The subjugation and exploitation of women and girls in Islam is well publicised. The moderate factions promote the sexual shaming of women under the guise of “modesty” by the hijab, niqab and burqa. The extremists conduct the increasingly prolific sex-slave trade of Yazidi women as a recruiting tool for the Islamic State. It is no secret that Islam is the most misogynistic institution in the world. However, what is not widely considered is the appalling treatment of children under Islam. The Left will cover its ears and insist child abuse is a global phenomenon, not attached to any particular ideology. But child abuse in the Muslim world occurs for reasons that are Islamic, rather than universal. Its purpose is not only to disempower, but to brainwash.
There is a calculated endeavour by Muslim conservatives and extremists to exploit children of both genders. They use children to project fundamentalist Islamic ideals into the future. Little girls are not the sole recipients of physical and psychological abuse in the name of Islam, such as beatings by male relatives, and the ever-present horror of genital mutilation. Little boys, both in radical and so-called “moderate” Islam, are also suffering.
The most extreme issue facing boys under Islam is the recruitment of child soldiers by the Islamic State. A series of photographs and videos released in 2015 and 2016 featuring children as young as four or five years old, depicted either watching or conducting gruesome acts of war, has propelled this epidemic into the spotlight. The Islamic State has dubbed these child-warriors “the Cubs of the Caliphate”.
A study by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) in February 2016 has analysed photographs and videos released by IS between January 2015 and January 2016 eulogising eighty-nine “martyred” child recruits. Mia Bloom, John Hogan and Charlie Winter, who conducted the study, have concluded that the number of child soldiers significantly exceeds previous estimates. They assert that while the phenomenon of child soldiers is by no means new, the Islamic State’s use of prepubescent recruits is different from that of other violent Islamist organisations such as the Taliban, Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
“What this database points to is the fact that use of children is far more normalized,” Winter revealed when interviewed about the study. “They are not just being used to shock people in execution videos. They are being used for their operational value as well. This is something that sadly we have to expect to increase and accelerate as the situation becomes more precarious for ISIS in the years to come.”
IS’s prolific use of children in its ranks indicates the group has a long-term purpose in mind: to indoctrinate another generation of fighters into the extremist regime. This will enable potentially thousands of heavily indoctrinated children to continue the battle for the Caliphate for decades to come.
The data suggests the mobilisation of young boys and teenagers for military purposes is increasing:
On a month-by-month basis, the rate of young people dying in suicide operations rose, from six in January 2015 to 11 in January 2016. The rate of operations involving one or more child or youth is likewise increasing; there were three times as many suicide operations involving children and youth in January 2016 as the previous January. It seems plausible that, as military pressure against the Islamic State has increased in recent months, such operations … are becoming more tactically attractive. They represent an effective form of psychological warfare—to project strength, pierce defences, and strike fear into enemy soldiers’ hearts. We can expect that, as their implementation increases, so too will the reported rate of child and youth deaths.
Boys as young as eight are recruited, fed information on weaponry and ways of war, and thrust onto the battlefield. Some boys are from the Yazidi religious minority who have been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. They are then sent to camps and subjected to brutal training regimes. Reports of gruelling physical drills and beatings are rife. In early 2016, reports revealed an incident of children being threatened with rape if they did not submit to the Islamic State’s authority.
As part of their education, boys are made to watch videos of beheadings, and other forms of execution such as crucifixions. Some children are forced to give blood to injured fighters or to spy for them, and others are made to whip prisoners. Upon graduation, they are granted the privilege of beheading a sheep, or sometimes a human hostage.
Twelve-year-old Nasir, who managed to escape, gives a harrowing account:
There were 60 of us. The scariest times for us all were when the airstrikes happened. They’d lead all of us underground into the tunnels to hide.
They told us the Americans, the unbelievers, were trying to kill us but they, the fighters, they loved us. They would look after us better than our parents. When they were training us they would tell us our parents were unbelievers and that our first job was to go back to kill them.
Another escapee is eleven-year-old Nouri, who was abducted along with his family, and taken to the IS camp in Tel Aafar in northern Iraq. When he refused to go for training, Islamic State fighters broke his leg in three places:
They asked us to come with them for the training. At first we refused to go because we were afraid. They asked me to go to the mountain and I refused again, then they broke my leg. That saved me. The other children were taken by force.
Fortunately, his broken leg rendered him useless to the soldiers, and they allowed his grandmother to take him home. His little brother Saman was also released. At only five years old, constant beatings at the hands of the fighters have rendered him psychologically traumatised. During the night, he wakes screaming, and is now prone to seizures.
