Invisible Martyrs

Inside the Secret World of Female Islamic Radicals

Farhana Qazi (Author)

Publication date: 09/25/2018

Invisible Martyrs
Farhana Qazi draws on her background as a pioneering counterterrorism professional and a devout Muslim to offer an insider's view of what drives girls and women to join radical Islamic movements and how we can keep them from making this terrible choice.
The first Muslim woman to work for the US government's Counterterrorism Center, Qazi found herself fascinated, even obsessed, by the phenomenon of female extremists. Why, she wondered, would a girl from Denver join ISIS, a radical movement known for its mistreatment of women? Why would a teenage Iraqi girl strap on a suicide bomb and detonate it?
From Kashmir to Iraq to Afghanistan to Colorado to London, she discovered women of different backgrounds who all had their own reason for joining these movements. Some were confused, others had been taken advantage of, and some were just as radical and dedicated as their male counterparts. But in each case, Qazi found their choices were driven by a complex interaction of culture, context, and capability that was unique to each woman.
This book reframes their stories so readers can see these girls and women as they truly are: females exploited by men. Through hearing their voices and sharing their journeys Qazi gained powerful insights not only into what motivated these women but also into the most effective ways to combat terrorism—and about herself as well. “Through them,” Qazi writes, “I discovered intervention strategies that are slowly helping women hold on to faith as they struggle with versions of orthodox Islam polluted by extremist interpretations. And in the process, I discovered a gentle Islam and more about myself as a woman of faith.”

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Farhana Qazi draws on her background as a pioneering counterterrorism professional and a devout Muslim to offer an insider's view of what drives girls and women to join radical Islamic movements and how we can keep them from making this terrible choice.
The first Muslim woman to work for the US government's Counterterrorism Center, Qazi found herself fascinated, even obsessed, by the phenomenon of female extremists. Why, she wondered, would a girl from Denver join ISIS, a radical movement known for its mistreatment of women? Why would a teenage Iraqi girl strap on a suicide bomb and detonate it?
From Kashmir to Iraq to Afghanistan to Colorado to London, she discovered women of different backgrounds who all had their own reason for joining these movements. Some were confused, others had been taken advantage of, and some were just as radical and dedicated as their male counterparts. But in each case, Qazi found their choices were driven by a complex interaction of culture, context, and capability that was unique to each woman.
This book reframes their stories so readers can see these girls and women as they truly are: females exploited by men. Through hearing their voices and sharing their journeys Qazi gained powerful insights not only into what motivated these women but also into the most effective ways to combat terrorism—and about herself as well. “Through them,” Qazi writes, “I discovered intervention strategies that are slowly helping women hold on to faith as they struggle with versions of orthodox Islam polluted by extremist interpretations. And in the process, I discovered a gentle Islam and more about myself as a woman of faith.”

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Meet the Author

Visit Author Page - Farhana Qazi

Farhana Qazi is a recognized expert and public speaker on conflicts in the Islamic world with a background in counter-terrorism. She is the Executive Director of Global Insights LLC, a Research Fellow at the Center for Global Policy, and a Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism. She appears widely in the media and news as an expert on feminism, women, and the middle east. For her service to the U.S. Government, Farhana received the 21st Century Leader Award by The National Committee on American Foreign Policy in New York and The Humanitarian Award by her alma mater in Texas.

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Invisible Martyrs

Chapter One


Austin, Texas

Growing up in Texas, I learned about war from my mother. I listened to stories of countries born out of conflict; women taking up arms for national pride; and the speeches, songs, and scholarship created by women to fight their oppressors. Mama taught me about female fighters. I was always curious about why she chose to join the army, why she rallied for a socialist political party, and how she lied to her family to do what she believed was her God-given right as a woman. The right to go to war. The right to vote. And the right to choose her destiny.

We lived on a quiet, tree-lined street in north Austin. I knew very little about the country of my birth, Pakistan, or the religion I was born into, Islam. On faith, Mama preached: Pray when you can. Fast if you’re healthy. Never judge anyone. Take care of the poor and your parents. Islam was made simple and easy, so long as my sister and I followed the cultural traditions cloaked by religion.

