Helping women balance family life,
jihad By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - A new women's magazine, al-Khansa,
has recently been launched on the Internet. In itself,
this is an unremarkable event, but unlike other women's
magazines, this one is likely to evoke immense interest
among terrorism and counter-terrorism experts rather
than the target readership themselves - Muslim women.
Al-Khansa is the first jihadi publication aimed
exclusively at women. The magazine's first issue
appeared in August and was hosted by several extremist
Islamist websites. It says it is published by an
organization called the Women's Information Bureau of
al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and claims that Abdul
Aziz al-Muqrin, the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula, who was killed by Saudi police in a shootout
in June and Issa Saad Mohammed bin Oushan, who was
killed the following month, are among its founders.
Al-Muqrin and Oushan figured in Saudi Arabia's list of
26 most-wanted militants.
Al-Khansa is named
after a female Arab poet who was a close associate of
the Prophet Mohammed. In her writings, she eulogized her
brother and urged her sons to participate in the jihad.
Her sons subsequently died on the battlefield.
The choice of the name al-Khansa for the
magazine is not without reason. The magazine aims to
motivate women to participate in jihad by bringing up
their children to be good jihadis and by being
supportive of their husbands, brothers and sons who are
The editorial in al-Khansa's first
issue says that "martyrdom for the sake of Allah" and
gaining "the pleasure of Allah and His Paradise" should
be the goal of women. It draws attention to the support
that women extend to the jihadis. "We stand shoulder to
shoulder with our men, supporting them, helping them,
and backing them up. We educate their sons and we
prepare ourselves. May Allah know of the honesty of our
intentions and of our good deeds, and [may He] choose us
and make us martyrs for His sake ..."
magazine sees no contradiction between being a
woman/mother and being a jihadi at the same time. The
editorial says: "We will stand covered by our veils and
wrapped in our robes, weapons in hand, our children in
our laps, with the Koran and the Sunna of the Prophet of
Allah directing and guiding us. The blood of our
husbands and the body parts of our children are the
sacrifice by means of which we draw closer to Allah, so
that through us, Allah will cause the martyrdom for His
sake to succeed."
In fact, al-Khansa exploits
the woman's traditional role in family and society as
mother and nurturer of her children to get them to play
a larger role in the jihad. In an article titled
"Obstacles in the Path of the Jihad Warrior Woman" a
contributor calling herself Umm Badr writes: "The woman
in the family is a mother, wife, sister and daughter. In
society, she is an educator, propagator and preacher of
Islam, and a female jihad warrior. Just as she defends
her family from any possible aggression, she defends
society from destructive thoughts and from ideological
and moral deterioration, and she is the soldier who
bears his pack and weapon on his back in preparation for
the military offensive ..."
This call to Muslim
women to become jihad warrior women is not new. In early
Muslim society, women fought alongside men in battle.
The Prophet's wives had immense political power.
Although Muslim women have by and large been kept away
and stayed away from the actual jihadi battlefield in
recent centuries, as they are expected to take care of
the home and the family while the male relatives do the
fighting, in recent years jihadi propaganda literature
and radical Islamist websites have exhorted women to
sacrifice for the jihadi cause.
Islamist websites are generous with advice on how women
can and should participate in the jihad. There are many
suggestions on how they should bring up children to be
good jihadis and what books they should read to their
children to make them devout Muslims and brave fighters.
There is advice on how mothers, wives and sisters of
jihadi fighters should be supportive of their husbands'
decision to become a jihadi and how they should provide
food, shelter and care for all jihadis. That women must
sacrifice their sons and husbands is a recurrent theme
of much jihadi literature. Stories draw heavily from the
lives of jihadis in history and the way their women
relatives willingly sacrificed their sons and husbands
for the sake of the cause of jihad.
apart the advice in al-Khansa is that the articles and
editorials are presented as if women write them,
although whether this is indeed the case is a debatable
point. In the past, it has generally been men calling on
women to support the jihadi cause.
article in al-Khansa, Umm Badr outlines some of the
"obstacles" in the path of a women jihadi warrior. These
include inadequate knowledge of religion, emotions like
fear and poor military preparedness. The writer points
to a "defective understanding of jihad, according to
which only men are responsible for waging jihad, or
jihad means only bearing arms and direct conflict [with
This is a flawed perception, the
writer argues, as a Muslim woman wages jihad by funding
the jihad, by waiting for her jihad warrior husband and
when she educates her children "to that which Allah
loves". "She wages jihad when she bears arms to defend
her family ... She wages jihad when she shows patience
and fortitude with her husband who is waging jihad for
the sake of Allah. She wages jihad when she supports
jihad and when she calls for jihad in word, deed,
belief, and prayer."
