MEMRI/Sex Slavery In The Islamic State – Practices, Social Media Discourse, And Justifications; Jabhat Al-Nusra: ISIS Is Taking Our Women As Sex Slaves Too

August 17, 2015Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.1181

Sex Slavery In The Islamic State – Practices, Social Media Discourse, And Justifications; Jabhat Al-Nusra: ISIS Is Taking Our Women As Sex Slaves Too

By: Y. Yehoshua, R. Green, and A. Agron*

The following report is a complimentary offering from MEMRI’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.


Sex slavery has been a contentious topic in the Islamic State (ISIS) narrative since the group’s kidnapping of Yazidi women at Sinjar, Iraq in June and July of 2014, with ISIS fighters and supporters quickly denying that the women were being sexually exploited. The narrative took a turn when ISIS publicly acknowledged that fighters in the organization were keeping sex slaves, in the fourth issue of its official English-language magazine Dabiq, published October 12, 2014,[1] basing the justification for doing so on religious interpretation.

ISIS fighters and supporters openly discuss the topic on social media, for example talking about which women may be legitimately enslaved according to Islamic religious precepts. These social media conversations also reveal information on where and under what conditions the women are being held, on the going prices for them, and even on other issues relating to them – such as possible trafficking in human organs.

However, ISIS firmly believes in the benefit of the practice for slaves as well as for masters, as well as for society as a whole, and holds that the slaves gain much from their enslavement because in this way they are exposed to Islam and may convert. Among these promoters of sex slavery are numerous female ISIS members and supporters, who tout it both via social media and in articles in ISIS publications.

ISIS is aware that the issue of sex slavery is highly sensitive, particularly in the West, so it also uses it openly so as to threaten and provoke its enemies. For example, the ninth issue of Dabiq, published May 21, 2015, featured an article that included a scenario in which First Lady Michelle Obama would be sold at the slave market.

While ISIS and its proponents condone and encourage sex slavery, there is considerable disagreement over who exactly may be enslaved. The group insists that it does not enslave Muslim women, but the discussions on the various social media show a different picture. There are indications that Muslim women from groups that ISIS accuses of being apostates or infidels are also taken as slaves – such as Shi’ites and even Sunni Muslims who disagree with the ISIS ideology. Furthermore, there are also allegations that Muslim women are being taken as sex slaves by Kurdish fighters.

The issue of sex slavery is also the cause of great tension between ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN). JN members and pro-JN clerics have accused ISIS of taking the wives of Jabhat Al-Nusra members as sex slaves – an accusation denied by ISIS. Social media discussions by JN operatives show that JN opposes sex slavery, based on opinions by sheikhs whom they see as top religious authorities, such as Abu Qatada Al-Falastini who vehemently opposes sex slavery and is very critical of fISIS for endorsing it. JN holds that taking non-Muslim women as sex slaves will prompt retaliation in kind by the enemies of the Muslims, and some JN members even consider sex slavery rape, which is a serious crime in Islam.

The following report will review official ISIS statements on this topic as well as some discourse on social media from ISIS supporters and members from the West. It will also include the JN perspective on the issue, also from discussions on social media, and will illustrate the dispute between the two main rebel groups operating in Syria today.

I. Official ISIS Statements Acknowledging The Taking Of Sex Slaves

ISIS Publications: Sex Slavery  Is Divine Punishment, Reduces Prostitution

As noted, in the fourth issue of its magazine Dabiq, ISIS officially acknowledged its policy on slaves and asserted that this beneficial practice will reduce deviant behaviors. According to the magazine, numerous contemporary scholars believe that the abandonment of this institution has led to an increase in adultery and fornication, and gives the example of a servant in a Muslim home: “Muslim families who have hired maids to work at their homes face the fitnah [temptation] of prohibited khalwah [seclusion] and resultant zina [prostitution] occurring between the man and the maid – whereas if she were his concubine, this relationship would be legal.”[2]

An article titled “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour,” in this issue of Dabiq, explains that ISIS has extensively explored the religious justification regarding the policy towards Yazidis. Numerous scholars and sources were consulted, it stated: “Prior to the taking of Sinjar, Shariah students in the Islamic State were tasked to research the Yazidis to determine if they should be treated as an originally mushrik [polytheists] group or one that originated as Muslims and then apostatized, due to many of the related Islamic rulings that would apply to the group, its individuals, and their families. Because of the Arabic terminologies used by this group to describe themselves or their beliefs, some contemporary Muslim scholars have classified them as possibly an apostate sect, not an originally mushrik religion, but upon further research it was determined that this group is one that existed since the pre-Islamic Jahilyyah [ignorance], but became ‘islamisized’ by the surrounding Muslim population, language, and culture, although they never accepted Islam nor claimed to have adopted it. The apparent origin of the religion is found in the Magianism of Ancient Persia, but reinterpreted with elements of Sabianism, Judaism, and Christianity, and ultimately expressed in the heretical vocabulary of extreme Sufism.