When I was a girl, my mother introduced me to Kashmir, a place that bids fair to being Heaven on earth. A tiny fraction of the world’s population lives in the blue-green hills, divided unevenly between the two nuclear-rival countries of India and Pakistan. More than ten million Kashmiris live on the Indian side and six million live in the autonomous territory of Pakistan. By contrast, my childhood home in the state of Texas is twice the size of all of Kashmir. This region is the site of the world’s highest battlefield, at twenty thousand feet, where Indian and Pakistani military troops fought. Though Mama romanticized Kashmir, she had never visited or lived near the white-blue mountains. For her and millions of Pakistanis, the valley symbolized resistance.

“Kashmir is worth dying for,” Mama said.

On September 6, 1965, Pakistani soldiers crossed the ceasefire line and entered Indian-controlled Kashmir. The army began looking for female recruits. My mother volunteered. “I was the only girl from a college of two hundred students to sign up for training,” she boasted.

After class, Mama boarded a bus heading to the cricket stadium in Lahore, where the air swirled with dust and mosquitos. She slipped on her military uniform—a statement piece 100 percent her own—with her hazelnut-colored hair falling to her shoulders. She learned how to shoot the enemy. She learned how to load a British-style rifle known as the 303. She learned how to bandage a wounded soldier.

Mama trained without wearing the hijab or burqa, the head-to-ankle cloth that flowed loosely to hide the contours of a woman’s body. Refusing to cover her hair, Mama reminded me of American women in jeans, a symbol of the sexual revolution in the 1960s. I remember thinking how bold and sanguine she was while growing up in a country that offered girls few choices. She valued her freedom and refused to be controlled or cajoled by men. Not even her mother believed in male dominance or the meddling of family members. “Independence is God’s greatest gift to women,” Nano would say.

At the outset, I had no idea that Mama’s story of a time long gone, and fragments of the truth shrouded in mystery, would lead me to other women in war. True to her faith, Mama is thankful for what she did.

Why did you want to fight?

“I had hope for my country. I wanted to prove that women are capable of what men can do. Besides, men can’t fight wars alone. They need women to help them,” she said with her characteristic Punjabi bluntness.

“The only freedom I had was the freedom to fight.”

Going to war for her country was Mama’s jihad, her inner struggle to be true to herself. In Islam, the simple meaning of jihad is to strive and prevail over one’s ego, or nafs. Listening to my mother’s stories, I believed that she needed to fight to feel alive, to break free of all conventional rules, and to stand for a universal spirituality that welcomes women into God’s kingdom. In a country beset with political disputes, endless power struggles, and religious clashes, Mama believed she could help Pakistan win the war.

Mama was caught up in patriotic fervor. Unlike most women of her time, she supported soldiers by wanting to go to battle. She was not the type of woman who would sew needed items or make bandages, though she did receive basic medical training. Mama reminded me of women I would read about as a teenager—the courageous women of the American Civil War, who defied society’s expectations and bravely chose to take on more dangerous, unconventional roles. As a child, I revered this part of my mother: the young woman in long braided hair who dared to speak for women in a country ruled by men. Mama disguised her role as a female soldier in training. She hid her military uniform in her school bag from her teachers and told her family that she was staying after school at a friend’s house.

“I did that for weeks,” she said, until the war was over.

Mama shared the army’s will to claim a land she had never visited. Her national identity as a Pakistani was linked intricately to Kashmir, a remote valley that my mother had learned about in childhood from her mother’s stories. “I am from Kashmir,” she said, but shied away from saying “I am a Kashmiri.” Mama held on to Kashmir as if it were a timeless picture in a vintage frame. She had romanticized the valley. It is Jannat, or Paradise, a term coined by the late Mughal emperor Jahangir. He wrote, “If there is paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here in Kashmir.” For Mama, the valley had old-world charm. She saw it through iconic photographs: sun-kissed images of shikaras, small canoes, gliding along Dal Lake; blue-green mountains; and worshippers at sacred places bobbing their heads like sparrows.

