Shaesta Waiz and Bakhita Al Muheiri at the Emirates Aviation College (Photo credit: Emirates)
NASA Names One of Its Asteroids after Young Saudi Female Researcher
Saudi Women’s Cycling Team Take over the Red Sea Corniche
Afghan Woman Flying the World Solo Takes Emirates 'Plane' For Test Drive
Over 2,000 Girls Apply For PE Major In Taif University
At 15, She Joined ISIS After Converting To Islam. Now German Teen Wants To Go Home
Al Ruwaini among 100 Most Powerful Arab Businesswomen
Hijab Goes Mainstream as Advertisers Target Muslim Money
What did the ISIS German girl detained in Mosul say?
Slaves of Isis: The Long Walk of the Yazidi Women
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
PAS Muslimat: Unfair to assume all 16-year-old girls not ready for marriage
July 25, 2017
KUALA LUMPUR, July 25 ― It is unfair to assume that all 16-year old girls are immature and therefore not ready for marriage, the women’s wing of PAS has said.
Its chief Nuridah Mohd Salleh said the maturity of a person’s age cannot be used as a benchmark to get married.
“An age limit cannot be regarded as the main cause if a marriage falls apart,” Nuridah said in an article published in PAS’ official website yesterday.
She was responding to Pakatan Harapan’s women leaders, who had urged Putrajaya to increase the marriage age of Muslims female from 16 to 18.
Wanita PKR leader Zuraida Kamaruddin had claimed that setting a higher age limit to get married would ensure a better marital life, while DAP’s Kulai MP, Teo Nie Ching had said that it would also reduce cases of domestic and sexual abuse.
Nuridah said that the relevant authorities should study the matter extensively and from all aspects.
Under the Islamic Family Law, the minimum age for a woman to get married is 16 and 18 is set for men.
The minimum age for non-Muslims to get married for both men and women is 18, but with the consent of the respective chief minister’s and mentri besar’s, he or she between the age of 16 and 18 can get married.
NASA names one of its asteroids after young Saudi female researcher
24 July 2017
NASA has recently named one of its asteroids (Al-Sheikh 33535) after a young talented female Saudi scientist in recognition of her efforts and excellence in her research within the Botany field, for which she won the second place at Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) last year.
Fatima Al-Sheikh won the second place in 2016 after being nominated at the level of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for winning the National Olympiad for Scientific Creativity held annually by King Abdulaziz and his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and & Creativity (Mawhiba) in partnership with the Ministry of Education. She was then ranked second in the US for research in the field of Botany entitled “Determination of Effectiveness of Innovative Strygolactone-Carl2-on Seed Germination of Parasitic Weeds”. “This national achievement comes in the light of Mawhiba’s commitment to its mission of supporting Saudi talented people, providing them with outstanding care, and enhancing the passion for science and knowledge,” a statement on Saudi Press Agency read.
Al-Sheikh is not the first Saudi woman to win recognition for their work in science. Saudi student Sara Alrabiah won the top award of NASA’s ISEF competition this year that brought together 1,700 researchers.
Saudi women’s cycling team take over the Red Sea corniche
24 July 2017
JEDDAH: A group girls and women in Jeddah set up a women’s cycling team on the city’s corniche.
The group’s founder, Nadima Abu El-Einein, said that her passion for cycling since childhood prompted her to think about the creating the team, which she called “Bisklita” — the Arabic word for bicycle. The team started one-and-a-half years ago.
She said that her sisters and mother loved the idea and so did several women who later joined the team after learning about its activities through social media.
Team members hope that the community will understand the importance of women’s sports, and that they do not encounter any harassment while practicing, asserting that women can keep their headscarves and dress modestly while exercising in public places.
In a step to break the male monopoly of some sports, the team decided to spread awareness of the culture of sport and its psychological and physical benefits on the human body, declaring that wearing a hijab is not an obstacle for women to perform their hobbies.
Sawsan Abdullah, with special needs, did not give in to the poor health conditions from which she suffers, and insisted on pursuing her favorite sport. She designed a bike that compensates for her situation and, at the same time, normally participates with her friends. “After my brain operation, my right side was very weak. I could not ride my bicycle or even leave the bed,” Sawsan said. “After joining the team, these wheels were designed to support me and riding became very easy.”
Dina Al-Quthmi, a member of the team, said: ”I hope the community will accept us coming out and freely practicing our hobby without harassment.”
Despite the lack of support in their surroundings, people have witnessed shy attempts by Saudi women whose names have recently shined inside and outside the Kingdom through their participation in some sports.
After 12 months of individual training, the ladies aspire to an environment that is conducive to their hobby and someday reach global arenas.
Afghan woman flying the world solo takes Emirates 'plane' for test drive
July 25, 2017
Shaesta Waiz, who was born in an Afghanistan refugee camp, hogged the limelight when she started her flight in a small single-engine plane from the US. Her mission is to fly around the world to inspire other women to follow their dream.
Recently she landed in Dubai and her attempt is to become the youngest woman to fly solo around the world.
Emirates recently hosted Waiz for a Boeing 777 simulator challenge in Dubai. Waiz, founder and pilot of Dreams Soar, Inc. (DSI), a non-profit organisation whose mission is to inspire and empower young females to become the next generation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and aviation professionals, through a global outreach mission.
