In 2013 Telegram app was made to prevent the Russian repressive government from intercepting its citizens’ online conversations, two years later this application was used by sympathisers of Islamic States of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) to build its strength. The goal of ISIS is to create regional Islamic caliphate (dawla), hence they are also known as Daulah Islamiyah. Compared to Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger, Telegram messaging app is favoured by the Daulah because the message is encrypted, has a validity period before then self-destruct, as well as the ability for new members to view the group’s conversation history even before they join.
Through Telegram app, Daulah Islamiyah creates television-like broadcast channels to spread the news about the Islamic state in an effort to recruit sympathisers, and also to deter opponents. Films that are circulated through Telegram’s ISIS channels are well-edited. For example, the Flames of War-Until the Final Hour, which contains footages of aerial bombings on Islamic buildings and bombings victims’ severity to discredit US President Trump, has the sound effects and editing a-la Hollywood-class movie. There are also short videos on the religious order (fatwa) issued by the Islamic State with local language subtitles, including in Bahasa Indonesia.
The Telegram network of ISIS sympathisers has reached Indonesia, including its communities of women. Telegram channels of Daulah Islamiyah regularly distribute invitations to enter closed groups to further discuss the films and fatwas of the Islamic state. The group invitation is distributed using a link that has an expiry period, so only the person who actually observes the channel can enter the group before the link is disabled.
In the women-only Telegram group, the themes discussed are mostly on women’s daily life. For example, how to follow the ideal dress code according to Daulah Islamiyah, i.e. long veil, long dress that does not resemble a man, all body parts should be covered with only eyes as exception, of course by not showing eyebrows as women are considered as the source of temptation. The Islamic State narratives are trying to give understanding that “a good woman should be happy to stay at home” by using the narrative of the Prophet (hadith) such as: “The woman is awrah (nakedness). When she comes out, Satan will adorn it (to seduce men)” – Hadith History by At-Tirmidhi no. 1173.
The discussion of marriage is also quite frequent in the Daulah Islamiyah women Telegram group. Elder women are actively match-making the unmarried young women group members to marry men from Islamic State group who are looking for a wife. The husband candidates are the mujahideen (Muslims engaged in jihad or struggle in the name of Allah) of the Islamic State, particularly those who have done real actions (amaliya) and are in custody (masjunin or asir), either because of bombing attempts or assaults against police and government officers.
Observations done at the end of 2017 noted that the youngest woman offered to marry was at the age of 14 years, while the mujahid in prison was 19 years old. The mujahideen’ reason is “to find devoted worldly angels”. Meanwhile, the reason for women to marry mujahideen is because it is considered as “an opportunity to encourage themselves to become more devoted servants of Allah (Rabb)”.
In the group of Daulah Islamiyah, the solemniser who marries the couple must come from the circle of Islamic State, otherwise the marriage will not be considered valid. The marriage done by the Indonesian government’s Office of Religious Affairs staff, for example, is not considered valid and if it is continued it will be considered as adultery, except if the government religious office staff is only recording the marriage after previously blessed by the Islamic teacher (ustad) that follow the teachings of Daulah Islamiyah. Therefore, in the women’s groups often there are questions inquiring where Daula ustads can be found to bless their marriage.
In the Islamic state Telegram group, polygamy (ta’addud) is accepted, and even suggested so that the husband can avoid sin from desiring other women. Narratives are instilled in women’s mind to accept their husbands’ decisions on polygamy. “The obligation of a woman is to follow Allah’s law … and (they must) be patient, listen and obey her husband … Allah will not accept the woman’s prayer and also all the deeds of her worship until she obeyed her husband,” is the narrative of Marriage Fatwa from ISIS radio channel Al-Bayan, which was shared in Grup Belajar Akhwat, the all-women’s learning group. With this, in the women Telgram groups it is common to find women looking for second wife candidates for her husband, as she does not have the ability to refuse, at least she has the ability to select which women she shared her husband with.
Most members in Indonesia Daulah Islamiyah groups position women as male companions and supporters. For the women members themselves, the Telegram group is a useful platform to share their lives’ burden.
“I only had three plates, one is broken, so I borrowed another one from my next door sister to provide for the guests. (I only have) one drinking glass that is used by male visitor. (Meanwhile) the ummahad (women) drank directly from the kettle … Before,when I was still living with my first husband, we lived well. After I learned about ISIS, I married an ISIS man and we started from zero. Even there were times I felt that I could not survive, I cried because I was never before forced to only survive by eating plain rice with soy sauce.”
