by A. Agron
In years past, Islamic State (ISIS) members were more visible and vocal across a plethora of social media platforms than they are today. Actual ISIS members were eagerly followed by legions of adoring supporters who aided in the dissemination of propaganda. Within these pro-jihad online enclaves, they were celebrated media fixtures. The group has repeatedly stressed that "half of jihad is media" to highlight how vital its online activists are in winning hearts and minds in cyber space, in addition to on the physical battle field in Iraq and Syria.
While not physically present on the battlefield, the ISIS women did their part by waging psychological warfare against their enemies, and by participating in promoting ISIS online, posting personal photos on their social media accounts that offered a glimpse into life in the Islamic State.
Female ISIS members took on multiple roles as ISIS members, both online and in actuality. They were expected to be devoted wives to their husbands as well as strong maternal figures with the crucial task of raising the next generation. While not physically present on the battlefield, the ISIS women did their part by waging psychological warfare against their enemies, and by participating in promoting ISIS online, posting personal photos on their social media accounts that offered a glimpse into life in the Islamic State.
Images posted by ISIS members of babies brandishing weapons, or enticing snapshots of snacks and meals, or scenic landscapes of Syria went viral in their pro-ISIS circles. The accessibility and appealing visuals were key to structuring a specific narrative that ISIS wanted to project – a narrative of a very real Islamic utopia, in which pious Muslims and their families could freely practice ISIS's interpretation of Islam. Women were actively involved in penning threats on their various social media accounts, and tried to instill fear in their opponents; they were an important cog in the ISIS propaganda machine.
However, towards the latter part of 2015 and early 2016, there has been a noticeable void online amongst female ISIS members in the Islamic State. Instead, the torch seems to have been passed on to female ISIS supporters outside the Islamic State, scattered across the globe. It is now they who are most crucial in disseminating the group's message. Some of the most influential ISIS disseminators and activists, such as "Radical Girl," or the recently imprisoned Safya Yassin, aka "Muslimah," are activists who have taken on the work of the women actually living in Islamic State territory. Long gone are the days when former Glaswegian Aqsa Mahmood, aka Umm Layth, would post entries in her blog aimed at women who might be seeking a life in the Islamic State, or when Sally Jones, the widow of prominent ISIS fighter and hacker Junaid Hussain would leak personal details and home addresses of U.S. military and government employees, via her Twitter account.
It is important to note that there has been a marked shift in the content that is released by ISIS accounts in general, in light of frequent account suspensions. Instead of threats and organized hashtag campaigns, some supporters are trying to disguise their agenda by appearing to comment on current events from Western media sources. This may be partially in an attempt to appear more sophisticated, and to show that jihadi supporters are not an uncouth, uneducated bunch ill-informed about world affairs.
Little is known about the inner workings of the ISIS media complex, however, it can be assumed that it is the senior ISIS officials who wield the power, functioning as the puppeteers pulling the strings and manipulating the online activists. What is known is that ISIS has a low threshold for dissent; there have been numerous reports on such activists who have been silenced, either temporarily or permanently.
A combination of factors may have contributed to the silencing of women ISIS members online. Firstly, restrictions have likely been imposed by ISIS for security reasons. For example, Junaid Hussain was killed by a drone in Raqqah in August 2015. It was reported that his online activity aided in pinpointing his location. British ISIS fighter Omar Hussain, a prolific blogger and media activist, was recently ordered off social media by the ISIS media wing. Thus, if ISIS is censoring its prominent members, it would likely also go after lesser known online personalities.
Secondly, there is a real possibility that some of the ISIS women online have been killed in Coalition and Russian airstrikes. Thirdly, in 2015, ISIS banned the usage of Wi-Fi in private dwellings, limiting access to Internet cafes only, where computers and content can be monitored. This was perhaps also an effort to crack down on members' complaining about or criticizing it online. It is possible that restriction on Internet access encouraged the women to participate in other leisure pursuits.
It can be argued that Twitter's suspensions of jihadi accounts have been largely ineffective against combatting extremists who use the platform, particularly considering how quick and easy it is to immediately create a new account. Despite the inconvenience, ISIS members and supporters do this, sometimes hundreds of times, while boasting that Twitter can do nothing to keep them off permanently. However, if Internet access in the Islamic State is limited, and time to access a computer is limited as well, then the Twitter suspensions can be much more powerful in silencing the voices of the women in the so-called Caliphate. The Raqqa-based activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently reported, on July 19, 2015, that ISIS had banned Wi-Fi networks in public areas, and had restricted access to Internet cafes in order to monitor content.