The outreach includes a global solo flight mission, where Waiz is piloting a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza A36 to circumnavigate the globe, a press release said.
Waiz stopped in Dubai, one of 34 stops across 18 countries in her five continent journey which will clock in just under 47,000 kilometres upon completion.
Shaesta met Bakhita Al Muheiri, Emirates Boeing 777 First Officer, at the Emirates Aviation College to test her aerial skills in an Emirates Boeing 777 simulator.
24-year old Bakhita is one of Emirates' youngest female Emirati pilots. She earned her wings in 2016 and has accumulated over 1,100 flying hours after completing the airline's National Cadet Pilot Programme. After a short briefing, Shaesta and Bakhita began their simulator challenge in the Boeing 777 cockpit, taking-off, landing and piloting each assigned journey.
Adel Al Redha, executive vice president and chief operations officer, Emirates airline, said: "Through our National Cadet Pilot Programme, we want to grow the next generation of female pilots, by creating an environment that retains, nurtures and values them so they are able to progress and take a wider role within our industry. We also believe that one of the ways to support the need for pilots today is to tap into the female talent pool and inspire them to take their career path into aviation which is one of the most rewarding fields."
Bakhita Al Muheiri also commented on the simulator experience with Shaesta: "I am truly inspired by Shaesta's story. As the first civilian female pilot from Afghanistan, she has demonstrated that the world is full of possibilities and when we expose females to a wide range of careers in STEM and aviation we boost their interest to enter fast-moving sectors with a wealth of opportunities."
Commenting on her twin engine Boeing 777 simulator challenge, Shaesta said: "An airplane doesn't know if you are a girl or boy, what your religion or background is. It reacts based on the input of the pilot. My hope from the time I spent flying the Boeing 777 simulator with Bakhita, learning of her empowering story, and Emirates helping to pave the way for many more young women, is for more role models to devote their time and energy inspiring our next generation. Let us work together and expend our resources to create brighter futures for our tomorrow."
Later in the day, the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority hosted Shaesta in Kidzania at Dubai Mall to speak to young girls and women about her experiences and the Dreams Soar project. Bakhita Al Muhairi and female cadets, Khalid Ali Al Mansoori and Maryam Yousuf Bin Ismail, also gave talks about their aviation journeys in an effort to inspire the young women in attendance.
Over 2,000 girls apply for PE major in Taif University
July 25, 2017
JEDDAH — The new physical education (PE) major for women which recently opened at Taif University is one of a kind in a Saudi university.
Up to 2,129 female high school graduates in Taif have specified this major as their top choice.
This number represents 75% of all female students who adhere to the criteria of the university and can join this major since they all have gained 80% marks in high school.
The new major is officially named Physical Education and Sports Sciences, said university spokesman Saleh Al-Thubaiti.
The new major at the university aims at providing qualified female graduates familiar with both methodology and application, said the spokesman.
Many girls have also asked if they can change their majors and switch to PE. Some girls who have already graduated have also expressed interest in PE major. “I have already graduated from another major. May I register again in PE major?” asked a graduate. The interest in PE major stems from job assurance as the Ministry of Education is going to open PE classes in public schools from September when new academic year starts.
Many universities are being asked by girl students to open PE major. Among the universities with heavy demand for opening this major are King Saud University, King Abdulaziz University, Taiba University, Majma’a University, Baha University and Jazan University.
It will take four years for those taking PE major to complete their graduation. So a trending hashtag recommends giving the task of managing PE classes during this transit period to girls who graduated from “family raising” major since they are familiar with diet and calorie calculation.
“We are the closest major to PE. We should get the PE jobs until specialized girls graduate,” said Maha Al-Ruwaili, an unemployed girl from the family raising major.
At 15, She Joined ISIS After Converting To Islam. Now German Teen Wants To Go Home
July 25, 2017
When 15-year-old Lisa W. started to wear long-sleeved clothes early last year, it quickly struck her classmates and teachers in the sleepy eastern German town of Pulsnitz as odd. Her conversion to Islam was noticed almost immediately in a part of Germany where only 0.5 percent of the population is Muslim and where the backlash against Chancellor Angela Merkel's pro-refugee policy had been stronger than almost anywhere else in the country.
Lisa W.'s school soon reached out to her mother and stepfather about the subtle changes, German prosecutors said. But when the teenager told her parents one day last July that she would sleep at a friend's place over the weekend and be back Sunday afternoon, they later said, they did not suspect anything unusual.
By that time, the 15-year-old had decided to join the Islamic State, investigators believe. They said that after chatting online with members of the extremist group, she left her parental home and traveled to Islamic State territory, where she is believed to have remained for at least 12 months. The case prompted criticism of German authorities, with many questioning why the teen had not been stopped from traveling aboard despite having shown signs of possible radicalization.
More than a year later, Lisa W. has been arrested by Iraqi authorities, although the exact circumstances of the operation that led to her being taken into custody remain unclear. German officials have spoken to the teen, now 16, at an Iraqi military site where U.S. doctors are treating her for injuries, according to the German TV network ARD.
But Germany has not officially requested an extradition, indicating that she could face charges both in Iraq and in Germany. If sentenced in Iraq, Lisa W. could face the death penalty, although German intelligence officials are reportedly in talks with their Iraqi counterparts over her return to Europe.
