Middle East

ISIS wives: Women of war or groomed victims?

These women must stand trial before judgment.

These women must stand trial before judgment.

We have all seen the headlines of Isis wives seeking forgiveness from their home countries as they face trial. The trials are quick and the outcome is usually the same: execution or life in prison. Their children are sent to orphanages or the blessed ones are sent to family. Most people see this as just and have little to no mercy for these women. Some of them were not only supportive of the murders and torture inflicted by ISIS; they were actively recruiting new members and trying to spread the message of hate. For those women who supported people being murdered and raped without even a tear for their innocence, they deserve to be brought to justice. As the American expression goes, you made your bed now lay in it.

That being said, some of these women were naive, vulnerable, ignorant girls who were manipulated and controlled by men who knew how to make them obey. The actions of Isis directly went against the teachings of Islam. Yet some women would bow their heads and do as they were told like broken down slaves, because that is what they were.

Broken Down

Learned helplessness is a behaviour which happens when a person repeatedly endures punishment or some form of negative stimulus, which prevents them from leaving or changing their current situation. Eventually, the person begins to accept that they will not leave, and they cannot change what is happening. This is the point where they are broken down and one could even say tamed into submissiveness.

Once in this broken state, they will do as they are told and dare not question their handlers. You can think of abused wives as a perfect example of learned helplessness. So many people question why abused wives don’t leave or call someone for help, it is not that easy.

Affection for Attacker

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological condition where a victim of a kidnapping begins to develop trust and affection for their attacker. Despite being taken against their will, hurt and often raped, some victims develop a bond with their assailant. It is a defense mechanism, a way to keep going and endure. When the mind accepts that they cannot escape and they will continuously be abused it seeks a way to cope with this trauma.

I am not saying the Isis wives are all kidnapped victims, many of them willingly went with the intention of war. I am saying some of them were groomed and manipulated into believing Isis was an Islamic utopia and the media was spreading false stories about them. Of course, they realized this was a lie once they were in their grasp, but at that point, they could not easily leave.


Some of these women were already Mothers, like Samantha Sally who escaped Isis previously and reported she had a choice – a choice to follow her husband to Isis or lose her daughter forever. Most mothers would lay down their lives in a heartbeat to protect their children, no one would walk away and let Isis take their daughter. When she first tried to escape, she was imprisoned for 3 months while pregnant and guards raped her.

A young woman from Canada, Rania, awaits her trial while she wonders the fate of her multiple children. She reports having no idea what was even happening as she expected her husband to take her to a large home in Beirut, Lebanon, but he had other plans and set her up with other Isis wives in a remote area with women and children.

Um Asma traveled to Syria with the intention to bring her husband home, away from Isis. He refused and they spoke with an Isis judge who gave her permission to leave only if she abandoned her son. Any mother knows this judge knew exactly what he was doing; he gave her a choice that was not really a choice at all in order to ensure she stayed put.

Countless other stories online showcase women who gave birth to children while under Isis control. Even if they wanted to run, anyone with a small child knows it is almost impossible to sneak away with kids. If you are caught what happens to your kids, what happens to your daughters?

These kids were often used as pawns to keep women submissive. If an Isis fighter didn’t think twice about raping a 12-year-old Yazidi girl and even “praying” immediately after the act, what will he do to a 12-year-old girl of an Isis wife who tried to escape and undermine his authority?

Cultural Obedience

Some Muslim women are trained to obey the husband as if all he says is golden without fault. Even if he says something against the religion of Allah (most honored, most revered), she has been molded to bow her head and do as he says. It is important to note this is a cultural attitude, not a religious perspective. No religion in the world advocates for blind obedience of a human who is telling you to do unethical things.

If you don’t think this is happening, consider how many women don’t attend the mosque because their husband tells them not to and some mosques even refuse to provide space for them. It is strictly forbidden to keep a woman from the mosque, but it is happening.

When culture oppresses a woman to this extent, she is already entering a state of learned helplessness. We cannot cage women into this type of mindset then expect them to rise up like valiant Muslims against Isis when we snap our fingers.

Final thoughts

I need to make something very clear. I do not in any way support Isis or their crimes against humanity. Neither do I support women who wanted Isis to prevail. While Muslims are not accountable for the acts of Isis and we are growing tired of repeatedly stating that, my intention here is to shed light on a psychological perspective that does involve some of these women.

These women must stand trial before judgment. Revoking nationality should not even be a consideration as it is judging the accused before their trial and baseless. We do not revoke the citizenship of serial killers yet some countries want to denounce these women before their case is even heard.



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