Girl Talk: Calling Western Women to Syria

Umm-Layth.pngThey say that “behind every great man, there is a great woman.” This is also true in the Islamic State. 
Long an aggressive recruiter of Western men to fill their ranks, women claiming to be with the Islamic State have gradually developed an expanded recruitment platform targeting foreign women. Prominent among this outreach are English-language social media accounts allegedly maintained by Western women who are married to jihadi fighters and who live in territories controlled by the Islamic State.
By creating content specifically targeting female jihadi supporters, the Islamic State is able to establish a pipeline to assist Western women in traveling to Syria to marry jihadi fighters and contribute to the formation of their new society. Significantly, these online networks have expanded in prominence and sophistication during the summer of 2014, suggesting that the Islamic State has already been successful in recruiting foreign women to leave their lives in the West, and is looking to build upon this strength.


Raising Mujahideen

Constant calls and encouragement for women to emigrate to the Islamic State takes a vastly different form than does the propaganda aimed at male jihadis. Instead of tales of adventure, glory, and brotherhood, the content aimed at English-speaking women emphasizes the development of the private sphere of the state, and the satisfaction of serving as the emotional and domestic bulwarks of individual fighters and of the newly emergent Caliphate. This emphasis can be seen in an essay written by one of the most established alleged-female online recruiters, who writes under the name “Umm Layth [Mother of the Lion].”


Purportedly a British woman in Syria, in activity on Twitter and a personal blog she has issued “blunt” advice for prospective female migrants ranging from expectation management to security advice for traveling through Turkey to Syria. Pressuring women to migrate to Syria immediately, she tweeted to her 2000 followers:

Biggest tip to sisters: don't take detours, take the quickest route, don't play around with your Hijrah by staying longer than 1 day for safety and get in touch with your contacts as soon as you reach your destination.

Despite her straight-forward instructions, Umm Layth has not failed to glorify life in the Islamic State. In two tweets on November 29, 2013, she posted text screen captures—both titled “The Ansaar [Supporters] of Shaam”— explaining the kinship she felt with her fellow sisters and brothers in the Islamic State. Before referring to the place as “paradise,” she concluded:

Wallahi [I swear] I will never be able to do justice with words as to how this place makes me feel or what Ansaar of Shaam [helpers of Syria] have done for me and Allah only knows how much I love and appreciate these people for His sake…


Assisting newcomers, Umm Layth distributed an English-language essay titled “Diary of a Muhajirah [migrant]” online on April 9, 2014 that presented guidance for future emigrants from the vantage point of a woman who had been in the country for three months. In a five-point document, she emphasizes what Western women should expect while living in Islamic State-dominated areas, reassuring readers that the Islamic State will provide accommodation and support, but also underscoring that women should plan to marry a fighter quickly upon arriving in Syria. As well, she strenuously warned that female jihadis should expect to be involved in the domestic sphere upon arriving in Syria, flatly announcing that it is “completely impossible” for women to participate in battle.
Through her message, which was circulated between jihadi social networks, Umm Layth alluded to the role that women have for the Islamic State’s state building project. She instructed her readers to expect that “a normal day” for a female Emigrant “revolves around the same duties as a normal housewife.” Yet, despite indicating that boredom can be a significant challenge for female migrants, she glowingly described the emotional and religious satisfaction that many women face for doing their part to establish the domestic sphere of the Islamic State. Indeed, her essay describes the challenges- such as lack of medical care, conveniences, and entertainment as well as distance from family and friends- in much the same manner as would colonists heading to a new land far away from their old lives.

Toward the end of the essay, she further expanded on the role of women as educators when she reflected on historical female Islamic figures, stating:

Their role as mothers were so important since their upbringing resulted in the future of their child - through which they gained countless ajr [reward].

She followed up:

you may gain more ajr by spending years of sleepless nights by being a mother and raising your children with the right intentions and for the sake of Allah than by doing a martyrdom operation.

Similarly, another female recruiter, who uses the name Umm Anwar, makes the same dignified appeal toward the role of Islamic educator through motherhood and indicated a professional role for women trained in medicine. In a question posted on June 26, 2014 asking what she is able to contribute to the Islamic State as being “just a housewife,” she responded that along with being able to use her background as a med student, “women give birth to the mujahideen and they are the ones who raise them and teach them also in the usal of fiqh [foundations of jurisprudence].”

