Rocking the Cradle to Rocking the World: The Role of Muslim Female Fighters

By Ali, Farhana | Journal of International Women's Studies, November 2006 | Go to article overview

Rocking the Cradle to Rocking the World: The Role of Muslim Female Fighters


Ali, Farhana, Journal of International Women's Studies


Introduction

Attacks by the mujahidaat are arguably more deadly than those conducted by male fighters and could motivate other Muslim women to adopt suicide as the tactic of choice. The use of Muslim women to conduct martyrdom, or suicide, operations by male-dominated terrorist groups could have implications on the jihadi mindset, challenging more conservative groups such as Al Qaeda, to reconsider the utility of the Muslim woman on the front lines of jihad. These terrorist groups will likely exploit women to conduct operations on their behalf to advance their goals and achieve tactical gain.

Muslim women are increasingly joining the global jihad, partly motivated by religious conviction to change the plight of Muslims under occupation, but others are actively recruited by Al Qaeda and local terrorist groups strained by increased arrests and deaths of male operatives to fight in the name of Islam. Convinced of the operational advantages of using a female fighter, and the media attention she garners--including some sympathy from the Muslim world--men began to rely on women to carry out attacks.

While women enlisted and played a pivotal role in operations, including the veteran Palestinian female Leila Khalid for a myriad of successful hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, counterterrorism experts and analysts rarely focused on female terrorists. According to Dr. Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist, the notion of a woman perpetrating acts of violence "runs counter to Western stereotypes and misconceptions of male terrorists; we assume that women are second-class citizens and rely on the men to run the organization," rather than challenging our prejudices of women in these terror networks. (2)

Who Are the Mujahidaat?

The mujahidaat are identified as Muslim female fighters, but in this study, they refer to female suicide bombers. The historical application of the term originated with the early Muslim women on the battlefield, fighting alongside Muslim men, who provided necessary logistics support, such as treating the wounded, donating their prized possessions for the war effort, and/or encouraging their husbands, sons and brothers to participate in jihad. (3)

Today, the role of the mujahidaat has evolved, to include the increasingly accepted tactic of suicide as the preferred and popular weapon of choice. Within this amended definition, the rules of engagement have been broadened, although nowhere in the historical religious literature is suicide, the killing of non-combatants, and hostility against the aggressor, sanctioned. Noted by an Islamic scholar, "Muslims are reminded in many ayat (verses in the Qur'an) that they should never commit aggression even towards their sworn enemies. Their response must not be disproportionate or go beyond the limits of the permission for armed jihad." (4)

Jihad in the Qur'an

Laden with inaccurate perceptions, jihad is today synonymous with "terrorism", "extremism", and "radicalism." Before the early Muslims were granted permission to fight the pagan Quraysh--the Arab tribe whose belief in polytheism and injustice to the Muslims forced them to retreat to the city of Madina--jihad was, and is, an act of worship. A more popular definition is derived from the Arabic root word jahada, which means to struggle. For Muslims, regardless of their level of religiosity, jihad is a living, breathing construct.

The more popularly cited verse, And fight in the way of Allah those who fight you, but transgress not the limits. Truly Allah likes not the transgressors, (5) permitted jihad within certain perimeters for self-defense. In these verses, the aim of fighting was threefold: "to stop aggression, to protect the Mission of Islam and to defend religious freedom." (6) But these early verses were to be disregarded and new definitions of permissible jihad were created after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1924, (7) attributed in part to the absence of a Caliph who could authorize the proclamation of jihad for Sunni Muslims. …

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