ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Mothers of Lashkar-e-Taiba

Besides bringing gender to ground zero in "the clash of civilisations" and organising women in order to extend the tentacles of jihadi culture to the private and intimate sphere, the Lashkar-e-Taiba uses mothers' grief to create an emotionally charged arena that, it hopes, will both justify its mission and help increase volunteers for its mission.


Mothers of Lashkar-e-Taiba

Farhat Haq

their ideology is based on the premise that Muslim women must remain in the confines of chador and char-devari? An analysis of their literature, public pronouncements and organisational activities shows

Besides bringing gender to ground zero in “the clash of civilisations” and organising women in order to extend the tentacles of jihadi culture to the private and intimate sphere, the Lashkar-e-Taiba uses mothers’ grief to create an emotionally charged arena that, it hopes, will both justify its mission and help increase volunteers for its mission.

Farhat Haq ( is with the Department of Political Science, Monmouth College, Illinois, US.

e, the Mothers of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a book published in three volumes makes for a chilling reading.1 It is ostensibly an account of the lives of over 190 “martyrs”, compiled by the leader of the women’s section of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Umm Hammad, as she accompanied male leaders, Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rahman Lakhwi, to meet with the families of the young LeT men killed in Kashmir. The book seeks to memorialise those killed, valorise the s acrifices made by the families, but most i mportantly, it seeks to use the grieving mothers as a symbol of the righteousness of LeT’s mission to “liberate” Kashmir. The reader of these volumes will learn that though most of the mothers and sisters were against their sons or brothers joining jihad in Kashmir, they became convinced by the sincerity of the young fighters’ i ntention, and eventually, happily sent them off to fight. The accounts follow a template that shows the mothers expressing both deep sorrow about losing their young sons and happiness about the sacrifice their sons had made to protect the honour of their Kashmiri sisters and mothers. The accounts include the last will and testament by the “martyred”, which tells the mothers to observe the purdah, give their time and property in service of the jihadi cause and not to mourn their death b ecause they have earned an eternal life for themselves, while reminding their families that during the day of judgment they will be allowed to intercede on behalf of 70 of their relatives and friends.

The Gun and the Purdah

Unlike other jihadi groups active in Pakistan, the LeT had decided to actively e ngage women in their organisation by creating a women’s wing, encouraging women’s participation in their annual ijthima (convention), running madrasas for women, publishing magazines for women, and valorising the mothers of those killed in Kashmir.2 Why does LeT f ocus on organising women’s wing when

Economic & Political Weekly

may 2, 2009 vol xliv no 18

that mobilising women for jihadi cause is foundational for LeT in its goal of creating a militarised global ummah (community).

First, there is a pragmatic reason for the focus on mothers, as the LeT literature

o ften repeats, “it is not easy for mothers to sacrifice their sons, therefore, the mothers must be educated on the blessings of jihad so that they willingly give permission to their sons”. Moreover, LeT sees women as an important ally in its mission to nurture a “culture of jihad”. LeT’s literature often bemoans women’s ignorance of true Islam and contemporary political affairs and a rgues for training women to become more politically aware of dangers to the Muslim ummah so that they can guard the ideological boundaries of the home and hearth.

The gun and the purdah are the key symbols of LeT’s political agenda. The gun represents their jihadi mission and the purdha defines the central purpose for the fight. “For the LeT the covered female body embodies a culture, a value system, and a politics that constitute the ideal I slamic political community…women’s bodies are the site of communication with the other in two ways. The veiled body of the Muslim woman is a signal to rest of the world of the purity of the revitalised M uslim ummah. The violated body of the raped Muslim woman turns into a call to action for young Muslim men.”3 LeT women are required to wear head to toe black burkas, socks and gloves, even during the hot months of summer. This radical veiling makes them stand out and often elicits derisive comments from women of the neighbourhood, who view this form of veiling as ostentatious display of religiosity and not a sincere display of piety.4

Chador and Char-Devari

LeT women are to confine themselves to chador and char-devari because that is their prescribed role but they must never forget what is going on in the larger political universe, and when time comes they must make the battlefield their first priority. At one such political training session


held in the working class neighbourhood of Lahore, the women were shown a collage of images presumably from Gujarat, Chechnya and Indonesia of atrocities against Muslims. The video had almost obscene level of violence, close-ups of infants with slashed throats, severed limbs, burned bodies, and crying women and children pleading for their lives. The LeT leader told me that they need such training sessions because these “poor and ignorant” women have no idea what is going on beyond the four walls of their homes.

