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Officials Claim Tunisian Women are Waging a ‘Sexual Jihad’ in Syria, But What’s the Real Story?


This article was originally posted here.

By: Sana Saeed

By now you have probably already heard of the harem of Tunisian sex-warrior slaves heading to Syria in order to give up their young bodies to the appetites of deprived rebels to fulfill jihad al-Nikkah — “Sexual Jihad” — and are coming back to the country with bellies full of Jihadi babies. Unfortunately for what seems to be that blind spot people have when it comes to stories on Muslims and sex, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of Tunisian female warriors going to fight a holy sex war.

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Sucks, I know.

Despite the lack of clear evidence of a sex war pandemic, this hasn’t stopped news media outlets all over the world from grabbing, expanding, and running with this story.

In December, Lebanese news channel Al Jadeed reported that hardline and popular Salafi scholar Shaykh Mohamad Al Arefe, a loud and inciting opponent of the Syrian regime, had issued a fatwa (a non-binding religious opinion) allowing the gang rape of non-Sunni Syrian women by rebels. Not only did the scholar vehemently deny expressing any such opinion, on Twitter and in later sermons (both links in Arabic), but the story was debunked by the Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah.

On March 27, 2012, the Pan-Arab news site Al Hayatpublished a piece discussing the apparent crisis of young Tunisian girls and what was being referred to as “Sexual Jihad.” It claimed that the impetus behind this was another fatwa from Al Arefe, in which he urged young women to go in engage in the so-called sexual Jihad by offering themselves to the rebels. There was, however, no proof of this fatwa and those close to Al Arefe also thoroughly denied the cleric had ever made such a ridiculous statement.

According to the report, 13 young Tunisian girls had gone missing, believed to be in Syria engaging in the sexual Jihad. The story gained traction in Arabic social media circles when in a video, parents of one of the girls claimed that their 17-year old daughter, who had since returned home, had been brainwashed by friends with Salafi Jihadi leanings who told her to go to Syria to temporarily marry and have sex with rebels. Iranian news station Al-Alam also released a video claiming to be interviewing one such girl (Arabic).

While Tunisia’s Minister of Religious Affairs Noureddine El-Khadimi condemned such religious opinions, there seemed to be no actual evidence of anyone — Al Arefe or any other scholar— issuing such a decree.

In July, sexual Jihad popped up again in headlines when following protests by Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Rabaa, reports emerged — based on a questionable Facebook post— that female Brotherhood supporters were preparing themselves for sexual Jihad. Saudi-owned Al Arabiya, which supported the crackdown on Brotherhood supporters, was one of the first to report on the issue.

Sexual Jihad, however, didn’t go viral until last week when AFP and Al Arabiya were amongst the first to report that that in an address to the National Assembly last Thursday, Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfi ben Jouddou mentioned how young Tunisian women were being lured into a sexual Jihad in Syria, having sex with “20, 30, 100” rebels and were returning to Tunisia pregnant.

The story, like any story involving Muslims and sexy time, quickly caught on fire in the American press. The Atlantic (“Tunisian Teens Are Helping Out Syrian Rebels with ‘Sexual Jihad’”), TIME(“Tunisian Women Go On ‘Sex Jihad’ to Syria, Minister Says”), Business Insider (“Tunisian Girls are Coming Home Pregnant After Performing ‘Sexual Jihad’ in Syria”), The Global Post(“Tunisian Women on ‘Sexual Jihad’ Return Home Pregnant’: Minister”), Jezebel (“Tunisian Minister Warns of Women Going to Syria on ‘Sex Jihad’”), Huffington Post (“‘Sexual Jihad’ in Syria Cause Rise in Pregnancy among Tunisian Women”) and The Daily Beast (“Syria’s ‘Sex Jihad’”) are amongst just few of the names of the media outlets that covered the story with great zeal and over-played images that would make the late great Edward Said convulse from horror and despair in his grave.

Despite the story having gained traction of the viral variety, and despite the concerns and facts expressed by Tunisian officials, there seems to be actually very little evidence to suggest that the so-called sexual Jihad is actually a thing (and Jihad al-Nikkah is not a thing in Islamic jurisprudence).