Moreover, for women involved with Daulah network, Telegram group is used as a means to find a place of belonging and for seeking life support when the husband was absent. Women that married to the Daulah men that are unable to meet their living expenses usually open small businesses to survive. Their home business variety is diverse, ranging from herbal products, bags, robe and veil, to the phone credit. There is a special Telegram channel to promote businesses run by widows of killed inmates and suspected terrorists, and also by the wives of Daulah’s group whose husband is imprisoned.
Concerning the use of violence, until the end of 2017, Daulah Islamiyah women’s groups generally did not support women as perpetrators, even though they agreed on the use of violence as long as it is based on justice in the concept of qisas (the law of revenge, eye-to-eye) known in Islam. Where in early November 2017 there was a riot at Mako Brimob Depok because a prison guard was rumoured tarnishing the Qur’an, women in the Telegram groups became angry, yet the advice disseminated in the groups as the best way to do revenge was by not conducting amaliya on their own (because good Daulah women should prefer to stay at home). However, they are told to encourage their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons “to be courageous in giving their lives for Allah, because Allah will unite them in the promised place”.
It is worthy to note that since October 2017 the Islamic State in Syria has been defeated by the fall of the its capital, Raqqa, “the ISIS no longer exists, no territorial borders, no state borders … Now (the group) has become a khilafa (Islamic caliphate) with system following the full Sharia law of Islam”. This sentence was circulated within the all-women Jamaah Amaliyah Akhwat group in early December, inciting the emotion that khilafa has reached the land of Indonesia.
Only a small number of women belong to this group. To join, each member of the group is required to declare a pledge of allegiance (bai’at) to follow Daulah Islamiyah. The reason of the bai’at is to become the antithesis of Indonesia’s civil servants (PNS). Because according to this group, PNS are also required to pledge that they will always loyal to Indonesia’s five principles Pancasila and the country’s constitution UUD45 which is not stated anywhere in the Islamic law. Therefore, each of the member should state Daulah’s bai’at which reads:
“By the grace of Allah there is no God but Allah and I pledge allegiance in the name Allah Almighty, I am a member of the people of Daulah Khilafah Islamiyah. I pledge allegiance to the Khalifah Ibrahim Ibn ‘Awwad Ibn Ibrahim al-Qurashi al-Husayni, pledging to selflessly hear and obey, in times of hardship and ease, and in times of delight and dislike. We pledge not to dispute the matter of those in authority except if we see obvious denial of truth (kufr) concerning which we have proof from Allah. We warn the ignorant and the members of the unbelievers wherever I am, without fear of being reproached. May Allah bears witness to what I say.”
The members of the Jamaah Amaliyah Group is not many, only about thirty women from all over Indonesia, including Jakarta, Bekasi, Depok, Subang, Solo, Jambi and Palembang. The mission of this group is to coach the women aspiring to become angels of heaven through real action (amaliya), but the group only reach to a point of discussion where to meet in-person to conduct studies on Islamic belief (tauhid) then this group was disbanded.
Since Pavel Durov, CEO of Telegram promised the Indonesian government to remove terrorist propaganda content promptly, Daulah Islamiyah’s groups and channels are often blocked. Nearly ten groups are closed down by Telegram per day. But is this removal effective? Observing the movement of Daulah groups, they are increasingly militant when their channel or group is blocked, especially if blocking is done to groups that are not promoting violence, and instead they are only in the stage of seeking evidence that the current Indonesian government is repressive towards Islamist groups, including women’s groups.
In addition, the removal of Daulah groups and channels did not deter them. In a day, the channel of Mawar Berduri (Thorn Rose), for example, can be transformed more than three times from the most common name (Mawar Berduri, Penghias Hati – Thorn Rose, Heart Adornment) to the most extreme (Mawar Berduri Anti Propaganda Thogut NKRI – Thorn Rose against Indonesia’s Taghut (tyran) Propaganda). So far there has been no effective approach in overcoming the circulation of Daulah women’s narratives in Telegram. Therefore, arguably, it is better to keep the channels and groups alive to monitor the movement of Daulah Islamiyah as long as they not propagated violence.
Published in CSIS Blog, 7 December 2017