This is an archive of the Inspire Women CIC website. The CIC no longer exists but the Inspire website as seen here, provides a historical account of the ground-breaking work delivered by Inspire from 2008 to 2018.  Sara was a co-founder of Inspire, and a co-director during that time.

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Around 60 women and girls are estimated to have left the UK to join Isis so far. The latest female recruits are three girls from Bethnal Green: Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum. Responding to their departure, some voices in the media have argued that we should show no sympathy to them, and instead to just “let them go”, despite their age and naivety.

Such an argument ignores two points. First, it ignores the fact that we are not talking about adults – Shamima Begum is just 15-years-old, the same age as Yusra Hussein, who fled in October. But it also shows a complete lack of understanding of the actual process employed by Isis in targeting girls.

Isis’ success at recruiting females to their cause cannot be downplayed. Their propaganda is powerful. Using extremist theology and social media, they target young girls with the hope of persuading them to help build their so-called “state.” Its media outlet Al-Zawra, for example, is aimed specifically at women and girls. It romanticises the notion of the jihadi fighter seeking the ultimate goal of martyrdom, and sells the role of a wife to a martyr as the next best thing.

As we all know, these girls have been radicalised. But what many don’t seem to appreciate is that they have also been groomed. And understanding how this works is essential to understanding why we shouldn’t give up on these teenagers. As director of Inspire, my work includes looking at the nexus between extremism and women’s rights. Seeing young girls groomed in this way is not all too surprising.

Isis grooms these girls for sex, “legitimising” it as “marriage”. Take the case of 15-year-old Yusra Hussein. It is alleged that she was groomed through a Twitter account called Jihad Matchmaker, which promises to “link up those seeking marriage in Syria”.  Using religious language as a smokescreen, and with promises of strict religious ceremonies, it claims it will “keep it halal”. Yusra is now in Syria, and two weeks ago it was reported she had “married” a jihadi.

Isis deliberately targets these girls as a recruitment tool for jihadis,using them as a reward to entice and recruit foreign fighters. The promise of girls has been shown to be an additional motivating factor for some jihadis, who pose an immense threat to many of the women they encounter.  Amnesty International and the UN have highlighted how thousands of Yazidi women and girls have been brutally raped by them.

Just like child abusers groom their victims online and persuade them to leave their homes and meet them, male jihadists contact women through social media and online chatrooms, and build trust with them over time. And like child abusers, they deploy flattery and false notions of love and desire. Their targets often believe their jihadi fighter “loves” them, and considers their relationship to be genuine. They don’t see themselves as victims.

In some cases, the normality of teenage crushes is also thrown into this mix. Instead of lusting after One Direction’s Zayn Malik, the pin-up is an Isis fighter. One example you might not have heard of is the Dutch jihadi fighter Omar Yilmaz, who is seen by many girls as an Isis heartthrob worth fleeing for. And there are many more men just like him.

And it’s not just Twitter that is helping Isis groom young women. As Melanie Smith at the King’s College Centre for Radicalisation has pointed out, social media sites like Ask FM are used by jihadis to collect information about young Muslim women. They ask them about their relationship history, how pretty they are, and their height and build. As well as providing them with all their details, the female targets are also encouraged to upload pictures of themselves, to be passed round handfuls of other jihadi fighters.

By the time they are at this stage, girls are already radicalised by the Isis propaganda, and the grooming can begin.

Women also often take part in grooming children. Women like Aqsa Mahmood – who Shamima Begum tweeted two days before she left – and other Isis female recruiters often build trust and relationships with these girls. Advising on everything on how to get into Isis territory to what to bring with them, these women are also often busy arranging “marriages” for their new recruits.

We must develop new safeguarding policies to help protect teenagers from this new twin phenomenon of grooming and radicalisation. Because as much as we despise their desire to leave for Isis, this does not take away the reality that they are being exploited and targeted.

This article has been taken from the Independent on 25th February, you can read it here.

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In our #MakingAStand roadshow earlier this month, we’ve come across hundreds of women, who want to make a stand and take the lead. Their passion has shone through and should be an inspiration to us all.

As we travel throughout the country, we’ll publish videos of these truly inspirational women. Please watch, enjoy and if you want to join these women at an upcoming #MakingAStand Event, please fill in our online registration form.

Click here to see testimonials from our past events.

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The Times(£), 10 March 2015

Muslim parents must warn their daughters about the threat of sexual from grooming posed by Islamic State, just as they would alert them to any other risk to their safety, a campaigner as urged.

