NEW DELHI: In February, three teenage girls shocked the world when they boarded a plane to Turkey from London. They were subsequently smuggled into Syria, where they joined the Islamic State. Their departure prompted women's rights activist Sara Khan to draft a letter addressed to young Muslim girls in the United Kingdom -- that applies to young girls the world over -- cautioning them of the empty promises that amount to lies "in the wickedest of ways."

The letter is relevant as the three girls in question -- Shamima Begum, 15, Amira Abase, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16 -- are by no means alone. In recent months, a number of western women have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the militant group. Last year, for example, three Colorado schoolgirls stole passports and money from their parents and flew to Turkey, from where the planned to travel to Syria to join the militant group.

Twenty year old University student from Glasgow Aqsa Mahmood made headlines when she travelled to Syria and married an Islamic State fighter. Teenage twins from Manchester Zahra and Salma Halane too traveled to Syria to join the jihadists in their fight. Sally Jones, a 45 year old mother of two from Kent, made the same journey to Raqqa, Syria, where she is now a vocal supporter of the Islamic State.

In fact, Aqsa Mahmood is believed to be have recruited Begum, Abase and Sultana. Mahmood has been vocally active on social media. Although her Twitter and Facebook pages have since been removed, a Tumblr blog provides an insight into her life and serves as a starting point to examine what dictated her decision to join the Islamic State, and in turn, what sort of appeal she made to the young recruits.

Mahmood has been an active blogger since January 2013, her posts being a mix of quotes, photos and fragmented musings on religion and politics. Her interest in Syria has been apparent from the start of her social media presence, with a January 2013 post asking “Allah” to “come to the swift aid of Syria and its innocent people.”

Mahmood most interesting posts, however, are a series termed “Diary of a Muhajirah,” with the third post in the series being uploaded on September 11, 2014. In reference to the purpose of the series, Mahmood writes, “These diary posts I write are only and only written with the intention of being a way of encouragement and advice for my sisters and brothers who are still stuck behind the walls of Darul Kufr.”

In this latest post, Mahmood writes of perception of those who have joined the IS’ war. “he media at first used to claim that the ones running away to join the Jihad as being unsuccessful, didn’t have a future and from broke down families etc. But that is far from the truth. Most sisters I have come across have been in university studying courses with many promising paths, with big, happy families and friends and everything in the Dunyah to persuade one to stay behind and enjoy the luxury. If we had stayed behind, we could have been blessed with it all from a relaxing and comfortable life and lots of money.” That’s not what we want,” she continues, reflecting on the futility of material pleasures in comparison to a “bigger” spiritual reward. “Know that in this step of Hijrah you will be honoured wherever you go by Allah swt. And everything you had He swt will replace it with something even better from Dunyah stuff and even family,” Mahmood reasons.

Referring to her political affiliations, Mahmood says that she never identified with being British, and links this feeling to other women in her position. “We make it known to the world that never has our allegiance been to the Scottish, British, Swedish, American, Canadian etc…. government. Wallahi we are free of those living in the West who know and proclaim the Shahadah while being beneath the feet of the Kuffar. Ittaqullah. Know this Cameron/Obama, you and your countries will be beneath our feet and your Kufr will be destroyed, this is a promise from Allah swt that we have no doubt over.” “So our answer to our passports being confiscated? Wow wallahiil Adheeem biggest joke of this week,” she concludes.

The first post in the series that was made on April 9, 2014, is perhaps the most informative, with Mahmood stating that she “want[s] to paint a realistic picture of what is in store for the sisters here.” The post was made a few months after Mahmood married a “mujahid” -- a word IS fighters use for themselves. Mahmood outlines the importance of getting married for women choosing to follow her path. “Sisters please do not listen to any sources online which give false information where Doula is openly encouraging and supporting sisters to make hijrah and never getting married… The reality is that to stay without a man here is really difficult.” She also provides a warning to women looking to make the transition, “My advice to the sisters is to try and limit their communication with the brothers here. Most of the brothers who the sisters are constantly getting in touch with are already married and others who really don’t want to be free-mixing.”

The post also speaks of Jihad and clarifies that “there is absolutely nothing for sisters to participate in Qitaal. Sheikh Omar Shishani has been quite clear on his answer and has emphasized that there is nothing for sisters as of yet.”

The most interesting part of the post, however, is the advice on what to bring and what life in Syria will be like. “There are many materialistic things that can be found here however it is better for you to bring clothes, shoes etc from the West,” Mahmood says, additionally advising women to “Islamic clothing” “online” before the come. Mahmood’s post continues on to daily life, and time spent cooking, cleaning, even educating children. “As mundane as some of the day to day tasks may get, still you truly value every minute here for the sake of Allah,” Mahmood says.