Women Travel to Syria

Beyond generic encouragements to violence and jihad, the women’s address specific concerns relating to jihadi women, who, for example, must have the consent of a guardian to travel and marry. The jihadi social networking community abounds with questions from female jihadi supporters whose guardians do not support their travel to Syria and who are looking for a religiously-based way to circumvent these restrictions. For jihadi women, the lack of a willing guardian for both their travel and their eventual marriage in Syria is a significant concern, as they believe themselves to be religiously obligated to be accompanied by a male family member. Western jihadi supporters who want to travel to Syria, often over the objections of their parents, propose a number of methods to fulfill the requirements. For example, in a July 26, 2014 Twitter exchange between Umm Layth and a prospective emigrant, Umm Layth noted that women whose family is broadly in support of their actions can turn to electronic means to obtain permission to marry, writing that:

the Wali [guardian] can be contacted over phone, skype, whatsapp, email etc. So him being abroad can't stop you

Similar points have been made by other female Twitter users. In response to a series of posts made by Twitter user “Umm Anwar” on proper Islamic marriage approval procedure, an Arabic-titled account translating to “Sun” stated that her “Qadhi [judge]” appointed an English-speaking brother to ask for her dad's consent via phone, writing:

in my case, the Qadhi [judge] appointed an English speaking brother to ask for my dad's consent via phone. He agreed & they proceed it


For women seeking to emigrate whose families are not in support of their plan, female jihadi role models promote rulings that allow jihadi women to circumvent the requirements of having permission of a guardian. For example, Umm Layth promoted a website containing fundamentalist religious jurisprudence aimed at Muslim women, the linked entry of which asserts that Muslim women may travel without a guardian if they are emigrating to a Muslim land. Moreover, in the same July 26 exchange, Umm Layth reported that the Islamic State will appoint temporary guardians for women who wish to marry fighters but who do not have religious permission. After being asked about the details of finding a husband, she wrote: “finding a brother isn't difficult, and if the Wali [guardian] doesn't approve then Doula [Islamic State] is able to provide them with a Qadhi [judge].”

Living Conditions and Female Roles in the Islamic State

The social media accounts of women living in the Islamic State also promote emigration to Syria through more subtle means. Among the less direct methods of propagandizing for life in Syria, female writers share messages and images extolling life in the Islamic State territories—sharing, for example, bulletins about their outings to swim in the Mediterranean Sea and go for shooting practice; descriptions of the spiritual and emotional fulfillment that being the wife of a fighter supposedly grants; and their affectionate interactions with each other and alluding to domestic bliss with their fighter husbands.

Equally, these women try to depict the Islamic State as comfortable and suitable, such as on the account of Umm Anwar (under the username “BintNur”). In an answer to a June 26, 2014 question asking if the Islamic State provided “bare necessities like mattresses and stoves” along with running water and dependable electricity to newlyweds, Umm Anwar replied that the “dawla [state] provides everything.” She also replied to another question regarding marriage on the same day, stating that women are given comfortable options once they arrive in Syria:

if [sisters] are having personal problems they will stay at a sisters maqar [headquarters] till they get married and dawla [Islamic State] will take care of them and give them their monthly pay

Other messages from women—including Umm Layth’s April “Diary of a Muhajirah”—outlined what emgirants should bring with them, and what they can expect to find already in Syria. Umm Layth, for example, wrote that while there “are many materialistic things that can be found here,” it would be best for foreign women to bring clothing, books and religious reading materials, as well as items of personal adornment. In an aside likely to excite jihadi women already eager to plan their marriages to a fighter, she directed them to shop for their marital frills before emigrating, writing:

for the married sisters or soon to be married, bring makeup and jewellery from the West because trust me there is absolutely nothing here...

The increased social media recruitment efforts of women in the Islamic State to get higher numbers of women to move to Syria indicate an agenda beyond militaristic goals. As such female-run social media accounts describe a purposeful life in Syria while also providing information explaining how to enter the state, it is clear that women view themselves not only as educators of the Islamic State’s youth, but also as crucial agents in adding to its population.

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