Photo of new Taliban TTP women’s magazine Sunnat-e-Khaula
The commonly used expression that the Taliban are “terrified of a woman with a book” is clearly not the case as this author has argued for some time as Pakistan Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP) launch their first magazine for women.
The 45 page publication in Urdu and English entitled Sunnat -e-Khaula (The Way of Khaula) is written by women, with Taliban wives carrying out interviews and demonstrates their combined role of motherhood and militancy, assisting the men in the role of jihad. This backs up interviews with insurgents in recent years that have expressed a desire to marry educated females sometimes looking beyond traditional boundaries as they highlight the importance of education for women highlighted in the Quran. Where the conflict often lies is in the type of education and rejection of western style curriculum and teaching.
The name of the magazine appears to refer to Khawlah bint al-Azar, a prominent woman during the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who fought in battles against the Byzantine army and whose family were among the first to revert to Islam. We are also reminded that,
“First martyr in Islam was a woman; Sumayya, First sacrifice for sake of Allah was given by a woman, Hazrat Khadija, First to comfort Nabi sws was a woman; his wife Hazrat Khadija; First to spend for deen of Allah was a woman; Hazrat Khadija, First to whom Quran was recited was a woman as well; Hazrat Khadija.”
The following introduction to the magazine gives a taster of what is to follow,
“It is ignorance on behalf of the public that they are unaware of Islamic system of Khilafah and hence they find peace and prosperity in democracy. It is need of the hour that public should be made aware of the blessings of Khilafah. Public should be introduced to the magnificent Islamic past. Muslim public should be made aware of the tremendous sacrifices and struggles of mujahideen and mujahidaat of Islam. We are hopeful to see a very prosperous future of Islam just like its past. Magazine Sunnat e Khaula is a practical effort in this direction. Ansar and Muhajir sisters of Khurasan have put together this magazine with great effort so that their voice can be heard all around the world.
We aim to raise the flag of La ila ha illallah .
We aim to raise the flag of Jihad.
We want to provoke women of Islam to come forward and
join the ranks of mujahideen e Islam and follow footsteps
of Hazrat Khaula r.a.”
Western media has often incorrectly reported that schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was “shot for going to school” (a reason denied by the Taliban) and an attack which was strongly condemned by international human rights organizations. The women appearing in Sunnat-e-Khaula are not illiterate and down- trodden as often portrayed in the media when discussing wives of militants but educated females with experience of both western educational establishments and traditional Islamic teaching facilities. Taliban Commander Adnan Rasheed gave a different explanation for the shooting of Malala in his well -publicised letter to her lamenting the attack which occurred whilst he was in prison. He invited her to return to an Islamic education in Pakistan and stated, “the Taliban believe you were intentionally writing against them and running a smear campaign to malign their effort to establish an Islamic system in (the) Swat Valley and your writings were provocative.”
The subjects covered in the magazine gave an indication of the subject material considered appropriate for the women of TTP and are as follows,
- MY JOURNEY FROM IGNORANCE TO GUIDANCE
- BELIEVING WOMEN
- INTERVIEW OF THE RESPECTED WIFE OF AMEER TEHREK
- COME LET’s DO JIHAD WITH LITTLE OMAR MUJAHID
- RISE! O ‘ DAUGHTERS OF HAWWA
Woman in traditional burkha seen in Pakistan, Afghanistan (image RFE)
In “My Journey from Ignorance to Guidance” by Dr Khaula Bint Abdul Aziz, the reader is invited to follow a young doctor as she goes through a personal transformation from working in a hospital overseas to returning to Pakistan to do hijra and becoming part of the Taliban. Hijra refers to the migration of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers from Mecca to Yathrib (later renamed by him to Medina) in 622 CE.
“After I finished M.B.B.S from Lahore (Pakistan) I went overseas for further studies. Like many others I was also impressed by the pomp and glitter of western civilization and that’s why I all alone took a long trip from one corner of the world to the other corner. My ambition was clear; to get highest education so that I can earn maximum worldly benefits and also to serve Pakistani people and especially Pakistan Army to the best of my abilities. To understand why I thought like this? You have to take a glance in to my past. I was born and brought up in an army household. My father was an officer in Pakistan Army.