From Mama’s hometown in Lahore, Pakistan-held Kashmir is at least a six-hour car ride—a drive she’s never taken.

After the 1965 war, Mama became a loyalist for the newly created Pakistan People’s Party, led by the socialist Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whom my mother worshipped. “When I saw this handsome man speak, I was hooked. I made my decision to help him win the election,” she said.

Mama went door to door with her one-line slogan: “Let your women vote.” She told me, “I wanted our women to come out of their homes. I had to convince the men that the women had a right to vote . . . everything in Pakistan begins with men. They control the country, and men often control the lives of women.”

On December 7, 1970, Bhutto won by a landslide. It was a historic day for the country. Many years later, memories of the 1970 election lie in a faded black-and-white photograph of my mother on the front page of the Imroz (“Today”) newspaper, which is no longer published. In the picture, Mama sports a white cotton shirt and baggy pants, her long hair braided. With one hand in the air, clenched in a fist, she looks like a fighter. She has the aura of a young woman on the verge of achieving her dreams.

She was my first woman warrior.

As her daughter, I’m often amazed at how unwounded my mother is. She would readily admit that war changes everything and everyone. It changed the ways in which women behaved: how they planned their day and how they interacted with one another, and carefully choosing how they communicated with outsiders. War could leave deep wounds that would never heal, but somehow it didn’t mark my mother, or at least there were no visible injuries. Her only melancholic moments come when remembering her mother. “She sacrificed so much. For most of her life, she was alone and bitter, always wanting more than her country could give her.”

I remember my grandmother, whom I affectionately called Nano, as a woman with a sickness, nausea, and longing that I had at times felt when I looked at the past. We spent nights together in Lahore. In her nineties, she had long, thin gray hair; steel-gray eyes; and hands that felt like leather. She slept with dangling gold and emerald earrings, and as she aged, her voice cracked when she spoke. She lived alone in the old quarter of Krishnagar. Nano’s house once belonged to a Hindu family before Pakistan was a country. In the late 1940s, the family migrated to India when it became an independent state. Even after the freedom movement, the neighborhood retained its Hindu name—Krishna is a revered god in Hinduism.

Though Pakistan became her home, Nano’s family was once rooted in Kashmir before the valley and the entire Indian subcontinent became unevenly split by the Partition Plan, drafted by Britain’s Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who had never set foot in the region.1 In

five weeks, the Radcliffe Line, or the border formally recognized by England and Indian nationalists, divided millions of Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. When the British government withdrew, it transferred power from all of its 584 princely states to the newly created countries of India and Pakistan.

All except Kashmir.

Nano’s house generated many stories: The story of moving into a space previously owned by Hindus before India and Pakistan declared their independence. The story of everyone living together, even after marriage, as one big family. And the story of grandchildren playing on the flat rooftop of the house while Nano, their caretaker, watched with joy. For decades, the house was the center of Nano’s life, complete with history and family fables. As her family structure changed, when children and grandchildren moved out, the house she once cherished for the infectious love it contained rearranged itself into empty spaces. All that was left were memories of a time and place retold as fragments of her imagination. “We had apple trees in Kashmir,” she would say of a place she could never forget.

During my visits to Pakistan, I spent a few nights with Nano. Most of my days were spent traveling through Pakistan to interview and research victims of violence, speak to scholars about terrorism trends, and meet with government officials to understand the rising terrorist threat in the country. Over a span of thirty years, the Pakistan I came to know was unfamiliar and unrelated to Mama’s experiences as a child and a young adult. After my parents purchased their first and only home in Texas, Mama made it clear that she could never return to a country obsessed with its own survival from political chaos, corruption, crime, and calculated terrorist attacks. “Who can live in a place where random violence is the norm?” she lamented.

The stories of a distant time and Mama’s training as a soldier that I had heard as a child forced me to question the role of women in war. I had to know more about what motivated a woman to fight for a cause she believed in. In my mind, I came up with questions I might someday ask women living in or exposed to conflict: Have you ever come into contact with cases of family violence or experienced violence yourself? Have you been a victim of a traumatic incident? How do you perceive conflicts in the Muslim world? What is your practice of Islam? And so on. Behind such clumsy questions was an impatient attempt to get to the most direct question of all: Who are you?

