Fired by zeal, many seek a refuge from secularized society
ISTANBUL (AP) — Asiya Ummi Abdullah doesn’t share the view that the Islamic State group rules over a terrorist dystopia and she isn’t scared by the American bombs falling on Raqqa, its power center in Syria.
As far as she’s concerned, it’s the ideal place to raise a family.
In interviews with The Associated Press, the 24-year-old Muslim convert explained her decision to move with her toddler to the territory controlled by the militant group, saying it offers them protection from the sex, crime, drugs and alcohol that she sees as rampant in largely secular Turkey.
"The children of that country see all this and become either murderers or delinquents or homosexuals or thieves," Umi Abdullah wrote in one of several Facebook messages exchanged in recent days. She said that living under Shariah, the Islamic legal code, means that her 3-year-old boy’s spiritual life is secure.
"He will know God and live under his rules," she said. As for the American bombs being dropped on the Islamic State group, she said: "I only fear God."
Ummi Abdullah’s experience — the outlines of which were confirmed by her ex-husband, Turkish authorities, and friends — illustrates the pull of the Islamic State group, the self-styled caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria that has sent shockwaves around the world with its bloodthirsty campaign. It also shows how, even in Turkey — one of the most modern and prosperous of the Muslim countries — entire families are dropping everything to find salvation in what Turkish academic Ahmet Kasim Han describes as a "false heaven."
Ummi Abdullah, originally from Kyrgyzstan, reached the Islamic State group only last month, and her disappearance became front-page news in Turkey after her ex-husband, a 44-year-old car salesman named Sahin Aktan, went to the press in an effort to find their child.
Legions of others in Turkey have carted away family to the Islamic State group under far less public scrutiny and in much greater numbers. In one incident earlier this month, more than 50 families from various parts of Turkey slipped across the border to live under Islamic State, according to opposition legislator Atilla Kart.
Kart’s figure appears high, but his account is backed by a villager from Cumra, in central Turkey, who told AP that his son and his daughter-in-law are among the massive group. The villager spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he is terrified of reprisals.
The movement of foreign fighters to the Islamic State group — largely consisting of alienated, angry or simply war-hungry young Muslims — has been covered extensively since the group tore across Iraq in June, capturing Mosul, threatening Baghdad and massacring prisoners. The arrival of entire families, many but not all of them Turkish, has received less attention.
"It’s about fundamentalism," said Han, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University. The Islamic State group’s uncompromising interpretation of Islam promises parents the opportunity to raise their children free from any secular influence.
"It’s a confined and trustable environment for living out your religion," Han said. "It kind of becomes a false heaven."
Ummi Abdullah’s journey to radical Islam was born of loneliness and resentment. Born Svetlana Hasanova, she converted to Islam after marrying Aktan six years ago. The pair met in Turkey when Hasanova, still a teenager, came to Istanbul with her mother to buy textiles.
Aktan, speaking from his lawyer’s office in Istanbul, said the relationship worked at first.
"Before we were married we were swimming in the sea, in the pool, and in the evening we would sit down and eat fish and drink wine. That’s how it was," he said, holding a photograph of the two of them, both looking radiant in a well-manicured garden. "But after the kid was born, little by little she started interpreting Islam in her own way."