NEW DELHI: Much has been written about the efforts of the Islamic State (IS) to recruit foreign women, with recent analysis focusing on women being lured to be “baby factories” where their role is to help populate the IS’ self-declared “caliphate.”

Whilst the purported organised efforts of IS to recruit foreign women may be an exaggeration, there have been a few cases of women in the West and the Far East, who have left their homes to travel to Syria, including 16 year old Manchester twins Zahra and Salma Halane, 20-year-old former radiography student, Aqsa Mahmood from Glasgow, and a 26-year old Malaysian doctor who goes by the name ‘Shams.”

Some of these women maintain an active social media presence, posting tweets and messages that at first glance, could have been from their living rooms in Manchester or Kuala Lumpur. “I’m making pancakes, and there’s Nutella, come up in a bit,” reads a tweet by Mahmood, who goes by the handle @UmmLayth. The Tweet hardly seems conspicuous, till it becomes clear that it is directed to two British friends who are in Syria, as is Mahmood, having joined the Islamic State.

Mahmood’s Twitter and Facebook pages have since been removed, but 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.

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 second post in the series was on June 3, 2014. The focus of this post is the difficulty of leaving one’s family, saying, “Leaving your family behind for the sake of Allah is a big enough Fitnah to handle, but realistically that is the smallest hurdle you will face along this blessed path involving your family.” “The first phone call you make once you cross the borders is one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do. Your parents are already worried enough over where you are, wether you are okay and what’s happened. How does a parent who has little Islamic knowledge and understanding comprehend why their son or daughter has left their well off life, education and a bright future behind to go live in a war torn country. Most likely they will blame themselves, they will think they have done something,” Mahmood says.

Acknowledging how difficult leaving the family proves to be, Mahmood, however, cautions, “Many people are using their parents as an excuse to stay back from making their feet dusty and would rather live in Dishonour amongst the kuffar. There is no way you can make this easier for your parents, your parents will be hurt, you will be judged and viewed by society and it will not matter an inch to you as you know the say of Allah is greater than that of all mankind put together.”

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 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.”

Mahmood’s blog has many similarities to another active blog by a 26 year old Malaysian doctor who traveled to Syria and married an IS fighter. Like Mahmood’s series, the blog itself is titled “Diary of a Mujahir” with the posts focusing on her profession, relationships and thoughts on religion.

Writing of her journey, the Malaysian doctor who goes by the name “Shams” reflects on her first few days in Syria in February. She was offered a clinic when the emir came to know that she was a trained doctor, but refused because “people speak in Fusha and I do not understand it at all. My arabic is very bad, and I’m afraid by having a clinic, I will have a big responsibility in educating my patient,” and choosing, instead, to assist with primary health care.

Like Mahmoud, Shams advises those choosing to follow her path to “do Hijrah only for the sake of Allah alone.” “My humble advice is, re-new your intention. Life here is never perfect. In fact, dunya is never perfect. The moment you made hijrah, the hardship and trial doubles. It requires you to sacrifice so many things. From family, wealth, health and desires,” she writes, adding that she too questioned her decision a month into her hijrah. “ I was so ill. I had severe dehydration and the food made me sick. I was even thinking of going back, because I couldn’t handle the pressure in me. But then, being surrounded by people who reminds you of All?h, helped a lot. That is why, hijrah should be made only and only for the sake of All?h alone. If you think by coming here you will be always happy, you’re wrong.”

In a post titled, “Goodbye Boyfriend. Hello Mr. Husband,” Shams speaks to those “you who are in unlawful relationship or in hard time in purifying yourself.” Acknowledging that “it is difficult… to say good-bye to the person that you loved the most,” the post, in two parts, speaks of the benefits of giving up a lover and recommends some coping strategies. Writing of marriage in the Islamic State, Shams says that marriage will not be forced, will not be conducted without a guardian (wali), and reiterates that the woman has a say in choosing her husband. “This post is to clarify the misconception that many have about marriages that take place in Shaam,” Shams says in reference to the post.

Shams first post on her blog was about her own marriage. “After two months in Shaam, I finally think about getting married because life without a Mahram is quite hard and it can cause fitnah,” she wrote.