By Umm Reem
Why Teen Girls maybe Joining ISIS
In retrospect I became a part of what I believe now was a cult because I had a strong personality, leadership qualities and I wanted to make a difference. But most importantly, I lacked a strong relationship with my parents. I was raised through typical “immigrant-parenting” where communication with my parents was limited. I shared the same cultural and generation gap with my parents as many do with their immigrant families.
Moreover, the Muslim community in my area didn’t offer any platform for girls my age. As I started becoming more spiritual, I wanted to be more active in our mosque. I was eager to organize and manage activities in the Muslim community but that yearning was often suppressed by the “aunties” politics in the masjids. Older aunties monopolized most of our local mosques’ boards and instead of offering us –youth- any key roles, they almost always took over any important roles and undermined youth’s ability to lead. Hence, when The Ameer Club actually offered a role to girls of my age –even though it was under male leadership—it automatically attracted my attention, and increased my loyalty, attachment and dedication towards the organization because I didn’t have any other alternatives.
Again, the only comparison between TAC and ISIS is the manipulation of impressionable teenage minds. Minds that are looking for a purpose to live for, looking for involvement to feel valuable, and all it takes to imprison such minds is to hunt them at the right time when they are feeling “religious high” and offer them what they are looking for, making them blind to the evil involved in the guise of “greater good”.
Let me point out certain factors that made me easy bait to a cult so others may understand why young female minds can be easily persuaded, and also to help parents review their parenting style and their relationship with their daughters, and help our mosques provide a stronger platform to teens looking to serve their communities.
[Disclaimer: I will be referring to some of the girls who left for ISIS, particularly their relationship with their families. By no means do I mean to criticize those families or be callous towards their situation. My ONE and ONLY purpose is to learn and extract lessons for myself and other parents. Nevertheless, we can’t guarantee anything no matter how excellent parents we may become. We can take precautions but only Allah can protect our children.]
Lack of Relationship with Parents:
Young girls are looking for attention, and a way to communicate with people who understand them with love. Internet in my time was still in its early baby steps, but now it is far easier to form online connections and build bonds—bonds that must be offered at home by parents.
How can Parents Help:
Change Your Parenting Style: Typical parenting pushes our teens farther away. Parenting must be interactive, friendly, and more logical than typical.
One of the girls who left for ISIS described her parents as “very strict,” a fact that her father did not dispute.
I will not deny that disciplining and setting rules/regulations are a part of parenting, however, how they are set and implemented can take a positive or negative turn. Every “NO” to a child should come with a reasonable discussion.
Communicate with your Daughter: Communication is the key to successful parenting. There shouldn’t be anything between you and your children that cannot be discussed freely. Share your life with your kids and facilitate for them to share theirs with you, without any intimidating/deterrent reaction from your side.
Double Standards of Raising a Girl vs. Boy: Parents need to get rid of double standard of raising a girl vs. a boy. Not only is it religiously wrong but also damages a daughter’s relationship with her parents and may implore her to rebel at some point in her life, most likely during her teen years. For instance, Hoda who left for ISIS, mentioned that her father kept a check on her phone and had restrictions that her brothers didn’t have to face.
“Although Hoda’s brothers and Muhammad himself have Facebook accounts — with pictures of themselves visible — the women of the family were not to have social media accounts or use messaging apps to communicate with anyone besides family members.”
Parents must stop putting all the unfair pressure of upholding so-called “family honor” on girls. A strong bond must be created with daughters through justice, communication and understanding. The restrictions need to be same for a daughter and a son, as the advantages.
Compliment your Daughter:Of the reasons I believe girls slip for ISIS is because the ISIS recruiters are trained to cajole the young girls and give them the attention and compliments they feel deprived of—compliments that they crave and never received from their own families, especially fathers. A female always desires male attention, and one of the ways to control that emotion is by fathers and brothers complimenting their daughters/sisters.
Girls who are fulfilled and receive sufficient attention at home, including from the menfolk, may not fall for the first guy that shows them little or any attention.
As Sarah mentions, “most common tactics of ISIS recruiters is to praise the looks of the girl they are trying to entrap, and convince her to cover herself as her “beauty is precious”. Although the recruiters are inviting the girls to become more religious, it becomes okay for them to look at the girls’ pictures or webcam them and compliment their looks!”
Sarah mentioned that Aqsa Mahmood, who had been Sarah’s twitter friend for a couple years, had body image issues. She often talked to Sarah about her insecurities, but once Aqsa fell prey to an ISIS recruiter through WhatsApp, she started gaining confidence—confidence that should have been offered at home.
How can Community Help:
Losing our daughters to ISIS is not only a family problem, it is a community problem, it is OUR problem. We– Western Muslims– need to come together and offer a solution as a community. I urge all the mosques around the U.S., and Muslim communities to:
Educate parents Offer Parent Child workshops
Finding Purpose of Life through Internet/Twitter
It is human nature to question the purpose of life, have someone explain it precisely and feel fulfilled by achieving that purpose. Our youth, too, look for a purpose in life and if they don’t find their answers at home or mosques, there are all sorts of answers available on the internet, including answers from fanatics that use religion to brainwash a young mind into religious extremism.
Whether it is a practicing household or a non-practicing family, sooner or later the young curious minds will question the very reason of their existence, what purpose they are serving in this world, so whatever their religious background maybe, these answers must not be sought out online.
Sarah mentioned that a lot of girls who belonged to non-practicing Muslim families and were looking for spiritual change started getting their answers from those “Twitter Shayookh” who later became ISIS recruiters.
