Once they arrive, in addition to giving themselves as brides to the militants of the Islamic State, the men of the Free Syrian Army or the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, the women jihadists are also required to carry out other services such as helping the wounded, cooking and spreading news from the jihadist front on social networks. However, it does not stop there, because a woman jihadist must also be able to handle weapons. On their arrival in the caliphate, the women acquire all these abilities by participating in training programs reserved especially for them, such as those offered by the Foundation al-Zawrâ’ for media production. The Zawrâ’ Foundation was commissioned by the Caliph to train newcomers under the careful supervision of jihadi veterans, and it boasts a cult following: a month after its launch, the Facebook page received more than 500 ‘likes’ and their Twitter account has already got 3000 followers. Among the topics shared on the web there are instructions for preparing food rations, a letter to mothers and wives of the jihadists and an article containing information for women who would like to enlist.
However, it is hard to say who, exactly, made sexual jihad lawful and it has been a matter of some dispute which has fed the debate within the Muslim world which gives voice to the Arab press, for several months. The notion of jihâd al-nikâh apparently appeared for the first time in March 2013 on the Twitter account of Saudi preacher Muhammad al-‘Arîfî, imam of the mosque of the Saudi Navy’s King Fahd Naval Academy. The fatwa, who made this practice lawful, read: ‘The law allows Muslim women who have reached at least the age of 14, divorced women and widows to enter into hourly contract marriages with the Syrian mujahideens. This marriage lasts just a few hours, allowing other mujahideens the opportunity to marry as well and therefore making the fighters stronger. These women will therefore secure themselves a place in paradise’. The Fatwa’s news, however, provoked the immediate reaction of the Saudi preacher who denied having written it, explaining, in his defence, that he was the victim of a hacker who allegedly stole his profile and tweeted the fatwa behind his back. Following this, the fatwa’s news was announced, first on the Syrian pro-government channel ‘al-Jadîd’, then on Lebanese Hezbollah and Harakah Amal television channels, on Dawlah al-Qanûn broadcasting channel linked to Iraqi President Nurî al-Mâlikî, and finally, on some channels owned by pro-Iranian religious figures of Kuwait.
According to the daily Egyptian independent Al-Yaum al-Sabi', other fatwas would follow in the footsteps of this first fatwa, all of them having trained in the Salafi movement. The Wahhabi preacher Sheikh Khabâb Marwân al-Hamad would issue a fatwa that makes hourly contract marriages with married woman without the knowledge of her husband, legal: ‘The fighter who takes on the jihad on the way to God is allowed to marry another man without her husband’s the knowledge, not to hurt the feelings of the latter. But if the husband accepts that his wife married a fighter, then there are no problems and the wife can bring it to the attention of her marriage. God, great and powerful, will purify this act’.
A similar fatwa, the Arab press reports, was also declared, even by the President of the Commission of the Muslim ulama in Iraq, Hârith al-Dhârî, to have noted the shortage of single women and he also proclaimed the sexual jihad lawful even for married women.
The same reason would induce Nâsir al-‘Umar, original preacher of Qassim – one of the most conservative region of Saudi Arabia –, firstly to issue a fatwa that made it lawful for Sunni fighters also Shi‘ite women, which then was followed by a second fatwa that allowed a mujâhid to temporarily marry a woman ‘mahârim’, or a woman with whom a man has blood ties and with which therefore, under Islamic law, can not enter into marriage.
What is surprising is that the jihâd al-nikâh is promoted not only by Sunni preachers but also by the Shi‘ite community, in which jihad is generally prohibited on the assumption according to which only the hidden imam can declare it. Ayatollah ‘Alî al-Sîstânî, the highest religious authority of Shi‘ite Islam in Iraq, enacted in turn a fatwa declaring marriage jihad of Shiite women with the Shi‘ite mujahedeen lawful: ‘During the jihad our Shi‘ite fighters are allowed to have intercourse with jihadist Shi‘ite women before battle, which gives them strength during the fight. This religious practice allows those who practice these meritorious actions to get closer to his Lord, and so we urge women to practice sexual jihad (jihâd al-mut‘a), also known as ‘jihad marriage’ (nikâh al-jihâd), so as our brave fighters can fight with their minds clear from temptation and sexual desire’.
All these fatwas have obviously aroused the indignation all around the Sunni world. The same Abû Muhammad al-Maqdisî, the Jordan Salafi-jihadis ideologue, declared himself to be against the sexual jihad and promulgated a fatwa. The sexual jihad would be a distortion of Islam and Sharia law carried by disbelievers who alter the Word of God to veer believers away from true faith: ‘The concept of sexual jihad is an invention which has no basis either among the people of Islam in general, or among the unicity and jihad people in particular. In the dictionary and in the vocabulary of the Salafi-jihadist movement, jihad is only defined in one way: the ‘strike to the back of the neck’, dharb al-riqâb [expression from the Quran that means a violent killing] of religious enemies, and its corollary, complementing and strengthening it, which is jihad of the word, (jihâd al-lisân) that comes after the jihad of the sword (jihâd al-sinân). The ideologue explains that this practice is not part of Islam or Sharia, and is equivalent to adultery (al-zina). Therefore, according to him, sexual jihad would be ‘a creation of the Americans, Zionists and Arab intelligence services to disfigure Islam and Muslims’. Also because – remembering what al-Maqdisî wrote in a letter published in al-Quds al-‘Arabî, an independent newspaper based in London – ‘in Islam the mujahideen ask for the houris’, the women from heaven, hands in marriage. Whoever desires houris in paradise does not seek one made of clay in the world, meaning that the jihadists act in view of what awaits them in heaven, in the name of a higher ideal that is not a woman on earth. But many militants of the Islamic State seem to think otherwise.
Stay up to date: sign up for our newsletter
For insights and analysis subscribe to our biannual journal