“Accordingly, the Islamic state dealt with this group as the majority of fuqaha[scholars] have indicated how mushrikin should be dealt with. Unlike the Jews and Christians, there was no room for jizyah payment. Also, their women could be enslaved unlike female apostates who the majority of the fuqaha say cannot be enslaved and can only be given an ultimatum to repent, or face the sword.”

The ninth issue of Dabiq, published May 21, 2015, included a piece titled “Sex Slaves or Prostitutes?” by a woman, Umm Summayyah Al-Muhajirah, rebuking ISIS supporters who had initially rushed to deny that ISIS militants had revived the archaic practice of enslavement of women for sex. She wrote: “But what really alarmed me was that some of the Islamic State supporters (may Allah forgive them) rushed to defend the Islamic State – may its honor persist and may Allah expand its territory – a[f]ter the kafir media touched upon the State’s capture of the Yazidi women. So the supporters started denying the matter as if the soldiers of the Khilafah had committed a mistake or evil.” She also reasoned that slavery is divine punishment, writing: “Indeed when slavery befalls a people, they have left Allah’s favor, so Allah has no need for them.” At the same time, she stressed that even though some “devious and wicked slave-girls” had been peddling horror stories of their mistreatment in Muslim captivity, becoming enslaved to a Muslim is actually a blessing for them, because in this way they can be led to Islam.[3]

Umm Summayyah Al-Muhajirah then went on to denounce the Western condemnation of saby (enslavement) as hypocrisy, because there is prostitution in the West: “A prostitute in your lands comes and goes, openly commiting sin. She lives by selling her honor, within the sight and hearing of the deviant scholars from whom we don’t hear even a faint sound.”

Official ISIS Document Offers Fighters Guidelines On Treatment of Slaves

In late 2014, the Research and Fatwa Department of the Islamic State released a pamphlet on the topic of female captives and slaves. The pamphlet, dated Muharram 1436 (October/November 2014) and printed by the ISIS publishing house Al-Himma Library, was titled Su’al wa-Jawab fi al-Sabi wa-Riqab (“Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves”). It details what is permissible sexually, and clarifies that ISIS leans towards the general consensus that forbids sex with apostate women (i.e., Muslim women who do not adhere to ISIS dogma).[4] The pamphlet specifies that female slaves are women “from among ahl al-harb [people of war] who have been captured by Muslims.”

While the pamphlet touches on which females can be taken as slaves, there is a considerable gray area regarding this issue; this report will examine the issue in further detail later. The pamphlet states: “There is no dispute among the scholars that it is permissible to capture unbelieving women [who are characterized by] original unbelief [kufr asli], such as the kitabiyat [women from among the People of the Book, i.e. Jews and Christians] and polytheists. However, [the scholars] are disputed over [the issue of] capturing apostate women. The consensus leans towards forbidding it, though some people of knowledge think it permissible. We [ISIS] lean towards accepting the consensus…” The language addressing this issue leaves leeway for interpretation. “Leaning towards a consensus” is not necessarily a prohibition, nor does it render acts that stray from this interpretation subject to punishment or condemnation.

It should be pointed out that female slaves are also given to the wives of ISIS fighters. While women have not been vocal about this on social media, it can be assumed that the slaves perform domestic chores. One item in the pamphlet addresses the question, “May a man have intercourse with the female slave of his wife?” This, the pamphlet states, forbidden: “A man may not have intercourse with the female slave of his wife, because [the slave] is owned by someone else.”
Cover of pamphlet

ISIS has official rules regarding what can be posted online about captive women. On June 13, 2015, an internal memo including these rules was tweeted by ISIS in Aleppo province. One rule stipulated that ISIS members are not allowed to post online photos of women whom they have taken captive: “It is strictly forbidden to post [their] pictures on the Internet.”[5]