Most of the families of Pakistan army are leading an un-lslamic and western way of life and why not when their education syllabus is based on Islam enmity and friendship of taghoot. (The word means to “cross the limits, overstep boundaries,” or “to rebel.” In Islamic theology, the word refers to idolatry or to the worship of anything except Allah.) Since I was a child I thought of prayer, fasting, hajj as the only deen (system of life). When I noticed injustice, oppression, and class system in the society I was restless and my eyes looked for a system of life that can take humanity out of this plight and give a respectful way of life.”
There is much discussion of the role of the Pakistan army and working to serve the agenda of western governments. She continues,
“Due to my extraordinary performance I was given P.H.D scholarship in which I was meant to do research on heart and its cells. The world was in my hand, wealth, respect, fame you name it I had it all. The mission I left Pakistan for seemed to be accomplished better than I expected. But still there was some other thirst left to be quenched. I felt empty from inside. There was something missing, day by day the darkness inside my heart was getting more and more.”
The young woman goes on to describe how after becoming ill both mentally and physically she embarks on an Islamic education. Her criticism of the western lifestyle grows and the doctor describes feelings of alienation, conflict within herself and experiences prejudice as a Muslim woman… She writes,
“In western society woman has become only a money earning machine, a sexual object, and a product to be sold in the market. For a quite long time I kept on praising western society thinking that it has taken a woman to some high status but soon I realized that “freedom of women” in reality is “enslavement of woman”. All this is done to make woman an active part of the society who can bring in maximum capitalism. I while working in that money driven society felt that I was forced to work like men, there was no gender respect. Woman has become like a football kicked in and out by men, or society, she has lost her natural personality and is trying to fit in a mould as designed by the society.”
She goes on to say,
“As a result she has lost all her pride and dignity and why not so, if she is trying to please the society at the cost of displeasing Allah, then this is her miserable fate; losing this world and the after world. Although in western society I was part of their elite class but still I never got real respect. Eyes full of greed and lust kept on following me. Alhamdulillah only a niqab (face cover for muslim woman) gave me respect in the eyes of muslims and kuffar (derogatory word for non-Muslims, unbelievers). On one side I saw the shallow baseless western culture and on the other side soon after I started doing niqab I saw hate in the eyes of kuffar for me. Their treatment with me was derogative. In shopping centres I was openly given titles like “sister of Osama”, or “terrorist”, or “bloody muslim”…. Once a white old man shouted at me in the middle of grocery store, “you bitch, go back to your country”. People around me heard it but remained indifferent. I would like to give this message to my muslim sisters and brothers residing in kuffar countries that they should stop day dreaming. If they are under the false impression that they are practising Islam and kuffar are still very pleased with them and they can bring kuffar to Islam by their kind treatment, then they are absolutely wrong. Because Allah says in quran to Hazrat Muhammed sws that kuffar will never be pleased with you unless you give up your deen and follow what they follow.”
Comments on Sunnat -e-Khaula
Voice of America reports,
”Qibla Ayaz, former dean of the faculty of Islamic and Oriental Studies at the University of Peshawar, called the TTP magazine launch a dangerous development for the youth of the region, ‘since the new generation is all there on social media. (The Islamic State) militant outfit has adopted the same social media strategy for its recruitment, and it seems to be a problem here, too.”
The Guardian quoted Michael Kugelman, a south Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center in the US, who said it made sense for the Pakistani Taliban to launch a women’s magazine.
“This is a struggling organisation that is trying to re-establish networks and membership after being hit hard on the battlefield in recent years,” he said. “Women are a strategic demographic because they have the ability to exert influence over their sons. If women are converted to the militant cause, they can encourage their sons – or daughters for that matter – to join it as well.”