The post further advises women to think through their decision. “To sisters, don’t take the big commitment and step of leaving Daar ul Kufr if you still are in doubt wether (sic) it is Wajib or not, or wether it will be Harram on you for leaving without a Mahram or not. You will not enjoy your Hijrah truly until you believe from the bottom of your heart it is to please Allah, and most importantly you need to be sincere in your intentions. If you are still in doubt then research until you are content.”

Activist Khan’s letter, titled, "A letter to young Muslim girls if you are considering leaving the UK to join ISIS," addresses some of the concerns. Excerpts are being reproduced below:

“Dear Sister,

You won’t know me but like you I too am British and Muslim. Some of your friends may have gone out to join ISIS and you are also considering going out too. Social media is awash with accounts of how life is wonderful under ISIS; that you will be promised a husband and the chance to fulfil your religious obligation of making hijra. You may have even read stories of women describing how they are given free homes, maintenance, and a sisterhood made up of women from across the world and that ISIS provides security. But most of all you believe that the painful journey of leaving your parents and siblings is a pain worth sacrificing for the pleasure of God.

I have no other intention of writing this letter but to tell you that you are being lied to in the wickedest of ways. Just because your liars are cloaked in religious clothing, speak in a religious language, and claim to be speaking in God’s name does not change the simple fact that you are being lied to through a gross manipulation of the teachings of our faith. You are being lied to first and foremost about your religious duty as a Muslim but also about the reality of life under ISIS. And the thought of you destroying your life, for a pack of lies is what motivates me to write this letter. Because you deserve to know the truth and to live a fulfilled and happy life.

There is no religious obligation to make hijra or to pledge allegiance to this self-declared leader who claims to be Caliph. Muslims for centuries have lived in lands that were not under Muslim rule. Even during the Prophet’s lifetime, he did not ask those early Muslims who initially made hijra to Abyssinia to make hijra to Medina, when Medina was ruled by the Prophet (pbuh).

But this self-appointed caliph Baghdadi calls on you to make hijra you say? But I ask you, what kind of a caliph is this person who in direct contrast to the teachings of the Qur’an and our blessed Prophet Muhammad pbuh, justifies killing Muslims who declare the shahaadha including convert Abdul Rahman Kassig? How does he this so-called caliph justify killing innocent people? How does he justify the killing of Muslim leaders and scholars who only call for peace and love? The taking of even one innocent life is a great crime in Islam equated to killing the whole of humanity. Yet with so little regard, this same caliph justifies killing Muslims and non-Muslims alike including humanitarian workers like Alan Henning; a man who chose to give up celebrating Christmas with his family to instead help Syrian children.

Tell me what crime did thousands of young girls in Iraq and Syria commit to justify being sold into sexual slave markets and to be raped by ISIS fighters? I am not telling you a lie; ISIS’ own publications have openly stated this to be the case.

Tell me what reason is given for the destruction of centuries old churches and the killings of other minority groups like the Yazidis when God clearly states “For had it not been for Allah’s repelling some men by means of others, cloisters and churches and oratories and mosques, wherein the name of God is oft mentioned, would assuredly have been pulled down.” — Qur’an 22:40.

ISIS state that girls should be married from the age of 9 and that women should remain “hidden and veiled from society” – but this stands in stark contrast to Muslim history. Islam produced some of the most amazing women who were anything but hidden away from society. Muslim women contributed to all walks of life including Fatima al Fihri who in 859CE founded the first academic degree granting university in Morocco. Asma Bint Shihab al-Sulayhiyya (d480/1087) who ruled Yemen with her husband as did her daughter in law, Arwa. Both these female heads of state were so respected that the Friday sermon in mosques were proclaimed in their names. Hidden, these women were not. The ISIL narrative of women flies in the face of Muslim history, the honour that Allah has conferred on women, and insults such great Muslim women who were pioneers in all walks of life.

ISIS claim to be calling for women’s liberation but do not be fooled – this is no liberation. This is subjugation and an abuse of women’s independence and authority that God has bestowed on women to be used serving humanity. Freedom is an essential core of Islam; ISIS only ever seem to deny it. Respect for life is a sacrosanct teaching of the Qur’an, yet ISIS only seem to cheapen it. Peace is what the Qur’an calls for again and again; yet ISIS only ever seek war and bloodshed. Some of the women who call you to ISIS are the same women who glorify the deaths of Muslims and non-Muslims and who call for the bloodshed of children in our country here in the UK.

What kind of Islam is this? When at its core Islam calls for the act of peace-making. Where is this peace in ISIS’s version of Islam? I see no peace, only death, destruction and misery. And this stands in stark contrast to centuries of Islamic tradition, a tradition based on mercy, compassion, pluralism, co-existence and human dignity.

You must know however, that once you go out there the chances of coming back are slim. Young women realising the error of their ways, have tried to escape but many have failed . The ability to fulfil any dreams you may have once had will be over as you discover how your identity, agency and freedoms are all denied and suppressed. ISIS’s treatment of women as second class citizens, is not the respect and dignity Islam promises women.”