Hoda, who left for Syria, explained her religious awakening finding satisfaction online as well: “I started getting interested in my deen [religious life] around 2012,” Hoda said… “I felt like my life was so bland without it. Life has much more meaning when u know why you are here.”
The “internet/Twitter scholars” influenced her faith more than her local religious influences, according to Hoda.
How can Parents Help:
Engage Pre/Teens in Religious Discussions: Thecorrect religious guidance–the middle path– is the key to counter violence and extremism amongst our youth. Teenagers must not be left on their own to find the purpose of life, but parents must help them understand. So parents who are religious but not involved in their children’s lives need to take a lot more friendly and congenial approach (as discussed above) towards their daughters. And those parents who have left religion in the backseat need to bring religion in their lives and their children’s lives to protect their children from discovering their faith on the hands of extremists.
Also, just because teens start showing signs of religiosity, doesn’t necessarily mean they are gaining the correct/positive message, and it also doesn’t mean that they are becoming radicalized.
In Hoda’s case, her family now mentions:
“Her family noticed her increased devotion to her religion, but assumed she was simply becoming a more ardent follower of the peaceful strain of the religion which they observe.”
Any positive/negative change in the children must be discussed rationally and respectfully. Engage your teens in discussion at dinner table, during school pickups, or randomly during the day. Know what is causing your child to change and in which direction are they steering their lives.
A positive religious changeshould involve the youth becoming more active in the community rather than withdrawing from the mosques. Hoda recalls, “As I grew closer to my deen, I lost all my friends, I found none in my community that desired to tread the path I was striving for…I didn’t like my Islamic community far too much.”
This attitude is alarming and parents must provide the help a child needs at such a crucial turn in their lives.
Discuss global/political issues: Political organizations use religion to gain support and use religious sentiments to control minds.
Discuss world’s situation with pre/teens. Don’t hesitate in pointing out the weaknesses of Muslim world, hypocrisy of Muslim politicians and make sure to clearly guide them through in separating religion from political/militant agendas.
Monitor Internet Activities:Parents also have to keep themselves fully integratedwith THE internet world. Please know that the only “fitnah” online is not the opposite gender, but we have more serious theological issues to be concerned with.
“Muhammad would often check his daughter’s phone…”
Unfortunately though, Hoda’s father was only concerned with her being involved with boys online. Muhammad said, “What Hoda had on her phone, were Islamic apps. Nothing but hadiths, Qur’an, suras. Nothing suspicious that makes me worried about her actions. Nothing.”
Hoda’s parents were concerned that Hoda might be secretly talking to boys online, and as long as she wasn’t they didn’t feel alarmed with her isolation from mosques and learning more about her religion online. THe fact of the matter is that internet is not a very safe place to learn Islam. Parents must acknowledge that many political and militant organizations communicate and recruit online. I, as a parent, would be more concerned about my child’s religious activities online, especially if he/she starts isolating from main Muslim community.
How can Community Help:
Keeping the girls engaged with appealing activities at mosque Educate them with exclusive lectures just for females Hold discussions with speakers who “click” with youth. Please avoid locking them in “penalty box” without giving them access to shayookh in an acceptable way.
I cannot appreciate enough how Clear Lake Islamic Center immediately addressed the ISIS issue openly in the mosque last summer. Quite frankly, that was my first source of information too on ISIS. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjPk37AUQDA
Lack of Female Leadership
Females youth are looking for a place in their communities, and valuable roles. Muslim women’s position in our society is far more in spotlight than it was in my time, yet back then I felt left out and repressed by masjid-aunties. So imagine how much more teens of our time must feel deprived if they are not given a platform to lead and shine.
Also, in our times movies and literature with strong female protagonists are becoming exceptionally popular, and they have a direct impact on young minds. If we neglect the role of female youth in our communities, then even if they manage to stay protected from ISIS, the ultra “pheminists” would most likely hijack their minds, iyyadhobillah.
How can Parents Help:
Value your Daughters: It is a male dominant society and our girls have it tough. We cannot change the whole world, but we can change how females are viewed and valued within the four boundaries of our reign.
Let’s get rid of double standards between girls and boys.Let our girls not feel any lesser than the boys at any point in their lives.Let’s equip our daughters with confidence, stability, and fulfillment.Let’s build bonds with our daughters so strong that our young girls help unwind the hijacked minds of the girls trapped with ISIS, rather than becoming a prey to ISIS.
How can Community Help:
The girls leaving for ISIS are responsible for their actions, but at such a tender age, how many teenagers make sensible decisions?
So let us help them make the right decision. Let that help be first and foremost available at home, and then within our Muslim communities. Our girls are the pioneers and the future of our ummah, they are the beacon of hope for our success, they are the backbones of our communities. Let our mosques and communities keep them involved within, so we don’t lose them, not even ONE girl, to the devils of ISIS.
Aunties, please let go of your ego and let a younger one contribute. Allow girls to lead and let elders be there as a guide, not as a “takeover”. Give female speaker more platforms to speak. Muslim women cannot always relate to male shayookh and need a female to relate to. Offer female youth more leadership roles
After reading this article, some parents may worry about the changing status of their children/teenagers who may be becoming more religious. As I say, we live in a world where we have to constantly worry about our kids: If they are away from religion, we have to be concerned and if they are coming closer to religion then we must still worry that they don’t fall for extremism or political organizations that are using Islam to mobilize their political agenda.
The answer to this concern is “communication with your children.” Stay engaged with them, have free discussion about world and religion and keep up with their lives in a friendly way. These steps are the barricades we cause between them and ISIS, while holding tight to the weapon of du’a!
Make du’a for your children; make sincere du’a that comes from the bottom of your heart during the day and at night, during your salah and just randomly during the day.