"We did not want you to leave. We want you to return. We want you to live."
That is an excerpt from an open letter written by a group of largely anonymous Western mothers whose sons used to fight or are still fighting for the Islamic State militant group in Syria and Iraq. The emotional appeal was released Wednesday by the German Institute on Radicalization and de-Radicalization Studies.
"We, your mothers brought you in this world, loved and cherished you," the authors wrote and went on to say: "Even if you think death will give you that 'better' life, remember that even the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: ‘Paradise lies at the feet of your mother’."
The authors use passages from the Koran and repeatedly refer to their roles as mothers to emphasize their appeals. According to Germany's Spiegel Online news site, the mothers are based in Belgium, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, Canada and the United States.
For some of them, the appeal for their sons to return home comes too late, though. The children of at least two mothers, Chris Boudreau and Saliha Ben Ali, have been killed in Syria.
Speaking to WorldViews, Boudreau said: "This letter was very important to all of us because it says so much of what we feel and carry inside our hearts."
"If we can at least stop some from leaving or have some reconsider and come back, then it is doing what we want it to do," she said. "Late is better than never. We have to use our pain to help others."
According to Boudreau, the Islamic State has succeeded in connecting and finding what motivates youths — and reaching out to them via social media. "This opens the door for these slick and smart recruiters. They are offering a utopia," she said.
In writing the open letter, the mothers worked closely with religious scholars to rebut arguments frequently made by sympathizers of the Islamic State.
In one paragraph, the mothers blamed Islamic State recruiters for their pain:
Someone, told you that another life, beyond this one that we share together is more important, more valuable than the life with your mother. (...)
We know that some of you went to become the “true Muslims” and seek out justice and to protect the helpless. But is this justice that you leave your mothers and sisters unprotected? Is that the “true manhood” you were told about, to force us in the open and talk about this never healing wound?
To those of you who think about Hijra and leaving your mothers behind, we say: think again, listen to your heart and your mother.
As mothers, they will "always wait in vain for your return, left alone in this life," the letter continued.
Although the document is primarily supposed to be read by those who have left to fight for the Islamic State, the authors also hope for an audience back home. "To those in charge of making decisions we say: We are the mothers left behind and we must be heard," the letter demands. "We need to be supported, and our stories prove that many things have gone wrong."
"Communities and society need to work together to reach out and develop resources to help guide and counsel our youths in such a competitive environment," Boudreau explained Wednesday.
According to the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization, the number of foreigners who have joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq now exceeds 20,000. The center also estimates that about 20 percent of the fighters come from Western Europe.
However, simply coming home to their mothers might be impossible for many of the foreign recruits in Syria or Iraq. Those who are willing to leave the group's territory are stopped from doing so by the Islamic State. There have been occasional reports of mothers or fathers traveling to Syria to rescue their recruited children. In November, a mother succeeded in rescuing her daughter from the Syrian city of Raqqa.
The authors of the open letter hope that their campaign will resonate widely.
"Jihadis are already starting to comment on the letter heavily. I guess it's having its desired effect," Boudreau told The Post.
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