Politics & Policy

ISIS Boasts of Its Yazidi Slaves

Yazidi refugees flee advancing ISIL forces near Sinjar, August 2014.
A new article in the terror group’s journal justifies the appalling practice.

That the Islamic State has enslaved Yazidi women and children it captured is an established fact. For example, a United Nations report found that “300 [Yazidi] women had been forced into slavery.” Now, in its slick multi-language journal Dabiq, the terrorist group offers its theological justification for this practice.

Most of “The Revival of Slavery before the Hour,” a recently published four-page article in the English-language edition of Dabiq, deals with the title topic: how slavery will function as the Day of Judgment approaches. The remainder rationalizes the enslavement of Yazidis, a group numbering fewer than a million who live mainly in the Sinjar region of Iraq and adhere to a pre-Islamic religion that has come under Sufi influences. The article’s anonymous author argues that Yazidis are not monotheists but follow a creed “deviant from the truth.” Therefore, they do not deserve a protected (dhimmi) status.

He then explains the implications of this verdict, asserting first (square brackets contain my translations), that

the Islamic State dealt with this group as the majority of fuqahā’ [jurisprudents] have indicated how mushrikīn [polytheists] should be dealt with.

In other words, the Islamic State precisely follows what the premodern Islamic legal tradition had agreed upon.

Unlike the Jews and Christians, there was no room for jizyah payment.

Jizya, a tax paid by non-Muslims to their Muslim overlords in return for “protection,” is a privilege reserved to monotheists; not being monotheists, Yazidis lack that privilege.

Also, their women could be enslaved unlike female apostates who the majority of the fuqahā’ say cannot be enslaved and can only be given an ultimatum to repent or face the sword.

According to Islamic legal experts, Yazidis, not being apostates, may be enslaved.

After capture, the Yazidi women and children were then divided according to the Sharī’ah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations, after one fifth of the slaves were transferred to the Islamic State’s authority to be divided as khums [the one-fifth of booty that goes to the state].

The Islamic State has thus applied classic Islamic doctrine concerning war booty.

This large-scale enslavement of mushrik [polytheist] families is probably the first since the abandonment of this Sharī’ah law. The only other known case — albeit much smaller — is that of the enslavement of Christian women and children in the Philippines and Nigeria by the mujāhidīn there.

The above passage refers to the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines and to Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The enslaved Yazidi families are now sold by the Islamic State soldiers as the mushrikīn were sold by the [Prophet’s] Companions (radiyallāhu ‘anhum) [May God be pleased with them] before them. Many well-known rulings are observed, including the prohibition of separating a mother from her young children.

The Islamic State once again emphasizes that it goes by the book. Note the verb “sold.”

Many of the mushrik women and children have willingly accepted Islam and now race to practice it with evident sincerity after their exit from the darkness of shirk [polytheism].

The author then concludes with three hadiths (accounts of Muhammad’s sayings or doings) that confirm the utility of slavery to achieve conversions to Islam and win a place in heaven. Thus does enslavement benefit both the Muslim community (by enlarging it) and the individual slave (by making heaven accessible). What a great deal for everyone!

There are several things to take away from this.

The article’s heavily Arabized English typifies the Islamic State’s discourse, both spoken and written. English provides structure but key vocabulary words are in classical Arabic, with dialect only slightly showing through (e.g., mushrikīn). The transliterations from Arabic are pedantically scholarly, complete with ‘ayns (‘) and macrons (ā, ī).

As in every other aspect of life, the Islamic State unabashedly and brutally applies premodern Islamic law, making no concessions whatsoever to modern mores. It seeks to establish a universal caliphate as though it were again the seventh century. Beheadings and enslavement being among the most shocking Koranic injunctions to a modern sensibility, the group most exults in precisely these and imposes them on those it considers infidels.

The wild, reactionary impulses of the Islamic State appeal to a minuscule number of observers, while its messianic zeal has carried it very far, very fast — from the borders of Turkey to the outskirts of Baghdad. But its actions appall the overwhelming majority, Muslim and not, which will lead to its inevitable collapse while it does irreparable damage to Islam.

— Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum and the author of Slave Soldiers and Islam (Yale, 1981). © 2014 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

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