II. ISIS Members And Supporters Discuss, Condone Taking Of Slaves

Testimony About Condition, Location, And Price Of Female Slaves

On September 3, 2014, prior to its official acknowledgement in Dabiq that it had enslaved women, a group of French ISIS fighters discussed, on Facebook, the cost and handling of female slaves.[6] Judging from the conversation, it seems that Yazidi slaves were being held in both Mosul, Iraq and Al-Raqqa, Syria. The continuation of this exchange may also confirm speculation that ISIS is trafficking in human organs, which the UN sought to investigate in 2015.[7] While fighters online may occasionally discuss prices and the practice of taking slaves, it should be noted that slave prices have never officially been released. The following is the interchange:

Abu Jihad Al-Munfarid: “$350 for the Yazidi girl in Mosul if you want LOL”

Abu Jusuf Selefie: “I heard there were slaves in Raqqa, is it true?”

Abde-Rahman Bennass: “I saw it was around 180 per slave LOL”

Abou Muhammad: “You have revived a tradition.”

The conversation continued:

Abou Jihad: “Yes, I heard brothers say there are some in Raqqa as well” … “180 dollars must be [the price] for the ugly ones”

Abde-Rahman: “LOL I am laughing so hard.”

Shinobi: “LOL And how much is it in spare parts? Check and see if you can get kidneys or livers there is a demand.”

On May 19, 2015, several ISIS fighters discussed the topic of Yazidi slaves on Twitter. A user called “End of time dreams” asked two other users: “Hey u never finished the talk on Yazidis. How much they cost?”

A fighter called Abu Aiman Al Kinyi wrote: “[i]t depends bro some $1000 some mre [sic] some yu may get a gift.” End of time dreams asked: “If you tell them make you some dinner they do it no problems?” Abu Aiman al Kinyi answered: “Very obedient akhi [my brother] I know a bro who has one and she is already pregnant alhamdulilah many revert bro.”

A video that emerged in 2014 showed a group of ISIS fighters horsing around and discussing how much they would pay for a slave on slave-market day. One fighter says that he would sell a slave for a Glock; another mentions that the price would be different if she had blue eyes. Below are several stills from the video.

An image circulated on Twitter on June 19, 2015 claimed that ISIS had held a Koran memorization competition with slaves as the top prizes. The statement, the authenticity of which cannot be verified, was issued by the Da’wa and Mosques Department in Al –Baraka (Al-Hasaka) province in Syria.[8]

Photo of alleged ISIS statement; female slave prizes circled in red.

Pro-ISIS Preacher Supports Slavery

Extremist British preacher Abu Baraa has openly come out in support of the Islamic State, and champions its practices and the revival of the Sunnah, including supporting the Islamic State’s decision to enslave captive women. Several months before ISIS’s official acknowledgement that it practices slavery, in Dabiq in October 2014, he came out in favor of it. He said, in response to a question about the permissibility of a father changing a baby’s diapers, that it is preferable for a female to perform this task, for reasons of modesty and shyness: “If there are other women – of course it is better for them (to do it). A sister, a mother, a mother-in-law, a grandmother, an auntie, whatever… or a slave girl… Nowadays we can start to return to some of the many other rulings of Islam which have been absent for many years. Now that we have the Caliphate, we can have slave girls in the Caliphate.”[9]

Abu Baraa discusses the permissibility of enslaving women. Source: MEMRI TV Clip #4551, British Islamist Abu Baraa in Support of ISIS: We Can Start Having Slave Girls Again.

Abu Baraa also weighed in on the subject of the treatment of slaves, stating that in the event of mistreatment, Yazidi slaves have rights too, and can voice complaints in a court of law. On July 17, 2015, he tweeted: “If any Yazidi slaves were mistreated, then they should go through the proper legal channels in the IS Shariah courts to get justice.”[10]

ISIS Supporters Justify Taking Sex Slaves

To buttress their position on enslavement, ISIS supporters quote a fatwa by Turki Al-Bin’ali, one of the organization’s prominent clerics, who wrote that it is permissible to kidnap the wives of infidels. The fatwa was published on the website Minbar Al-Tawhid wa’l Jihad, before ISIS declared itself a caliphate. In it, Al-Bin’ali wrote that taking the wives of infidels is permitted only when the imam, i.e. the legitimate leader of the Muslims, permits it. According to Al-Bin’ali, enslaving women is not allowed when there is no Imam and in the land of infidels. He also noted that the Imam can stop the enslavement of women if it would lead to Muslim women being taken as slaves.