While women in the Islamic State can be found online, most are not as brazen as women activists have been in the past about advertising their locations or providing details that might reveal it. It should also be noted that female Jabhat Al-Nusra members are also posting content on various social media platforms; they appear to be more frank and candid than the ISIS women in presenting the hardships that they face in Syria.
The following report will examine the noticeable shift in the online activity of female jihadi voices.
Formerly Active ISIS Members Who Have Disappeared From Social Media
Previously, it was much easier to reach out to women residing in the Islamic State, and to view updates from ISIS members in those territories. Because of their current inactivity on social media, it is much harder to track these women down. One of these prominent social media activists was Sally Jones, who continued her husband's legacy online, issuing threats and leaks after his death. She repeatedly disseminated Justpaste.it links from her Twitter account, which contained the personal information of military members and government employees. Jones was arguably the most prominent female ISIS member online.
Another, Umm Layth, aka Aqsa Mahmood, from Glasgow, who immigrated to Syria in early 2014, wrote a blog, "Diary of a Muhajirah,"on Tumblr, which went viral amongst jihadi devotees. Mahmood also maintained a Facebook and a Twitter account. Like Jones, she penned threats and authored incendiary messages against Westerners. For example, a blog post from September 11, 2014 read in part: "Wallahi [I swear] explain we are free of those living in the West who know and proclaim the Shahadah [declaration of faith] while being beneath the feet of the Kuffar [infidels]. Ittaqullah [fear Allah]. Know this Cameron/Obama, you and your countries will be beneath our feet and your Kufr will be destroyed, this is a promise from Allah swt that we have no doubt over. If not you then your grandchildren or their grandchildren. But worry not, somewhere along the line your blood will be spilled by our cubs in Dawlah [IS]. We have conquered these lands once Beithnillah [God willing] we will do it again. Read up on your History, and know that it will repeat itself, you will pay Jizyah [tax on non-Muslims] to us just like you did in the past... " When Mahmood's identity was revealed across mainstream media in the West in September 2014, her status was elevated among female jihadis; however, she seems to have posted nothing since the summer of 2015.
Another voice once prominent online was that of Australian teen Umm ("mother of") Istishhadi ("martyrdom seeker, aka suicide bomber"). Her last known Twitter handle was Umm Kalash.
"Lol forgot to put on my shoes for the photo shoot. Typical of me."
Umm Istishhadi was a prolific tweeter who returned immediately after each suspension of her Twitter account. On August 1, 2015, she revealed her goals in Syria: "1 of the goals I had of bein in sham [Syria] was volunteering at a hospital or orphanage Alhumdililah gonna come true. So happy Sistas contribute!"
The themes of Umm Istishadi's tweets were often violent. On August 17, 2015 she wrote, "Heard the story today that a husband signed his wife n him [up] to do istishad [martyrdom operation] together aww my heart I was like nearly in tears lol My dream."
On August 25, she tweeted, "The moment u think chicks chat bout girly stuff... well in sham [Syria]... e talk where in aussie we culd do istidhad [martyrdom operation] lol ahh the memories lol."
In 2015, four Western women in Libya actively promoted the ISIS province in the country. Their Twitter handles were Umm Unknown, Umm mus'ab, umm Asiyah and Islam4ly on Twitter.
In 2014 and 2015, the sisterhood aspect of living in the Islamic State was a huge selling point for prospective female recruits. This aspect was stressed in photos showing women enjoying one another's company. Since the genders are strictly separated in the Islamic State, women-only cliques strengthen the bonds among women living in the so-called Caliphate.
For example, a women's clique in Syria broadcast its members' Anglophone connection – it comprised an American, a Canadian, and two Australians. Some of their photos went viral.
American Umm Jihad shows off Western passports prior to a bonfire
Australian Umm Abdullatif with her friends in a group photo
A British woman who called herself RemoveYourFaceAvis was a prominent voice on Twitter throughout 2015. She often recounted experiences of life in Raqqa, sharing with her followers her insights on life under the Islamic State. On August 4, 2015, she tweeted: "Sitting next to an ukht [sister] in café in Raqqa who divorced her husband and left him back in Darul Kufr because he was not making Hijrah to IS. After she left him, the same day she got her 2 young kids and booked flights to make her Hijrah! WALHAMDULLILAH!"
