Tunisia witnessed controversy yesterday [March 26] regarding a fatwa that permits “sexual jihad” in Syria. Tunisian Minister of Religious Affairs Noureddine al-Khadimi rejected “sexual jihad” fatwas, saying that the Tunisian people and state institutions are not obligated to adhere to them. Khadimi’s statements follow reports that Tunisian teenagers have headed to Syria in response to this fatwa.
The minister stated that these fatwas have been rejected since they are “new terms that are foreign to the country.” He said that fatwas must be based on scientific, methodological and objective references. He also noted that any fatwas issued at home or abroad “only obligate those who issue them, not the Tunisian people or state institutions.”
The minister’s statements came after the spread of an anonymous “sexual jihad” fatwa on the Internet calling on young women to support opposition fighters in Syria by providing sexual services. According to media reports and mujahideen who returned to Tunisia after participating in jihad in Syria, 13 Tunisian girls headed to the battlefield in response to the “sexual jihad” fatwa.
News websites and social networks in Tunisia circulated a fatwa attributed to Sheikh M. A., in which he calls upon “Muslim women” to perform jihad through sex. However, sources close to the sheikh denied that he had issued the fatwa, stressing that anyone who circulates or believes it is insane.
It is noteworthy that this fatwa had gained much attention on pro-Syrian regime websites, the goal of which may be to tarnish the image of the Islamic fighters.
Regardless of whether the fatwa is true or false, it seems to have resonated among at least 13 Tunisian girls. A few days ago, Tunisian newspapers said that a young Tunisian man divorced his wife, and that they both headed to Syria almost a month ago to “allow her to engage in sexual jihad with the mujahideen” there.
Although this fatwa was not issued by a Tunisian cleric or a religious institution — whether official or civil — it did not prevent a number of Tunisian girls from traveling to Syria to perform “sexual jihad.” According to analysts, the reason is that Tunisian youth are greatly influenced by Salafist sheikhs living abroad.
Two weeks ago, a video was widely circulated on the internet and social websites in Tunisia. It shows the parents of a veiled girl called Rahmah saying that they did not find their daughter — who was not even 18 years old — at home in the morning, and later learned that she had headed to Syria to carry out “sexual jihad.” The family of Rahmah — who later returned to her family, which have ever since intentionally kept her out of sight — said that their daughter is not a religious fanatic, but was influenced by her fellow students who are known for their affiliation with the jihadist Salafist current. They said that these fellow students may have brainwashed her and convinced her to travel to Syria “to support the mujahideen there.”
Al-Hadi Yahmad, a researcher on the affairs of Islamic groups, told Al-Hayat that “the issue of sexual jihad was initially attributed to a Saudi sheikh who denied it, and this fatwa is abnormal and not endorsed by religious scholars.” He added that this fatwa — had it indeed been issued — may involve Syrian girls living in Syria, who can “support the mujahideen by marrying them for a few hours.”