The story of Tunisian women returning from waging sex on holy warriors (thanks RT) in Syria impregnated with future warrior babies itself is, at best, just incredibly questionable and many, from the onset of the story’s break into the English press, expressed deep skepticism. In a civil war that has had many ideological fronts, the most pernicious in is salience has perhaps been that of information. Syria has been a cluster of misinformation, misattribution and propaganda. O’Bagygate and Mint Press-gate are two of the most recent headlines to highlight the problems in not only reporting on the conflict but also how easily questionable, untrue, unverified information is gobbled up to serve ideological biases and wishful thinking.

Lauren Wolfedirector of Women Under Siege, emphasized in an email exchange that WUS, while unable to investigate on the ground, had looked into the rumors of a ‘Sexual Jihad’ sporadically over the past year and found “no hard proof of anything.”

She added:

“We’ve seen all kinds of horrors in this war though, so who’s to say whether this is happening too. Then again, we’ve also seen massive amounts of propaganda tainting both sides in this conflict. So who’s to say this isn’t more of that?”

Ruth Michaelson, a freelance reporter who spent time in Syria in September 2012 and has written extensively about the role of sexual exploitation in the conflict, not only expressed concern, in an email, over the veracity and strangeness of the story, but also the several long-standing racist Orientalist tropes being pulled together into the story:

“The first thought that struck me on this is that now that Western media has exhausted the vein of “female refugees being…exploitatively married to men from the Gulf”-type stories, this is the new wave. It seems like there has to be a story in the Western media that plays into the dynamic of sexually rampant Arab men and submissive women, and this is the 2.0 version.

As with the 1.0 version it’s not to say that there is not a problem. In the case of sexual exploitation of women in refugee camps, there are definitely problems happening, but the framing of the issues in the media made it sound like a pandemic of uncontrollable sexual violence. This was actively unhelpful- it made the…occurring problems more difficult to locate and discuss sensitively [and] it also was framed in the media in a way that directly disenfranchised and silenced Syrian women, portraying them as unending numbers of mute and stupid victims of sexually voracious men… “

The sex Jihad story playfully weaves together a history of fatwa misreporting (like the famousfaux phallic fatwa), haphazard research and knee-jerk reactions (the Queendom of Saudi Arabia debacle, the Yemeni child bride hoax and the guy too handsome for, again, Saudi Arabia) and a weird, uneasy obsession with Muslims and sex. It especially feeds on the trope of Muslim women’s bodies as disposable for the unquenchable appetites of Muslim men. This in turn also obscures the agency of Muslim women in sexual relations — as ones to only ever serve males.

Michaelson additionally asks:

Why would women coming into Syria prioritise sexual favours when there is a large body of evidence showing that there are female fighters on the ground?

So what then can we make of the Interior Minister’s statements? Dismissing them is not an option, yet questioning them certainly is as ultimately we don’t have enough details about the story from the source itself, Ben Jeddou, whose information more than likely came from within the intelligence service in his ministry and not (hopefully) from online gossip sites. How did these young girls, some allegedly as young as thirteen, get out of Tunisia, into Syria, out of Syria (pregnant) and back into Tunisia with what seems to be ease? Why are only Tunisian women being sent to wage this sex war? Why not Pakistani? Chechen? Libyan? Who is escorting these women? Or are they traveling alone and if so how and where are they getting across the borders into Syria?

What we do know is that, according to the Tunisian government, at least thirteen Tunisian girls are missing, several hundred Tunisian men have allegedly gone to join Syrian rebels, several thousand have been stopped from going to Syria and we know that sex (especially in terms of sexual violence and exploitation) is an inseparable part of any conflict and war. Yet the near exclusiveness of only Tunisian young girls being groomed for a holy sex war brigade (perhaps unwittingly building on the stereotype of North African women amongst Gulf/Levantine Arabs), the lack of evidence and corroborating reports from journalists, aid workers and activists on the ground in Syria, false fatwas and the history of delegitimizing groups, ideas and movements through accusations (whether these are true or not is irrelevant) of ‘sexual deviance’ (i.e. Herehere and here) call into question how this story is being used by the Tunisian government itself. After all, it has a strong interest in countering the growth of Salafist ideas and sympathies within its own borders.