A French-speaking woman called Umm Abbas, who on her Twitter page said she lives in Syria, posted last on April 15, 2015.
Raheeq makhtoum, another French-speaking woman in Raqqah, was last active on Twitter on May 18, 2015.
An English-speaking woman called Umm Usamah who claimed to live in Mosul lasted tweeted on January 3, 2015. She had posted nearly 28,000 tweets.
A Bosnian ISIS member calling herself Sumaya Umm Dojana, who appeared to live in Deir Ezzor, used to post daily on her Instagram account. She stood out because she posted videos showing herself singing nasheeds, and showed her eyes in her burqa, which were heavily made up.
One photo she posted showed a chopping block shaped for amputating hands. She wrote on it: "stole and your hand go bye bye!!"
In another photo, shared in 2016, she showed the Internet café used by the locals. She wrote: "From here we get sweet[s] and net."
In early 2015, Summaya posted a photo of her current home, likely confiscated from a local resident, with a well-furnished bedroom. Her caption reads: "When they give u room and then they say u just need to 'clean her little.'"
A widow calling herself Mujahidah Lioness frequently tweeted photos showing off her culinary skills, and also wrote about romance and marriage. On August 3 , 2015 she tweeted photos of some dishes she whipped up in the kitchen: "Cooking makes me happy.. My husband is in Jannah [Paradise] so I just cook for me and my kids alhamdulilah." Her account disappeared shortly thereafter, and she has not resurfaced under a similar alias.
Inactive or Deactivated Accounts
Some ISIS members appear to deliberately deactivate their Twitter accounts; others refer to difficulty getting online. As noted, over time, Internet access in the Islamic State has been restricted by both ISIS's leaders and by the grim reality of living in a war zone. For example, a British ISIS member once prominent online, Mutawahhidah, tweeted on January 2, 2015: "Deactivating in shaa Allah forgive me if ive ever harmed you. Assalamu alaikom."
Another woman residing in the Islamic State, Umm Habiba Al-Habashia ("The Ethiopian") has a Twitter account that she has designated "inactive." It is interesting why she maintains an account that is not active instead of deleting it altogether.
A Dutch woman called Umm_Jihad states on her Twitter profile that she is married to a fighter in the Islamic State, and that she is formerly from Holland. She does not actually tweet, but she follows 16 people, and has 19 followers. She may be using Twitter only to direct message others, conducting private conversations via the platform.
A user called Zawjatou Abu Ibrahim ("Wife of Abu Ibrahim") states on her Twitter profile that she is in Syria. She has tweeted only a handful of times, apparently most recently on January 22, 2016. The mild tone of her tweets is notable – even when discussing jihad, she is neither belligerent nor threatening. She last wrote: "The tourism of my ummah is Jihad. –The Prophet salallahu 'alayhi wa salam."
A French ISIS member called Oum abdRahm states that it is difficult to connect to the Internet because it has been cut off. On December 6, 2015, she wrote: "In certain areas, internet was cut off for security reasons... for those of you that have no news of your loved ones."
A few months earlier, in July 2015, it was reported that ISIS had banned Wi-Fi networks in privates areas, and was only allowing access at Internet cafes so that activity could be closely monitored.
Currently Active Women ISIS Members
A handful of Western women in the Islamic State appear to still be active online. For the most part, their tweets seem to be more sporadic, and are often more mundane, reporting on living conditions or quoting Koranic verses, for example.
A Malaysian doctor calling herself Shams has been active on social media since 2014. She once maintained a Facebook page, but after suspensions, she moved to Twitter and Tumblr. The frequency with which she posts has dramatically decreased since early 2016. On September 7, 2015, Shams shared a photo of a women-only Internet café and writing: "And they say women are oppressed by IS."
A post by Shams indicates that slaves also are allowed to visit Internet cafes. On January 22, 2016, she asked, "Is it ok to share the story of Sabiyya [a female slave]By Allah, I just saw them at the women cafe net." Noticeably absent in recent times is any discussion or mention of women slaves. This was a hot topic of conversation, possibly deliberately played up by ISIS members and supporters in order to provoke critics in the West. Aside from this brief mention, the topic of slaves does not appear to have been revived online.
On March 7, 2016, Twitter user "black white" asked about Shams, since the latter had not posted in some time. She referred to the ISIS member by her pen name, Bird of Jannah: "Does anyone know what happened to 'bird of jannah'. Diary of a muhajirah... I really miss her articles." Shams' blog shared a name with the blog penned by Aqsa Mahmood.