Thus, the LeT aims to produce a Muslim woman subject who shuns paid employment because it goes against her natural religious duty and it has only brought d ivorce, sexual harassment and single motherhood to the rest of the world’s women, she avoids birth-control which is a western conspiracy to sap the numerical strength of the Muslim ummah. She learns to control her jealousy and accepts a s econd or third marriage of her husband because that is the Islamic way and also because the sisters and widows of the martyrs need marriage partners, she u rges her husbands, sons, brothers and f athers to avoid banking or any financial dealings that rely on interest, she does not allow music, television, VCRs, taking of photographs or any “unIslamic” ritual celebrations (which for the LeT are almost all ceremonies around death, birth, marriage, etc). She does not allow western fast food or soft drinks in her household lest she unwittingly contribute to the profits of the Jewish/Christian capitalists, who, in turn, will use this profit to carry on a worldwide crusade against Muslims. She keeps herself informed about political a ffairs and she stays ever-vigilant against attempts to take away her identity as a Muslim by the seductive traps of fashion, consumerism or hunger for status.

Testimonials by Mothers

Besides making gender ground zero in clash of civilisation and organising women in order to extend the tentacles of jihadi culture into the private and intimate sphere, the LeT uses mothers’ grief to c reate an emotionally charged arena that, it hopes, will both justify its mission and help increase volunteers for its mission. In its annual gatherings, magazines and p ublications like We, the Mothers of Lashkar-e-Taiba, testimonials by the mothers of m artyrs act as a social text for crafting the authentic Muslim mother who r ealises that her sons belong to the ummah even as her tears and pain show the enormity of her sacrifice. “The mothers must provide the emotional lifeblood for the movement by grieving their unspeakable loss, but must also prepare other mothers for such sacrifices by comporting themselves properly”.5 I witnessed the mining of such maternal emotions during the 2002 annual convention of LeT. Several of the mothers gave what was by now the wellrehearsed accounts of life and death of their sons, but it was those mothers who were working through the raw grief of their recent loss that had the crowd

may 2, 2009 vol xliv no 18


spell-bound. One such mother had found out a few days ago that her 17-year old son had died in Kashmir and she had come to the convention hoping to find solace.

He was a typical teenager growing up in London. He liked rock music and new clothes. His older brother was more serious about religion and used to go to the mosque regularly. When he turned 17 I started noticing changes in his temperament, he became quieter. He would often say to me: “Mom you should not work, it is not proper for Muslim women to leave their houses”. “He started to grow a beard and then he started talking about the atrocities against Muslims in Kashmir. He told me: ‘Mom I cannot sleep at night thinking about my Muslim sisters being raped by the Hindu soldiers’. Then he started talking about Jihad. He asked for our permission. I told him as a mother I just cannot find it in my heart to let you do this. He disappeared one day and we found out later that he had gone to K ashmir for training.”

She told of their desperate attempts to get him back and finally getting this news that he had died. The crowd was fascinated by her account both because it was so raw and unrehearsed, and also because compared to most other mothers she was an educated middle class professional woman, who had worked for a bank in London. Very few of the young LeT men killed are from middle class background because vast majority of those recruited by LeT are working poor, living in rural or small towns or urban slums of Sindh and Punjab.

Cannon Fodder

That poverty is the soil out of which terrorist emerge is a cliché of our times, but it is true in the case of LeT. The leadership comes from middle class background but the foot soldiers are from the ranks of working poor. LeT’s own literature including the book, We, the Mothers of Lashkarei-Taiba shows that overwhelming majority of those killed are struggling poor. As a work of propaganda, the book follows a set formula and Umm Hammad’s voice dominates the narrative. But Umm H ammad is not able to completely control the narrative because in trying to provide the context for these lives, she unwittingly gives us information that goes against the story the LeT wants to tell about these young men.

For instance, we learn of destitute families living in the villages of Punjab or u rban slums of Sindh and Punjab, mothers who are worried about their teenage sons getting into trouble, parents sending their sons to LeT madrasas and mosques hoping that they will reform their ways and make something of their lives. A few drug a ddicts who join the training camps of LeT as a way to detoxify, others who had difficulties getting along with family and neighbours and yet others who followed their brothers, cousins or friends into training camps. Umm Hammad often comments on the shabby dwelling of the families of the “martyrs” and makes a point of highlighting a few cases, where the families are well-off, living in large houses to counter the argument that only the poor are recruited for jihad. But the fact remains that it is the poor who have served as the cannon fodder for LeT’s jihadi mission.

