In her first interview since being released from a Lebanese prison last year, Saja al-Dulaimi described to Swedish CNN affiliate Expressen TV what it’s like to live as the former wife of the world’s most wanted man: ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Ashley Frantz, who authored the article for CNN that described the interview, was quick to note that they could not verify all of al-Dulaimi’s statements, but her story is interesting and portrays a much more complicated situation than many might suspect.
Al-Dulaimi was married to the ISIS leader for only three months before leaving him, but it was long enough to become pregnant with his daughter—a child al-Baghdadi did not learn about until after al-Dulaimi had left. She told Expressen TV “I wasn’t happy” with the ISIS leader, who was only a university professor at the time, and that she resisted several attempts by al-Baghdadi to get her back. Part of the reason for her unhappiness was the suspicions caused by his “mysterious personality,” a trait that kept them distant even when living in the same home. As Georgia State University professor and author of the 2011 book, Bombshell: Women and Terror speculates, it is “conceivable that (Baghdadi) was living a double life,” and that al-Dulaimi knew nothing about it.
That possibility of ignorance, and the relative innocence it would imbue, does not prevent her from fearing for both her life and that of her daughter. Such fears are her given reason for wanting to take her children to Europe where they could hopefully find a greater sense of peace and security than is possible in the Arab world. As Bloom warns, however, even Europe might not provide the haven she seeks. Whether from Baghdadi’s agents or those who desire to attack his kin in retribution for the violence and crimes he has committed, “these children are very much in danger.”
Her situation is a complicated one. Her children are not terrorists and do not deserve to be treated as such. However, they, and especially her daughter by al-Baghdadi, will be inexorably linked to the heinous crimes of their family. In addition, al-Dulaimi’s terrorist connections run deeper than her ex-husband. Her release from Lebanese prison was secured as part of a prisoner exchange with al Nusra, a rival of ISIS based largely in Lebanon. Her brother is thought to be a senior figure within the terrorist group and some suspect that al-Dulaimi’s new husband is also involved.
None of that makes al-Dulaimi guilty, but it also makes it harder to trust her claims of innocence. Her pleas that “I’m branded a terrorist, but I’m far from all that . . . I want to live in freedom, [to] live like everyone else” are tragic if true. However, the crux of her situation is the reality that trusting her carries inherent risks because no one, outside of herself, can truly know her motivations or the degree to which she is telling the truth. Allowing her to take residence in Europe, or anywhere really, poses a potential threat to the people with whom she would live, be it from retributive attacks against her and her children or nefarious schemes with which she might have a part. As such, she seems destined to a life in which she is trapped between two worlds, but at home in neither.
So what would the Christian response to al-Dulaimi look like?
Jesus’ instruction to his disciples prior to sending them out in Matthew 10 seems like a good place to start. In verse 16, he instructs them to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Essentially, don’t be wilfully ignorant of the dangers posed by those that might wish you harm, but, at the same time, don’t allow those potential dangers to define the way you see them either.
With al-Dulaimi, I think Jesus would advise us not to rush to judgment, but rather to spend time in prayer asking for God’s discernment with the situation. The temptation to offer an opinion before asking God for his can be especially strong in such politically and socially charged situations as this. However, only God truly knows her heart, and he longs for her to know his as well.
Perhaps he will redeem her current situation towards that end and help her to enter into a personal relationship with the only one that can truly provide the acceptance and security she seeks. However, God could also desire to use her example as an opportunity for believers around the world to bring his perspective of grace and wisdom to a dialogue that often contains neither.
So spend some time today asking God how you should respond the next time al-Dulaimi, or the refugee situation that is in many ways similar, becomes a topic of conversation in your circle. What we say in those discussions, as well as the spirit in which speak, reflect directly on the God we serve. Let’s make sure not to say anything he’d regret.