The fatwa states: “There is no doubt that the enslavement of the women of the enemy infidels – whether from the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] or from the pagans – is permissible, under shari’ constraints… This will be so only after the establishment of the Imam in the lands of Islam, but if there is no Imam – the practice of enslavement shall not exist… The benefits and disadvantages of this act must be taken into consideration. If the Imam of the Muslims in a certain country sees that the enslavement of the infidels’ women will incite the infidels [to attack] the Muslims’ women and rape them while the Muslims are in a position of weakness and unable to prevent the infidels from overpowering [their women], then the Imam shall prevent enslavement in order to prevent harm… The [principle according to which] the infidels’ women are permitted for those who wage jihad for the sake of Allah is the fundamental one, and this can only be prohibited when there is [shari’] certainty… It is he who says that enslavement is prohibited, not he who says that it is permissible, who is required to provide proof for his words – because the one prohibiting it has deviated from the original ruling, whereas the one who permits [enslavement] is adhering to the original ruling.”[11]

Pro-ISIS writer Al-Gelani criticized Muslims who disagree with ISIS and its practices. He wrote in an article: “When will we convince you – although we are not fundamentally required to do so – to accept the shari’ concept of enslaving women? Yes, enslaving women. I say it and I do not shy away from the religion of Allah.” He added that Islam allows “the enslavement of infidel women, and Muslim men are their guardians, and they are permitted to have sex with them at any time. Silence your tongue before you speak [words of] disbelief, for this is Allah’s law, which was acted upon by the Prophet’s Companions in the past. Better that you [who criticizes ISIS for taking slaves] remain silent.”[12] Another pro-ISIS writer, Salah Al-Din, threatened, in an article, that “Allah [will allow Muslims to] conquer Rome, Washington, and Western and Eastern countries, and the people of the Cross will be servants and slaves, and their women will be slaves and maids, Allah willing.”[13]

At this time, the issue of slavery appears to be unanimously accepted by ISIS supporters; previously, some had expressed their reservations about it. For example, on April 30, 2015, a Dutch woman named Yasmina El Tweeted: “[What about] forced marriage? All great sins the IS is guilty of.”[14] In a response to a question by a Dutch woman on Twitter, Dutch fighter Abu Aicha replied: “[T]he Yazidi women we take as slaves are women of the soldiers that fight us. The prophet took slaves as well.”[15]

In another example, ISIS supporter Raqqah123 argued with New York Times correspondent Rukmini Callimachi: “U can’t ‘rape’ ur slave, and it is right! Slavery is good and it is never going away.”[16]

On July 20, 2015, a fighter in Syria called Abu Anas Somali advised men to come to the Islamic State and buy a slave instead of taking a wife in the West. “Brothers dnt[don’t] marry!!! in Darul Kufr it’s better you buy a slave in IS than being enslaved by a woman who doesn’t care about your akhirah [afterlife].”[17]

A user called Fahad slyman alsomal applauded this comment and responded, “well said bro, I’m on way to dawlah to buy those slaves. How much [is] the price of 1 slave girl?”[18]

ISIS Members Discuss Treatment Of Slaves

In general, ISIS members boast about how fairly their slaves are treated, and claim it is a testament to the justness of Islam. On October 7, 2014, Western female ISIS member Muhajirah Amatullah tweeted about how well slaves are treated in the Islamic State: “A nurse friend told me shes treated many Yezidi women. Bros bring thm 2 get checked 2 ensure thy in good health. Many hav reverted 2 Islam. Others hav kept their faith. Bros hav bought them clothes too. SubhanAllah. Justice in Islam. Even slaves have rights!”[19]

However, ISIS fighter Abou Jihad, who was involved in the above conversation on the price and presence of Yazidi slaves in Mosul and Al-Raqqa, claimed that some are kept in enclosed spaces from which weeping can be heard, and that one had been driven to suicide: “Yes… they are idolaters, so it’s normal that they are slaves, in Mosul they are closed in a room and cry, and one of them committed suicide LOL and Yes I have 350 dollars LOL.”