Sara Khan, director of the anti-extremism charity Inspire, said that jihadist fighters were using highly sophisticated techniques to lure impressionable teenage girls by exploiting their tendency for forming crushed on older boys.

Ms Khan said she was particularly concerned about the new Isis propaganda campaign group al-Zawra which had been specifically set up to lure girls by romanticising the jihadist fighters.

“First there is radicalisation, then there is froom. Then, Thrown into the mix are normal teenage crushes. Instead of lusting after someone like Zayn Malik from One Direction it is these jihadi men. They have become pun-ups,” she said.

She named Omar Yilmaz, the Dutch fighter whom some girls are calling their “jihadi pin-up”, adding : “It’s quite sick. For girls at that stage, already radicalised, already groomed, they become convinced that the most masculine man is a jihadi warrior who want to be a martyr, so what could be better for a girl [than] t be married to one.”

Ms Khan, who set up Inspire in 2009, said she felt “aggrieved and upset” when she heard that three girls from east London had flown to Turkey last month to join Isis. Shammia Begum and Maira Abase, both 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, crossed into Syria shortly afterwards .Just like other child abusers, the fighters were grooming the girls online and persuading them to leave their families. She was shocked at some of the responses to the girls’ plight, especially after the review into victims of sexual grooming in Oxford, who were labelled “very difficult girls making bad choices”. Ms Khan said: “This ‘let them go’ attitude is how we dealt with sexual grooming 20 or 30 years ago…We are blaming them instead of helping them.”

Little was being done to warn the girls of the risks they were running, she added, and parents had a key role to play. “Too many parents are afraid to speak about Isis at home, fearing they may be bringing the risk into the family. In reality it is already there, everyone is talking about it because it is all over the news.”

She recommend an open-ended conversation, with parent asking their daughter what they think about Isis and what they have heard.

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Following the start of our #MakingAStand roadshow last week in Birmingham and Luton, here’s a roundup of some of the fantastic media coverage our campaign, Inspire and – most importantly – the attendees have received.

Among others, articles by Sara Khan and about Inspire’s work were published in The Independent, The Observer, the BBC and The Huffington Post. Both Inspire co-directors’ opinion was highlighted in a number of broadcast segments, culminating in Kalsoom Bashir’s appearance on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.

Please see a few examples of regional media coverage here:

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In the wake of the uproar caused by the news of three teenage girls from East London travelling to Syria to join ISIS, Inspire’s Co-Director Kalsoom Bashir appeared on BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show on 1 March 2015.

She spoke about the lure of the extremist narrative and the danger it poses particularly to young, impressionable women seeking guidance and direction. Kalsoom also highlighted Inspire’s work with grassroots organisations and in particular the latest campaign #MakingAStand, which seeks to equip women across the country with a strong counter narrative.

Please watch the segment here, starting at 34:46:

In the latest issue of CHARTIST, Tehmina Kazi writes on the complications found in efforts to unite Muslims

During September 2014, the #notinmyname hashtag went viral. Young British Muslims at the East London-based Active Change Foundation created a video condemning ISIS, with a tagline at the end: “ISIS do not represent British Muslims.” This was a great show of initiative by young men and women from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. It complemented the July 2014 letter, signed by over 100 Sunni and Shia imams and religious leaders, which urged young British Muslims not to join ISIS or fall prey to sectarian divisions.

Further, in September 2014, Inspire launched a women-led initiative against ISIS at the Royal United Services Institute. Home Secretary Theresa May was the keynote speaker, and their #makingastand hashtag has also been shared widely. I was fortunate enough to have attended the launch; it was heartwarming to see a Muslim women’s initiative receive enthusiastic backing from people of all backgrounds, professing a wide variety of beliefs. This is the spirit in which we must go forward to tackle all kinds of extremism and sectarianism, no matter where they emanate from.

Initiatives like #makingastand provide a refreshing change from those that have dominated the British political scene for years. Too many political alliances are fickle, opportunistic, drawn along sectarian lines, and are conceived in opposition to ‘the West’ as opposed to standing for anything positive. These kinds of efforts – which often attract otherwise well-meaning individuals – actually take us backwards and propagate the cycle of hate.

Further afield, efforts to unite different groups of Muslims – including Sunnis and Shias – have spanned the gamut from the King of Jordan’s well-received ‘Amman message’ to the recent US-Islam World Forum convened by the Brookings Institute and the Government of Qatar, designed to bring together leaders in the realms of politics, business, media, academia and civil society. The Salafi governor of Medina also had a noteworthy meeting with the Shia community in which he said “It is an honour to visit this tribe.”

