When she learned to smoke for the first time with her 40-year old neighbor, little did she know that a pack of cigarettes could cause so many problems. Her story seems straight out of a movie.
R. Abdesalam, a 45 year-old woman from Manbij, was arrested by Daesh for a week because she was carrying a pack of cigarettes.
“When Daesh was in Manbij, tobacco was forbidden, and it was very dangerous to be caught with a pack of cigarettes, which were extremely high-priced. I used to visit a seamstress in the popular neighborhood of Hachachin in Manbij through whom I was able to procure packs of cigarettes and ward off any suspicions by hiding them in my clothes as I walked around the market. This went on for a year and a half.
One day, when we were in the covered market, my young son asked me to buy a toy for him. As I was paying for it, the pack of cigarettes hidden in my clothes fell to the floor. A Hisbah member who happened to be there immediately caught it and began calling me a miscreant and a sinner.
I was terrified when I heard him because I knew that I had gotten myself in a lot of trouble. I tried to deny that the pack of cigarettes belonged to me, but to no avail. The Hisbah women had quickly arrived, and the toy seller had confirmed that the cigarettes had fallen from the inside of my abaya.
At the Hisbah prison, an official declared that I should stay in the women’s prison for fifteen days and follow a training session on Islamic principles. I asked him to let me take my son home first, but he refused, saying that they would take him home instead. I was then transferred to the women’s prison in the Sarb district, where my unimaginable suffering began.
When I first arrived, all I could think about was my son, whom I had left with them. They told me that they took him home and that my husband was there, trying to talk with the official in charge of my arrest. These words comforted me, but not for long. Soon thereafter, a group of women came to the cell I shared with twenty other detainees and began arranging us into groups: one for those who wore makeup, a second for those who did not comply with the imposed dress code, a third for those who traveled without a mahram (male companion), and a fourth group for those who smoked. I was put in that group with three other women and we were taken to another cell.
One of the women who arranged us into groups began asking us questions about religion: who is Allah, who is the Prophet, how many times should you kneel for each prayer, how to perform wudu (ablutions), etc. Any female detainee who gave a wrong answer was beaten with a one-meter green plastic water pipe that contained a metallic tube inside. I was also beaten like the others, as there were many questions and we were all scared and tense. Then the woman gave us a booklet containing Hadith and Koranic verses and told us to study them well because they will be the subject of the training session on Islamic principles.
We read and memorized the content of the booklet, and the woman came back for the Fajr (dawn) prayer, but this time without the plastic tube. She began to ask us questions randomly. At first, the questions were from the booklet, but then she asked about the Koran, the Hadith, the jihad and its purpose.
Any wrong answer made you regret the day you were born. The woman would leap on the detainee who had given the wrong answer and tear away at her clothes on the chest area before biting her. When I saw blood pouring down the detainee’s body, I looked at the biting woman and saw that she had inserted metal jaws in her blood-filled mouth and targeted the other woman’s chest and neck. I also ended up giving a wrong answer and did not escape the biting.
Each passing day felt like an eternity and ended with a savage and brutal method of torture such as biting, beating, pouring cold water on the body followed by whipping.
After one week of detention, I returned home and collapsed from exhaustion and sleep deprivation. As soon as my husband saw me, he started hitting and insulting me, saying that I brought him shame. He beat me for an hour, but I lost consciousness at the fourth strike. I awoke the following day and found his sister by my side. She asked me about what happened to me during my detention and told me that a nurse came and cared for me at home after my husband beat me and I fainted. She also said that my husband regretted what he did after he saw the traces of the full week of torture on my body. Her words brought me comfort, as she seemed to be the only one who understood what I had been through. One month later, I was able to move again without any help and the blue marks had disappeared from my body but remained forever etched in my mind.
I had to tell the same story every time a neighbor or a friend visited, and they told me about other women who were detained and harassed. I also cried at what happened to me at the end of each visit.
I heard neighbors whisper about how my husband stayed with me after Daesh detained me, and how he believed me when I said that I was not assaulted or offered to a Daesh emir. These were the same neighbors who visited me and congratulated me on my safe return.”
The story of R. Abdesalam is one of many similar other stories in Manbij about women who suffered from the injustice of Daesh when it occupied their town. Society treats them as if they committed a crime and they should die to erase its trace. There are very few women who were able to confront social pressure and begin a new life after their detention.