In my interviews with the families of young men who joined LeT or Jaish-i-Muhammad, most complained that their sons are victimised because they are poor and have no connection with the powerful to be able to rescue their sons out of the clutches of the jihadis. My findings are confirmed by the 1995 Crisis Group report: “There is a strong silent backlash in our communities against the LeT for recruiting teenagers for training”, says a local politician, who negotiated with Lashkar leaders for the recovery of his younger brother from a LeT-run jihadi camp in C hilas, in the northern areas. An expert adds, “most parents are angry. They question why the jihadi leaders themselves do not go for battles and why they send their own children to universities in Pakistan and abroad and not to jihad”.6 This was a sentiment echoed over and over again in my conversations with the families: “If Jihad is so full of blessings why do not they send their own sons?” Indeed, the few cases of successful rescue that I recorded in my interviews were by middle class families with enough resources and connections to travel to the Pakistan- administered Kashmir (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) to convince their sons to return.

How successful then is the LeT in mobilising women in its jihadi mission? It is clear that leaders like Umm Hammad have fully embraced the jihadi mission. Dozens of the young women who attended LeT- sponsored madrasas were also active participants in the organisational activities of the LeT. They particularly relished wearing special uniforms and performing “ security” duties during the annual convention. For most of these young women there were no opportunities to continue their education, if it was not for the LeTsponsored madrasas and the idea of having a political “career” in LeT was highly seductive to them.

But what about close to 55,000 women, who attended the 2002 annual convention? The vast majority of them had come from rural Punjab. For many this was their first trip so far away from their villages. Free transportation (LeT had rented hundreds of buses), free food,

o pportunity to socialise with others, getting free medical attention for their kids (LeT was running free medical camps during the convention), pleading with the wife of Hafiz Saeed for jobs for their sons or admission into their madrasas, more than the sombre duties of j ihad, seem to be on the minds of the w omen participants. The following anecdote is revealing of the variety of motives of the women participants:

The convention organisers were concerned about conserving water for the three days of the convention and assigned a few young women security duties around the 60 or so modular latrines. A few of the elderly women attempted to get the water from the drum in order to perform the wadu to offer a special prayer around 12 o’ clock at night. The first fight broke out when they were stopped by the women guarding the water drums. One of the e lderly women became agitated and s tarted shouting at the women guards: “What kind of Muslims are you that you want to stop our wadu? I have travelled from far away to come and worship here, get some blessing, I cannot go to the p ilgrimage but let me get some blessing here”, she continued.

I had a chance to talk to that elderly woman a little later. She had come from a village about 150 miles away. She said

Economic & Political Weekly

may 2, 2009 vol xliv no 18


her neighbour had told her about this gathering and that there was free transportation. She repeated that because she could not afford to go to Mecca for the pilgrimage she thought this would be a good opportunity to worship and collect credit for good deeds. “What about Jihad?”, I asked her. “They talk a lot about that”. She waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. “But I am here to worship and get the sawab (blessing).

Mothers of Martyrs

What about the mothers of the “martyrs”? Are they the happy warriors celebrated in LeT’s official literature? A critical look at the LeT’s writing will reveal that the mothers of these recruits attempted many different strategies to keep their sons away from the jihadis. They tried to arrange marriages for these young men, they were with an average age of 16, when they joined, and 18, when they were killed; they delayed permission to go for jihad; they pleaded old age, sickness, poverty, to convince their sons that they were needed at home. Majority of these mothers cannot read or write and are often told that the kind of Islam they practise is defective, that they need to become better Muslims, that they have the emotional connection to their sons but not enough intellectual capital to really understand the need for jihad. Much of what is written as the n arrative of the jihadi mothers is written by the LeT leadership.