At the heart of these questions was an attempt to piece together the identity of Muslim girls and women in order to understand their experiences and choices. As a young Muslim girl in America, I carried the burden of adapting to a mainstream society while belonging to a distinct and decidedly fixed culture at home. Although I was not raised in conflict or exposed to a constant stream of violent action, I had a different conflict, which has been described as a clash of cultures. I wrote poetry to heal, expressing the realities and dangers of an honor-and-shame culture that could entrap a Muslim girl in a Western country, if she was exposed, over time, to severe adverse life events, such as trauma, childhood victimization, neglect, abuse, depression, anxiety, or family instability. I firmly believed in the principle that a person is the product of his or her environment. Thus, I felt, Muslim girls and women made different choices depending on where they were in life. Often, it seemed, these choices were driven by a belief in dreams and the hopeless illusion that Islam would prevail with violent action.

The more I learned, the more I understood how conflicts could drive some women and girls to take up arms and sacrifice everything for the greater good, which is one part in the ongoing story of females looking to belong to a cause, country, or creed. When I became a young adult, I learned about the power and ubiquitousness of stories. My longtime professor friend Eric Selbin said of revolutionary stories, “Memories of oppression, sagas of occupation and struggle, tales of opposition, myths of once and future glory, words of mystery and symbolism, are appropriated from the pantheon of the history of resistance and rebellion common to almost every culture . . . and provide a picture of the world as it was, as it is, and as it could and should be.”

I see Mama, now in her sixties, in her revolutionary imagination, wondering what life might have been, had she stayed in Pakistan instead of coming to America as a young wife with me in her arms.

“I could have been a great politician,” she said.


In seventh-century Arabia, the Archangel Gabriel revealed God’s message to the Prophet Muhammad. Believers in Islam, the world’s fastest-growing religion, with over a billion Muslims and a rising rate of conversion, see the life-altering gift of faith as their guide in this world and their path to Paradise, which is the ultimate goal. Muslims learn about the human condition from past prophets and saintly men and women, whose stories are preserved and transmitted by historians, intellectuals, and deeply thoughtful students who understand the past with passionate hearts.

At home, religion was described to me as an event in history. Islam was something that happened—a moment of truth that came to be, which was both singular and magical but existed in a fixed time period. Daddy constantly criticized Muslims for their backwardness, corruption, and religious rioting. He condemned faith-based rituals and lived by a stubborn logic he called the cause-and-effect principle, which meant that faith alone was not the answer to ignorance and inexperience. Faith could not save us from ourselves.

Mama disagreed. She believed in the Promised Land and rarely let life discourage her. Her abiding faith in God reminded me of the Christian preacher Joel Olsteen, who said, “You may face problems and setbacks, but remember, God is still leading the way.” My mother’s approach was relaxed and confident. She made faith both accessible and ultramodern, allowing me to discover it for myself later in life. I’ve always thought that was one of the beauties in her practice—she lifted the pressures over hijab and sexuality and allowed her daughters to come into their own. “Because you are a Muslim girl, you have to be strong,” she said repeatedly.

Mama taught me to memorize a few verses in Arabic from the holy book, the Quran, and recited a popular oral tradition: “Paradise lies at the feet of mothers.” Early on, I knew I couldn’t talk back to the woman who determined if I entered Heaven or Hell.

As a child, I had mixed images of Mama. I watched her dance with her Indian and American friends in our home. Daddy turned our home into a disco. Photographs show a strobe light hanging from the ceiling of the living room. With the furniture shoved aside, men and women of different faiths and ethnic background twirled to the music. Some drank. In her red dress, Mama danced the night away sober.