Believing Women section of the magazine features historical tales of women who have suffered for their faith often enduring torture such as the story of the Pharoah and Asia,
“the soldiers of Pharaoh used to punish Asia every day by making her lie down on burning sand and placing a huge rock on her chest. It continued for 2 months. Imagine the burning sand, a weak woman on her bare back lied down with a huge rock on chest; a big test. But glory to Allah, she remained steadfast. She said I do not accept anyone’s law, I only accept Allah’s law on Allah’s earth.”
Mullah Fazlullah, leader of TTP helped with the household chores
Another feature in Sunnat -e-Khaula is an interview with the first wife of Mullah Fazlullah Khorasani who married her husband aged 14. She appears to support her early marriage saying, “I ask you why now everywhere there is a hue and cry about underage marriage… We have to understand that mature boys and girls if left unmarried for too long can become a source of moral destruction for society.”
This woman is the daughter of Sufi Muhamamad, the imprisoned chief of the banned Tehreek Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammad (TNSM) described in the Guardian as “a radical cleric considered to be the political godfather of Taliban groups in the Swat region of Pakistan.”
We also gain insight that in her relationship with Fazlullah and learn there is some flexibility in gender roles with the TTP leader not averse to helping out with household chores though he takes a firm stance on religious matters. She states,
“At the time of marriage my age was fourteen years only. Soon after marriage we moved to a small house near my father’s madrassa. I had no cooking experience before and did not know how to manage house chores. Also my father requested Ameer sahib to make sure that I finish my religious education. Ameer sahib never got angry at me for not cooking or properly cleaning the house, on the other hand he tried his best to do house chores, he used to do cooking, washing and cleaning and never burdened me with his demands. Ameer sahib never tolerated any laziness when it comes to matters of deen, for instance if my prayers without any reason ever got late he used to be very angry at me. He was my religious teacher as well and made me work hard.”
Sufi Muhammad the imprisoned chief of the banned Tehreek Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammad (TNSM) image via Express Tribune
On the subject of her father she is asked “It is so sad that such a preacher is behind bars for so many years. What is his sin?” and replies,
“So true! This is nothing else more than the disregard of a pious preacher, a brother of Hazrat Muhammed sws, a man who cares for his ummah and wants best system for his people and that is the system of Khilafah. He never lifted up a gun, never organised an istashhadi operation. But just continued the movement of implementation of system of Khilafah through preaching. Then what was my respected father’s crime that he has been behind bars for more than fifteen long years? Well his crime is that he calls for “implementation of sharia law” and this call annoys the generals and politicians of Pakistan.”
The wife of Fazlullah is asked, “What was Ameer sahib’s attitude towards women? She replies,
“In Swat valley due to Ameer sahib’s efforts there were huge number of women who repented and came back to practising Islam. There were women from every walk of life. There were doctors, nurses, engineers, school teachers, businesswomen. Educated women especially used to understand Ameer sahib’s dawah and gave good response. They in turn went and spread the message of Islam in their work places and homes. Most of them were working without observing proper parda. They Alhamdulillah gave up life of sin and Allah gave them respect and all the blessings of this world. Moreover, most of them did hijra and jihad for sake of Allah.”
She also discusses a women’s madrassa in Swat and the imprisonment and death of her mother -in-law allegedly at the hands of the Pakistan army.
Come let’s do jihad with little Omar Mujahid covers the story of a 6 year old boy studying at a madrassa and TTP training area. There is a narrative about his brother’s death in a martyrdom operation,
“Baba, I will inshAllah one day make a big gun by which I will gun down drones and inshAllah one day like brother Osama I will become a martyr. Baba and mum felt very happy and hugged me and made dua for me. So you see my friends! What a great mujahid was my brother Osama. You all should also work hard in school and madrassa. Do regular exercise so you can become strong and fight kuffar to make this world a peaceful place to live.”
The reality is that many young children do see their fathers, brothers, uncles, neighbours killed in military operations and grow up learning to live with loss, radicalized in their thinking by their experience and trained from an early age to become the next generation of fighters. A cycle which seems to have no end.
