This is part of a series called Life in ISIS Territory that we previously published a year ago. Through various interviews, we spoke to youth from Raqqa about what life is like. This is only one topic covered within the Life in ISIS Territory report. To learn more and to read the entire series, click here.
Daily life has changed much since the “conquest” of ISIS. From what we understand, the city of Raqqa was under the control of the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group, and was then later taken by ISIS forces. Since the conquest of Raqqa, ISIS has shaped daily life through their presence and influence.
Militants walk in the city among the civilians nowadays. Their bases are targeted by the Coalition’s bombings, but now that they have started renting apartments among civilians, in A’s opinion, they are almost untouched by it. The ISIS militants carry weapons with them, and according to our sources, some wear suicide vests. Their numbers may reach, according to A, approximately 10,000 units. Through various interviews and external sources, it has appeared to us that the main function of those units is to ensure that no infringements of the laws are committed. As reported by A, crimes have actually decreased in number. The “police” are not effective, as robberies do not get investigated and they will simply put a bounty on the robber, yet the terror ISIS causes is sufficient motivation for stopping any criminal activity.
ISIS has put in place many new laws in Raqqa. Multiple laws of which relate to women. Firstly, women cannot go out into the streets without being covered with a niqab. Furthermore, another garment was introduced and is called “The Shield”. This is a layer that covers the face, in addition to the niqab. Women cannot go out into the streets if they are not accompanied by a “Mahram”, which is a term to define brother, son, husband or father. It is then clear that the goal of “The Shield” is to completely cover the woman head to toe, as if some of their skin transpires, not only the women, but the Mahram as well, are punished. If the female is found walking with a boy, who is a friend, they are both arrested and lashed. ISIS is clearly strict when it comes to the male-female relationships, and there are multiple cases in which they force women to marry ISIS men. Apparently, there were approximately 70-80 cases of marriages to ISIS men. In Raqqa, “Al-Khansaa” battalion is a women’s battalion concerned with the prosecution of women. Last year, the battalion would go to schools and tell girls that they would get married to immigrant ISIS members. An example of a specific case would be one that occurred in June 2014 in Raqqa. A second year Arabic literature university female student was forced to get married to a Saudi Arabian man. She then only faced two choices: get married to the man, or commit suicide. Her story concluded with her decision to commit suicide. If she had not committed suicide, she may have had the same story as other women who get married to ISIS fighters. Frequently, when a woman is married to an ISIS fighter, he may die in battle and according to Arab tradition, the children are then raised by the woman’s parents. However, 70% of ISIS members are not Syrians, and some are not even Arabs and instead, are westerners or Europeans. The women can also join ISIS’ ranks, but they have to get the consent of their relatives’ and their salary will be less than that of a man. If they are not working for ISIS, most women have lost the right to work, except for the teachers and nurses.
What is more, it appears that most of the activities have stopped. Not only women have lost their jobs, but men as well. According to A, 90% of the people in Raqqa lost their jobs and many do not have occupations. Sports and other activities have also stopped, as cafes and shops are closed. “People just stay home and care about living day to day. You can just close yourself in your house and wait [to see] what will happen”. There are frequent bombings, of which three of the interviewees have pointed out a difference. While the International Coalition’s bombings have been confirmed targeting ISIS bases and camps, the Syrian government’s bombings apparently do not make a distinction and kill lots of civilians. People, as a result, prefer to sleep in the central room of their house to avoid debris.
Another important thing is the compulsory praying. Most of Raqqa’s citizens are Muslims, but they don’t share equal religiosity. Some of them used to pray, and some did not. But nowadays, shops have to close five times a day, for 15 minutes at prayer time, and every citizen should pray, even in the streets. 90% of the people who pray in the streets in Raqqa pray without ablution. Praying became a compulsory imposition by ISIS, not just something a typical Muslim should do. If you do not pray, you will get arrested or lashed 80 times, not to mention the accusations that you will receive. For example, if you do not pray or you get caught smoking, the accusation will be that you are apostate from Islam, which was really big in Islamic history.