As an immigrant child, I was confused about many things, among them the role of religion in family, society, and the larger world. While I didn’t learn the history, doctrine, or principles of Islam at home, my parents did teach me the fundamentals of success: be kind to everyone, show up on time, and work hard. However, I needed to know more about Islam and believed in the spiritual depth of rituals and the circle of life, as described by Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth: “The circle represents totality. Everything within the circle is one thing, which is encircled, enframed. That would be the spatial aspect. But the temporal aspect of the circle is that you leave, go somewhere, and always come back. God is the alpha and the omega, the source and the end. The circle suggests immediately a completed totality, whether in time or in space.”2 Though Campbell wrote about mythology and the hero’s journey, his concept that “the whole world is a circle” helped me embrace the “circle of faith” idea.

In my lectures, I say that Muslims believe that Islam completes the circle of all monotheistic religions, and therefore Islam is not a new but a “borrowed” religion, building on the tenets of Judaism and Christianity, led by a prophet from Arabia sent by God to remind people of His Oneness and His Greatness. In that spirit, a Muslim is “one who submits” to the will of God; and in submission, or worship of the one God, a Muslim enters the Afterlife. (Oddly, the goal for pious, practicing Muslims is the same for Muslim extremists, who use violence and any means necessary to attain a place in Paradise.)

Everything about faith baffled and stirred me. As a child, I had more than Islam to inform my understanding of faith. I learned from Jewish teachers, a Methodist preacher, Southern Baptists, Sufi mystics, and Catholic friends. I watched my father’s Hindu friends worship their deities at holy festivals. I heard the names of Lord Krishna and Ganesh, the elephant god, at dinner parties. With school friends, I attended church and listened to calls of “Hallelujah” and high-pitched voices rising to the altar; I heard the faithful pray to the Son and invoke the Trinity. I learned about the simplicity and straightforwardness of Zen Buddhism in class and how to find enlightenment in something as simple and profound as a bowl of rice. At private parties, I watched long-bearded men from Afghanistan spin in circles, their Sufi hearts flamed with the love of God.

With the confidence of youth, I had the unshakable belief that God is Great and He created humans to emulate His attributes: mercy, patience, gratitude, and compassion. No matter what or how much I learned about religion, I realized that God is, in the words of novelist Yann Martel, “as God should be. With shine and power and might. Such as can rescue and save and put down evil.”3 To believers of God, He is enough. Which I only accepted after years of studying (and partly experiencing the effects of) violence, trauma, and the psychology of evil; and only after I found beauty in the wisdom and love of God from self-aware, placid Muslims, a reminder from the Quran that “believers are each other’s mirrors.” Self-awareness, however, is only a lantern in the courtyard of a house that will go dark within hours, days, or months. I needed a spiritual teacher for life to find enlightenment.

Those early years proved that I didn’t know the mysteries of Islam: the meaning of the face veil, segregated spaces, and the immense power of men over women in almost every aspect of their lives. Threading myself through the experiences of women in distant places, as well as behind closed doors in America, I learned of families entangled in their hidden traumas; of women hunted like animals in the wilderness for so-called honor crimes; of the weight of clerical decisions clamped on fragile, voiceless girls; and of women choosing violence, even when not directly experiencing it, because it made sense to them. While I could not possibly understand all that afflicts women, I wanted to map the psychological, physical, and personal histories of women who conformed to the vertical lines of violent behavior.

In contrast with violent women, between the stories of war told by my mother and the questions of faith narrated by my father, lies a world of women who are strong and immutable. The righteous Muslim woman is proud of the rights granted to her in seventh-century Arabia, Islam’s glorious past. Today, the same rights and privileges of Muslim women are dictated by a patriarchy of irrational and ignorant men, many of whom support the radical interpretation of Islam—the barbarism, the beastly action, and a culture of humiliation and shame narrated by violent extremists. These same men prey on vulnerable women, who are misguided, misinformed, and mistaken, incapable of differentiating the universal values of love that the Quran promotes from the teachings of corrupt, crooked men with blood on their hands. To uncover the illusions of violent women, I would have to know them, or at least try to trace the depth, or the shallowness, of their actions.

And so I did, or at least I tried, like so many terrorism analysts and scholars around the globe, surrendering their working hours to the complex world of extremism. We entered the dark, dense study of evil that crushes the voice of reason, and I, the first Muslim woman in the Counterterrorism Center, found this work at times suffocating, wanting to let in air when the fear of drowning in the stories of women committing unspeakable, unthinkable crimes swirled in night dreams.

