The Salafists' next frontier? 'Sexual Jihad' for Syrian Rebels

Written by  Published by:Shiite News
Published in Middle East
Monday, 01 April 2013

arab 1Reports in Tunisia say at least 13 young girls have gone to Syria, in response to a fatwa urging them to wage “sexual jihad” in support of rebel fighters there.

Reports about a fatwa urging young girls to travel to Syria to provide sexual services for jihadist rebels

are causing a stir in Tunisia, while also drawing attention to the Islamic concept – little-known in the West and controversial among Muslims themselves – of “temporary marriage.”

Girls as young as 14 are counted as eligible for the “sexual jihad,” and around a dozen young Tunisians are believed to have taken up the call, attributed to an influential Saudi scholar, Sheikh Mohamed al-Arifi.

The pan-Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper reported this week that a video circulating on social media sites in Tunisia showed the parents of a girl younger than 18, saying she had recently returned from Syria after being convinced by Salafist fellow students to travel to the conflict-torn country “to support the mujahideen there.”
This is the tale of how Tunisian girls have been caught up in Syria's plight to bring the Assad regime to its knees. These women, and rebels with a cause, that are throwing themselves forward to the line of duty, however, are teenage girls, prone to fads, fashions, and flights of fancy. The mother of one such girl, Rahmah, has protested her daughter’s innocence, claiming her seventeen year-old is barely a religious fanatic but fell victim to peer pressure and brainwashing, according to Al-Hayat, the pan Arab newspaper.

It quoted Tunisian religious affairs minister Noureddine al-Khadimi as repudiating such fatwas (religious rulings), stressing Tunisians were not obligated to adhere to them.

Although al-Arifi reportedly is now disowning the fatwa, Arab commentators seem skeptical.

“Sources close to the sheikh denied that he had issued any such fatwa,” the pan-Arab news service Al-Bawaba said in a report Thursday. “Then again, one might backtrack, standing accused of selling young innocents to militant Muslims.”

Al-Bawaba called the notion “indecent.” “Promiscuity among teenage girls getting the seal of approval from the most puritanical quarters of Islam is a turn-up for the holy books,” it commented.

Al-Hayat said irrespective of the origin of the fatwa, it appears to have resonated with at least 13 Tunisian girls. It also pointed to a report of a young Tunisian man having divorced his wife before both traveled to Syria, to enable her “to engage in sexual jihad with the mujahideen.”

Al-Arifi is no stranger to controversial fatwas, including one telling a daughter not to wear revealing clothing or sit alone with her father lest she incite his lust.

Last December, an Iranian news service reported that al-Arifi had issued a fatwa saying Syrian rebels can “temporarily marry” Syrian girls as young as 14, and promising “paradise” to the “wives” concerned.

(Some Arabic reports say that the fatwa controversy is being stoked by elements supportive of Syrian President Bashar Assad, in a bid to tarnish the opposition rebels.)

The fight against the Assad regime has witnessed the emergence of radical Syrian Salafist groups – such as the al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusrah Front – and an influx of jihadists from Arab and European countries. (British Foreign Secretary William Hague in a speech last month noted that “Syria is now the number one destination for jihadists anywhere in the world today.”)

It is these fighters, mostly young men, who would presumably be the beneficiaries of any such “marriage” rulings.

Earlier this month the North African news service Magharebia (which is sponsored by the U.S. Africa Command) interviewed the head of the Tunisian League for Human Rights, Balkis Mechri-Allagui, about Tunisian youth in general being lured to the jihad in Syria.

The interviewer touched briefly on the “sexual jihad” issue, citing the al-Arifi fatwa “that permits fighters to marry few hours with girls as young as 14,” and asking how widespread the problem was.

“Although the number of young girls involved is small, we are not concerned by numbers as much as we are concerned with the presence of this case in our society,” Mechri-Allagui replied.

“What we know is that there are girls being attracted to go to Syria for jihad, and therefore we must stand up against this problem,” she said.

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