Speaking to ARD, the 16-year old said that she hoped for a quick return to Germany and that she regretted her decision to join the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL. "I want to go home to my family," she said.
As officials are deliberating how to transfer her back to Germany, prevention specialists and researchers wonder why she left Europe in the first place. Her case has renewed the spotlight on the Islamic State's continued ability to attract boys and girls across Europe to its cause, even as the overall number of adult recruits has dropped.
Underage terrorists have been a particular concern in Germany, where multiple plots by minors were foiled last year alone. In February 2016, a 15-year-old girl stabbed a police officer in an attack allegedly inspired by the Islamic State. Last July, a 17-year-old Afghan refugee attacked passengers on a train in Bavaria after pledging allegiance to the group. And in December, a 12-year-old boy with Iraqi parents was caught planning a nail-bomb attack targeting a German Christmas market.
"ISIL has turned terrorist recruitment and radicalization effectively into a mass product mostly on young adults aged between 17 and 23 for the simple reason that they are unlikely to be government spies," said Daniel Koehler, director of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies.
The Islamic State has frequently used videos, songs and even games to recruit younger Europeans online. Children, however, are particularly susceptible because they lack experience in separating fact from fiction and are often not targeted in counter-radicalization schemes set up by government agencies and nongovernmental organizations.
Because of its federal structure, which puts regional governments in charge of police and domestic security issues, Germany has been even slower than other European nations in formulating such schemes. In several German states, concerned teachers or family members would have been able to call an expert hotline associated with local authorities by last July. There was no such program in the state of Saxony, where Pulsnitz is located, however.
There, a counter-radicalization center was opened by authorities in March - four years after the Islamic State seized its de facto capital, the Syrian city of Raqqa, and long after Lisa W. and an estimated 900 other Germans had left their homes for the group's territory.
Al Ruwaini among 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen
July 25, 2017
NASHWA Al Ruwaini, CEO of Pyramedia – Media Consultancy & Productions, Al Joude Investments, Al Joude Advertising & Publicity and Delma Media Center & Spa – was recently listed among the 100 Most Powerful Arab Businesswomen in Forbes Magazine. This is not the first time that Nashwa Al Ruwaini has been recognized by Forbes for her business achievements.
Forbes Magazine had selected Nashwa Al Ruwaini in 2012 among the Most Powerful Women to Watch, she was ranked 23rd in Forbes Most Powerful Arab Women in 2014 and twice in a row she was listed in the Most Powerful Businesswomen in the Arab World.
Nashwa Al Ruwaini said “it gives me great pleasure to be acknowledged by Forbes again as a powerful business woman in the Arab World and I am honored to be part of this list among my esteemed business associates who have worked equally hard to be in the forefront of the business world in the region.”
She also added that she believes Arab Women have played a huge role in contributing greatly to the world of business and entrepreneurship and that it is wonderful thing that they have a list of their own in publications such as Forbes.
“Being based in the UAE, a country whose visionary leadership has always provided profound support and created the best business environment for anyone to thrive, has helped me to grow and propel my business activities into the dynamic group of companies that exist today.”
“Being ranked as a Powerful Arab Businesswoman is a boost to help me continue in the expansion and diversification of my business initiatives that I have built over the years. I also hope that it serves as inspiration to upcoming young women and entrepreneurs in all sectors to continue aspiring for more and achieving their goals.”
Nashwa al Ruwaini began her career as a TV presenter before branching out into a diversity of businesses that over the years have been recognized for their success. She has pioneered several projects in the region such as The Millions Poet, The Prince of Poets, The Buzzer, The Middle East Film Festival, The EMMYs as well as consulted for Hollywood productions, to name a few. She has worked to establish the region as a media hub that attracts international organizations from all across the globe. Her businesses range from medical, to real estate, wealth management investments, spa and retail business, manufacturing as well as media, PR and marketing agencies. — SG
Hijab Goes Mainstream As Advertisers Target Muslim Money
24 JULY 2017
By Heba Kanso
Beirut — "Every little girl deserves to see a role model that's dressed like her, resembles her, or even has the same characteristics as her"
The hijab - one of the most visible signs of Islamic culture - is going mainstream with advertisers, media giants and fashion firms promoting images of the traditional headscarf in ever more ways.
Last week, Apple previewed 12 new emoji characters to be launched later this year, one of a woman wearing a hijab.
Major fashion brands from American Eagle to Nike are creating hijabs, while hijab-wearing models have started gracing Western catwalks and the covers of top fashion magazines.
Many Muslim women cover their heads in public with the hijab as a sign of modesty, although some critics see it as a sign of female oppression. But there is one thing most can agree on: when it comes to the hijab, there is money to be made.
"In terms of the bottom line - absolutely they're (young Muslims) good for business ... it's a huge market and they are incredibly brand savvy, so they want to spend their money," said Shelina Janmohamed, vice-president of Ogilvy Noor, a consultancy offering advice on how to build brands that appeal to Muslim audiences.
Nike announced it is using its prowess in the sports and leisure market to launch a breathable mesh hijab in spring 2018, becoming the first major sports apparel maker to offer a traditional Islamic head scarf designed for competition.