Through the stories of violent women, I turned to Islam’s rich history and cultural traditions to better understand the role of violence and, by extension, suicide. I found answers in the Quran and the hadith literature. I learned a glaring truth: No Muslim woman or man has the right to choose death over life. Muslims believe that dying is proscribed by God and is not a destined choice. The Quran and numerous sayings by the Prophet ban suicide. If religion is unambiguous on prohibitions against suicide and suicide terrorism, then why do women choose to die? How can women justify a sin so clearly forbidden by the Prophet? Muhammad said, “The gates of Heaven are forever closed to anyone who takes his [or her] own life.” Only God has the right to choose a person’s time of death.

The ban on suicide is clear, as is the prohibition on extremism and extremist behavior. Islamic scripture emphasizes the “middle way” and not “overstepping the bounds” ordained by God. Muslims are taught to live a balanced life and avoid extremes because to do otherwise contradicts God’s law. “Do not exceed the bounds in your religion” is a popularly cited verse in the Quran, along with numerous sayings in the oral tradition such as “Beware of extremism in your religion.”

In Islamic history, the first extremists were a group called the Khawarij; they murdered the Prophet’s son-in-law, Ali, in a town in Iraq and killed both of Ali’s sons, who were also the Prophet’s grandsons. In her book, Islam: A Short History, religious scholar Karen Armstrong wrote of the fitna, or “chaos,” in the early Islamic period in which Muslims killed each other for power, greed, revenge, and religious supremacy.4 The wars that began so long ago in Islamic history are being fought today by a new brand of extremists, and women are among them.

Embedded in my research are “master narratives,” which are the study of what narratives “do”: how extremists use stories and narratives of violent extremism to recruit new members, strengthen their base, and motivate actions. In Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism, one of the authors writes that stories and narratives “reveal a great deal about how members of such extremist groups think about where they came from and where they might be going, how they should be organized, what goals they should pursue in light of what they believe, and what makes them (as ‘true’ followers of the Prophet Muhammad) unique.”5 Unlike men, extremist women may find alternative meaning in war stories and usually respond with a different sense of personal purpose that connects them to the community and the historical imagination of the Islamic cosmos. It’s not surprising that women crystallize their intentions, needs, and desires apart from men, even in the trappings of war.

Above all, I have learned that the motives of women are personal, which is now supported by research but was, at the time, a hunch that fluttered into my work. That terrorism could be personal was more than a prediction or a premonition. I had my own research notes and a tapestry of interviews that read like a short-story collection rife with descriptions and details I wished I had not known, even though each tale was powerful and electrifying. I came to witness truths that were larger and more meaningful than the literature on terrorism would allow—among them, that female terrorists believed they were being authentic by choosing violent action. The existing literature of female terrorism and the reasons attached to why women kill reads like a fantastical novel, which explains why the subject of female terrorists is often perceived as opaque and illusory by authorities and intelligence agencies. In my experience, it is only when a woman perpetrates a deadly attack that authorities take action and begin to ask the same questions: Why now? Who is she? And how can we minimize the threat?

Over the years, I’ve heard conflicting explanations of why women join extremist groups. Some terrorism analysts argue that these women are desperate: they have no choice but to die. Others consider a woman’s psychological condition: she is labeled insane, mentally ill, traumatized, or terrified. Many argue that violence in women is unnatural, a capability that could only be taught by maniacal men. In my own lectures, I point to the powerful concepts of honor and shame: women choose suicide terrorism to honor their broken lives, to discard the shame of their sins in this life to restore honor in that life; these women may believe that suicide terrorism is the only way into Heaven. For women in love with a terrorist, peace comes in martyrdom.