Another boy, known only as Mohammed, has revealed the ordeal he suffered when at the age of thirteen he was placed in an IS training camp. When his father tried to protest, he was threatened with beheading, and was not allowed to visit his son. Mohammed says:
For 30 days we woke up and jogged, had breakfast, then learned the Koran and the Hadith of the Prophet. Then we took courses on weapons, Kalashnikovs and other light military stuff.
We saw a young man who did not fast for Ramadan, so they crucified him for three days, and we saw a woman being stoned because she committed adultery.
However, not all children are taken by force. Other Muslim boys are lured into the ranks from the streets of Raqqa, Mosul, Deir al-Zour and other IS-conquered territories. According to Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi, a Syrian connected to the activist group called “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”, IS throws parties for children as a bid to persuade them to join the cause:
Boys it’s affecting a lot. They see all the time guns and calls for jihad. So they love to go. Sometimes they think it’s a game, so they love to go and do these things. It’s very familiar to see a lot of children carrying AK-47s. Sometimes the gun is taller than the kid.
A documentary released by VICE News depicts scenes in Raqqa as soldiers hold street parties, handing out soft drinks and sweets to beguile Muslim boys. “I’d like to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and kill with them, because they kill infidels and apostates,” says one pre-teen.
Others, equally young, are shown brandishing the black flag of IS, holding weapons and listening intently to addresses given by higher-ranked officials in mosques. All too quickly, their young and malleable minds are convinced they will have more opportunities, and indeed more fun, with the Islamic State than anywhere else. These boys will be instructed not just in the art of warfare, but immersed fully in the jihadist ideology.
Along with indoctrinating boys in training camps, the Islamic State has also closed and reopened a number of schools in Syria and Iraq, teaching a curriculum in which violence is normalised and sharia law is all-encompassing. “They are making these books for propaganda, sending the message to foreign fighters that we have books, we have schools, that your kids will have education,” Raqqawi revealed to Business Insider.
According to an Iraqi historian who reports for MosulEye under a pseudonym, IS made every attempt to set up a solid blueprint for an education system after city was conquered:
[The education emir] sees that the age a child must start his education at is the age of 4 years. At this age, the child learns how to read and write, and by the age of 5 years, the child starts to learn the alphabets of monotheism, then [they] teach the child the Arabic language more heavily to be able to understand the Quran correctly and accurately. Then, at the age of 10, the child starts his [sharia] education until the age of 15 years old. At the age of 15, the young student then starts to learn how to use weaponry and electronic technology and then it is determined which field the young student must be directed to complete his studies after presenting the student before an evaluation committee to evaluate the student’s capabilities and qualifications and the field under ISIL’s rule Soft Resistance and Civil Disobedience the student will excel at.
Weapons training is also included in the Islamic State’s elementary-school curriculum. Dress codes are strict: girls as young as six are reportedly forced to wear the niqab. Violence is quickly normalised for children of IS schools, right down to their textbooks. Images of an Islamic State textbook were circulated by IS-affiliated channels on the secure-messaging app Telegram late last year. The equations were filled with images of guns, tanks and bombs, beside ordinary items such as cherries. A new report from Jacob Olidort of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy examines these textbooks. Olidort explains that the content can be broken down into two tiers:
The first tier refers to how the group treats traditional subjects of religious study—the Quran, hadith, creed, and law—all defining features of Islamic faith and practice.
The second has to do with other subjects—physical preparedness, history, geography, and mathematics—all of which are incidental to Islamic identity but central to training the “citizens” of their state project.
In addition, the textbooks emphasise the difference between “the people of unbelief” (non-Muslims) and “hypocrites” (Muslims who are Westernised, or who do not support the Islamic State). Geography is taught from the perspective of IS, rather than as the Western world understands it; children are taught that the Islamic Caliphate spreads far across the Middle East. Children also study in mosques, the focus being IS’s rigidly fundamentalist interpretation of sharia law. As a result, an entire generation of children in territories held by the Islamic State risks growing up with no education other than IS’s radical curriculum. Raqqawi says:
It’s like these kids are a time bomb. It’s not just a problem for Syria, it’s a problem for the whole region. We don’t know where these kids will go, what they will do.
They [IS] want to make [it seem] like everything in [the children’s] life is about weapons and explosions and war and fighting for Islam. Their main idea is to recruit these children and make them into what they want. Small children, you can control them, you can shape them how you want. Some people don’t like ISIS at all but when they force them to go to these Sharia courses they change a lot … It’s really shocking how they’re playing with people’s minds.
