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Joining the sex jihad
Fundamentalist clerics are encouraging women to hook up with lonely Syrian militants
Even jihadis have needs.
Even jihadis have needs. (REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi)
T

he jihadists fighting on the frontlines of the Syrian civil war are the rock stars of fundamentalist Islam. Fans make internet videos compiling their greatest hits, and Islamist-run TV stations extol the fighters' manliness and fighting prowess.

And just like rock stars, these religious fanatics also attract groupies.

Scores of young Tunisian women have been traveling to Syria to wage "sex jihad" and boost the morale of love-starved Islamists, according to Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfi ben Jeddou. "[The women] have sexual relations with 20, 30, 100 [rebels]," the minister claimed in an address before the country's constituent assembly, adding that many of the girls return home pregnant. "They come back bearing the fruit of sexual contacts in the name of sexual jihad and we are silent doing nothing and standing idle."

The minister didn't say how many girls have headed to Syria with dreams of making out with a mujahideen, but the local media claims hundreds have done so, says Agence France-Presse.

Such promiscuity might sound like a flagrant breach of Sharia law, the Koran-inspired religious code that bans the faithful from indulging in everything from premarital sex to cigarettes and alcohol. Yet some fundamentalist preachers are more than happy to bend the rules for their religious warriors.

In December, for instance, Mohamed al-Arifi, a hard-line Salafi cleric from Saudi Arabia, allegedly issued a religious decree allowing jihadist fighters to temporarily engage in "intercourse marriages" with "females as young as 14 years old," Iran's state-run Press TV reported last year. Once the hookup is over, the temporary marriage is considered dissolved.

Sources close to the sheikh have subsequently denied that he issued such a fatwa, according to Jordanian news site Al Bawaba. But women returning from Syria have claimed preachers instructed them to embark on their comfort mission.

The concept of temporary marriage isn't completely uncommon in the Islamic world. In Sunni Islam — the branch of Islam followed by most of the Islamist rebels battling Syria's Assad regime — there is a union known as misyar, or traveler's marriage, which features less strict rules than conventional marriages. It is often used by Gulf Arab men living away from their regular wives in another country, and misused by those who simply want to circumvent the prohibition on extramarital sex.

In Shia Islam, meanwhile, there is a similar practice known as mutaa, which the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has promoted as a means to relieve its followers' sexual urges. The wedding contract takes just seconds to complete and, unlike misyar, doesn't require witnesses. The woman simply says, "I marry myself to you for [a specific period of time] and for [a specified dowry]." The man replies, "I accept." The period can range between an hour and a year, and can be renewed.

It is "a religious duty to fulfill your sexual desires," a 25-year-old Lebanese woman called Zahra told Foreign Policy, adding that temporary marriages with widows whose husbands had been killed fighting Israel were especially encouraged. "Those who satisfy widows of martyrs have more reward in heaven."

Theunis Bates is a senior editor at The Week's print edition. He has previously worked for Time, Fast Company, AOL News and Playboy.

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