In June, Vogue Arabia featured on its cover the first hijabi model to walk the international runway, Somali-American Halima Aden, who gained international attention last year when she wore a hijab and burkini during the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.
"Every little girl deserves to see a role model that's dressed like her, resembles her, or even has the same characteristics as her," Aden said in a video on her Instagram account.
Hijabs have also become more visible in Western advertising campaigns for popular retailers like H&M and Gap.
"Brands especially are in a very strategic and potent position to propel that social good, to change the attitudes of society and really push us forward and take us to that next step," Amani al-Khatahtbeh, founder of online publication MuslimGirl.com, said by phone from New York.
In Nigeria, a medical student has become an Instagram sensation for posting images of a hijab-wearing Barbie, describing hers as a "modest doll" - unlike the traditional version. And mothers in Pittsburgh have started making and selling hijabs for Barbies in a bid to make play more inclusive.
However, al-Khatahtbeh warned of the potential for the young Muslim market to be exploited just for profit without any effort to promote acceptance and integration.
"It can easily become exploitative by profiting off of communities that are being targeted right now, or it could be a moment that we turn into a very, very empowering one," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
EMOJIS AND FASHION
Frustrated she could not find an image to represent her and her friends on her iPhone keypad, Saudi teenager, Rayouf Alhumedhi, started an online campaign, the Hijab Emoji Project.
She proposed the idea of the emoji last year to coding consortium Unicode that manages the development of new emojis, Alhumedhi said on her campaign's website, helping to prompt Apple to create its hijab-wearing emoji.
"It's only really in the last 18 to 24 months - perhaps three years - that bigger mainstream brands have started to realise that young Muslim consumers are really an exciting opportunity," said Janmohamed of Ogilvy Noor.
A global Islamic economy report conducted by Thomson Reuters showed that in 2015, revenues from "modest fashion" bought by Muslim women was were estimated at $44 billion, with designers Dolce & Gabbana, Uniqlo and Burberry entering the industry.
Janmohamed, author of the memoir "Love in a Headscarf", sees young hijabi representation in the digital communications and fashion space a step forward for tolerance.
"It feels particularly empowering for young people to see themselves represented. So today I think it is the least that consumers expect and anyone that doesn't do it is actually falling behind."
What did the ISIS German girl detained in Mosul say?
24 July 2017
A German teenager who joined ISIS says she regrets joining the organization and wants only to return to her family in her country, media reported on Sunday.
Four German women joined ISIS in recent years, including a 16-year-old girl from the small town of Poulsnits near the eastern city of Dresden, Germany, German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Saturday.
It was confirmed that the teenager was named Linda, who was recently found in Mosul.
Reports said they that the girl was questioned at a military complex in Baghdad when she said she wanted to leave.
“All I want is to get away from here,” the media quoted her as saying. “I want to get away from the war, the many weapons and the noise. I just want to go back to my house ... to my family.”
They added that the teenager told them that she regretted joining ISIS and wanted to be handed over to Germany and that she would cooperate with the authorities.
They said the girl was shot in the left thigh and had another injury to her right knee that she said was hit during a helicopter attack.
Slaves of Isis: the long walk of the Yazidi women
25 July 2017
The day before Isis came was a holiday in Sinjar district, northern Iraq. Yazidis gathered to celebrate the end of a fasting period. It was 2 August 2014. Harvested wheat fields stood short and stubbly under the shadowless sun. People slaughtered sheep and gathered with their relatives to celebrate the holiday, handing out sweets and exchanging news and gossip. In the past, they would have invited their Muslim neighbours to join the celebrations, but more recently a distance had grown between them, leading the villagers to keep mostly to their own.
The atmosphere was restless and the temperature peaked above 40C (104F). The top of Mount Sinjar, just north of the town of Sinjar itself, appeared to be shimmering in the heat, and the people living below mostly avoided travelling until after the sun had set, when the streets were filled with neighbours trading fearful rumours, and men patrolling with guns.
At dusk, unfamiliar vehicles started to appear. The lights of the cars could be seen moving in the desert beyond the outlying villages. A sense of foreboding grew as darkness fell. The Yazidi men took their guns and set out to check the horizon beyond the wheat fields, peering toward the villages.
On their return, they gathered in Sinjar town centre in small, tense groups. Convoys of cars, kicking up dust in the distance, had appeared two months before, just before the city of Mosul – the capital of Nineveh province, of which Sinjar is a part – fell to Islamic State (Isis). Mosul is 120km (75 miles) east of Sinjar, and its capture was quickly followed by the fall of other towns. Four divisions of the Iraqi army collapsed, including the third division, which was based around Sinjar and included many Yazidis. The area was almost completely defenceless.
When they seized Mosul, Isis freed the Sunni Muslims from the city’s Badoush prison and executed 600 Shia prisoners. The group plundered weapons and equipment from Iraqi army bases. Soldiers scattered their uniforms, and half a million civilians fled north and east. Within a week, a third of Iraq was under Isis control. Sinjar district, with a population of around 300,000, was surrounded. Only a thin strip of contested road remained, linking them to the relative safety of the Iraqi Kurdistan in the north – but the journey was dangerous.