An American woman in Syria calling herself Umm Isa Al Amrikiah made her social media debut in January 2016. She created her own Telegram channel, which documents life in Syria and provides advice to women interested in immigrating to the Islamic State. Umm Isa Al Amrikiah is also active on Instagram. She is one of the rare exceptions in this group of women, in that she actively issues menacing threats. For example, on January 19, she posted a photo of an explosive belt, and expressed her desire to use it in a suicide operation. She wrote: "Alhamdulilah finally got my Hizam [belt, i.e. suicide belt] today. May Allah Subhana wa ta'ala grant me the opportunity to use it soon, to grant me the honor to sacrifice myself for Him, for His deen [religion] (To kill the kuffars) [infidels]. May Allah subhana wa ta'ala grant us all shahadah [martyrdom] Ameen." (Note: A few days after this paper was published, Umm Isa Al Amrikiah and her husband were reported killed in an airstrike.)
Photo of suicide belt and gun
In addition to making threats, and showing off life in the Islamic State, she occasionally doles out advice to Muslims living in the West. On January 20, 2016, Al Amrikiah posted an article she had written on JustPaste.it titled "Are You A Hijabi or a Hoejabi?" The article lambasted Western Muslims who dressed inappropriately, and offered tips to rectify such habits. Defining a "Hijabi" as "A Muslimah [Muslim woman] who is fully covered head to toe, as her Lord commanded," she goes on to define a "Hoejabi" as "a hybrid between a whore and a hijabi. A creature somewhat confused whether she belongs in this camp or that." Amrikiah implores these women to refrain from adopting the ways of non-Muslim women. She enumerated additional characteristics of a "Hoejabi": Tight clothing, gratuitous amounts of makeup, excessive perfume, speaking loudly in public, tight abayas, high heels, showing cleavage, glittery abayas, and plucked eyebrows.
A French-speaking woman named Umm Omar Hass Coast also occasionally issues threats to Westerners on Twitter. In a series of tweets on February 13, 2016, she wrote: "French infidels, you think you scare us? You will make us give up? The sky in which you fly belongs to the almighty Allah // as is the ground you tread to fight us. We that are His allies inshallah! ... May the earth tremble under your feet and your blood flow, and your women become widows like you made our women widows. And may your children be orphans like you have made our children orphans. Know that your bombs do not impress us! They are the same ones that we attach on our belts or load into a vehicle to kill the lot of you. O Muslims! Wake up! Are you among those that kill your brothers? Emigrate for the sake of Allah or fight them in their land like they fight us on our land! Let us stand firm and pray a lot to the All Merciful."
One Filipina ISIS member called Umm Asmaa is fairly active online. However, she appears to refrain from making any incendiary comments. A lot of her posts relate to marriage, or Islamic topics.
On February 29, she noted that most pro-ISIS accounts on Twitter have taken on a more passive, quiet role. A user called Pasta Analyst commented on her tweet: "They said the Islamic State has become weak in Wilayat [province] Twitter. They lied, the fighting has just begun. We're not going anywhere..." Umm Asmaa replied: "Somehow it is, but most of Baq Fam are turned observers nowadays." "Baqiya family" is how ISIS supporters refer to one another; "baqiya," meaning "remaining," is part of the ISIS slogan "baqiya wa tatamaddad," or "remaining and expanding."
A pregnant French ISIS member called Summaya mainly tweets updates about her pregnancy, Islamic verses, and news of daily occurrences in Syria. On February 20, 2016, she noted that Syrian women stink of cigarettes, and that this exacerbates her nausea.
Often in the past, ISIS supporters and members on social media would gloat over and celebrate attacks such as the November 2015 Paris attacks and the March 2016 Brussels attacks. ISIS supporters of both genders lauded the attacks, but female ISIS members' reactions appeared more muted. One French woman in Syria called CapercitaUmmOussama simply wrote, "Allahu Akbar!!!"
CaperucitaUmmOussama does hide the fact that she is living in ISIS-controlled Raqqah. On November 27, 2015, she posted a photo showing a Russian airstrike. She wrote, "Russian strikes in Raqqah," In the past, such a post would be widely shared, with the sharers often adding that they wished to die and become martyrs. However, the overall tone of such posts has shifted markedly, and reactions are more indifference.