Judging from a number of tweets, there may be slaves at a number of locations. In a tweet from late 2014, a British ISIS fighter called Abu Khalifa Brit wrote: “Was with some usual suspects earlier, lol they took me to their old maqar [headquarters], sabayas [slaves] are kept there now.”[20]

On August 28, 2014, Umm Farriss, a British female ISIS member, tweeted: “Walked into a room, gave salam to everyone in the room to find out there was a Yazidi slave there as well.. she replied to my salam.”[21]

Dutch ISIS fighter Israfil Yilmaz echoed the sentiments of Umm Sumayyah Al-Muhajirah on his Tumblr blog. The Western media, he argued, is more fixated on the sexual nature of slave ownership, but there is a positive, salvation aspect of it that is overlooked. On June 27, 2015, a user posted a question on Yilmaz’s Tumblr blog about the dynamics of a married man owning a concubine: “What’s the purpose of having a concubine? Esp when you’re married. Will your wife not mind?” Yilmaz answered: “People [who] think that having a concubine for sexual pleasure only have a very simple mindset about this matter. And yes she agrees (maybe she doubts I’ll ever own one hahaha). The biggest and best thing of having concubines is introducing them to Islam in an Islamic environment – showing them and teaching them the religion. Many of the concubines/slaves of the Companions of the Prophet (PBUH) became Muslim and some even [became] big commanders and leaders in Islamic history and this is if you ask me the true essence of having slaves/concubines.”

Israfil Yilmaz’s Tumblr reply, June 27, 2015.

It appears that the practice of sex slavery might be disconcerting to some women who are otherwise willing to immigrate to the Islamic State. A user called mer-dil-tumhara-hai wrote to a Tumblr blog run by several women in the Islamic State to express her concerns: “Pls clear up misconceptions about mujahids indiscriminately killing all shia inc [including] civilians and forcing Yazidi slaves into sex when they have rights to remain chaste. This has been turning sisters away from hijrah [immigration] pls make post on it!”

The reply read: “Assalamu alaikum ukhti [my sister]. In the latest issue [ninth issue] of Dabiq magazine a sister speaks of why we as Muslims should be happy that the khilafah [caliphate] is back with all its glories including the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) of taking the kuffar women as sabayyah [slaves] to humiliate kuffr and what it stands for. In sha’Allah I will post an excerpt from her article. As for the killing of the shia and those who curse our mothers and our beloved khulafa [caliphate] and sahaba [Companions of the Prophet] I will speak extremely briefly about them bi ithni Allah. But I must say what you may have heard about brothers taking the Yazidi women as sabayyah is in fact true wa Alhamdu lilah [thank Allah].”

It is interesting to note that the taking of slaves to humiliate the enemy was not a reason listed in the Dabiq article.[22]

Threats To Wives Of Enemies

Threats by ISIS officials and supporters may indicate which women may be enslaved (e.g., Christian and Shi’ite women).  On September 21, 2014, the ISIS media company Al-Furqan released a 42-minute audio message by ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-‘Adnani. In the message, which was titled “Your Lord is Ever Watchful” (Koran 89:14), Adnani calls for retalitory measures against Western forces, including the enslavement of both men and women. He states: “We will invade your Rome, break your Cross, and enslave your women, with Allah’s help. This is His promise and he will not break it until it is realized. And if we do not achieve this, our sons or grandsons will, and they will sell your sons and grandsons as slaves.”[23]

On July 23, 2015, the media office of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) Dijlah province released a video titled “Cubs of the Caliphate,” featuring children attending classes, carrying out military training exercises, and calling upon Muslims to join the group’s ranks. The message invokes a threat of slavery identical to that of Adnani’s; in it, one child states: “We will invade your Rome, break your Cross, and enslave your women, with Allah’s help. This is His promise and he will not break it until it is realized. And if we do not achieve this, our sons or grandsons will, and they will sell your sons and grandsons as slaves.”[24]

Children undergo ISIS military training; see MEMRI TV Clip No. 5018, Children Undergo Military Training in ISIS Video, Vow to Conquer Rome, July 23,2015.

An example of an inflammatory quip intended to anger opponents, in an article titled “Slave Girls or Prostitutes?” in the ninth issue of Dabiq magazine, was a slave fantasy involving First Lady Michelle Obama: “When Michelle Obama is sold into slavery in these markets she will be fortunate to command the excessive price of a third of a dinar.”[25] According to the author, a woman, Michelle Obama’s enslavement would be a prize, since she is a non-Muslim married to a top Western leader who, in the author’s view, has a great deal of Muslim blood on his hands.

On July 1, 2015, a German ISIS fighter named Abu Luqmaan Almani posted a photo of himself on Twitter grinning and holding an ISIS flag; the accompanying text was a threat to Germans: “Germany, this flag will also fly over you bi idnillah, We’ll take your women as slaves and kill your men.”