The Kurdistan region in northern Iraq is semi-autonomous, and guarded by the peshmerga, who now had to defend the four Kurdish provinces against Isis. “Peshmerga” means “those who face death”, and the word is heavy with the historical import of the Kurdish struggle against oppression. In the south-east of the region, on the Iranian border, part of the peshmerga clashed with Isis, but near Sinjar, an uneasy stillness hung in the air like a tension headache that comes before a storm.
Leila is from a family of Yazidi farmers and shepherds. She is small with a pale, girlish face, even though she is 25, and gives off a kind, practical air. She has two younger sisters and three older brothers. As a child she worked on the family farm with her brothers, and after a spate of sheep thefts on their ranch, they decided to move closer to Kojo, a village below Mount Sinjar.
Leila’s brothers had joined the peshmerga after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. On 2 August 2014, their colleagues in nearby Siba Sheikheder came under attack from Isis and called for help. Siba Sheikheder, south of Sinjar, is the closest Yazidi town to the Syrian border, a collection of a few hundred squat buildings. By mid-morning on 3 August 2014, the peshmerga stationed in Kojo had fled. In the confusion, Leila’s family and around 100 others decided to run, but most people stayed, unsure what was going to happen to them.
Leila’s younger sister was living in Siba Sheikheder with her new husband, and phoned home to her parents that morning: “We’re running – Isis is coming,” she said. Leila and her family drove north to Sinjar, leaving her uncle at home to guard the house. Arriving in Sinjar, they realised the town was already under attack and its people were fleeing. Gathering together in a patch of scrubland outside Sinjar, they phoned her uncle. He told them the area was surrounded and Isis would not let anyone leave.
They were trapped. Shortly after the phone call, a group of Isis fighters approached them and told them to hand over money, guns, gold and phones. Leila remembers that the leader had a red face and beard and was called “emir” (“prince”) by the others. Fighters drove her family to one of the central government offices in Sinjar, where ID cards used to be issued. What seemed like thousands of women and girls had been gathered inside the building’s offices, with men crammed together on the second floor. At around 9pm, Isis guards brought lanterns inside and began inspecting the faces of the women and girls. The women huddled together for protection, and as the men drew near to Leila, she was so scared that she fainted. This saved her from being taken away that night. Five of her female cousins were not so lucky.
The Yazidi women in Sinjar didn’t realise it yet, but the Isis fighters were carrying out a pre-planned mass abduction for the purpose of institutionalised rape. Initially they were looking for unmarried women and girls over eight.
When Sinjar district was attacked by Isis, more than 100,000 people fled to take refuge on Mount Sinjar. Those who couldn’t flee were rounded up. Many of the men were massacred. Thousands of Yazidis were either executed and thrown into pits, or died of dehydration, injuries or exhaustion on the mountain. So many people were missing that the enslavement of women didn’t immediately come to international attention.
According to Iraqi MP Vian Dakhil, herself a Yazidi from Sinjar, an estimated 6,383 Yazidis – mostly women and children – were enslaved and transported to Isis prisons, military training camps, and the homes of fighters across eastern Syria and western Iraq, where they were raped, beaten, sold, and locked away. By mid-2016, 2,590 women and children had escaped or been smuggled out of the caliphate and 3,793 remained in captivity.
The Yazidis are a majority-Kurdish-speaking religious group living mostly in northern Iraq. They number less than one million worldwide. The Yazidis, throughout their history, have been persecuted as infidels by Muslim rulers who demanded that they convert. Rather than formal ceremonies, their religious practice involves visiting sacred places. Yazidis participate in baptism and feasts, sing hymns and recite stories. Some of the stories are about historical and mythical battles fought in protection of the religion. Others, told over the centuries by generations of women, detail methods of resistance to the same threats that Yazidi women face today.
The Yazidis had already been made vulnerable by forced displacement under Saddam Hussein, economic meltdown under UN sanctions, the breakdown of the state and security after the US-led invasion of 2003, and the political failures that followed. In Iraq there are now around 500,000 Yazidis, primarily from the Sinjar region in Nineveh province in the country’s north. The Yazidis of Syria and Turkey have mostly all fled to neighbouring countries or to Europe. In Germany, their numbers are estimated at 25,000. “Not all violence is hot. There’s cold violence, too, which takes its time and finally gets its way,” Teju Cole wrote in a 2015 essay about Palestine. Around the world, a broader kind of cold violence continues. It’s the violence of indignity, of forgetting, of carelessness and of not listening. It’s there in the way politicians talk about refugees, and in the way the stateless are sometimes written about and photographed by the western media. It’s there in the fear of outsiders. It’s there in the way humans dismiss other humans as less worthy of protection or care. When cold violence and hot violence merge, we get mass killings inflicted on the most vulnerable.
Yazidis have suffered massacres and oppression for generations. But there was something different about the Isis attack that took place in the late summer of 2014. This time the media took notice.
Many of the stories about the abduction and enslavement of Yazidi women and children described them as “sex slaves” and featured graphic, sometimes lurid, accounts by newly escaped survivors. The female fighters of Kurdish militias helping to free Yazidis from Mount Sinjar became fodder for often novelty coverage. The Yazidis became the embodiment of embattled, exotic minorities set against the evil of Isis. This narrative has stereotyped Yazidi women as passive victims of mass rape at the hands of perpetrators presented as the epitome of pure evil.
