Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – The female department of the Al Sakina campaign states that “40% of fundamentalist forums and websites that discuss Saudi affairs are run by women.” However, this department did not state whether this figure represents native Saudi women or residents, or whether they are inside or outside of the kingdom.
The female department of the Al Sakina campaign is made up of seven full-time members, two of whom are assigned to scientific and legal debates and interviews whilst the other five are responsible for expansion, establishing ties and arranging subjects. The campaign also has 11 part-time members, most of whom take part in interviews to train as many male and female interviewers as possible to be able to respond those who have adopted deviated ideologies.
The duties of the female department focus upon organizing discussions online and holding meetings with a number of repentant women. The Al Sakina campaign consists of seven women and 23 men whose mission is to surf the Internet for people embracing terrorist ideology and to debate with these people according to the scholarly principles of Shariah to change false and mistaken concepts.
The women highlighted that the Al Sakina campaign has succeeded at convincing half of the 200 women that it has spoken to over the past three years to renounce extremist ideology in substitution for moderation.
Al Sakina is engaged in dialogue with a number of women who embraced what came to be known as the “Al Qaeda ideology,” describing the female hard-line thinking as more severe than that of males as women refuse to listen to opposing viewpoints.
A number of female campaigners from Al Sakina who spoke to Asharq Al Awsat on condition of anonymity stated that many women gave up extremist thinking in response to the dialogue efforts made by the female department, citing their ability to change the extremist thinking of a website supervisor whom they gave the alias “Umm Osama” and who openly called for combat and jihad.
The women stated that their ability to debate led to “Umm Osama’s” expulsion from Al Qaeda and to being labeled a “hypocrite” by the network according to an Al Qaeda statement posted on fundamentalist websites.
The women’s department of Al Sakina stated that the women who supported the fundamentalist ideology came from a range of backgrounds and included mothers, housewives, female academics and illiterate women. However, the dominant and most common feature of those embracing extremist thinking lies in the “accurate scientific foundation” as manifested by the efforts of the campaign activists.
Al Sakina’s officials stated that 70% of women embracing extremist ideology hold academic degrees and are mostly unmarried and unemployed, revealing that such thinking mostly infiltrates the female communities in small towns or villages where there is a scarcity of scholars. The campaign underlined that there is a call for “jihad” in all-women seminars and raising funds for “Al Qaeda” through the female community, however, this cause has begun to diminish since the Ministry for Islamic Affairs has begun to regulate the field of female Daawa.
The women’s department pointed out that the key challenge that faces the activists of Al Sakina lies in imposing the male-oriented approaches of Daawa on the female community, stressing the necessity to consolidate preaching through condensed courses for women on Daawa and its methods and rules by the Ministry for Islamic Affairs.
A number of female activists in the field of Daawa explained that female extremist thinking is more intense than that of men and that women reject and evade debate, dialogue and listening to opposing views. According to Al Sakina’s female department, dialogue with women is more difficult than with men due to the nature of women, their personalities and an intense fear that stems from hiding much of their convictions. Activists attributed this to the little care given to female Daawa and its codification, support and follow-up, which have only recently seen development.
Al Qaeda’s awareness of the important role of women in family and society, according to Al Sakina, manifested itself in recruiting and presenting Saudi females as role models of female Mujahideen such as “Umm Hamza,” who was married to a man who had embraced the deviated way of thinking and who was killed in a clash with security authorities.
Al Sakina’s female team members stated that the broad base of women who embrace Al Qaeda’s ideology generally accept most elements of extremist thinking, however, there is no clear position against this group [Al Qaeda]. The female campaigners stated that in an instance, a woman could deviate and embrace extremism and then quickly switch to the opposing stance.
With regards to websites, the campaign looked into a number of web pages that are owned by female extremists, confirming that one of the key factors behind the female affiliation with extremist thinking is the fact that many women are not convinced by fatwas (religious rulings) that are presented by senior scholars, subsequently they look for fatwas elsewhere, which causes confusion, turmoil and agitation as some fatwas are issued by non-reliable scholars. “Those who involve young men and women in the inferno of sedition are still at large and are going unchecked in cyberspace. However, if they were banned [from issuing fatwas], this would cause a commotion,” the female team added.
The activists and members of the Al Sakina campaign requested linking institutes of education, colleges, universities and girls’ schools via close circuit television to hold regular meetings with senior scholars in order to secure a means of communication that brings together women and girls and a number of reliable scholars and muftis.
The “campaign” summed up the convictions and suspicions of female Al Qaeda sympathizers in their interaction with what they believe in, such as “extraordinary occurrences” or being influenced by women who carry out suicide bombings in some Muslim countries.
In addition, the principle of “Hiba” that is endorsed by extremists and that refers to the “giving” of a daughter or sister from one extremist or Mujahid to another, is one of the oddest elements revealed by the Al Sakina campaign and is becoming more common amongst women themselves, for example, a women offers herself to the first man who volunteers to detonate a site that she recommends. The campaign cites the example of a woman who gave herself to the first bomber of the US consulate in Jeddah and who the campaign sought to interview to dissuade her from her convictions. She was interviewed by members of the campaign and appeared to be sincere throughout her discussions and finally renounced such extremist beliefs following a long series of interviews, according to the activists.
The Al Sakina campaign was launched independently approximately four years ago and is not associated with any governmental authority. Coinciding with the rise in acts of violence in Saudi Arabia, its launch was supported and encouraged by the Saudi Ministry for Islamic Affairs.