On July 4, 2015, a Western fighter called Hanafi Muhaajir promoted Muslim marital values, and threatened to enslave and rape Western women: “Kuffar especially Americans marry and fornicate with animals, we Muslims marry more than one woman and we are the ones with the problem. Not only will we marry up to 4 wives but soon we will take your women as slaves, and have our way with them, as and when we please.”[26]

On July 11, 2015, a Western fighter in Libya[27] tweeted: “We’ll hop on the boats to invade Italy from Mistrata, Bi idnillah [if Allah wills it.] I’ll make sure to bring some of my Roman sabaaya [slaves] to you in the haramain [Saudi Arabia] if we live to see that day…in shaa Allah.”[28]

In a conversation between two fighters on the permissibility of taking Shi’ites as sex slaves, one, calling himself “End of time dreams,”  is unsure, but both agree that taking Christian women is fine. End of time dreams asked: “Is there still many for sale[?]” Abu Aiman Al Kinyi responded: “Maybe soon mre [sic] inshaAllah karbala we are going and Lebanon.” End of time dreams replied: “Karbala got shia murtadeen [apostates] I don’t think Ahl Sunnah [Sunnis] take them as slaves? Buy ye Lebanon and Jordan Christians.” End of time dreams replied: “Is[it’s] possible but ye.”

Abu Aiman Al Kinyi added: “Akhi this era rawafidh[Shi’ites] are nt[sic] murtadeen they are asli kuffar [original infidels i.e. Christians, Jews] their great great great grandpas were murtadeen.”

Popular pro-ISIS Twitter user Abu Ibrahim supported the taking of sex slaves from the Shiite population as a means of revenge. On May 31, 2015, he tweeted: “I thought it was best revenge to shia, breaking their ego by taking their women as slaves.” User Milk Sheikh replied: “They will do the same to Muslim women, don’t think with your lil testosterone friends.” Abu Ibrahim answered: “they already raping Muslim whenever they get a chance.” Milk Sheikh replied: “You want real beauties, visit [the Shiite city] Karbalah, or visit my future shop, Concubina Ltd.”

On May 20, 2015, ISIS fighter Abu Aiman Al Kinyi posted a photo of himself and a fellow fighter with the caption, “We are coming for our slaves in Karbala Ohh Shia!!”

Enslavement Of Sunni Women

As noted, the pamphlet, which mandated the practices and conditions of keeping a slave, provided no clear guidelines regarding who may be enslaved. It is commonly accepted that Muslims may not be enslaved; however, in practice, ISIS members and supporters do not consider Shi’ites to be Muslims, making the enslavement of Shi’ite women acceptable. The enslavement of infidels and unbelievers is also widely accepted. It should be noted that fighters in other rebel groups, such as Jabhat Al-Nusra, claim that ISIS has enslaved Sunni women, thus violating their own moral code.

While the pamphlet stated that ISIS tends towards considering “apostate” women to be off limits, on June 8, 2015, Shaikh Faisal, a prominent Jamaican pro-ISIS cleric, tweeted: “The wives of all apostates are taken as concubines according to Shariah law.”[29] This was retweeted by a JN supporter, who added: “This is one of the dog who give fatwas for the khawarij[30] to rape our sisters!!” ISIS refers to all of its opponents, even members of Sunni and jihadi groups, as apostates; thus, the JN supporter was accusing Shaikh Faisal of condoning sex slavery for the wives of JN fighters. A user called Freedomised asked a follow-up question regarding Shaikh Faisal’s claim: “Does this include the wives of January [=JN] and other Sunni rebels?”[31] Shaikh Faisal replied: “Its best u ask the commanders in the field about what to do with the wives of JAN and FSA [Free Syrian Army].”

ISIS, for their part, deny their opponents’ accusations that they enslave the wives of members of rival groups. The group maintains that they do not enslave Sunni Muslims; however, they do allow the enslavement of unbelievers and infidels. If the claims are true that ISIS has, in fact, captured the wives of Sunni rebel fighters, they may rationalize this by labeling them as infidels – simply because they disagree with ISIS dogma. While there are a number of ideological disputes between JN and ISIS,  the issue of raping, and enslaving, Muslim women seems to be a sore subject, particular with the JN camp.