Sunnat -e-Khaula also provides guidance on women that are unable to do hijra, as follows…
If it seems impossible for you sisters to do hijra then do not worry it is from the plans of Allah Almighty. For a believer there is good in everything from Allah. Sister, you can perform following tasks:
1- Help to publish and distribute jihadi
2- Jihad by pen. Write essays support-
ing cause of jihad.
3- Organize religious gatherings at
home. Try to preach right aqeeda/ belief
, true meaning of tauheed, emphasise
on the necessity of leading life as per
dictated by Quran and Sunnah. Invite
them to ponder on Quran and Sunnah
and preach the necessity of struggling
to implement law of sharia in Pakistan
and all around the world.
4- Organize secret gatherings at home
and invite like-minded jihadi sisters. Dis-
tribute literature reflecting on the obliga-
tion of jihad, arrange physical training
classes for sisters. Learn how to oper-
ate simple weapons. Learn the use of
5- Very cautiously preach your fam-
ily members the obligation, the duty on
every muslim to struggle to implement
law of sharia. Explain them what is ji-
had and its obligation. Enlighten on the
aqeeda of Al wala wal bara, tell them
who is taghoot, why it is obligatory on
every muslim to fight taghoot.
6- Create public awareness about the
oppression of political rulers and gener-
als. Support mujahideen to fight off op-
7- Help the cause of jihad with money.
Provoke like-minded people to support
jihad by money.
8- Support mujahideen in their secret
hide outs away from cities. Take food
for them, help to transport weapons, fi-
dayee jackets and other requirements.
Arrange to keep weapons, money, oth-
er devices at a safe place and when
needed be able to transport them to the
9- In case of danger of attack by army
or police on a specific jihadi centre im-
mediately inform mujahideen.
10- To plan martyrdom operations, help
mujahideen. Provide them with the secu-
rity information of army and government
institutions, hide their weapons, provide
them with money. Also, point out to them
the possible men, women and institutions
to be attacked.
More than anything, sisters I ask you to
prepare yourself practically for jihad fol-
lowing the footsteps of Hazrat Khaula,
Hazrat Ummay Ammara. Train yourself
in weapon handling, self-defence. Make
sure you keep a pistol and grenade in
The Telegraph reports, “the magazine represents an attempt by Taliban to ‘grab attention’ again says Imtiaz Gul of the Centre Research and Security Studies, after a draining series of defeats on the battlefield…… The Pakistani military has driven the Taliban out of many of its strongholds in northwestern tribal areas, as part of a ferocious campaign that followed the jihadists’2014 attack on an army school in Peshawar which killed 144 children and teachers.” The attack was shocking, brutal and horrified people around the world. Alongside this, many more children have been killed through western wars (the War on Terror) bombings in Iraq and Syria, famine such as in Yemen, and drone strikes globally including in Pakistan, Afghanistan… the number seems immeasurable?
The publication although seen by many as a propaganda tool gives insight into the lives and thinking of the women within TTP. It shows educated women with choices in life not in a passive role but determining the course of their own lives. Online radicalization has a part to play in recruiting females to insurgent groups but there is a danger in over simplistic explanations and this does not necessarily examine the elements of western life that turn women away from the so called “freedoms” granted by democracy which may not be perceived as freedoms at all.
This will no doubt chill governments and anti-terrorism organizations whose job is made easier through promoting a narrative of oppressed women totally under the thumbs of men that have no say in their future. Media is swamped with the story of one young woman, Malala, the narrative suits western governments, some make a living out of Malala stories, books, documentaries but we are often not permitted to learn about the lives of other women that have chosen a very different path whose stories are carefully censored. Denial of these voices equates to a refusal to address the factors which help drive young women away from a life of relative comfort and material gain to a life of often physical hardship living in areas of conflict but a perceived spiritual freedom and an active not passive role in jihad.
Pakistan Taliban TTP Dr Umme-e-Muhammad joins the polio debate and my response to her concerns
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.