Umm Dardaa showed up at the Turkish Syrian border one sunny afternoon. She had been in contact with an ISIS fighter for some time over the internet. She herself was curious about ISIS and what it would be like to live in an Islamic State. She grew up in Canada, but her parents were emigrant Muslims from an Arab country. When Umm Dadaa’s family bade her a farewell “salaam” just before leaving the house to go to ‘Umrah in Saudi Arabia, they had no idea that when they returned their daughter would be gone.
Umm Dardaa traveled to the Turkish-Syrian border to meet her new perspective husband. However, she had lost contact with him because phone signals come in and go out in those territories regularly. Things had been pre-arranged for her to meet a man in Turkey who would smuggle her in to Syria. However, the closer she got to the border she still hadn’t made contact. After she arrived at the border neither she nor the smuggler who brought her across knew where the person was who was to meet her “on the other side”. Anyway, it wasn’t his problem. He was paid to do his job, which was to bring Umm Dardaa and several others (whom she didn’t know) across the border, the rest was up to her. However he didn’t want to totally abandon her so he asked Abu Qaqa who was one of the members of a small Islamic group who picks up people crossing the border to help her to get to where she wanted to go. Abu Qaqa was from the UK and Umm Dardaa was from Canada, so it seemed they should be able to work out Umm Darda’s immediate future.
“Where do you need to go sister,” he asked. She hesitated as she was embarrassed to say the truth. “I don’t know. I was supposed to meet some people here but their phone is off and they haven’t come yet.” She then asked, “Is this the Atmeh refugee camp?” “Yes,” he replied. There was silence. No one knew what should be said next. Umm Dardaa was alone as the others who arrived with her began to trickle off to their destinations. “You can come with us until you can find your way sister,” Abu Qaqa said. Having absolutely no alternative she agreed and picked up her lone suitcase and got into the back seat of Abu Qaqa’s 4X4. There were two others in the car as well, one rode on the passengers side and one in the back who came across with her trying hard to give Umm Dardaa as much space as possible so she will feel comfortable.
“Was your husband supposed to meet you?” she was asked. “No,” she responded without giving out any other information. Everyone knew what her answer meant. It was typical. She met a fighter online, and came to get married. Except her plan had hit a snag, her prospective husband didn’t show up yet. She was promptly brought to the house occupied by a Russian fighter’s family. Upon Umm Dardaa’s arrival, the Russian fighter left and said she could stay with his wife while he slept at the group’s headquarters a half mile away. In a war zone people have all sorts of housing issues so this really wasn’t strange either to the Russian fighter or to his wife.
Later that night Umm Dardaa made contact with her online partner Abu Malik. Abu Malik was a very dark skinned man with a full beard who grew up in France. He was a known ISIS fighter. He came by the headquarter’s looking for his prospective bride after being told she might be there. However the others had some questions for Abu Malik first. They asked:
“How did you meet this woman?”
“How do you propose to marry her while her father (guardian) is alive and didn’t give his consent?”
“Why would you encourage this lady to come to a war zone, or any other journey without a mahram (male relative)?”
Abu Malik, however, was in no mood to talk. He figured it was none of their business and showed no gratitude for hosting Umm Dardaa while he showed up many hours late. A shouting match erupted and eventually he got what he came for. After all, no one had jurisdiction over Umm Dardaa. She was free to come and she was equally free to go,” as the group’s commander stated. However no one was comfortable with what had just happened.
After checking into the issue they were able to answer the above mentioned questions. Apparently they met online through Facebook. As for Umm Dardaa’s father’s approval of the marriage, apparently the Shari’ (Islamic jurist) of ISIS declared him to be of those who left Islam because he did not support the fighters, so she was told that she no longer had a valid wali or a mahram and it was Islamically permissible for her to travel alone since her father was now labeled a non Muslim. Incidentally neither the Shari’ nor Abu Malik had ever spoken to Umm Dada’s father. They said that a wali would be provided for her upon her arrival so that she could fulfill the marital condition of having a wali’s approval.
This is the story of so many young Muslim women who have fallen into ISIS hands. Some women decided they would marry once they got to Raqqa without having something arranged ahead of time. In which case they would arrive and see several suitors. If she chose not to marry, for whatever reason, then they would have to stay in the housing provided by ISIS. The option to stay in ISIS provided accommodation was not optional. Sometimes there would be large numbers of women living in a single villa for a long period of time. After living in Raqqa for some time, some of these women would feel that the “Islamic State” was not as advertised, and they felt like prisoners, and want to leave. However leaving was not as easy as coming. Women could only leave in 2 cases. Either they had to get a letter of permission from the court or they had to travel with a mahram, which incidentally they don’t have because (according to ISIS rules) they have no mahram unless they are married.
Umm Nadia, also from the west, along with several other women, who recently escaped, mentioned that there were many others in Raqqa in the same situation they were in. She said that they spent most of the day inside the grounds of the villa and were not allowed out to roam freely and it felt very much like a prison.
After escaping, Umm Nadia and her small group ran as far as they could looking for anyone who would grant them a safe place to sleep. Many residents in the area were fearing retribution from ISIS and did not want to accommodate them. Eventually they found different people who would grant them shelter for short periods of time. Eventually Umm Nadia and her group decided to take their chances crossing the Turkish border which has gotten very difficult to do since the rise of ISIS. Just last month a Muslim woman was shot in the leg by Turkish Janderma border soldiers while trying to cross.
Umm Nadia and those like her have limited options. They could try to go back to their home country but many of them are afraid that they may be jailed upon their return. So for the past several weeks Umm Nadia has been moving from place to place trying to figure out her next move. Umm Nadia’s trail has gone cold and no one knows where she and the other Muslim sisters went or what became of them.
However to be fair, some Muslim women arrive in Raqqa, find their husband, and move on with their lives in their new surroundings. However for those like Umm Nadia, things don’t always turn out as planned.