For instance, British JN fighter “brother in shaam [Syria]” tweeted on June 8, 2015: “Muslim sisters got taken by these gremlines in halab [Aleppo], what do these supporters on twitter do they laugh n mock. May allah destroy you ameen.”[32]

He also tweeted: “an akhi [brother] just came back from Aleppo and first hand told us, he goes the people complaining n crying: wheres there [their] women.”

On May 31, 2015, a pro-rebel account based in Damascus echoed these claims: “Aleppo ISIS are taking rebel women & children as slaves in Souran!! Calls them Murtadin [apostates] & makes them scream on rebel radios! Ya Allah!”[33]

A conversation between an ISIS fighter and an ISIS disseminator on May 31, 2015 acknowledged that Muslim women were being taken as captives by the group. Abdul Rahmaan wrote: “Just tell me please where u read that IS takes sabaya of ‘mujahideen’. There is nothing written about it?!!”[34] The pro-ISIS account Shaam Al-Mubarak replied, “Go to northern Aleppo and listen to the walkie talkie from IS. They are the ones saying this.”[35]

III. Slavery And The Jabhat Al-Nusra-Islamic State Dispute

ISIS’s practice of taking slave girls faced opposition from members of Al-Qaeda and particularly from its Syrian branch, Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN) and clerics associated with it. This opposition was based on the opinions of prominent scholars from the Salafi-jihadi movement, who have posited that making non-Muslim women sex slaves would cause the Muslims’ enemies to retaliate by attacking the Muslims. Subsequently, JN members and pro-JN clerics have accused ISIS of taking the wives of Jabhat Al-Nusra members as sex slaves.

JN Opposition to Enslavement Based On Islamic Considerations

Explaining their rejection of taking slaves at this time, JN supporters quote Abdallah Azzam, a founding father of the global jihad movement, who during the war against the Soviet Union disapproved of enslaving Russian women. He reasoned, “If we take one Russian woman, they will take a hundred Muslim women and violate them.”[36]

Prominent Al-Qaeda ideologue and leader Attyat Allah Al-Libi (d. 2011) acknowledged that enslavement is permissible, but disapproved of the practice, based upon the fact that, “it would be impossible to regulate in the current situation [of the mujahideen] who are fighting a guerilla hit-and-run war [and it] would lead to actual abuses if it is allowed in the aforementioned situation.”[37]

In a March 2015 interview with American Salafi journalist Bilal Abdul, the prominent Salafi-jihadi cleric Abu Qatada Al-Falastini appeared to reiterate this idea, blaming ISIS for Yazidi reprisals against Sunni Muslims: “I know the ramifications and the consequences that have started to appear in the killings of the Sunni women. You can hear it on the news, the killing of members on the scholars council, the imams of the Masajid [mosques], the weak. Look what the Yazidis are doing to the people in the cities after Baghdadi’s group [i.e. ISIS] withdraws. There are huge tragedies. Who is responsible? The criminal Baghdadi and his group.”[38]

JN Fighter: We Do Not Take Slaves But We Do Carry Out Prisoner Swaps; Taking Slaves Could Cause Enemies To Defile Our Muslim Women In Retaliation

On May 13, 2015, vocal British JN fighter Abu Basir, who maintains several social media accounts and often fields questions on his Tumblr blog,[39] stressed that, unlike ISIS, JN does not take slaves, stating: “Contrary to popular belief we don’t take slaves rather we do prisoner swaps. Recently with the Jisr [Al-Shughour] operation, allowite [sic] women were caught and as I’m told – after being held for some time the women took their shahada and became Muslims.”

Although Abu Basir is an outspoken critic of ISIS, he concedes that rape is not Islamic and therefore that neither group would condone this. On June 5, 2015, a user asked: “How come Jabhut al-Jolani [JN] won’t allow the mujahideen to rape women like dawla [ISIS] do?” The fighter responded: “I think you’re confused. Rape is a serious crime in Islam, and therefore not allowed in either JN and/or the Islamic State.”

It should be noted that according to ISIS ideology, and as ISIS supporter Raqqah123 told New York Times correspondent Rukmini Callimachi, a slave’s owner does not rape her, because she is considered his property.

On May 25, 2015, Abu Basir was asked: “How do you deal with certain desires when in shaam? Do u fast? Are you married? Are you allowed to take concubines?” He answered: “You keep busy, stay away from internet as it can raise the desires a lot. A lot of brothers fast Mashaa’Allah. No I’m not married. No one has or takes concubines. Taking slaves is not the way of Al-Qaeda, as I’ve stated a few times before, we do prisoner swaps.”