"It is true that originally
the commandment of jihad was incumbent upon men and not
women," the article observes. "But when jihad becomes a
personal obligation, then the woman is summoned like a
man, and need ask permission neither from her husband
nor from her guardian, because she is obligated and none
need to ask permission in order to carry out a
commandment that everyone must carry out ..."
the past, a Muslim woman was seen as the responsibility
of her male relatives. Militant organizations could not
recruit women directly without transgressing familial
and societal honor codes that require women to seek
permission for every action they take outside the family
home. To secretly recruit a woman as a suicide bomber or
even as a courier of messages and weapons would be seen
as an insult to the family's male honor. Increasingly,
this seems to be changing, evident by the al-Khansa
article saying the woman need not ask for permission to
become a jihadi, as it is her duty to do so.
Some Islamic clerics have in recent years come
out in support of women participating in military
operations, even "martyrdom operations" (suicide
attacks). Reacting to Palestinian women suicide bombers,
Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian who is the dean of
Islamic Studies at the University of Qatar, ruled that
"Women's participation in the martyrdom [suicide]
operations carried out in Palestine given the status of
the land as an occupied territory ... is one of the most
praised acts of worship."
This "act is a form of
martyrdom for the cause of Allah, and it entitles them
[women] to the same reward earned by their male
counterparts who also die in the cause of Allah," said
al-Qaradawi. He pointed out that when the enemy attacks
part of the Muslim territories, jihad becomes the duty
of every individual, justifying women going out for
jihad even without the permission of their male
The article in al-Khansa points out
that poor military preparedness is the "main problem",
not only of women but also of men. It calls on women to
"at least know how to use a weapon in order to defend
her honor", particularly in these times when the "enemy
at the gate with his equipment, his ammunition, his army
and his navy, his criminals, and his whores, has
desecrated the honor of Muslim women everywhere."
"The female jihad warrior must be familiar with
various types of weapons and ammunition, and with how to
disassemble, clean, reassemble, use, and shoot a
weapon." The article promises to "assist women in these
matters" in upcoming issues of al-Khansa. It stresses
the importance of physical fitness and to this end calls
on women "not overindulge in eating and drinking", to
fast regularly and exercise.
openness to allow women into the fight is not because of
any new sensitivity to women's rights or any new
awareness on issues of gender equality. Male fighters
have only woken up to the fact that women engaged in
military operations such as suicide bombings are less
likely to be detected and that the survival of terror
outfits depends on support from women.
one hand, nationalist and/or religious militant groups
call on women to give birth to more sons to ensure a
steady supply of fighters. Women in these societies are
not allowed to use contraceptives or opt for abortion.
This was the case in the early 1990s at the height of
the militancy in Kashmir, when Islamist militant groups
exhorted women to have more sons. Propaganda by
fundamentalist groups like the Jamaat-e-Islami and the
Banat-ul-Islam (its women's wing) would tell women that
they were life givers and so they should not kill their
unborn children. At the same time, these organizations
would exhort women to sacrifice their sons for the sake
of the cause.
Radical Islamist groups are of
course not the only ones calling on women to sacrifice
their children for the cause. Governments, too, expect
women to cheerfully send off their sons and husbands to
the battlefield "to die for the flag, protect territory
and the country's national security" and to not grieve
when they are killed. Only their effort to draw women
into war is more subtle and sophisticated.
Sudha Ramachandran is an independent
researcher/writer based in Bangalore, India. She has a
doctoral degree from the School of International
Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Her
areas of interest include terrorism, conflict zones and
gender and conflict. Formerly an assistant editor at
Deccan Herald (Bangalore) she now teaches at the Asian
College of Journalism, Chennai.
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