Close Reading Al Qaeda's Latest Jihadist Women's eMagazine (Yes, Latest)

Tips on how to meet a terrorist husband? Ideas for keeping your skin beautiful underneath a niqab? Poetry about the Holy War? Enter the bizarre world of Al Qaeda's newest Cosmo-like magazine for women.

Al Qaeda has released a new online women's magazine, Al Shamikah—The Majestic. The contents range from Cosmopolitan-style stories on pleasing your husband and working on household duties to calls to violent terrorism and praise for the wives of suicide bombers. While Al Shamikah is written in classical Arabic, the contents appear aimed at a worldwide audience.

For those interested in reading the magazine, a mirror of the contents has been posted to Scribd and a backup copy is also available through archive.org.

But this isn't even the first jihadist women's magazine. It isn't even Al Qaeda's first attempt at a women's magazine. Terrorism researcher Aaron Zelin has noted that global Islamist insurgents have a long history of producing women's magazines. In 2004, Al Qaeda affiliates in Saudi Arabia created an emagazine called Al Khansaa which contained information on first aid for wounded family members and combat training for women. According to the BBC, the contents were interesting:

Some take a somewhat patronising attitude, dwelling on supposed female weaknesses that must be overcome in the cause of jihad—such as over-dependence on home comforts like TV and air conditioning.

A section on current affairs also devotes some space to an attack on the recent development of having women presenters on Saudi TV, suggesting it is a kind of prostitution.

Al Khansaa only lasted a short time. Another jihadist magazine aimed at women, Hadifat Al Khansaa, was launched in 2010. Al Khansaa is the name of a well-known Arabic poet from the Qu'ranic era and Hadifat Al Khansaa means "granddaughters of Al Khansaa."

As for the new jihadist magazine—it's a hot mess, as the kids say. Al Shakimah's cover features a clip-art like illustration of a women in a veil next to the barrel of a sub-machine gun. On the cover, two articles called “Meeting a Jihad Wife” and “Pages From the Pen of a Female Jihadist” are promoted in bold-faced type. Articles also offer advice for lonelyhearts seeking to marry a mujahidin (holy warrior). One lifestyle column, titled “Your House is Your Kingdom,” encourages women to obtain beautiful skin through staying indoors with their faces covered. Women are urged to "not go out except when necessary" and to wear a niqab in order to "[comply] with the commands of God Almighty.”

Other parts of the magazine feature poems advocating revolutionary violence and calls for women to stand by their jihadist men.

Al Shamikah is a product of the Al Fajr Media Center, a jihadist news service with worldwide tentacles. A number of terrorist organizations informally outsource media relations to Al Fajr (The Dawn), including the feared Somalian Shabaab militia, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State of Iraq. Al Fajr, which operates through a host of constantly rotating websites, blogs and jihadist bulletin boards, required users to subscribe online in order to obtain a printable PDF of the magazine's contents.

According to a translation provided by British journalist Julius Cavendish of The Independent, the magazine's editors are frank about Al Shamikah as a propaganda tool:

"Because women constitute half of the population—and one might even say that they are the population since they give birth to the next generation—the enemies of Islam are bent on preventing the Muslim woman from knowing the truth about her religion and her role, since they know all too well what would happen if women entered the field of jihad... The nation of Islam needs women who know the truth about their religion and about the battle and its dimensions and know what is expected of them."

Over the past few years, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released two magazines over the internetSada Al Malahim (The Echo of Battle) and Sada Al Jihad (The Echo of Jihad). The contents of both were a mix of calls to arms and wonky arguments over internal dissent within the jihadist movement. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula also released an English-language magazine called Inspire last year, the contents of which were reportedly written by American jihadi Anwar al-Awlaki.

In this niche publishing environment, PDFs are the preferred medium for the distribution of jihadist magazines because they allow for easy, decentralized dissemination across bulletin boards and website—there is no worry about, say, the loss of a Wordpress site or of hackers attempting DoS attacks.

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Hadifat Al Khansa as a revival of Al Khansa magazine. While both shared common design and typography, Al-Khansa was a product of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula while Hadifat Al-Khansa was published by a separate organization, Al Sumud. 

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