Married to a Jihadist
For The Straits Times
LAST year, I was invited to a monthly discussion at the Khadijah
Mosque, one of the most active mosques in Singapore. Half of the
audience comprised female religious teachers who give religious
counselling to, and help in the rehabilitation of, the families of
Jemaah Islamiah (JI) detainees. One woman expressed concern that
very little attention had been paid to understanding the role of
women in the terrorist group.
She was right. Our knowledge is limited.
But these days, after the arrest - in two separate cases late
last year and this February - of five women who have recently been
charged with smuggling bomb detonators and explosive materials
from Malaysia into Indonesia, the Indonesian police are gaining a
better understanding. ""Our investigations into these two cases
show that terrorist groups are likely to be using women to assist
them'', National Police spokesman Brigadier-General Anton Bachrul
Alam was quoted by the Jakarta Post.
One of the most common ways women have come to join the group
is through marriage. Sometimes, they marry known jihadists to
provide support at home. And sometimes, they marry and work
alongside their husbands.
The classic example is that of the Al-Qaeda point man in
South-east Asia, Hambali, now under custody. Hambali married
Noralwizah Lee Abdullah, whose father is Malay and mother a Chinse
who converted from Buddhism to Islam. Like her husband, Lee would
eventually also be known by several aliases, such as Acang, Lee
Yen Lan, and Awi. She was actively involved in the recruitment of
women to the group.
The pair met in the early 1990s in one of the small women corps
under the tutelage of JI founders. She was in one such group when
Hambali came to a meeting. My interviews with one of the lecturers
in that circle revealed that one topic of the lecture was "Women
and Jihad". Lee was eventually arrested with her husband in
Ayutthaya, Thailand in 2003.
Next on the list would be Omar al-Faruq, an Al-Qaeda
representative in South-east Asia, who married Mira Agustina, the
daughter of Haris Fadhilah. Fadhilah was a hard core Darul Islam
militia leader who fought in Ambon and died there. In this case,
it was an arranged marriage between a jihadist and the daughter of
A Spanish security analyst here in Barcelona told me that
Parlindungan Siregar, an Indonesian national who studied in
Universidad Complutense de Madrid in 1987, had gone to Poso to run
military training classes. To give his operation a greater chance
of success, Siregar married the daughter of an Indonesian who had
fought in Afghanistan, Omar Bandon. Siregar is a friend of Abu
Dahdah, the head of Al-Qaeda in Spain.
Ken Conboy, in his book The Second Front, meticulously cited
Indonesia's intelligence body BIN's report that a Melbourne
resident, Jack Terrence Thomas (alias Jihad Thomas alias Abu Khair
Ismail), married the daughter of a retired Indonesian police
officer in Makassar. Australian authorities believed that Thomas
had ventured to Kandahar for paramilitary instruction in mid-2001.
The fact that he married the daughter of a police officer was to
JI leader Noordin Mohd Top married a girl from Riau who is a
sister of Muhammad Rais, a JI member who was arrested by
Indonesian police just a couple of months before the Marriott
Hotel attack in Jakarta. The stoic Rais studied at the Ngruki
Islamic boarding school, once also my alma mater.
During his break from his destructive plans, Noordin laid low
while casting for new targets. Surprisingly, during that time, he
married his second wife, Munfiatun Al Fitri, in a secret ceremony
arranged by JI members in Surabaya in 2004. Al Fitri graduated
with a degree in agriculture from Brawijawa University in Malang,
East Java and taught Arabic at Pondok Pesantren Miftahul Huda,
Subang, West Java.
One may be curious whether there is any example of women's
participation in war in classical Islamic history.
I found fascinating the story of women from the time of the
Prophet Muhammad who fought in his wars, cited in a brief
treatise, Manaqib al sahabiyyat (the English title of which is The
Merits of the Women Companions of the Prophet Muhammad). The
treatise was written by the 13th century Muslim moralist, Abd al
Ghani bin Abd al Wahid al Maqdisi.
Al Ghani wrote that a woman called Nusayba was said to have
gone out to help the wounded during the Battle of Uhud (626), but
then took up sword and sustained 12 wounds. She was quoted as
saying that there were four women with her - she took up the
sword, whereas another, who was pregnant, had a knife, and they
fought alongside the men.
In the same vein, modern feminist Aliyya Mustafa Mubarok, in
her collection, Sahabiyat Mujahidat (whose English title is The
Fighters of Women Companions of the Prophet Muhammad), has
gathered a list of 67 women who according to her fought in the
wars. But the women fought under legal order from authorised
religious figures such as the Prophet Muhammad himself or the
caliphates, against foreign occupation of their countries.
I wonder, today, what the justification is in Indonesia for
women to partake in violence, since it isn't under any threat or
foreign occupation. For the Qur'anic injunction is ""Do not
transgress: truly God does not love the transgressor'', while the
Prophet says: ""None of you believe until you love for your
neighbours what you love for yourself''.
It is only by distorting and abandoning Islam's true teachings
can anyone kill innocent civilians. Moreover, Muslims clearly are
the biggest victims of this terror. In fact, Muslims are killing
Silhouetted against lush paddy fields in Cigarung village in
West Java in mid 2005, the son of Heri Golun, the suicide bomber
who bombed the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in September 2004,
cuddled me. He is a sweet baby boy. I can't imagine what his
mother is going to tell him in the future about his father. Now
that the husband is gone, she is the one carrying the burden of
shame. What a life.