A Western woman named Umm Ul-Khams, who tweets sporadically, offered a tip to fellow women living in a war zone. On December 19, 2015 she wrote: "Tip – put tape on your windows if you have glass windows to prevent shadaaaya [shrapnel]."
Awoman called Zawjah Shahid has tweeted only a handful of tunes. Her first post stated that she was only on Twitter for the news. She has posted a couple of tweets concerning her life in Syria, including one she stated was of her driving a car. According to another tweet, there is still self-defense and firearm training for women in Syria. On March 1, she tweeted: "Muhajirat muaskar [camp] is the best thing so far for me :) loving it! Alhamdulilah... firearm training is wajib [mandatory] in the land of Jihad."
It appears that Internet access in ISIS-controlled territory in Iraq may be as unreliable, difficult to come by, or restricted as in ISIS-controlled territory in Syria. A Western ISIS member living in Fallujah called Muhajirah Ila-Allah noted that there was a possibility that her Internet activity could end and that she could be forced offline. On March 30, 2016, she tweeted: " I'm making use of my internet connection while it lasts. In case I'll be offline, want to tell the Baqiyah family: Baraka Allaahu feekum."
Complaints About Life In The Islamic State: Not All It's Cracked Up To Be
Dissent is very much discouraged under the Islamic State regime. Anything contradicting ISIS's narrative of a functional Islamic utopia merits censorship. Occasionally, an ISIS member will let slip a complaint on social media, and others will swiftly comment, suggesting mildly that the offending post be deleted. A MEMRI report published in November 2015 chronicled the complaints of ISIS members, many of whom were women. It should be noted that none of the women cited in the report are currently active online.
One complaint from a distressed Swedish woman discussed the lack of respect for women in Syria. Muhajira Umm Hamza tweeted: "Its not sharia that men scream or talk to us in the street. Its not. I feel more and more sad here now. There is so little respect for us. Seriously, I am getting so tired of many men mujajirin now. I feel harassed so often now. Women cant do this or that. What is the point?"
One male ISIS member called Abu Muslim al-Hindi posted guidelines for how men and women should each walk in the streets of the Islamic State. On July 23, 2015, he tweeted: "It is not allowed for women to walk in the middle of the street. Ikwah [brothers] please walk on the roads and leave the sideways for ukhwaat [sisters]. #Advice."
Umm Hamza Al-Muhajirah is the author of a widely-circulated piece posted on Justpaste.it which criticized ISIS leaders regarding the treatment of widows in the Islamic State and the insufficient funds provided to needy families living in the so-called Caliphate. Her bold statements directly challenged the ISIS leadership: "If someone comes to you who is fit to be a leader, then allow him to lead if you truly hate leadership and want the best for the Caliphate.
Strangely, however, on January 27, 2016, a message penned by a Western woman living in the Islamic State containing harsh criticisms was widely circulated by ISIS accounts across a variety of various social media platforms.
It should be pointed out that in addition to their domestic duties, some women ISIS members hold important positions, particularly in the medical field. In January 2016, the Mosul-based activist group Mosul Eye reported: "On January2, 2016, a number of foreign female doctors arrived to Mosul from the following nationalities: 2 from Finland, 3 from Australia, and 2 from Belgium."
An outspoken ISIS supporter with ties to ISIS members called UmmHeartless repeatedly returns to Twitter after hiatuses. UmmHeartLess is an American Palestinian woman residing in the West Bank. On March 12, she expressed her dismay at the fact that there are currently far fewer ISIS supporters on Twitter than in the past. She tweeted: "people should know there really is no baqiya family anymore. Too many have been arrested and too many have left."
There appears to be no shortage of female ISIS supporters online. Often women use certain images such as flowers, lions, or green birds as their avatar. Sometimes, a Twitter byline will state nothing that endorses ISIS, but sometimes, as is the case with "Leila la Faransiya," one will use ISIS terminology, such as the term "baqiya," to denote their affiliation.
A well-known ISIS supporter on Facebook called Nusaybah Qurtuz disseminates ISIS propaganda online, and romanticizes jihad. On March 27, 2016 she posted, "Advice for sisters and myself do not love those who are not obedient and submissive to the commands of Allah and Rasulullah... Never marry a man who has no intention to join the caravan of jihad for indeed he will die as a hypocrite."
Sometimes supporters who disseminate ISIS propaganda online have actual ties to ISIS members residing in Syria. For example, a Palestinian woman who calls herself Fatimafofo Matilla, who resides in the Jerusalem area, announced on her Facebook that she has a woman friend who was an ISIS member. Fatimafofo shared a photo from her friend which showed her friend's young son dressed in military fatigues, holding a sign that was dedicated to her. On March 20, 2016 Fatimafofo wrote: "I am so happy right now. My name is in hand of lion cub of the khilafah. May Allah protect him and bring victory for our ummah. Thanks for the sister who made it for me. May Allah bless her and protect her and her beautiful family. I am honored to know her."
Another active ISIS supporter on Facebook, who calls herself Has Nah, revealed in an April 1, 2016 post that she spoke to a well-known British ISIS member, Grace "Khadijah" Dare, whose young son Isa Dare starred in an ISIS video.
While some do not have physical ties to someone residing in the Islamic State, supporters still appear to brazenly interact with ISIS fighters in public forums such as Facebook. For example, on March 25, 2016 an ISIS fighter in Libya called Abdul Baraa posted on Facebook: "A lil piece of advice: Don't just trust anyone, Take precaution and limit your circle of trust. If he doesn't have to know, don’t tell him about it. Hijra [immigration] is a 3ibada [a form of worship] and we must do it the way the predecessors did, with lotsa precautions!" An outspoken Western female ISIS supporter called Carolyn Urage Johnston wrote, "I don't show my face because it is haram [prohibited] even on internet. Nor give out phone or anything. But brother I will not hide my support for my brothers and sisters. I cannot hide in fear of spies. Let them keep reporting me! Like I told one sister: will they put an old woman in prison for words on Facebook? How silly!" Caryolyn Urage Johnston, who previously used the alias Amina Virginia, is a 60-year-old grandmother residing in Winchester, Virgina.
An active ISIS supporter called Ukhti Al Albaniyyah ("My Albanian Sister") posts pro-ISIS content on her Facebook and Instagram accounts. She is part of a pro-ISIS clique on both social media platforms.
Supporters Who Have Been Silenced
As mentioned, ISIS supporters have picked up the slack on social media for ISIS members who are not as active online as they once were. Many supporters disseminate the latest ISIS videos, and magazines, on Facebook, Twitter, and on Telegram; however, it should be noted that a couple of prominent ones have been arrested.
On April 28, 2015, it was revealed that one of the most prominent ISIS supporters online was actually located in Seattle, instead of Syria as many thought. Rawdah Absisalam appears to have been arrested shortly before the truth was revealed by a reporter from Seattle's Channel 4 news. More recently, one of the top ISIS disseminators online, called Muslimah, was arrested on February 28, 2016. It was revealed that the woman behind the account, Safya Yassin, was a 38-year-old woman in Missouri.
Many ISIS supporters and those intending to immigrate to Syria may have been deterred from using social media by these arrests, particularly since certain platforms have been used by authorities to track down those harboring such sentiments. For example, in the summer of 2015, Jaelyn Young and her fiancé were arrested at a Mississippi airport as they were en route to Syria. Young had been active on Twitter, where she expressed her desire to join the Islamic State.
Polygamy: A Hot Topic For ISIS Members
Both ISIS members and supporters have dedicated numerous posts to the topic of polygamy. For the most part, these women seem to strongly advocate the practice, and the topic was also covered in ISIS's Dabiq magazine. In Issue 12 issue of Dabiq, released on November 18, 2015, a woman writing as Umm Sumayyah Al-Muhajirah discusses the merits of polygamy in Islam in an article titled "Two, Three, Or Four." Using Koran verses to buttress her pro-polygamy arguments, she writes: "Allah said in His clear-cut revelation, 'And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice] [An-Nisā':3]. This is a verse as clear as the sun that does not require extensive explanation or interpretation. Therefore, O slaves of Allah, you may marry two, three, or four women, unless you fear that you will have shortcomings in your fairness towards them or will fail to fulfill their rights, in which case you suffice with one wife."
Al-Muhajirah points out the hypocrisy she sees amongst non-Muslims on the matter, since Christianity and Judaism both once practiced polygamy. She concedes that Islam was not the first to introduce polygamy: "What's strange is that the Jews and the Christians taunt the Muslims with respect to polygamy, yet if they were to look into their own books they would've known that it was something present in their religions, for it is stated in their books that Ya'qūb had two wives and two concubines, and that Dāwūd had a number of wives and concubines, as mentioned in 2 Samuel [5:13] and 1 Samuel [25:42-44]. They also stated that Sulaymān had 700 wives and 300 concubines, as mentioned in 1 Kings [11:3]."