It was heartwarming to see a Muslim women’s initiative receive enthusiastic backing from people of all backgrounds, professing a wide variety of beliefs. This is the spirit in which we must go forward to tackle all kinds of extremism and sectarianism

There are also grassroots efforts in Iraq itself, such as the Organisation of Women’s Freedom, which runs a safe house for women fleeing ISIS persecution, and publicly denounces their genocidal campaign against minorities. These grassroots groups are contending with a seemingly never-ending cycle of brutalism, which was cruelly stoked with the 2003 US invasion. According to a Pew research survey in 2011, the majority of Iraqis are Shia (51%, compared with 42% saying they were Sunni). However, Saddam Hussein’s regime was, of course, Sunni-dominated. After the 2003 invasion, the Shias came to power, and sectarian violence continued until 2008, on both sides. Much of this was exploited by Al-Qaeda terrorists, who killed scores of Shias in bomb attacks.

In March 2010, parliamentary elections took place, and Nouri Al-Maliki’s Shia State of Law Coalition went up against the mainly Sunni Iraqiya Coalition, led by Ayad Allawi. The latter won 91 seats, compared to the State of Law Coalition’s 89. The initial jubilation of most Iraqi voters was not to last: the new Parliament only opened after three months of negotiations, allegations of electoral fraud, and a recount. To top it all off, Maliki remained the Prime Minister of Iraq. After a brief ceasefire, the violence increased again, partly due to Sunnis feeling disenfranchised and under-represented in Government (several were arbitrarily detained by police after protests about this in 2013), and partly after witnessing the actions of militants in the Syrian civil war. All of this has boosted the following of ISIS.

Today, Yazidis, Kurds and Christians have been killed en masse in their own ancestral villages. Shia shrines have been threatened. The border between Iraq and Syria has been decimated. Over 650,000 Iraqis have been internally displaced and are living in transit camps. Sexual violence is endemic, and at the same time, ISIS are enforcing strict female dress codes. Child soldiers have been recruited. Who could stand idly by in this situation? On 27th September 2014, British MPs voted overwhelmingly to support US air strikes over Iraq, albeit cautiously, only offering the use of six Tornados, and refusing to intervene in Syria. Various staunch opponents of the original Iraq war – of which I was one – have noted that the situation is very different this time round.

As Sadiq Khan MP (who voted for intervention) wrote on his blog: “On this occasion, ultimately, a sovereign state has asked for our help, and we had a responsibility to answer that call.” Even Caroline Lucas MP, who voted against intervention, stated on her website: I don’t think this is like the last Iraq war. I don’t think that the Prime Minister is manipulating intelligence or lying to the House.” Further, just because British MPs voted for military action, it doesn’t mean that political and diplomatic solutions are redundant – quite the opposite.

To start with, Iraq’s politicians need to persuade Sunnis that they can participate as equal citizens in an Iraqi state. Secondly, Jordan’s announcement of a draft UN resolution – calling for a new international offence on crimes against humanity that target specific communities – is a welcome one. Thirdly, it is rare to see instances of Sunni-Shia co-operation when it comes to fighting IS in Iraq, but these are rising steadily. When IS fighters tried to storm the Tigris River town of Dhuluiya north of Baghdad in early October, they were stopped by a group of Sunni tribal fighters inside the town and Shias in its sister city Balad, on the opposite bank. Then there was another powerful Sunni tribe who fought alongside Kurdish forces to drive IS fighters from Rabia.

Further, the international community should give greater financial backing to secular groups who fight both extremism and fundamentalism. Professor Karima Bennoune, law professor at University of California Davis and author of Your Fatwa Does not Apply Here notes: ‘While Qatari coffers have nourished jihadists across the region, secular groups who fight Islamists scrounge for funds.’ This brings us nicely to the last recommendation: the UK must establish a clear and consistent foreign policy that is based on respect for international law and human rights norms. This does not mean selling arms to regimes like Saudi Arabia; the British Government approved £1.6bn worth of exports to the Kingdom in 2013 alone. A Human Rights Watch report from 21st August 2014 revealed that 19 people had been executed in the twelve days prior to that. No matter where we live or which belief system we profess to follow, we cannot allow tribalism and allegiance to one’s own particular group to trump universal standards of justice and human rights. That is one of the lessons to be learned from the horrific situation that Iraq – and other countries in the Middle East – now find themselves in.

