By Joanna Paraszczuk
July 27, 2015
If an IS militant dies in battle and is awarded his 72 "houris" (the heavenly maidens whom, according to IS ideology, militants are given if they are killed in battle), will he forget all about his wife?
It sounds like the opening lines of a joke. But this is a serious question for the Islamic State (IS) group, and especially for the women who join it and marry militants.
Like other violent "jihadi" groups, IS entices men to join its ranks by promising them they will be granted 72 eternally young and beautiful virgins when they die in battle and go to heaven.
This is a powerful piece of recruitment propaganda for male militants.
But it is hardly attractive for IS brides, who are told that after death they will be reunited with their dead husbands in paradise -- after he has settled down with his houris.
'I Am Jealous Of The Houris'
A support group for IS wives and widows on the Russian social network VKontakte openly addresses the problematic issue of houris through a poem.
The poem's author, named as Karima Umm Saad, addresses her husband and admits her jealousy of the heavenly houris who, she believes, will make him forget about his earthly life as soon as he dies.
"I am jealous of the houris who call out to you
Every time you go into battle.
I am jealous of them because they
Might meet you sooner.
They will meet you -- you will forget everything,
Blood still flowing from your chest."
[Poem by Karima Umm Saad] Poem by Karima Umm Saad
Umm Saad goes on to tell her husband she is "also dreaming about a rendezvous" with him in paradise, though she doesn't say how she will deal with his houris.
Other IS brides have dealt with the houri problem in other ways.
In a post on July 20 that has been shared among other female IS militants, a woman called Ubeida Shishan attempts to assuage women's fears that their dead husbands will prefer their ever-beautiful houris to them by relating a hadith, a saying of the Prophet Muhammad.
IS brides need not worry, Ubeida says, because they are actually more attractive and interesting than the houris. "The houris have never passed through the difficulties and trials that accrue to sisters in this world. They never even fought on the path of Allah," she writes.
"They were never slandered because they wore a hijab! They have never encountered the difficulties being obedient to their husbands!"
Romance & The Ideal Wife
As well as the specific issues of houris, the IS wives' support group and other pro-IS groups on VKontakte also deal with the wider problem of how "jihadi brides" are supposed to cope emotionally when their militant husbands leave them to go off to battle and die.
To do this, the groups constantly create and recreate a romantic narrative in which militants who die fighting alongside IS are depicted as brave warriors carrying out God's wishes. They are supported by devoted militant wives whose divinely ordained role is to help their men achieve what the extremist group portrays as the lofty goal of death in battle.
Wholly modest and unfailingly loyal to their husbands, these ideal IS wives are told that they are carrying out God's commands and that they will meet their husbands again in paradise.
A July 10 post by the group Longing For Paradise illustrates this with a photograph of a bearded militant planting a chaste kiss on the entirely covered head of his wife, presumably as he heads off to battle.
"We will meet, inshallah [God willing], only there where all pain and anguish have ended, where there is eternity and the pleasure of Allah. This is the end and the limit of each of our dreams," the caption reads.
Not So Romantic...
IS tries via its propaganda efforts to dress up the realities of life under its rule -- marriage to a violent militant, early widowhood, and remarriage -- as a romantic fairy tale. But there are signs that not all IS militants believe the propaganda.
A post criticizing would-be "jihadi brides" for romanticizing life as a militant's wife in IS-occupied territory in Syria and Iraq recently spread across Russian IS accounts. The post argued that women do not realize the reality of the hardships they will face in Syria or Iraq.
IS has also refused to allow women whose husbands have died in Syria to return home unless they leave their children behind. A Tajik woman, 25-year-old Gulru Olimova, was told in May that her three small children were the "property of Islamic State" and she would have to leave them behind.