skip to Main Content

Haram in the Islamic State

Haram in the Islamic States features thirty-three-year-old Abu Said, a defected Syrian, ISIS commander interviewed in November 2015 in southern Turkey by Anne Speckhard and Ahmet S. Yayla. This counter narrative video clip is produced by Zack Baddorf and ICSVE team and underlines the hypocrisy inside ISIS and the brutality practiced by the ISIS hisbah or morality police.

Abu Said states that ISIS did, in his opinion,  make some positive moves, such as requiring individuals to conform to Islamic code, but in doing so were often not only highly brutal, but also corrupt.  For example, he recounts that ISIS required women to dress in niqaab, but that it allowed hisbahmen to beat women in the street just for having some colored part of her dress poke out from beneath her black niqaab. Likewise he states that ISIS banned smoking, which he felt was good. However, when cigarettes disappeared from the market they reappeared on the black market, and he believed that was only possible due to ISIS cadres smuggling cigarettes past the checkpoint and thereby profiting in the illicit trade of the very items they had banned.

Abu Said explains that the ISIS hisbah was made up of many Tunisian foreign fighters who took the opportunity of being in Syria to try to find women to marry and otherwise sexually prey upon. He describes the Tunisian foreign fighters as “filthy” and brutal in their approach to women, echoing many other ISIS defector accounts of Tunisian men arriving to Syria sex starved and more than willing to prey upon Syrian women.

Indeed, approximately 6000 Tunisians heeded the call to jihad in Syria and many are believed to have joined in part over sexual frustration. Many Tunisian young men found it hard to marry at home due to high unemployment and were excited over the ISIS promises of women and even sex slaves. Abu Said recalls how these men seemed to exalt in dominating over local women and enforcing ISIS dress codes upon them, while always searching for women to prey upon.

The female hisbah was formed in Raqqa in response to local complaints about men enforcing the dress code upon women. Abu Said speaks about these members as well and recalls how ISIS appointed a repented prostitute to head this unit, expressing amazement that she could be put in charge of enforcing morality.

Timed transcript of Haram in the Islamic State video:

Haram in the Islamic State

0:02     About the hisbah [the ISIS religious police]:

0:04     they stop people from doing bad things and order people to do good.

0:08     This is what they are known for.

0: 10    For example, if a woman who is outside and violates the Islamic dress code,

0:12     Abu Said

Former ISIS Commander

0:20     they approach this from a religious standpoint.

0:26     So they [ISIS] decided women should wear niqaab and that’s acceptable for us as Muslims.

0:37     But their ways of doing it are different today.

0:40     What gives you the right to beat her in the market

0:43     if the tip of her [colored] dress or her collar poked out from her niqaab?

0:49     How can you do this? You have no right. You cannot insult a woman like this on the street.

0:59     Most of the hisbahmen are from Tunisia.

1:05     Subhan’Allah,the Tunisians who come are really filthy—so filthy!

1:10     All the things they handle are about women. It’s all about women with them!

1:10     An estimated 6000 Tunisians joined ISIS. More foreign recruits came from Tunisia than anywhere else.

1:21 Reports indicate that many Tunisians were lured to ISIS by the promise of women and marriage, given the economic and cultural difficulties for

unemployed Tunisian men to marry in their homeland.

1:28     If they [the Tunisians] see any beautiful women, they’ll ask for her hand in marriage.

1:34     They’re always looking for women to marry.

1:37     Why don’t you marry someone in your own country? Why did you come here to get married?

1:42     They walk around with their sticks in the neighborhoods, in public places, in the market.

1:50     The moment they see a woman, they beat her. What right do you have to hit her?

1:57     Order her to do the right thing—like the name of your department suggests.

2:05     Sometimes they would take [her husband] for religious lessons and then punish him.

2:12     I came across an old man in a cage.  He was about 60 years old.

2:21     I asked him what he was doing in there.

2:25     He said, ‘My wife was cleaning in front of the house, and [the hisbah men] saw her.’

2:31     ‘They asked why I was letting my wife do this?’

2:36     The elderly man replied [in jest], ‘Even Allah can’t argue with women!’

2:40     ‘So they brought me here.’ [he said].

2:44     They should have just advised him

2:48     and taught him that he can’t say this—it’s haram[forbidden].

2:54     Advise him. True religion is good advice.

3:00     Stop people from doing bad things and order them to do the right thing.

3:04     But don’t beat people and insult them.

3:06     The hisbah really forced the men to behave.

3:13     When the hisbah first banned cigarettes, they weren’t available in the market, publicly at least.

3:22     We continued to get cigarettes secretly [through the black market].

3:24     We heard that the ISIS men were actually the ones smuggling cigarettes

3:31     to the black market in large quantities.

3:34     Because it’s hard to believe that you’d be able to bring cigarettes from Iraq to Tell Abyad, [Syria],

3:38     unless [ISIS] supports you.

3:41     You’d be caught at a checkpoint.

3:47     Abu Said also heard about al-Khansaaunit, a group of ISIS women tasked with punishing other women. The unit was created after people

complained that hisbahmen shouldn’t punish women.

3:53     The funny thing we heard is that the head of al-Khansaaunit used to be a prostitute.

4:04     She was a woman of the night. That’s really funny!

4:10     A prostitute suddenly repents to Allah and becomes the head of the women’s hisbah.

4:17     Maybe it’s the will of Allah, but that’s the reality.

4:23     The Truth Behind the Islamic State

4:26     Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism

4:32     See more at

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 600 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past two years, she and ICSVE staff have been collecting interviews (n=78) with ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS, as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and consulting on how to rehabilitate them. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism experts and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA and FBI and CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: and on the ICSVE website  Follow @AnneSpeckhard

Back To Top