2014, they imposed strict rules on the women of the formerly cosmopolitan city, said al-Hamza.
Women were initially ordered to wear a black abaya (full body veil) which covered their entire body. Then they were ordered to wear a heavy shield on top of their abaya, hiding even their eyes. No colors are allowed, only black, including black shoes and black gloves.
The women of Raqqa are not allowed to leave their house unless it is an exceptional circumstance, and when they do, they must be accompanied by a male guardian, or a mahram. Those under the age of 45 have also been forbidden from leaving the city.
Al-Hamza said that the idea behind the last restrictions was to prevent US-led coalition forces from bombing Raqqa. Another reason, he added, was so women would be “available” for IS fighters as they believe “this is an appropriate age for marriage.”
A manifesto published in January by al-Khansaa clarifies that a girl can be married as young as nine years old. Once married, it is the woman’s “appointed role [to] remain hidden and veiled and maintain society from behind”
Speaking to i24news by Skype from Germany, Alhamza said that while women in Raqqa are not forced to marry IS fighters, the all-female al-Khansaa brigade is known to have asked girls on the street if they want to marry foreign fighters.
“Many girls have started to wear rings on their fingers and lie, too afraid to refuse the brigade outright,” said Alhamza, adding that others have agreed to marry after al-Khansaa members told them that they would receive a lot of money. Single girls who are looking to get married have been told to wear a white veil under their black one and wait to until they are contacted by the brigade.
While IS has imposed severe restrictions on the women of Raqqa,foreign women who have come to marry IS fighters enjoy some leniency. Many of these women have joined the al-Khansaa brigade and are not forced to marry.
Western women who have joined the al-Khansaa brigade are also allowed to drive cars and receive special treatment in women-only hospitals if they need medical care. They are also given the nicest homes in Raqqa, “many of which used to belong to rich residents that fled the city because they refused to pledge allegiance to IS,” said Al-Hamza.
Al-Hamza explained that the reason why foreigners, especially the women, are given special considerations is because “IS hasn’t been able to drum up much support among the locals,” thus giving financial and social benefits to those who have chosen to live under their rule.
The women, who are very active on social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Kik, have been instrumental in the expansion and rising popularity of IS, especially among other girls and women. While the men post pictures guns and frontline fighting, the women post pictures of how life is like in the Islamic State; pictures of food and their children.
However, not forgetting their place, they also post pictures and write blog posts about “Adhering to Tawheed Until Death” (attributing ‘oneness of God’ in Arabic) with brand name shoes while their “sisters” pose on BMW’s with Kalashnikovs.
Many of them who have come to Syria in order to marry post on social media platforms about their marriage, while many others counsel those interested, including the fact that many marriages come to end shortly after when their husbands are killed.
But what they post on social media, their days which are filled with food, laughter and excitement, does not apply to the everyday woman in Raqqa. RBSS tries to shatter the illusion by posting daily to their various twitter accounts pictures showing lines of women, men and children waiting for bread.
A recent video showed crowds of hungry children begging for pieces of bread that was being handed out by an IS fighter. Not every child was able to get a piece.
And what about the women of the once cosmopolitan Raqqa? For the women who used to wear western clothes, who choose whether or not to wear a hijab, and sit in mixed-gender cafes? These women are now utterly and completely oppressed by a group that is mainly made up of outsiders. Outsiders who have come to their country, their city, and imposed their skewed interpretation of the Quran and social norms on a society which was once open and free.
Source : i24news.tv