She concludes her article with tips for men with multiple wives, and for those who intend to take multiple wives. She advises that the men be gentle with their wives and speak softly to them, and adds that patience and tolerance is necessary when informing a wife of a decision to take another. She goes on to remind the men that they must fulfill the marital duties of a husband towards all of their wives, and that they should fear Allah if any of the wives is oppressed in any way.
In January 2016, Shams, the Malaysian ISIS member, posted on Twitter that she was looking for a co-wife. After being widowed in 2015, she appears to have married a Swedish ISIS fighter. She tweeted: "After I've seen so many sisters are happy with polygamous marriage and after some reading, I finally understood. It was once a nightmare. But now I can see the invisible beautiful part of it. Put jealousy & emotions stuffs aside, its fitrah [common sense]. Let's built a wonderful sisterhood. I'm searching for a co-wife... sisters in Dawlah [ISIS], if you are searching for a wonderful husband and a sister-in-deen [religion], do contact me. May Allah bless this effort which is done to please Him and grant us goodness in this world and next. Ameen Ya Rabb!"
A lot of women appear to be actively involved in searching for an additional wife for their husband. On March 4, a French female ISIS member, "summaya," tweeted: "I am looking for a second wife for my husband. A big family bi idnillah."
On January 28, 2016, an ISIS supporter called Umm Qisas Asomaliyah expressed her view that only certain men were entitled to multiple wives. "The only kind of man who deserves polygamy is a mujahid, lone wolf, or future istishhadi [suicide bomber]."
A Filipina ISIS member weighed in on the topic of polygamy. On January 28 she posted: "Polygyny topic Know that having a co-wife is every woman's nightmare but it depends upon d[the] husband to let his wife understand everything. No woman can say NO to Co-wife if her husband really wants to..it's just a matter of understanding our Deen [religion] & following d Sunnah. As a husband, it's your responsibility to make her comfortable with d situation and you'll see in Allah's perfect time..She'll be the one to look for her co-wife."
Sometimes women disagree with one another on the topic of polygamy. On August 8, RemoveYourFaceAvis wrote: "Too much talk about getting another wife when you cant even fulfull the rights of the first. These ikhwa [brothers] confuse me." A user called Haqummusaybah answered: "ASA [Al-Salam Alaikum,] many brothers think having more wives are for them but the benefit is for the sisters alhamdallah."
Just as women have their concerns about being treated equally in a polygamous arrangement, men have reservations about being mistreated by their wives. On January 15, 2015, a prominent pro-ISIS account called Milk Sheikh wrote: "A brother (before receiving serious injury in Jihad) was left by his wives after the injury. It shows you that some doesn't live for Akhira [afterlife]." A Swedish ISIS fighter called AbuLayth Tamimi replied: "If you as a women get your rights then you have no right to seek khul3 [khula, a woman's right to seek a divorce from her husband in Islam in exchange for compensation, usually monetary to him from her] and if the women doesn't stand by her mujahid then who?"
Sometimes the female perspective can be derived from posts by men. For example, on January 20, 2016, an ISIS fighter called Ibn Maa’ posted a photo of an AK-47 with the word "no" written out in bullets. His caption reads: "The answer you get when you tell your wife [you] wanna marry second [wife] plus no dinner for a week."
In the Islamic State, it is likely that if a fighter has multiple wives, one of them was a widow with a child. On November 16, 2015, a widowed female ISIS member called WifeOfAShaheedd complained about not being sufficiently looked after. A German ISIS member cautioned her that such things should not be shared online. WifeOfAShaheedd wrote: "Who will act like the sahabah [prophet's companions] today and treat my orphan child as a child of his own and treat me right?" Al-Almaniyyah ("German woman") replied, "Assalamu alakyum sister, such things are the job of ur wali [guardian] & shouldn't be posted here, wa Allahu alem. May Allah grant you sabr [patience]."
On February 7, 2016, a user called Umm Qisas Asomaliyah conducted a poll on Twitter among her female Twitter followers, asking if they would remarry if widowed. She asked: "Sisters, would you re-marry after your husband attained his shahadah [martyrdom]?" Out of 49 respondents, 41% voted yes, and 59% voted no.
Women Jabhat Al-Nusra Members
When discussing Western ISIS women, it is interesting to compare the patterns of their online activity to that of their counterparts in Jabhat Al-Nusra. The tone of the latter's social media output is different, and they appear to continue to maintain a social media presence online, without any restrictions.