Tehmina Kazi was writing in the latest issue of CHARTIST, which can also be found by clicking here.

Tehmina Kazi

Tehmina Kazi took up the position of director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy in May 2009. On top of this, she was a freelance consultant for English PEN’s “Faith and Free Speech in Schools” project, is a trustee of anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate, an advisory board member of the Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks project, a committee member of the newly-formed Inclusive Mosque Initiative, and a judge of the Accord Coalition’s Inclusive Schools Award 2014. She is a co-Executive Producer of the “Hidden Heart” documentary on Muslim women who marry non-Muslim men. 

Tehmina was shortlisted for Cosmopolitan Magazine’s “Ultimate Women of the Year Awards 2011” in the “Campaigner” category for her work. She also won an “Outstanding Achievement” Award at the Syeda Fatima Interfaith Conference at the House of Lords in June 2012, and was named as one of the BBC’s 100 Women in October 2013 and October 2014.

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Six months have gone by since Boko Haram abducted more than 200 girls from their villages in northern Nigeria, six long months of waiting for a sign of life and hoping for their release. Yet, just last week, the terrifying news reached us of a renewed kidnapping of dozens of girls by the militant terror organisation.

Amidst the horror; three brave girls, taken from their beds by militants at night, courageously escaped Boko Haram’s brutal clutches and reunited with their families. The BBC is now retelling their incredible story as a cartoon, dedicating a short animation to them as part of their 100 Women series.

Since 2009, Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 500 girls and women in Nigeria, a horrifying toll. Human Rights Watch published a new report this week, detailing the mental and physical violence endured by the abducted.  Read more here.

We urge all women to join us in #MakingAStand and condemning this barbarism which treats women as spoils of war to be traded.

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British Muslims are coming together to say that the so-called Islamic state has nothing to do with our faith. It’s a twisted version of Islam that we condemn utterly. We won’t tolerate Great Britain being poisoned by extremist propaganda.

Inspire launched “Making A Stand” because British Muslim women are incredibly angry and frustrated about their faith being hijacked and want to make a stand against terrorism. We oppose IS and extremism. We see how young people are being radicalised and fear that our children will be next.

When we hear about teenage boys and girls going out to Syria and Iraq to join IS we feel outrage and horror. These young people are being brainwashed and as women we want to do something about it.

But our message can go further. The Sun is today asking Britain to unite as a whole and make a stand against extremism. Terrorists are committing acts of brutality and we have to say we are not taking it anymore.

As a nation we stand for tolerance, respect, equality and human rights. That is what makes Britain great. We’re making a stand against any intolerance and hatred and everyone has a role to play.

Imams in our mosques need to continue to reach out to young people and to openly reject what IS is doing. They need to reach out to young Muslim girls in particular. At times, these girls find that they are not welcomed in the mosque and they are not having their voices heard. So they turn to the internet for religious guidance and find extremist views.

Imams also need to continue to open up their doors to the wider community and promote tolerance. That good work has got to be amplified at the moment because it is so desperately needed.

Young Muslims have a vital role to play in the fight against extremism. They need to stand up and say that IS is simply not cool and spread that message to their peers.

IS likes to promote the idea that their fighters are ‘real men’ but there’s nothing masculine about blowing people up. A man is somebody that respects life and humanity and builds bridges within the community.

IS also like to say that the young women travelling over to be jihadi brides will be treated as equals. But the reality is so much different. They are treated as second class citizens and their role is within the home. They’ve bought into a pack of lies and they’ve given up the freedoms and women’s rights that Britain offers.

People of a non-Muslim faith can help in this fight against IS by stamping out hate as a whole. IS plays into the fears that some people have about the Muslim faith and burn the bridges within our society.

If we respond by promoting hate to each other we are letting them win. They want Muslims to feel marginalised so they will want to join their twisted cause.

We need to say we’re not going to allow you to destroy us and we say that by not tolerating hatred or violence to anyone.

The common theme here is to make a stand against any hatred or extremism. It’s not what it means to be British.

IS is touching every part of British society. In the last week we had a 15-year-old British girl travelling to Syria to join the cause and we had the barbaric murder of Alan Henning.

But that should make us stronger. In these times of crisis we need to stand up even more united and stand up stronger. We’re not going to allow them to divide our nation.

We are British. We need to take to social media and go into our communities to spread the message and show that we are all making a stand.

Sara’s words can be read as part of Wednesday October 8’s seven-page spread in The Sun Newspaper: (£) (£) (£)