It was only much later in my reporting on how some Yazidi women managed to escape and return that I became aware of how important stories of captivity and resistance were to dealing with trauma, both historically and in relation to Isis. Yazidism is a closed religion and identity, one that is passed down through generations by stories and music. These practices have been extended to dealing with the traumas of their treatment at the hands of Isis.
Many of the women and children captured in Sinjar had seen or heard their male relatives being killed by the armed Isis fighters who now surrounded them. In jails across Iraq and Syria, where the women were held, they felt a sense of “abject terror on hearing footsteps in the corridor outside and keys opening the locks”, said a report by the UN commission on Syria that designated the Isis crimes against the Yazidis as genocide. “The first 12 hours of capture were filled with sharply mounting terror. The selection of any girl was accompanied by screaming as she was forcibly pulled from the room, with her mother and any other women who tried to keep hold of her being brutally beaten by fighters. [Yazidi] women and girls began to scratch and bloody themselves in an attempt to make themselves unattractive to potential buyers.”
At first, the women and girls were taken to prearranged locations in Iraq where they were handed out to the Isis fighters who took part in the attack on Sinjar. To avoid being raped, some of the girls killed themselves by slitting their wrists or throats, or hanging themselves, or throwing themselves from buildings.
Amid the panic in the Sinjar ID office, Leila decided to pose as a mother to her small niece and nephew after she saw the other women being taken away, and correctly assumed that being unmarried was dangerous. The following day, the Yazidi men on the second floor disappeared.
Leila was transported 50km east to a school-turned-prison in Tel Afar, where the women were crowded into classrooms functioning as cells, guarded by fighters who continued to pick out beautiful girls to serve as slaves. Each time they were moved, their names and ages were noted down on a list.
In the coming weeks, some Yazidis managed to escape by walking through the night across muddy fields, keeping to the valleys to avoid Isis checkpoints and reach the peshmerga. It was in those first few days that the Yazidis could most feasibly have been rescued. The captives were held together and some still had mobile phones hidden under their clothes to call relatives back in Kurdistan and tell them exactly where they were. But with little by way of rapid international or governmental support materialising, a sense of abandonment soon grew among the families waiting for their loved ones.
“Within days of what happened to the Yazidis on the mountain, the phone calls went from ‘help us survive’ to ‘they’ve kidnapped these women and can you help us to rescue them,’” said Tom Malinowski, then the US assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labour, when interviewed in February 2016 during a visit to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region. “Hostage rescues are one of the most dangerous things to do, but when they [the women] were still being held in large groups this was discussed, but tragically they were then dispersed … It is still very much on our minds and something we know has to be considered.”
To date there have been no known, large-scale rescue missions to free the Yazidi captives in Iraq and Syria, by either the US, Iraqi or Kurdistan regional governments.
According to Isis, it has no choice but to attack and kill disbelieving men. Flowing from this, it justifies the enslaving of their women as an act of protection, a way of replacing the men who previously looked after them. This idea is crucial to the role of slavery in Isis’s conception of how a caliphate should function.
Implicit in the goal of eliminating the Yazidi community is the idea that society would be better without them, which is common to all genocides, said former UN investigator Sareta Ashraph. The enslavement, for Isis, is meant to eventually bring the women to Islam, and is part of their ideology of conquest. “[It is] among the greatest forms of the honour of Islam and its sharia [Islamic law], as it is a clear affirmation showing the supremacy of the people of sharia, and the greatness of their affairs, and the dominance of their state, and the power of their might,” according to an Isis pamphlet on slavery.
Isis describes its own use of enslavement through a mix of clumsy metaphors about sex, war and power. Dividing up the captive women and children among the Isis mujahideen [holy warriors] and “sanctioning their genitals” is described as a sign of “realisation and dominance by the sword”.
Katherine E Brown, a lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Birmingham, explained that Isis mainly justifies its use of slavery through selective interpretations of the hadith, the reported accounts of the life and sayings of Muhammad and his companions: “They justify it on the basis that it is a reward for carrying out services for the community – slaves are presented as compensation for fighters. However, they chose particular ways of seeing these hadith, and selectively choose them so as to ignore, for example, the requirement not to kill your prisoners by focusing on the requirement to make sure they ‘don’t escape’ by being ‘secured at the neck’ until negotiations have taken place.”
The promise of sexual slavery is used as a sweetener when recruiting disaffected young men to Isis. At the same time, media stories about sex and violence involving non-Muslim women being enslaved by Muslim men feed stereotypes about Muslim men that create divisions that Isis can then exploit.
“Slavery serves to increase the Isis community because Yazidi women will give birth and the children will be brought up among its fighters,” writes the author of the Isis pamphlet.
The same document calls on fighters to treat their slaves well, citing words from the Qur’an calling for them to be good to “those whom your right hand possess” – a euphemism for a female captive – and cites Islamic texts with instructions not to hit the slave’s face, and to emancipate the slave who becomes a believer, for which the master will be rewarded by God.
But, as with other strictures, there is a gap between Isis proclamations and an abusive, often violent reality. Isis used gang rape as punishment for women and girls who tried to escape to further degrade and control them physically and psychologically. Despite this, many of the women continued to fight back against their captors, risking punishment and death in pursuit of freedom.
