A British Muslim woman who went to Syria to marry an Islamic State militant has written about her experiences in a blog.
The woman -- who calls herself Umm Khattab al-Britaniyyaa -- says she was married to a Swedish IS militant until his recent death in Kobani. In her blog, she describes her everyday life in Syria, including her reactions when she learned her husband had been killed.
Umm Khattab also relates how she traveled to Syria via Turkey and the difficulties she faced when trying to cross the border to join IS.
The diary offers insights into how and why Western women are going to join IS in Syria and Iraq; the extremist Sunni group’s attitudes toward women's roles; and how women are taught to react when their husbands or male acquaintances are killed in the fighting.
Umm Khattab's description of her husband's death is almost matter-of-fact. She writes that on October 28, another woman, who is also with IS, came to visit her and told her that her husband had been killed in IS's offensive against Kurdish forces in the northern Syrian town of Kobani.
"[A] sister came to me and asked if my husband was Abu Khattab Al Swedi ["The Swede"] I said yea and she said mabrook ["congratulations"] his [sic] shaheed ["a martyr"], I didn't know how to react cause I didn't believe it so I laughed," Umm Khattab recalled in a blog post on November 22.
Umm Khatab says she felt "very happy for my husband" even though she would not see him again until "Akhirah" (an Islamic term referring to the afterlife) because he had "finally made it" as a martyr after a year in Syria.
Like other Salafi-jihadi groups, IS's ideology glorifies the concept of "martyrdom" -- being killed in battle or committing suicide in an attack against "infidels" -- as the ultimate reward for waging jihad. "Martyrs" are lauded as as extraordinary heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice to help establish an Islamic state. Social-media accounts supportive of or run by IS militants often publish photographs of militants who have been killed in battle, frequently claiming that the dead men are smiling in death.
Umm Khatab also describes the death of another IS militant, her husband's best friend, named as Abu Uthman Afghani ("The Afghan"). Some days after Abu Uthman was shot in Kobani and paralyzed from the waist down, he succumbed to his injuries. "On 7th November Abu Uthman Afghani also achieved what he was seeking for," Umm Khatab writes.
In an earlier diary entry, Umm Khatab describes how she traveled to join IS in Syria, leaving behind her parents and younger siblings. In Turkey, the British woman met up with two friends and their small children. While trying to reach Syria, however, the three women were detained by the Turkish authorities, who suspected they were with IS. The Turkish authorities did not believe the women when they said they were aid workers seeking to go to Syria and remanded them in custody, seeking to deport them.
However, in an interesting twist, Umm Khatab says that IS intervened to help get the three women released.
"Dawlah [Islamic State] found out about our predicament and sent us a lawyer who worked some magic and after a looooong tiring week in prison they let us go," she wrote.
Once released, Umm Khattab says that she and her friends went to cross the Turkish border into Syria. However, their difficulties were not yet over: The three women found themselves at a border crossing controlled not by I but by militants from the "FSA [Free Syrian Army] and Jabhat [Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate]."
When the militants at the border crossing started to speak in Arabic ( they said that Umar Shishani, IS's military commander in Syria, was a "murtad," an apostate) Umm Khattab began to feel uneasy. "I then knew we were in a real sticky situation," she writes.
The militants in charge of the border crossing forced the three women to go back into Turkey, where they were driven to a second border crossing, this time controlled by IS.
Reading 'Pride & Prejudice' With IS Wives
Umm Khattab is not the only Western woman to write a diary about her experiences traveling to Syria to join IS.
Another woman, who calls herself Bird of Jannah ["Bird of Paradise"] and says she is a doctor who came to Syria to join IS in February, writes an English-language blog called Diary of a Muhajirah ["Female Foreign Jihadi"]. In it, she describes her daily life in Raqqa, the IS's de facto capital in Syria, and offers advice to wannabe IS wives about what to bring to Syria (she suggests bringing a book, such as Jane Austen's classic love story, "Pride And Prejudice").
"Download some good books or bring one or two good book. Please, no *hardcore* topics. I personally downloaded few iBooks like Pride and Prejudice and some english novels beside books written by Ibn Qayyim [an Arab Sunni Islamic scholar] - and it helped a lot," she advises in her blog.
Bird of Jannah describes how IS provides housing, and basic necessities (stove, cooking utensils and monthly groceries) for women who come to Syria and join its ranks.
When women first arrive in Syria and join IS, the group places them in an all-women's house called a "makkar," Bird of Jannah says. Women are then rehoused elsewhere in Syria.
Women who join IS with skills such as teaching and nursing are allowed to work, Bird of Jannah says.
Bird of Jannah describes the difficulties she faced in adapting to life as an IS wife, including dealing with her family's anger and concern.
"I received tons of messages from my sister and family. Anger, disappointed, confused -- their messages is all about asking 'Why' I have to leave them in such horrible way. Another half of their messages is all about requesting me to come back and they promised they will do anything even travel to Turkey, only to bring me back home," she admits in her blog.
However, Bird of Jannah says her parents have accepted that she will never return.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk