Widowed at 18, teen says ‘marrying into the Islamic State brought shame and disgrace’

Eman was 16 years old when she agreed to marry a 28-year-old Islamic State fighter, known by the nomme de guerre Abu Mousa a-Tunisi, who arrived at her parents’ doorstep with a marriage proposal and SP3,000,000 ($14,000).

“I come from a very poor family,” she tells Syria Direct’s Noura al-Hourani, “and I was too young to understand the consequences.”

It was April 2014, and the Islamic State had seized her northeastern Aleppo hometown of Manbij three months earlier. For the next two and a half years, IS held the city under its control, as residents ran out of food, fuel and medicine.

During that time, Eman gave birth to a baby girl. She Also learned next to nothing about her husband, who she says threatened her often and “didn’t let me leave the house without his permission.”

“He hid all information about himself,” Eman, now 18, tells Syria Direct. “I didn’t know anything about him except that he was from Tunisia, according to his nickname,” which literally translates to “the Tunisian.”

“I never even learned his real name.”

 “The Ink Pilgrim,” by Assaad Farzat. Photo courtesy of Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution.

In Syria, a husband’s name is required to officially register marriages and births—meaning that Eman’s daughter, now two-and-a-half years old, officially does not exist. This is one of many consequences of the unhappy union that linger, even after Abu Mousa’s death in a nearby battle in 2016. 

“I’m taking care of a young daughter who has no birth certificate or identification,” Eman says, from a northern Aleppo village outside Manbij, with her parents, daughter, and younger brother. The family fled their hometown in summer 2016, during a three-month offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces to wrest control of Manbij from IS that ended when the SDF took over in August of the same year.

Today, Eman can’t travel without a passport for her daughter, and has trouble getting medical care and humanitarian aid with no ID for her.

“I’m living a very miserable life.”

Q: When did you get married? Can you discuss how it happened?

I got married in April 2014 to a man named Abu Mousa a-Tunisi, after he approached my parents and asked for my hand.

My family agreed to the proposal, and so did I. We registered the marriage with the Islamic State-run sharia court, with two IS members acting as witnesses.

Q: Were you forced to get married, or threatened at all?

No, they didn’t force me into the marriage. My family and I agreed to everything.

I come from a very poor family—my eyes were blinded by the money and the gifts that Abu Mousa brought me, and I was too young to understand the consequences of all this.

 

Q: What gifts did Abu Mousa bring for you and your family? Did he tell you anything about himself?

He brought my family a mahr [Ed.: money that the groom's family gives to the bride's family as part of the marriage agreement] of SP3,000,000 ($14,000), as well as a house and gold. He also offered my father a position in IS if he wanted it.

I didn’t know anything about him except that he was from Tunisia, according to his nickname [Ed.: The Arabic name a-Tunisi literally translates to “the Tunisian.”] He hid all information about himself, and didn’t tell me anything about his family or relatives. I never even learned his real name, despite all the curiosity that was brewing inside me.

Sometimes, I would try asking him about his name or his life before he came to Syria, but he responded with threats, telling me to stop asking him questions, because my duty was to obey him.

Q: The legal age of marriage in Syria is 18 for both men and women, according to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. When you married Abu Mousa, you were only 16 years old. Do members of IS prefer to marry minors? How long did the marriage last and how did your husband treat you?

I don’t think it’s a goal for IS members to marry minors, because they marry women of various ages. But for people around here, it is socially accepted for women to marry from a young age until at most 25. After that, a woman is looked upon with pity as a spinster.

My part [of Syria] is very conservative. In our society here, a good wife is completely obedient to her husband. The majority of women here don’t complete their education, and some don’t even go to school at all. Their duty is simply to get married by age 20, raise children and take care of the household.

 “The Forgotten Ar-Raqqah,” by Miream Salameh. Photo courtesy of Miream Salameh.

The marriage lasted for a year and a half, and I gave birth to a baby girl who is now two and a half years old. One day, one of my husband’s friends told my father that he had been killed in a battle with regime forces near the Kweiris Military Airbase in 2016.

[Ed.: Islamic State forces surrounded the Kweiris Military Airbase, located in Aleppo’s northern countryside, in spring 2014, holding the isolated base under a tight siege for nearly two years until the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) broke the encirclement in November 2015. In January and February 2016, the SAA advanced westward from the airbase, seizing IS-held territory in the Aleppo countryside.]

To be honest, he lacked moral character and treated me very badly. He didn’t let me leave the house without his permission, and he would come with me whenever I wanted to see my family. My parents’ house was the only place he allowed me to visit. He also forbade TV and cell phones inside our house.

Of course, he didn’t allow me to go to school and he often left the house for long periods of time. I felt like I was living in prison. We were not living a shared life together—rather, I existed just to carry out orders. Whenever I made any mistakes, he shouted and threatened me with punishment, including forbidding me from visiting my family for a long period of time.

Q: Where are you now? What kinds of consequences are you facing from your marriage to Abu Mousa?

Right now, I’m living with my mother, father and younger brother in a village in northern Aleppo province. We fled there when the battle intensified in Manbij.

[Ed.: The majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by coalition airpower, wrested Manbij from IS control over a grueling three-month offensive in the summer of 2016, during which at least 190 civilians were killed by coalition airstrikes, independent monitor Airwars reported. As many as 20,000 residents of Manbij city and its surrounding countryside fled their homes as the SDF made gains against IS forces amid heavy airstrikes, Syria Direct reported at the time.]

Personally, I’m suffering a lot—especially now that I’m taking care of a young daughter who has no birth certificate or identification. When she grows up, who will admit her to school without any papers or identification?

When I go to the clinic, they ask to see her identification papers. The same thing happens when I go to aid organizations for help. I’m living a very miserable life. I can’t leave because I don’t have a passport or papers for my daughter.

I couldn’t register my marriage because it was carried out by IS, and the witnesses all used fake names. I don’t even know if they are alive or dead. Marrying a member of IS brought shame and disgrace to my daughter and me.

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Madeline Edwards

Madeline Edwards graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2016. She was a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) recipient in Arabic in 2013. Her studies have brought her to Jordan, Palestine and Turkey.