Summary and book reviews of Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni

Guest House for Young Widows

Among the Women of ISIS

by Azadeh Moaveni

Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni X
Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni
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  • Published:
    Sep 2019, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Book Summary

A gripping account of thirteen women who joined, endured, and, in some cases, escaped life in the Islamic State—based on years of immersive reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Among the many books trying to understand the terrifying rise of ISIS, none has given voice to the women in the organization; but women were essential to the establishment of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's caliphate.

Responding to promises of female empowerment and social justice, and calls to aid the plight of fellow Muslims in Syria, thousands of women emigrated from the United States and Europe, Russia and Central Asia, from across North Africa and the rest of the Middle East to join the Islamic State. These were the educated daughters of diplomats, trainee doctors, teenagers with straight-A averages, as well as working-class drifters and desolate housewives, and they set up makeshift clinics and schools for the Islamic homeland they envisioned. Guest House for Young Widows charts the different ways women were recruited, inspired, or compelled to join the militants. Emma from Hamburg, Sharmeena and three high school friends from London, Nour, a religious dropout from Tunis: all found rebellion or community in political Islam and fell prey to sophisticated propaganda that promised them a cosmopolitan adventure and a chance to forge an ideal Islamic community where they could live devoutly without fear of stigma or repression.

It wasn't long before the militants exposed themselves as little more than violent criminals, more obsessed with power than the tenets of Islam, and the women of ISIS were stripped of any agency, perpetually widowed and remarried, and ultimately trapped in a brutal, lawless society. The fall of the caliphate only brought new challenges to women no state wanted to reclaim.

Moaveni's exquisite sensitivity and rigorous reporting makes these forgotten women indelible and illuminates the turbulent politics that set them on their paths.

Nour

Spring 2007, Le Kram, Tunis

After the niqab incident, Nour was suspended from school for ten days as teachers and the principal deliberated how to respond to a thirteen-year-old flirting with religion. No one summoned Nour to speak to her about why she had shown up at school wearing a niqab, or whether something was wrong at home. Nour just wanted to be virtuous, to be dutiful to her God and ensure her place in heaven; she was also an adolescent, and it made her feel alive to defy something and play around with her identity. But no one asked precisely why she felt that covering her face was her religious duty. Had they given her the chance to mention the YouTube sheikh, they might have informed her there were opposing and indeed stronger and more valid scholarly views. Instead the principal summoned Nour and her parents to the school and, in the presence of a disgusted-looking policeman, made her sign a pledge to never cover her face or hair again.

In the period that stretched from...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A riveting, in-depth study of young women who searched for purpose by joining the Islamic State (IS). Readers and book groups willing to dive into the many complex themes presented here will find provocative ideas for discussion...continued

Full Review Members Only (960 words).

(Reviewed by Karen Lewis).

Media Reviews

Library Journal
A compelling read that imparts important lessons about religious extremism. Recommended for readers interested in women's issues and current affairs.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In concise, visceral vignettes, Moaveni immerses her readers in a milieu saturated with the romantic appeal of violence. The result is a journalistic tour de force that lays bare the inner lives, motivations, and aspirations of her subjects.

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Beyond the Book

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS): A Brief History

ISIS Territory Map (2015) Journalist Azadeh Moaveni's Guest House for Young Widows follows thirteen young women who joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a jihadist terrorist organization and former proto-state. ISIS aims to establish a global Islamic state, with everyone living under their interpretation of Shariah law, which enforces strict guidelines regarding diet, abstinence, dress codes, marriage, gender roles, prayer, and more. During the past decade, the group has killed thousands in its quest to conquer the world, generating international outrage among people of all faiths, including Muslims. Islam is not by its nature a religion of violence, and most Muslims decry ISIS for its practice of suicide bombing and its willingness to kill ...

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