Women involved in political or religious violence is not a new phenomena writes Dr Ilyas Mohammed.
For example, women have been part of groups such as Baader Meinhof, Irish Republican Army (IRA), Shinning Path, Black Widows, Tamil Tigers, Al Qaeda, as well as various Palestinian and Chechen resistance groups.
The women involved in the aforementioned groups were responding to situations, which had a direct impact on their lives. In all these cases with the exception of Baader Meinhof, Al Qaeda and the Shinning Path, they are nationalist or secular causes as opposed to religious.
From all the aforementioned groups, Al Qaeda has inspired, at least in the case of Muslims from various parts of the world, including Europe to join its global cause. The two most well known women from the English-speaking Western world to join the ranks of Al Qaeda type groups are Colleen Renee LaRose better known as “Jihad Jane” from the USA and Samantha Lewthwaite, who was married to Jermaine Lindsay, one of the 7/7 bombers.
The shocking aspect about both women joining Al Qaeda affiliated groups was not that they were “women” but they were not born Muslims –they were converts. In reality, we do not know how many Muslim women from the West, either born or converts are members or affiliates of Al Qaeda and fighting in various conflicts, including Syria. But it is feasible that the number would be more than a handful.
From media reports it’s clear that Muslim men from Western countries have responded to the call to jihad by Al Qaeda type groups, and in the case of Syria, anti-Assad rebels are now fighting alongside the co-religionists. But it’s also equally possible that the Syrian government has recruits from Western countries that are fighting on its side too.
Until the report by British broadcaster, Channel 4 there was little evidence of Muslim women from Western countries fighting in the Syrian conflict. The broadcaster detailed the motivations of one woman that had been interviewed. She said that “I am not oppressed, if was oppressed I wouldn’t be a Muslim right now. If I thought Islam was an oppressive religion, I would have left Islam. Islam has made me free”. According to Channel 4 her motivation to join the Syrian conflict was to “support her brothers and sisters in Islam because they needed help”.
In most cases of these women, they seem to have travelled to Syria and married a fighter and started families, but there is no way of verifying if this is true. It could be a possibility that they were already married to men that went to fight in Syria and as wives followed them.
However, the subject of women joining the Syrian conflict as “female mujahids” or “concubines” has been brewing in Muslim and Western countries. Media reports earlier this year claimed that Saudi cleric, Sheikh Muhammad al-Arifi issued a fatwa allowing Muslim women to sexually sacrifice their bodies to rebel fighters in Syria. In March, Tunisian media outlets reported that thirteen Tunisian women had travelled to Syria upon hearing this religious edict.
Again, there is no way of verifying if this fatwa was genuinely issued by Sheikh al-Arifi as some close to him have stated that this was a propaganda move started by Shia clerics from Lebanon and Iran. But if the fatwa is credible and can be attributed to the Sheikh, this then begs the question- have Muslim women from Western countries including the UK emigrated to Syria based on this fatwa?
The views expressed in this article are entirely the author’s alone and not of the 5 Pillarz editorial board.