A 19-year old Malaysian widow who on Twitter calls herself Illegal Immigrant tweets about her life in Syria. She is also active on Instagram, under the name emilystrange96. In contrast to female ISIS members' past activity online, she does not make any threats against the West, or discuss violence; instead she mainly talks about Islam, or her life in Syria. She is a self-described foodie, so many of her photos are dedicated to meals she purchases and cooks in Syria. Additionally, she teaches Arabic to young children, and has posted photos of her pupils, and of language exercises she prepares. In her free time she also takes to the streets of Idlib to promote the JN dogma to locals, passing out flyers.
In March 2016, she uploaded photos on Instragram of her propaganda work. "Had a fun day with amazing people. Yes, tiring yet soo exciting. May Allah reward every little deeds we do and increases it in the future Ameen. (There's a drone roaming on the sky when we were there.)"
Another widow, who calls herself Muhajirah_widow, is a 23-year-old from Africa living in Idlib. She is actve on Instagram, Facebook, and Wordpress. She shares that she has been widowed since October 3, 2015. Muhajirah_widow, like other JN members on social media, does not appear to sugarcoat the harsh realities of life in Syria. The JN women do not shy away from refering to their adoptive homes as war zones, and they chronicle the daily hardships that those accustomed to modern Western life might face there.
For example, on March 21, 2016 she shared a few photos of her home on her Facebook page, showing her modest bedroom, living room, and kitchen. She wrote: "People often wonder how houses are in Shaam and the lifestyle. This was our 3rd house, based in Lattakia. We have basic needs and necessities, life like this very comfortable and stress-free. Knowing that we don't have the worries of competing with people over luxurious houses/furniture or materialistic things puts our hearts at ease. Simple living makes our focus be less Dunya related and more Akhira related Alhumdililah."
She states that JN widows and orphans are well cared for. In a post she wrote: "In our area, JN or Jaysh Al-Fath representatives come monthly to give us the subsidy (money) that our husbands received while they were alive. We get monthly food packs from the brigade which include all the necessities alhumdililah. JN/Jaysh Al-Fath provide baby clothes, baby food, nappies, and milk when necessary. Ansar [natives] and Mujahir neighbors love to visit and when they do, they usually leave money out of their own generosity and concern. Mujahid brothers frequently come and give us money from their own pockets and ask what needs we have."
On March 24, Muhajirah_widow reflected on the topic of jihad and women's needs in Islam, and recounted an anecdote from her personal life: "Just a few days before my husband was martyred he suggested that we do an 'amaliyyah istishhadiyyah [martyrdom operation] together. I'm not sure how serious he was about this (lol) but he looked quite convinced. he always knew how jealous I was when he would leave for missions, and he wanted me to contribute somehow to jihad first-hand like I always wished. He'd make me put his bullets in magazines and to prep his J'uba [body pouch] with his Qur'an, Zikr book, and ammunition. he made sure without fail to keep contact with me while at battle and let me know his activities. We know Jihad for women is an accepted Haqq, trust me we know! But that doesn't mean women don't have a role in Jihad of fighting. It's important that men do not forget that the Ummah includes women too and women have certain goals in the Deen just as men do. Not all women wish to be in the kitchen doing chores, we have souls too, we have passion and ambition too, we have pride over Islam too and we also want to support raising the flag of Allah's Deen. We know there are certain limitations in Jihad when it comes to women but it's important to include women in whatever way that's possible inShaaAllah."
Over the past couple of years, women ISIS members have left an indelible mark on social media; their threats, commentary, and glimpses into life in the Islamic State have greatly influenced the ISIS narrative, and have provided a great deal of information to those residing outside the so-called Caliphate. However, since the beginning of 2016, many of these once-vocal online voices have been muted; in relative terms, the silence is deafening. First-hand accounts of Islamic State residents are very useful in trying to understand the so-called Caliphate. However, in gauging ISIS's structure, its current strength, and the actual conditions in its territory, it is possible to gain some insight from what is not being said, and from the gradual disappearance of once-prominent voices.
*A. Agron is a Research Fellow at MEMRI
 See MEMRI JTTM report English-Speaking Woman Brings ISIS Message To Western Audiences, June 22, 2015.
 See MEMRI JTTM report British Female ISIS Member Shares Her Syria Experiences April 16, 2014.
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