So what makes the regime of child soldiers under the Islamic State unique? While Leftist apologists will dilute the severity of the problem by drawing misguided, irrelevant parallels with child soldiers in Africa, and outdated historical examples of adolescent militants from thousands of years ago, the reality is the Cubs of the Caliphate are recruited for reasons that cater not only to practicality, but to Islamic ideology.
According to a manual of Islamic law certified as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy by Al-Azhar University in Cairo (the most respected authority in Sunni Islam), “retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right”. However, “not subject to retaliation” is “a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring”. Therefore, a person who murders a child is not subject to any penalty under Islamic law. There is no true sanctity of childhood under Islam.
In the case of the Cubs of the Caliphate, this is evidenced by the prolific parental consent involved in the recruitment process. Although a number of children are either kidnapped or lured into the ranks, many are happily handed over by families who sympathise with the Islamic State. In other cases, fathers travel with their sons to Syria and join the Islamic State with them, complicit in watching children psychologically and physically brutalised before an almost inevitable death in combat.
An article in IS’s English-language magazine Dabiq encourages mothers to sacrifice their sons: “As for you, O mother of lion cubs … And what will make you know what the mother of lion cubs is? She is the teacher of generations and the producer of men.”
Mia Bloom, co-author of the CTC study, believes this rate of parental consent in the recruitment of child soldiers, and the way IS obtains this consent, is both interesting and worrying: “It’s not a coercive endeavor like what we saw in Africa. The kids are not being kidnapped. The kids are not being coerced.” Charlie Winter adds:
ISIS is integrating children into its project in a way that is more reminiscent of a state than a non-state actor. It’s thinking with the long term in mind. It’s not just bringing children into its ranks and using them immediately on the battlefield. What it’s doing is bringing them in, indoctrinating them, training them, spending a lot of time instilling them with jihadist ideology.
The assertion from Al-Azhar University that there is no penalty under Islamic law for killing children is also evident in the fact that the Cubs of the Caliphate are not distinguished from the adult fighters. The eighty-nine Cubs eulogised by IS who were included in the CTC study did not have their child status mentioned. They were referred to not as “young” martyrs, but simply “martyrs”. Children are not assigned to tasks that can be better carried out by children, such as blending into villages while planting explosive devices. Rather, boys are placed on the front lines, shoulder to shoulder with men.
Of the children included in the study, 39 per cent died detonating a vehicle-borne IED device, and 33 per cent perished as foot soldiers. Approximately 4 per cent killed themselves while committing mass casualty attacks against civilians, and 6 per cent were killed embedded with brigades as propagandists. Almost 20 per cent died as inghimasis, or “marauders”, undertaking military operations in which a group of fighters attack an enemy position and eventually blow themselves up. These operations are colloquially known as “plunging attacks”.
An example of these plunging attacks is the incident at the Tariq base in Iraq in January 2016. Five adult fighters, accompanied by three children, attacked the base from within for three hours before detonating suicide belts. Charlie Winter believes we can conclude from this attack and others like it that children are not being used to replace adults as a last resort; they are simply integrated into military operations to boost numbers, as an adult would be:
They are not just being used to shock people in execution videos. They are being used for their operational value as well. This is something that sadly we have to expect to increase and accelerate as the situation becomes more precarious for ISIL in the years to come.
The pressing problem of the Cubs of the Caliphate, both in terms of the appalling child abuse, and the fact that IS is brainwashing them for long-term purposes, does not have an easy solution. The Left will insist the issue is easily solved by Western countries such as Australia increasing the intake of refugees from Iraq and Syria, to prevent other children from being radicalised and recruited in the same way. However, this is a baseless claim. Children do not suffer under Islam because of the country they were born in. They suffer under Islam because of Islam, regardless of whether they live in Raqqa or Sydney.
Thousands of Muslim children in Islamic schools in Australia and other Western countries are forcibly indoctrinated with the same ideology (albeit a less extreme version). While some Islamic schools are moderate, and make a deliberate effort to mix with secular or interfaith schools, others remain insular, pander to the needs of conservative Muslim parents who are unwilling to integrate, and instil in both girls and boys the entrenched culture of misogyny and Islamic supremacy that is so destructive in the Middle East.
