Syria: Women pay heavily after marrying IS fighters

Syria: Women pay heavily after marrying IS fighters
Women are often left in limbo after being abandoned by their jihadi husbands.
5 min read
24 October, 2014
Some women are forced to marry IS fighters [Getty]
Syrian women are being left in crisis after marrying foreign fighters from the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS), which is currently advancing into Syria. 

The fighters are offering the women's families money or local influence, intimidating or threatening them - and sometimes arguing of a perceived "Islamic duty" to provide their daughters for IS fighters.

When IS advanced on the city of Manbej in northern Aleppo, a young Tunisian fighter asked for 25-year-old Marriam Qassem's hand in marriage.
     I want to register my son's birth, but I don’t know if his father's name was real.
 - Afraa, IS widow

"My father believed in the idea of an Islamic Caliphate, and when the man proposed he pressured me into getting married," Qassem told al-Araby al-Jadeed. "I only stayed with my husband for two months before he moved to fight in a different place. The last I heard he was in Deir al-Zur".

Qassem has since moved to Kals refugee camp in Turkey with her parents, and has not heard from her husband for six months.

"I do not feel married or any commitment towards this man. We were only together two months. I have almost forgotten what he looks like," she added.

Qassem is better off than Afraa, however, who tried to save her family from poverty by marrying a Saudi-born IS fighter. "My family's situation was very bad, we are six siblings and had no one to support us. When the man proposed he offered a large dowry that would improve my family's situation. I didn't hesitate, and after the wedding we lived together in a house near my family," Afraa told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

"A month later he moved to Raqqa, [a city east of Aleppo, claimed by IS as their capital], and I have heard he has now married another woman. My father tried to contact him – especially as I was pregnant – until we heard he had been killed in clashes," she added.

Today, Afraa and her child live with relatives in the suburbs of Idlib, a city in northwest Syria. "I want to register my son's birth, but I don’t know if his father's name was real.," she said. "I have never seen his passport. The marriage contract was written with pen and paper at home, and sent to the IS' Sharia court. The witnesses were other fighters."


"IS fighters in Raqqa pay their brides' families large dowries, or offer them important positions," an activist in Raqqa told al-Araby al-Jadeed.
     My daughters would often be followed home by immigrant fighters asking for their hands in marriage.
- Houssam Mourad, ex-resident of Raqaa

Houssam Mourad, an engineer from Raqaa, spoke of how
his daughters were harassed by IS fighters in the city before they fled to Turkey.

"My daughters would often be followed home by immigrant fighters who would knock on the door asking for their hands in marriage. Sometimes it would be a female member of IS asking for their men. I lied and said my daughters were already married. When they discovered they weren't married we started receiving threats, and were forced to flee to Turkey," he said.

Families often force their daughters to agree to marry under pressure from IS fighters. Some girls reject the proposal and try to escape.

Fatma al-Abou was a 22-year-old woman who lived in western Raqqa. On 5 February 2014, the university student committed suicide by ingesting poison after her parents tried to force her to marry a Tunisian IS fighter.

The status of the fighter affects the relative social standing of the new wife.

"The head of IS' wife now has a high position [in Raqqa], and women living in the city ask her for help," said Wedad, a resident of Raqqa. "They ask her to persuade her husband to release their sons if they are in prison, or to find work for their sons in one of IS' institutions. The higher the husband is in IS, the higher his wife's position."

Most IS-dominated areas are largely tribal, such as Raqqa, Deir al-Zur, and Aleppo's northern suburbs. Traditionally, it is important for families to know the background of their daughters' suitors before approving of the marriage. Nowadays, however, some clans who support IS are boasting about marrying their daughters to IS fighters without even knowing their home towns.


Most of of these wives have suffered psychological, social and physical damage. They have lost contact with their husbands who have moved to other battlefronts and have possibly been killed. Some have been unable to register their children's birth. Activists say Syrian women have been physically abused by their new husbands.

Some women don't know if they have been "
     Some wives of IS immigrant fighters preach to other women about the virtues of marrying members of the group.  
abandoned" or if their husbands are dead.

Ayman Haroush, an Islamic preacher, told al-Araby al-Jadeed
: "If the husband's location is known, the wife can ask for a divorce and the papers will be sent to him. He can then either return to his wife, or divorce her and face the consequences. If his location is unknown, the marriage cannot be ended, and the woman must wait for proof he is dead."

Islamic law has been invoked in an attempt to justify these marriages.

"Meetings between IS leaders and city residents often end with residents being forced to marry their daughters to jihadis. The virtuous nature of these acts is discussed after Friday prayer," media activist Adel Sermin, a resident of the suburbs of Deir al-Zur, told al-Araby al-Jadeed

Some wives of IS immigrant fighters even preach to other women about the virtues of marrying members of the group.

Documentation of forced marriages

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has been recording cases of forced marriages to IS fighters in Raqqa.

"We have documented 18 cases of forced marriages to IS troops with names, dates and other details, but numbers on the ground are much higher," Nour al-Khatib, an SNHR official, told al-Araby al-Jadeed.
     Foreign non-Arab fighters usually bring their wives and children with them or marry foreign female IS members.
- Nour al-Khatib, Syrian Network for Human Rights

"There are many cases in other cities such as Deir al-Zour and Manbej, northeast of Aleppo, but they cannot be tracked because of a lack of information. Activists and journalists are unable to move freely in these areas because they are being targeted by IS. Security is also poor because of clashes between the group and the Free Syrian Army.

"In some marriages, parents have given
permission and the girl has agreed. Parents give consent because they are either greedy for money or power, support IS, or are scared of reprisals if they say no. Most marriages take place between Syrian girls and fighters from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco. The girls are usually aged between 17 and 25 years," she added. "Foreign non-Arab fighters usually bring their wives and children with them or marry foreign female IS members."

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.