Stories of Jihad al nikah or "sex jihad" have surfaced repeatedly since the uprising and conflicts in Syria. These stories include accusations of young women being recruited to rebel groups including, al Nusra and now Islamic State, for servicing the fighters via multiple short-term (muta) marriages and basically prostitution. Although echoed last year by a high level Tunisian official, it appears, the jihad al nikah stories are lacking evidence and may have arisen as Russian media propaganda efforts in support of the Syrian government-to discredit the rebels.
That said, the Islamic State has been more than willing to make use of women for the sexual service of their cadres. These women however, are captives, not voluntary members who come to join. The IS leaders have allowed their men to gang rape Christian and Yezidi women claiming that according to their interpretations of Islamic scriptures and tradition, their religion allows them to used the captured women to be sexually exploited, raped and sold as concubines and wives to Islamic State men. And the IS leaders have used them as a reward and appeal to their men's baser instincts-making claims that the spoils of war are many-including sexual.
Indeed a recent pamphlet put out by IS and translated by MEMRI details the Islamic rules, as interpreted by IS, including full permission to rape captured women... "If she is a virgin, he [her master] can have intercourse with her immediately after taking possession of her..."
The Islamic State has also made concerted efforts to recruit women to their cause using Western women already there to Tweet out the "advantages" to potential female recruits of living in so called marital "purity" in the the claimed Utopian state. Marrying a jihadi fighter is glorified by these women who state that women are coming to support the men fighting there in behalf of the "Caliphate", create families and community along the lines of the original Companions of the Prophet. While not at this point being called into the battle, these women are led to believe they can gain their highest honour by supporting a fighter who dies in battle as a "martyr".
And Western women are answering the call. Similar to young men from the West who have joined the hundreds of youth from European and Northern American countries to join IS, Western women who have gone also appear to be off their track emotionally, occupationally and are generally lost in their daily lives. They appear to be pulled into the "jihad" in Iraq and Syria in a desire for life meaningfulness, adventure, purity and for love. In a process of social contagion, they are also often following brothers or men they already know who left before them.
It still remains to be seen if the roles of women voluntarily joining the movement will transition over time. Many conservative Islamic groups have found that when they were boxed in and under heavy security scrutiny that it was to their advantage to send women as suicide operatives across checkpoints that their men could not as easily pass. This happened in the Palestinian conflict and also in the first iteration of al Qaeda in Iraq and may again occur. Thus as the conflicts unfold we watch in interest for what the roles of women in the Islamic State will be. Likewise how Western females attracted to IS feel when they see their non-Islamic sisters being raped and forced into sexual slavery also remains to be seen. Hopefully it will cause them to think again.