No research study of violent women, or men or children, has offered a comprehensive “root causes” explanation to help us understand violent behavior. In nearly twenty years of studying this phenomenon, I’ve found that empirical evidence of violent behavior is often representative of a specific time, place, culture, and woman. There are no universal truths, only patterns. Over the years, the models shaped by terrorism experts to underscore the dangers of extremism and the various variables that explain violence may have been overemphasized. For example, underlying social and economic grievances could be possible motives for one woman, which is why there are no single or simple coherent narratives. There are numerous narratives, and the dialect of survival for each woman—a story that is her own—has to be considered in the absence of empirical evidence.

Today, radical women present a real and ongoing threat. Discovering who they are is the first step to understanding the allure of extremism. Because of my mother’s role in fighting for Kashmir, it seemed logical to begin my journey in the bowl-shaped valley to meet the bomb girl.

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"This is an extraordinary book, written by an extraordinary woman. Qazi is a master storyteller, capturing the emotion as well as the subtleties of what she wants to communicate. And as the first Islamic member of the U.S. Counterterrorism Center, there is a lot that she wants to tell readers about. She knew Islam to be a religion of peace and compassion. The personal horror of terrorism for her was coming face to face with female psychopaths who shared that faith. She's devoted her career to trying to understand that phenomenon and finding a way to explain it to non-Muslims in a way that is productive. The dreary cover of this book captures the dark world that Qazi immersed herself in, but it belies the light that she brings into the world by trying to put a human face on extreme female violence. She has become her mother's prayer: Be constantly occupied with listening to God. Believe that He has a purpose for you."
—Anna Jedrziewski, Retailing Insight

“Qazi, a former analyst at the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center and a Muslim, investigates what leads women to become radical Islamists in this volume, part analysis and part searching memoir.…this is a heartfelt plea for the tolerant majority to take back their religion from the violent fringe.”
Publishers Weekly
“This is a conceptually innovative and highly-informed account of the appeal of violent extremism to the tiny minority of Muslim women who leave their homes, especially in Western countries, to join foreign terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State (IS).”
Joshua Sinai, Perspectives on Terrorism

“Farhana Qazi takes the reader on a well-written and analytically sharp tour of the world of women who kill in the name of God.”
—Peter Bergen, Vice President of New America Foundation and CNN's national security analyst

“Farhana Qazi continues to serve as an ambassador between religions and cultures in difficult and violent times. Her book is a must-read to separate the peaceful practice of Islam from violent extremism.”
 —Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University

“Qazi is a daring researcher who provides answers to why women and girls join extremism. With an open heart, she weaves in her own personal story to tell the world that ignorance of faith disempowers Muslim females. This is the only book by an American Muslim woman with a counterterrorism background that has the power to change hearts and minds.”
—Judit Maull, Producer, Happy Madison Productions 

“Farhana Qazi's new book, 
Invisible Martyrs, is an authentic revelation of how Islam can be skewed by some, thus distorting the core fundamental goodness of the faith of Islam, and especially for gender issues. In this complex and volatile world, women reject terrorism and conflict—they search for peace, justice, and rights. Bravo to Farhana with this most important message in her new book.”
—Lois A. Herman, Coordinator, Women's UN Report Network 

Distorting the teachings of religion is not unique to extreme Islam in our time. We find it everywhere, and we all need to address it if we are to mend our world which is undergoing a deep moral crisis. This book focuses on women who are recruited by radical organizations who distort the teaching of Islam. I share the author's conclusion that, as we have always seen in the past, those who have no regard for human life cannot succeed. The teachings of compassion and justice shared by all the major faiths will continue to prevail."
—Rabbi Mordecai Schreiber

“Farhana Qazi focuses on the importance of going local as the foundation for countering and preventing violent extremism, understanding that Muslims are the front line in the global war on terrorism.”
—Stephen M. Apatow, President, Humanitarian Resource Institute 

“Farhana Qazi highlights the precious gift of Islam in this book, which is to bring the misguided female extremist closer to the truth and understand a religion of love and mercy.”
—Jennifer Sue Parker, senior commander, US military 