After the women were captured, they didn’t immediately become slaves to the fighters, but were held for a period while their details were recorded. The process was systematised. Women were then sold in markets, either electronically over a mobile phone messenger app where their photos and slave numbers were exchanged, or in market halls and prisons at prearranged times.
Away from the main markets, women and girls, supplied by fighters or Isis members who acted as middlemen, were sold by local brokers in smaller numbers. At the beginning, they were given mainly to Iraqi fighters who took part in the battle for Sinjar. Subsequently, the remaining captives were taken to Syria, and sold there, often to fighters who had arrived from around the world.
In late 2014, a group of young, bearded men sat on long sofas lining the walls of a living room somewhere in the caliphate, wearing ammunition-packed vests. They joked with one another. “Today is distribution day, God willing,” said one of the men, as he flashed a grin at his companions. “You can sell your slave, or give her as a gift … You can do whatever you want with your share,” said another fighter in view of the cameraman who was recording the exchange. The men didn’t seem to notice and continued discussing buying women for “three banknotes or a pistol”.
By the summer of 2013, Raqqa, 370km west of Mosul in northern Syria, became Isis’s de facto capital, and supporters from all over the world flocked there to join the group. It was also the destination for other women from Sinjar.
“When we got to the farm [near Raqqa], we saw four or five buses full of Isis members with long hair and beards,” said Zahra, a farmer’s daughter from Kojo. “They were like animals. On the first day they came among us and started picking girls for themselves. Two or three of them would catch the girls, blindfold them and take them by force into a car. The girls were crying and shouting but they didn’t care.”
From the second floor of the building, the girls could see the Euphrates river, but they were hidden from view by the surrounding trees and fences.
“We were just like sheep, when the shepherd goes toward them and the sheep disperse; that’s how we were, running away from them,” said Zahra. She fled when the men came, but she was blocked by a fence at the edge of the farm. On the first day the men took 20-40 girls. Food was delivered from a local restaurant for those who remained, but they were too scared to eat. They covered their faces with ash to try and look unattractive in the hope that they wouldn’t be picked.
After two days, Zahra and her sister were taken to an underground Isis prison in Raqqa. Hundreds of women were crammed into three rooms in what was just one of several similar structures that were used for holding women in Raqqa. The girls arrived at night and weren’t allowed to see the outside of the building – a tactic similar to that used by the Syrian government in its jails, said Sareta Ashraph.
Inside the prison, the women had to share a few filthy, overflowing toilets, forcing them to stand in raw sewage. Their bodies were crawling with sand flies. The only light came from two solar-powered lamps hanging from the ceiling, one prisoner recalled. Each morning the guards would give them a small piece of bread and cheese to share between two, and in the evening some rice and soup.
Some women sat on bags or clothes to try and avoid touching the filthy ground. Children cried constantly with hunger. The women waited under the constant fear of rape or death. “They were always beating us and we had diarrhea because of the fear,” said a woman I shall call Khulka, who is 30 years old and comes from the town of Tel Qasab. She had arrived at the prison with her four children, inside a refrigerator truck normally used for ice-cream. “We didn’t have a shower for one month and we always had lice in our hair. After two months they took us outside, but we couldn’t stand because we hadn’t seen the sun for so long,” she said.
While in the jail, Khulka tattooed herself with the names of her husband and father, so that her body could be recognised and returned to them if she was killed. She mixed breast milk from a lactating woman with ash, and used a needle she had smuggled into the jail. With the same needle and some thread, she began embroidering her underwear with the names and numbers listed in her phone in case Isis found it and took it away. Khulka had been to school, and unlike many of the women there, she knew how to read and write. She also sewed other women’s clothes with their loved ones’ names and numbers so that they would not be forgotten.
Historically, Yazidis associated formal education with repressive state authorities, the suppression of their language, and the threat of religious conversion. In the years before 2014, literacy rates had been improving in Sinjar, but many women and girls worked in the fields to support their families while their brothers went to school. Illiteracy made it harder for women to escape after they were taken into captivity, because they couldn’t read the signs on unfamiliar buildings in Isis-held towns and cities.
Khulka was taken to a side room in the prison with her children and photographed by the Isis guards who gave her the slave number 16, which was then printed above her photo. There were around 500 women in the jail, she recalls, and all of them had to pose with their children and were given slave numbers. Before the picture was taken, she cut her daughter’s hair to make her look like a boy and stop them being separated. If the guards recognised her daughter as a young girl, there was more chance she’d be taken. The other imprisoned women envied Khulka’s grey hair, thinking it might save her from being seized. They tried to imitate it using ash.
“Some of these women and girls resisted forced conversion, protected themselves against violence, or at least tried to, and protected their children. How they resisted really shows incredible intelligence, courage and strength,” said human rights lawyer and gender justice advocate Sherizaan Minwalla.
Yazidi women who fled what is now Turkey during the first world war and the chaos that followed passed down stories that are repeated among Sinjaris today. Among them are accounts of how they did as Khulka was now doing: covering their daughters’ faces with ash and cutting their hair.
In the same prison, Zahra and her sisters were put together into small rooms. They heard screaming and crying as Isis guards came in the middle of the night to drag away the girls. The guards came for Zahra’s middle sister first. When Zahra pleaded with them not to take them separately, one of the guards whipped her with a cable.
