In the third of a five-part series exploring what life was like for women living under the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, a teacher from Syria describes being forced to teach the curriculum imposed by ISIL – and what happened to those who did not.
Ayat’s story – Deir Az Zor, Syria: ‘We had to abide by their rules’
My name is Ayat. I am 27 years old and a primary school teacher.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
ISIL closed the schools and turned them into training centres for fighters.
They only wanted us to teach the verses in the Quran about “jihad”, war and murder. We did not like children learning that. So, I tried to teach at home. I made a deal with some parents for small groups of students to come to my house.
But the mother of one of my students talked too much. The news spread from one person to another. And ISIL found out a teacher was teaching at home and was not following their instructions. They told my husband: “She’d better get training in ISIL’s laws and teach children at the mosque like we want. Or else …” It was a threat. I had no other choice.
During the training, we were constantly reminded that we were one of them and had to abide by their rules. They had our names and monitored us closely. We were now with them.
At the end of the training, we were given a private appointment. We were received one by one, and they made us take an oath. We did it in the presence of the emir’s wife. She was responsible for these kinds of things.
Whenever we saw the car of the religious police, we would all start trembling. We were terrified and would clear the roads until it passed by.
But even at home, I was on guard. It was forbidden for women to look out of the windows, or even open the windows or curtains. Even if a female neighbour came to visit me, I had to be fully covered. We always had to be fully covered. We were afraid that one of the women would gossip and give information about us.
I had a very close friend. Her name was Faten ... She did not teach the children the curriculum she was given. Instead, she had them draw and sing ... They arrested Faten at her house. She was accused of adultery. And for this, the punishment was stoning until death.
From time to time, the head supervisors would make surprise visits – just to make sure we were behaving the way they instructed us to. We were always worried.
I had a very close friend. Her name was Faten. She was teaching with us at the mosque. One day, during our work hours, one of the officials came to monitor the way we teach. Faten did not follow their instructions. She did not teach the children the curriculum she was given. Instead, she had them draw and sing children’s songs.
When the official saw Faten’s way of teaching she got really angry. There was a clash between her and Faten. The next day, they arrested Faten at her house. She was accused of adultery. And for this, the punishment was stoning until death. They take the person to a specific place and they implement the punishment. And that is exactly what they did with Faten. May she rest in peace.
I knew a powerful woman. She was the wife of an emir. She came from abroad, a strange country. She was very bossy and bad-tempered. She allowed herself to do many things she forbade us from doing. She invited us to her house once. We could not refuse. We went there and saw how she actually lived. She was wearing normal clothes. She was not fully covered. She was smoking hookah, wearing perfume and makeup.
For ISIL members, women served mainly to satisfy their sexual needs. And it was a way to have more children, to increase their numbers.
There were several kinds of marriages, such as sexual “jihad” or those with female prisoners of war. The female prisoners of war were sold to several men – emirs or fighters. Sexual “jihad”, on the other hand, is when a woman marries an emir or a fighter believing that God will reward her as if she had participated in the fighting.
There was a woman named Um al-Yaman. She oversaw all the marriage and sexual “jihad” matters. She had the girls’ names, ages and physical descriptions. She coordinated all this with the fighters and the emirs. The emirs preferred virgins. An emir has greater influence and power than a regular fighter. But they all had their specific requests for marriage; their own personal requirements.
When ISIL announced the creation of a new brigade, they wanted new members our age, women from the mosque. These women used any means possible to convince other women to enlist and take part in the fighting. They flattered them by telling them that they would be like men; that they would have authority, power and control – and of course, money. They offered them a lot of money. They used many tactics to convince them. They asked me to join a brigade they were setting up – a brigade of women of my generation – but I told them I had health issues. I used this excuse so they would not suspect me of being against them.
This account was gathered for the documentary ‘Women of ISIL’ by filmmaker Thomas Dandois. It has been edited for clarity and brevity.