“Informed by her own experience and personal encounters, Qazi's book takes us inside the mindset of those who, contrary to their own religious beliefs and to society's perceptions of women as nurturers, instead become its murderous fanatics. While avoiding the alarmist prose and political agendas that color so much of the literature on terrorism, 
Invisible Martyrs offers a fascinating and harrowing story. Of all the recent books on this topic, this one is an essential read.”
—Brian Michael Jenkins, Senior Adviser, RAND Corporation

“Qazi has given us a deeply personal yet acutely analytical journey into the minds of the women and girls who seek out violent extremism. 
Invisible Martyrs is an electrifying page-turner that should be read by everyone who wants to understand this disturbing phenomenon.”
—John Horgan, senior counterterrorism adviser to the United States and Professor, Georgia State University

“Qazi gives us a book that is bold, brave, and brilliant. A must-read for everyone trying to unpack violent extremism from a peaceful religion.”
—Amanda Ohlke, Adult Education Director, International Spy Museum

Invisible Martyrs reflects Qazi's personal spiritual journey as a Muslim American woman, mother, immigrant, and scholar trying to understand motives for terrorism that are so alien to her experiences with Islam. An antidote to complaints in the media that Muslims aren't speaking up, the book demonstrates that many Muslim scholars continue to be doing their part to combat what the author characterizes as a ‘disturbing trend of an uncompromising Islamic scholarship spreading in the Muslim and Western world.' Qazi also suggests alternative narratives against extremism, in which struggling ‘in the way of God' means taking the path to love, not to war.”
—Barbara Sude, former senior counterterrorism analyst, US government 

“Through storytelling, Qazi takes a deeper look at what motivates women and girls to join a dangerous and radical movement. This book is essential for anyone hoping to understand the dark truth of violent extremism as well as the beauty of Islam.” 
—Angelina Maldonado, world affairs instructor

“Farhana Qazi has utilized a lifetime of studying Islam to craft a book that sheds light on a great mystery. She comes at the subject as a scholar and an American woman who spent time with Muslim women to understand their motivations. Her insights are unique. She draws on a tremendous amount of research and reflection. It is a valuable read to help understand what Islam really says and how we might prevent future violence.”
—Vicky Collins, television producer and journalist

“Compellingly written and hard to put down, Farhana Qazi's first-person perspective asks difficult questions about faith and culture while shining a light on an often-unexpected and unseen side of radical Islam.”
—Eric Tipton, author and screenwriter

Invisible Martyrs, Farhana Qazi turns conventional thinking upside down and forces us to ask new questions about who engages in political violence and why. A highly original, compelling, and very readable exploration of a side of terrorism we know very little about.”
—Peter Mandaville, Professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies, George Mason University, and former Senior Adviser to Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry

“In her book, Qazi fights violent extremists by trying to capture the true spirit of Islamic teachings while also understanding and offering solutions to vulnerable Muslims who need to reject such messages and once again embrace a religion of peace.”
—Anne Speckhard, Director, International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Georgetown University School of Medicine

“Farhana Qazi tells the fascinating inside story of the women who are ready to die for radical Islam.”
—Deborah Scroggins, author of Wanted Women

“Heartbreaking. The balance Qazi brings to a difficult story—extremism versus the teachings of peace and love—makes for a powerful read. Telling the story through the eyes of women makes it memorable.”
—Betsy Ashton, author and former President, Virginia Writers Club

“With her inimitable insights, compelling analysis, and clear-eyed stories, Farhana Qazi makes a world opaque to most all of us accessible and vivid. This book has much for those willing to be taught and should be read widely.”
—Eric Selbin, Chair of International Studies, Professor of Political Science, and Lucy King Brown Chair, Southwestern University

“Gripping. Lyrical. With 
Invisible Martyrs, Qazi tells stories that need to be heard and penetrates minds that need to be understood.”
—Ajit Maan, President, Narrative Strategies, and author of Narrative Warfare

“Farhana Qazi's courage and compassion inform this extraordinary book, which gives new and important insights into the radicalization of violent extremists. A beautifully-crafted cri-de-coeur, 
Invisible Martyrs stands as crucial reading for all who share the author's dedication to freedom, security, human rights, and human dignity.”
—Abigail R. Esman, award-winning journalist, author, and member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

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