When it comes to stories that involve Muslims and sex, international news media are quick to publish and gloat about the varying ways in which Muslims (by extension generally any and all brown folks) are so incredibly sexually repressed that they resort to sexual deviance, which is always at the expense of their women. The words sex and Jihad are two SEO-happy terms that elicit strong emotional responses and outrage as well as clicks and news-makers are well aware of this. Instead of putting in some time to verify information or, at the very least, offer cautionary language most, if not all, American news media reported the sexual Jihad story as the hard (no pun intended), cold, exploitative truth. As I’ve written elsewhere:

“Predisposed ideas and conceptions of Muslims and of gender relations in the Muslim world and Muslim countries make it easy for sloppy and reactionary journalism to gain momentum. They love to publish it, and we love to read it. There’s something wrong with this equation, but we still continue to gobble it up every time it’s thrown in our collectively gawking face.”

And lo, we gawk on.

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  1. broAhmed

    October 1, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    Thank you and jazaakAllahu khairaa for writing this. I was wondering if these claims had anything to back them up, and it appears any evidence is spurious at best.

    • sam

      October 22, 2013 at 9:34 PM

      just more islamaphobia from the media

  2. Abez

    October 1, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    JazakAllahuKheiran for cross-posting this important story. The international “news” loves to jump on the bandwagon for fabricated news without even verifying it, provided it makes Muslims look backwards somehow.

    Remember the man too handsome for Saudi Arabia? That was fake news.

    And the erotic cucumber fatwa? That was fake too, but it still made headlines.

    And then there was a the women’s only city in Saudi, and that was fake too.

    I really wonder if journalists will get tired of spamming us, or whether people will finally start complaining about genuinely bad journalism.

  3. kaja

    October 11, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    very good article. alhamdulillah. i wonder 2 see d article. itz only by allah. in india even a regional language media also publish d fake n shame news and titled like d caption of d article. the news also published in my newspaper also. i was shocking and left it as usual it is created by jews and american christians. as a journalist i am ashame ,that not to reply the matter and the truth behind this fabricated news. jazakhallah.

  4. Nia

    October 12, 2013 at 3:03 PM

    the thing is, have any of our ‘main’, ‘popular’ sheikhs actually come out and condemned/refuted this??? Maybe they have and I’ve missed it, or more likely, as usual, they are deafeningly silent on any issue which impacts negatively on females.

    • raihan

      December 3, 2013 at 8:06 AM

      I don’t think that our sheikhs need to comment on these type of fake news. The more we discuss and circulate these spoofs the more popular those newspapers or journalists become.

  5. Shahid Muneer

    October 15, 2013 at 2:27 PM

    We can only hope that at some time they will stop condemning us without understanding us. And start to debate us academically.

    “Truth has (now) come through and lies are dead: Surely, lies (by their nature) are bound to die.”

  6. abuanas

    October 15, 2013 at 6:19 PM

    It is just lying about the jihadists in Syria. You all know that it is but a fabulous story created by the regime to defame the rebellists who seek for democracy, freedom and a decent living like other humans.

  7. Muhammad

    January 15, 2014 at 5:05 PM

    Salaam, I came across your story and similar reporting on google.

    I would like to share with you that I know of several girls who have been conned into this help build an Islamic state in syria. Supporting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria 9ISRS ), who are calling women to come join them via social media, they are told that they would need to marry a Muslim ISRS and settle in the Islamic State of Syria?

    Believe me there is lot more going on than is reported in the media, remember that we Muslims don’t like to go to the media or police with these issues. Also our sisters after going there are too scared to come back?

    Life is damaged, only Allah knows what is happening there, but I speak from my own personal experience that several girls from the EU, USA and Eqypt have made this journey. These rouge Munafiqs are cheating these young girls to make such journeys.

    Go on twitter and monitor along with WhatsApp groups and you will see that these dirty groups have women who are recruiting for them.

    i would for the sake of Allah and those families whose children are foolishly making these journeys request that you cover this story as a warning to others.


    • Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

      January 17, 2014 at 7:40 AM

      Dear Muhammad
      Could you put us in touch with actual women who have been through this as you mention personal experience and that you know several girls who have done this. Also please point us to twitter and the actual whatsapp groups that you are talking about.
      JazakAllahu Khairin

  8. daring

    February 13, 2014 at 4:37 AM

    The irony of all of this is that most of the muslims blindfoldly accepts what is shoved down there thoarts via media, ie afp. Most of the media that reports such things are at side of syrian regime.
    Can you really think that a scholar will say something like that

  9. Pingback: How Mars Became Haram: A Guide to Freaky Fatwa News |

  10. muhammed

    March 2, 2015 at 4:35 AM

    why all muslimes of the world inttigratein the path of allah

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