Reports that Malaysian women, among others, were abandoning their homes and heading to the Middle East to serve in jihad al-nikah (sexual jihad) as “comfort women” have drawn a combination of disbelief and protests from the Islamic community. The reports have come from Malaysian news sources. Police say they are investigating the reports, which “did not come from official channels.”
The idea of Islamic women working as prostitutes is anathema to Muslim beliefs, but if true it is hardly new. A recent template for this type of activity occurred under the Taliban in the 1990s.
Contrary to most reports at the time, there were brothels running during the militia’s rule.
The male customer, I was informed, would offer to marry the woman. She obliged and they would spend the night together. In the morning the husband would declare “I divorce you” three times, pay a small alimony and the pair went their separate ways – not an uncommon practice in the Middle East.
It was a well-kept secret in Kabul because under the Taliban’s rule such women faced certain execution, which required the toppling of a brick wall onto the condemned, who was subsequently run over by a tank. Death meant absolution. Survival meant she was innocent of the charges.
Times have changed.
According to The Malaysian Insider, Islamic women from Malaysia and further afield in Britain and Australia were packing their bags for the Islamic State, where they intend to serve in a sexual jihad.
Quoting “an intelligence official,” the report also contained nuggets of information that dovetail neatly with other, independent sources.
It details jihad al-nikah – a concept initiated perhaps a year ago by the Wahhabi sect of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden – “where Sunni women allegedly offer themselves in sexual comfort roles to fighters for the establishment of Islamic rule.”
It was described by some as sexual jihad to “boost the morale of fighters battling against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.” Now such “comforts” are being offered by women to fighters in the so-called Islamic State, which will probably come as no surprise to their home governments.
Islamic State leaders, fighting in Iraq and Syria, declared jihad al-nikah in June.
The report told the story of Malaysian comfort women, with the numbers of British and Australian Muslims serving in the Islamic State rising to 600 and 100 respectively once these women were included in the figures. There are also claims that Islamic State mercenaries have been forcing young women living under their occupation to join the sexual jihad.
It was a timely report, published just before Indonesia announced it would follow Malaysia’s path and establish a de-radicalization center.
It will be built on 6.1 hectares within the International Peace and Security Center and run by the National Counter-Terrorism Agency, BNPT, to curb extreme Islamic militancy and prevent convicted terrorists from re-offending.
De-radicalization and rehabilitation centers have had mixed success under different guises.
This time the Indonesians are promising a more holistic attempt, which will expose inmates to much greater psychological and spiritual counseling, in addition to more contact with their families.
The new center is also spearheading efforts to curb any spread of Islamic State militants to Indonesia, where they are banned.
Media reports had indicated that jailed survivors of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) – responsible for deadly attacks on Bali in 2002 and elsewhere –will be among the first inmates at the center, including co-founder Abu Bakar Bashir and Aman Abdurrahman. Australian embassy bomber Iwan Darmawan, also known as Rois, will probably join them.
Like the women of jihad al-nikah, all three have declared allegiance to the Islamic State and its caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The de-radicalization center may one day house female inmates as well.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt.