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'New York Times': Islamic State Uses Quran To Justify Rape Of Yazidi Women


Fighters from the self-declared Islamic State have enshrined a theology of rape. A deeply disturbing report in today's New York Times describes an entrenched system in which ISIS not only glorifies sexual slavery, but claims that the rape of women is encouraged by the Quran. New York Times correspondent Rukmini Callimachi wrote the story. And a word of caution - by its nature, this story will not be suitable for young listeners. Rukmini, welcome to the program.

RUKMINI CALLIMACHI: Thank you for having me, Melissa.

BLOCK: You talked with 21 women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq who had escaped from ISIS control. And, as you write about what they told you, they say that rape is being used not just as weapon of war, but also as a key part of the fighters' faith. Explain how that's working.

CALLIMACHI: Yes. I think that's accurate, Melissa. What we've seen in conflict in the past is that rape is often used as a weapon of war. What's very different here is that the Islamic State is not making any attempt to hide or minimize what they are doing. The rape of the Yazidi women has been now publicized in - they're official publications in pamphlets and policy memos and in manuals that they've put out where they say very clearly that this was a practice that was current during the days of the Prophet Muhammad. That much is true.

And then they go a step further and make the conclusion that because it was practiced in the time of the Prophet Mohammed by the prophet and also by his companions, that therefore, it is something virtuous, and the partaking in it is spiritually beneficial to their Islamic project.

BLOCK: And some of the accounts from the victims describe the ISIS fighters praying before and after the rape itself.

CALLIMACHI: Yes. And the girls talked about how - the girls - the women - they were very perplexed. You know, they're taking into a room. Their hands are often bound, and they, of course, know what's going to happen. And then the man who's about to rape them takes, you know, a couple of minutes to kneel next to the bed and pray before he rapes her. The then prays again after having completed the act. In effect, this act of sexual torture is being bookended by an act of faith.

BLOCK: And just as a sense of how ingrained this culture and this system is, you describe Islamic State courts that are notarizing sale contracts for slaves - a how-to manual that's been published, wholesalers that are buying women who are given numbers and then advertising the sale of these girls to buyers.

CALLIMACHI: That's the thing that was the most shocking for me when I came to Iraq to start reporting on this story. What I didn't realize is the extent of the infrastructure that has been put in place, the extent of a bureaucracy of rape, if you will. You know, horrifyingly, some of these women were sold five, six times. Every single sale entails a rape by a new man.

BLOCK: Is there any way of knowing, Rukmini, how many Yazidi women have been seized as sex slaves by the Islamic State?

CALLIMACHI: What we know from community activists is that over 5,000 Yazidi people have been taken captive since August of last year. And around 3,000 are still being held, and I'm told that the major are women and girl. The Yazidis are not Muslim. They are seen as polytheists. They believe in seven sacred angels. And this, you know, has put them at the tail end of the hate spectrum of ISIS because they are not believers in a faith, and they do not have a sacred text, unlike Christians and Muslims, which puts them in further jeopardy.

BLOCK: Given the stigma that is still attached to rape and to rape victims, what kind of future do these women and girls have, assuming they do manage to make it to freedom?

CALLIMACHI: Their religious leader has come out more than once and said that no stigma should be attached to these young women, that the rape was not their fault. That's quite powerful, you know? Imagine if the Pope, you know, came out and said that to Catholic women. It would, of course, resonate. I was expecting that the interviews would be much more tortured. And they were very, very painful, but they were not tortured because of the shame of their direct family. The families that I saw very much supported their daughters, very much saw it as not their fault. And that was encouraging, you know? That's something that, in this part of the world, I find as - you know, is not usually the case.

BLOCK: That's New York Times correspondent Rukmini Callimachi. Rukmini, thank you very much.

CALLIMACHI: Thank you, Melissa. It's a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.