Abu Basir repeated JN’s stance, saying that taking non-Muslim women as sex slaves would backfire on the Sunni population. Thus, on May 20, 2015, a user asked Abu Basir: “Are you concern[ed] about wat[sic] Dawla [the Islamic State] do to the women (Yezidi) as a sex slave?” He responded: “Dawla will say that taking slaves is a sunnah. No doubt it is a sunnah, but it’s not as simple as that. Sheikh Abu Qatada (H) talks about this in his interview on YouTube [see above]. Dawlah  takes slaves. But once they withdraw from areas, the kuffar (may Allah destroy them ameen) come back and take our precious ahlal sunnah women as sex slaves in revenge. So therefore I am concerned, as it directly impacts our Muslim women. You see how dawlah pursued sexual intercourse (desires) and in return because of them, our women are now being humiliated (tortured and raped). This comes down to thid group being deviant extremists who have destoyed the image of Islam, jihad, and the mujahideen. They lack knowledge and are a band of dangerous takfiris. And these are the saviors of our ummah? A great return to the much sought after caliphate.”

Furthermore, Abu Basir also alleged that Kurdish fighters had used Muslim women as sex slaves. In an anti-ISIS rant, he wrote: “A caliphate is meant to offer prorection to its people, including non-Muslims. This fake IS caliphate cannot defend its people, you can’t take jizyah [poll tax on non-Muslims] for example. If this is a caliphate, where is its hikmah [wisdom] and thinking about the interests of the ummah? It does a withdrawal from Kobani and now our poor muslim women are now sex slaves to kurds who want revenge, this is the example for the argument that slave taking can come back to hurt JN/Muslims for IS junds [soldiers] wanting to simply have sex and lots of it. ‘It’s a sunnah’ you cry but where is the hikmah. No hikmah just kibr [arrogence]. ‘We are the state!'”

JN Claim: ISIS Enslaves The Wives Of Mujahideen; ISIS Denies This

As part of their polemic with ISIS, clerics associated with Al-Qaeda and JN often accuse ISIS of taking the wives of Syrian rebels or other jihad fighters as slaves. In his interview, Bilal Abdul Abu Qatada thoroughly explains his anti-ISIS stance. In rudimentary terms, the cleric stresses that Al-Qaeda is against ISIS because the latter targets Muslims: “We don’t oppose ISIS because they oppose the enemies of Allah. We oppose them because they oppose sincere mujahideen, they made takfir on them, they fought them, slaughtered them, enslaved their women, and other things that are known to everyone.”[40]

ISIS hotly denies that it enslaves the wives of rival Sunni mujahideen. Responding to people who interpreted an article in Dabiq as condoning this practice, ISIS shari’a official Abu Maysara Al-Shami: “Regarding those who claimed that the article [Umm Summayah’s article in Dabiq] was meant to introduce [the idea of] enslaving the wives of Sahawat, this is astonishing… ISIS did not enslave [even] the atheist [female PKK fighters], the Nusayri [derogatory term for ‘Alawites], and the Rawafid [derogatory term for Shiites] women, whose apostasy is a known fact. Then why would it enslave apostate Sunni women, who are excused for their [apostasy] which they received from scholars who legitimized the fight against ISIS?”

* Y. Yehoshua is Vice President for Research and Director of MEMRI Israel; R. Green and A. Agron are Research Fellows at MEMRI.


[4] See MEMRI JTTM Report Islamic State (ISIS) Releases Pamphlet On Female Slaves, December 4, 2014.

[7], February 18, 2015.

[10] 1 July 17, 2015.

[11], July 30, 2015.

[12], November 12, 2014.

[13] December 23, 2014.

[14], April 30, 2015

[15], April 30, 2015

[16], May 23, 2015.

[17] July 20, 2015.

[18] July 20, 2015.

[19], October 7, 2015.



[26] July 4, 2015.

[28] July 11, 2015.

[29], June 8, 2015.

[30] Derogatory term referring to a rebel cult in early Islam that split off from the central authority.

[31], June 8, 2015.

[32], June 8, 2015.

[33], May 31.2015.

[34], May 31, 2015.

[35], May 31, 2015.

[36] See MEMRI TV Clip Children Undergo Military Training in ISIS Video, Vow to Conquer Rome July 23, 2015;, July 29, 2015.

[37], July 10, 2015.

[38], March 19, 2015.


[40], March 5, 2015