In my interview with mothers whose sons were recruited by LeT or Jaish-i-Muhammad, but not those whose sons died, while working for these organisations – the mothers made it clear that they did not want their sons to volunteer for j ihad. One of the widowed mothers, whose son had gone away with Jaish for training said, “what do I care about jihad in Kashmir, my own home is a battlefront, my husband died because we had no money to treat his kidney disease, I have eight children and no means of supporting them and now they want my eldest son, my only means of support, to go somewhere and fight and die.”7 Mothers whose sons had died while working for LeT or other jihadi organisations resisted criticism of these

o rganisations lest their son’s death be seen as meaningless. LeT’s literature and weekly dars (religious study circles) regularly contrasted inevitability of death; the possibility that one can die in an accident, from a fatal disease or simply of old age – all the various ways of dying that, according to the LeT, had no meaning, and will not buy salvation in the afterlife with the possibility of dying a heroic death. It is a theme that is highly attractive to young adolescent males, who, indeed, see many cases of premature deaths due to ravages of poverty. Many of these young men were also described by their families as “too sensitive” “trouble makers” or painfully aware of the indignities of poverty.8 The jihadis are often mocked for their eagerness to enter paradise because of the promises of 70 virgins – that promise may populate the fantasies of these men, but in their last will and testament they eagerly point out to their families that they will be able to bring 70 of them into paradise. “Often that promise comes with a rueful note about failing to do the ‘right thing’ with the family in this world. It is a promise to make up for what they could not deliver – as socially demanded and as also keenly desired by them – on earth.”9

In the last four years the women’s wing of LeT has mostly become defunct. The women leaders I use to know have disappeared, the huge public funerals of the “martyrs” staged by the LeT and other j ihadi groups are mostly a thing of the past, international pressure on Pakistani government has made LeT hide behind the fig leaf of Jammat-ud-Dawa (JuD) as a charitable organisation. There are r umours of internal dissension in the ranks of LeT as the 68-year old Hafiz Saeed married a 28-year old widow of a “martyr” and the biradari ties reassert at the expense of jihadi ties.10 But JuD’s Urdu language weekly Ghazva boasts: “Over 4,500 Pakistani mothers donated one son each and 83 mothers two sons each to the JuD this year. Their goal: promoting, preaching and defending Islam, besides waging jihad against the forces of the infidel.”11


1 The first volume was published in November 1998 and reprinted in April 2001. The second and third volumes were printed in October 2003. The publisher is listed as Dar-al-Andulus, Lahore.

2 Between November 2002 and May 2003 I attended several study groups, political discussions and other activities such as graduation ceremony for the students of the madrasa controlled by LeT. I also accompanied a woman leader of the LeT as she made recruiting trips to households and a ccompanied her to the annual three-day convention in November 2002.

3 Farhat Haq, “Militarism and Motherhood: The Women of the Lashkar-i-Tayyabia in Pakistan”,

Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2007, Vol 32, No 4, pp 1030, 1040. 4 This observation is based on my fieldwork where I often overheard women making such comments. 5 Farhat Haq (op cit), p 1039.

6 See International Crisis Group, The State of Sectarianism in Pakistan, Asia Report No 95, p 14. cfm?id=3374&l=118 April 2005

A recent New York Times story makes similar point: “When a 15-year-old boy vanished from a madrasa in a village near here recently – his classmates said to go on jihad – his uncle could not a fford to go to look for him, let alone confront the powerful men who run the madrasa. “We are simple people”, the man said, “What can we do?”, see Sabrina Tavernise , Richard A Oppel Jr and Eric Schmitt, “United Militants Threaten Pakistan’s Populous Heart”, 13 April 2009. pagewanted=2&th&emc=th

7 Personal interview in Sargodha, Pakistan, 22 February 2003.

8 Information gathered from LeT’s literature and my own interviews with the families of the young men.

9 C M Naim, Review Essay, “Hum Ma’en Lashkar-i-Taiba Ki”, Outlook India, Web edition, 15 December 2008, p 11. full.asp?fodname=20081215&fname=naim&sid= 1&pn=11

10 See International Crisis Group, “The State of Sectarianism in Pakistan”, 2005, p 16.

11 Amir Ali, “The Gates Are Open”, Outlookindia. com, 9 January 2009. 15 December 2008, p 11. http:// =2011

Unbound Back Volumes of Economic and Political Weekly from 1976 to 2008 are available.

Write to: Circulation Department,

Economic and Political Weekly

320, 321, A to Z Industrial Estate Ganpatrao Kadam Marg, Lower Parel Mumbai 400 013.

may 2, 2009 vol xliv no 18

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top