After her sister was taken from the cell, the door opened again. This time Zahra was grabbed by two large men and shoved into a car. “I won’t go until you give me my sister!” she cried out. The men drove her to a house in Raqqa belonging to an Isis member who kept her as his slave, then sold her on after four months to another Isis fighter. He found her disobedient and sold her on straight away to a fighter of only 18, who lived at a compound for Libyan fighters near Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria.
Many Yazidi girls were by being held in the same compound of 100 to 200 caravans where the Libyan fighters lived. The women and girls were chained, beaten, raped and passed around like animals between the men. At the edge of the compound, a barbed-wire fence prevented them from escaping. The stories of privation and torture suffered by Yezidi women in this compound are some of the worst in a long catalogue of abuses.
After a little more than a month at the farm, Leila and three other girls from Kojo were taken back to Iraq and kept in a military base near the Iraq–Syria border, more than 200km south of Sinjar in Anbar province. The military base was in Al-Qa’im, a border crossing between Iraq and Syria, but by that time, under the caliphate, it was merely a pitstop between Isis-held stretches of desert. It was also a common crossing point for slaves passing between markets in Isis towns and cities. Leila was sold to a man called Muhammad, who looked familiar to her. Then she remembered who he was: his family were like godparents to her family.
When Leila recognised Muhammad, she was relieved: she thought he would rescue her, and maybe sell her back to her family. Instead, he sold her on. Three days later, Leila was taken to a military base near Ramadi and sold to an Isis military commander. Later, after she had escaped and was in Baghdad, someone asked her what she would do if she saw Muhammad again. “I would burn him alive,” she said.
The Isis commander who bought Leila in Ramadi was a notorious sadist known as Shakir Wahib, who had been terribly wounded in fighting, and was now trafficking women for sex and organising gang rapes. When one woman arrived in early 2016, having held on to a mobile phone, Leila managed to call her brother in Kurdistan and told him he needed to send someone to rescue her before the woman was moved on, and her phone with her. For two days, calls went back and forth between Leila and a smuggler called Abdullah, who eventually helped her to escape. Abdullah used to work in Aleppo and had a wide network of business contacts in Syria and Iraq. He had become a smuggler after 50 members of his family were kidnapped by Isis.
Most of the smugglers working to rescue Yazidi women are Yazidi businessmen. Some of the women are bought back from the Isis fighters holding them, or from the slave markets or online auctions. The cost of smuggling is reflective of the danger involved. It’s not clear how much of the cash ends up with Isis, and how much goes to middlemen or the smugglers.
This black market thrives because families are left with no other options. The war against Isis continues to win back territory from the militants, but Yazidis told me that they would prefer the focus to be on saving their captive women and children, rather than winning back terrain.
After reaching Baghdad, Leila and her niece travelled north by plane to the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, and then by road to the camps where many Yazidis from Sinjar had taken refuge, and where their families were waiting. When Leila arrived, she collapsed sobbing into the arms of her female relatives. She was in such a state of shock that, for the first few weeks, she had trouble understanding what her family were saying when they tried to talk to her.
“Sometimes I watch the TV and I see the news of the army taking more land and villages, but it’s not this that we are worried about – it is our people who are still imprisoned,” Leila said. “We know most of them are in Raqqa, so why are [the army] not going to save them there?”
The failures have been broad and deep. Earlier this month, Iraqi forces, backed by coalition air cover, declared victory over Isis in Mosul. But for many, the price of that victory was high: civilians were killed by Isis as they tried to flee, as well as being bombarded by Iraqi forces and the coalition. In March 2017 a US airstrike on a house where families were sheltering in western Mosul killed more than 100 civilians.
Attention has now moved from Iraq to the presence of Isis in Syria, and the battle for Raqqa. As Iraq’s politicians and their military patrons prepare to congratulate themselves, the Yazidi community looks on from displacement camps, rented homes or forced asylum overseas. Almost two years after it was cleared of Isis by Kurdish forces, Sinjar town remains in ruins. A new wave of fighting for Sinjar district is under way, with Turkey eyeing a violent incursion after bombing the area in April. The idea that this represents “liberation” is seen by Yazidis as a bad joke. The UN and others have tried to recognise and document the genocide, but justice looks a long way off. Meanwhile, the battle for survival of the women and girls who were taken by Isis continues long after their return.
Sinjar was recaptured from Isis by Kurdish forces, led by the peshmerga, in November 2015. Since then the peshmerga and other Kurdish armed groups have been in a hostile standoff with each other, with rival groups providing arms, training and patronage to local Yazidis. Brightly coloured flags of the various groups flutter above their respective checkpoints, which are sometimes only metres apart along roads that were recently controlled by Isis.
Yazidis now fear renewed attacks not just from Isis, but also from their Kurdish liberators. Yazidis themselves are not politically homogenous, and many distrust the rival Kurdish groups. By May 2016, despite the liberation, only 3,220 families had returned to Sinjar district.
While the infighting goes on, Isis stands only to gain. Yazidis are stuck in a complex series of client-patron relationships with Kurdish leaders, in which ethnic identification is used in exchange for promises of safety. Meanwhile, the Yazidis remain unable to define their future, militarily or politically. While military clashes continue, any political settlement to the rivalry between liberating forces looks a long way off.
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