According to Tasmanian teacher Peter Jones, who visited and observed the bureaucracy in twenty Islamic schools, the role of the Islamic studies teacher is very significant. He is often the imam of a local mosque, and is a key figure, consulted on a number of issues, from the suitability of the curriculum and texts or films, to dress codes. However, their suitability to be educators of children attempting to integrate into Australian society is highly doubtful. “None were born in Australia. Their levels of English varied enormously and they often were not trained as teachers,” says Jones.
Ameer Ali, who chaired the Howard government’s Muslim advisory council, asserts that imams who come from conservative Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have not had enough exposure to Australian culture. They are unable to teach children how to balance Islamic culture with that of Western society. “More importantly, they are ill-equipped for the main challenge facing Australian Muslims—how to live as a minority in a non-Muslim country,” says Ali.
This unsuitability of not only Islamic studies teachers, but other teachers from Muslim countries, creates an introverted environment for Muslim children and adolescents, generating a certain wariness of Australian culture. This is also perpetuated by their fundamentalist or conservative Muslim parents, who seek to shelter their children from Western culture. Girls especially suffer from abuse and subjugation. Asiya, a woman in her early twenties who migrated to Sydney from Iraq with her conservative family in the early 2000s, gives a haunting account of being a Muslim girl attending Islamic school in Australia:
In regards to children and Islam, obedience is a major point, and it is often said that “without your parents’ acceptance you do not gain God’s acceptance”. This means hellfire—so it is very important to be obedient towards them. Disobeying your parents is one of the grave sins and comes second to disobeying God. This isn’t just an Islamic thing but a cultural thing—the kids are basically indebted to their parents their entire life and are treated almost as property.
I attended Al Rissalah College, Al Faisal College and Australian Islamic College of Sydney. Because I hadn’t attended a public school or mixed with people outside of the Muslim community, I did not grasp that what was happening in my Islamic school was anything out of the ordinary. Wearing the scarf was compulsory. The girls had to wear a skirt that came down to the ankle and long-sleeved shirts. Only in sports class—which was girls only—could we wear pants. This was still an issue with some parents, including my own, as they believe pants and sports activities show the body shape and so it is very immodest, for example, running causing the breasts to bounce.
There was a room that was dedicated for girls to sit in during prayer times if we were menstruating. As an adult now I probably wouldn’t care who knew, but as a younger teenager, going through puberty already made me very self-conscious—this just made it a more uncomfortable and embarrassing experience.
Religion is beaten into our heads so severely that just by recognising the things that are unacceptable in Islam, just by seeing all the taboos imposed upon us as younger children by our carers—who we believe are knowledgeable—of course we start to believe that we’re not allowed to be like Australians or mix with them because it must be a bad thing to be Australian. Waking up every day, having to cover yourself from head to toe, starting your day in a hall praying to God as part of school policy so he doesn’t send you to hell pretty much sums up how in our mind it forms—that Aussie kids going to school, not doing what we do, not wearing the scarf as we do—it’s easy to come to the conclusion that they are bad, if what we are doing is “good”.
This kind of segregation of girls and children in general in Australia needs to stop as it is what paves the ideologies that have led to the horrible religious-fuelled attacks in Australia and could possibly lead to many more.
The appalling attitude of Islam towards girls, and the dictation of Islamic supremacy through unmalleable cultural practice, are wholly incompatible with Western values. There is no question that girls are grossly mistreated under Islam from early childhood. Even in the moderate factions, the constant presence of the hijab plants the idea of subjugation and sexual shaming of women firmly in the minds of impressionable Muslim children. After all, girls as young as nine or ten wear the hijab as a symbol of modesty. Therefore, under Islam, we can assume pre-pubescent girls are considered sexualised enough to warrant being covered up; allegedly protecting them from the sexual urges of men.
The prolific recruiting by IS of child soldiers, the segregation and subjugation of Muslim girls at schools, and the fear instilled in both genders that deviating from their perceived cultural norm will lead to hellfire is not caused by tension between the Western world and the Middle East, or by “Islamophobia”, or by a failure by the West to understand Muslim culture. It is the result of a theology that seeks to brainwash its young into culturally infiltrating the Western world with the intention of destroying it.
While the Islamic State is ransacking the Middle East, and while the intolerable fundamentalist Muslim communities in Western cities are ignored by the Left, Muslim children suffer immeasurably. They will continue to suffer until the Western world finally recognises that the underlying problem is Islam.
Victoria Kincaid lives in Sydney. She contributed “Islam and Modern-Day Sexual Slavery” in the November 2015 issue. “Asiya” told her story in the November 2016 issue.