The Character biogs for The State
SHAKIRA BOOTHE / UMM ZUBAIR
Shakira Boothe is a junior hospital doctor and single mother. Aged 26, she is a black British convert to Islam.
Brought up by an evangelical Christian mother in London, Shakira has recently embraced a Salafist strand of Islam which perfectly fits with her uncompromising world view. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly and is very quick to judge. Virtually no one meets the very high standards she sets - including herself. Isaac, her gentle, thoughtful nine-year-old son, is the child of a failed relationship with a violent man she now detests. She tries very hard not to judge Isaac for it, doesn’t always succeed.
Shakira arrives in Syria utterly committed to the concept of the Caliphate. She is determined to bring her skills to the aid of the Islamic State by working in the hospital in Raqqah. She also supports Dawlah, (The State), through her outspoken presence on social media, offering practical advice to those seeking to follow her to Syria and exhorting young British Muslims to join the fight.
As an unmarried woman, Shakira needs a mahram, (male guardian), to act as her chaperone, wherever she goes. She comes under intense pressure to marry. And in the hospital, the rules affect her ability to work – forcing her to treat patients while wearing gloves, with every inch of her body except her eyes covered.
Shakira’s strength and outspokenness bring her into conflict with the Sharia-based way of life in Raqqah. She came to Syria seeking an escape from the hypocrisies of the Western World but many of the people she encounters appear to be more concerned with power than piety. And the rules they insist on have more to do with Middle Eastern tribal custom than the guidance laid down by the Prophet. As Isaac is enrolled into a regime school, taught how to bayonet and prepared for battle, Shakira begins to contemplate the unthinkable – whether there is a way out.
JALAL HOSSEIN / ABU ANWAR AL-BRITTANI
Jalal Hossein, 19, was born and brought up in London, the son of Muslim parents of Pakistani origin. A natural diplomat, he’s a peace-maker who is prepared to play low status if necessary to calm affronted egos.
Jalal’s late adolescence was profoundly affected by the decision of his older brother – Hamid – to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS. He starts to read Dabiq, the glossy online magazine of the Islamic State, as a way of trying to understand his brother’s motivation. And it is from its pages that he first learns of Hamid’s death - eulogized as a brave martyr who died in battle for the cause.
His brother’s radicalization and departure for Syria cause Jalal to take his religion much more seriously. He becomes surprisingly proficient at Arabic. Like Hamid before him, he is drawn to the studied seriousness and scriptural certainties of the Salafist scholars, and becomes a regular Mosque-attender.
Jalal decides to follow in his brother’s footsteps and travel to Syria to join ISIS and persuades his best friend Ziyaad to accompany him. Like Ziyaad, he initially enjoys life in Raqqah, feeling a sense of camaraderie and excitement as he is trained to use a weapon and can use his Arabic to play a leading role in his group of foreign Mujahedeen.
But Jalal becomes increasingly disillusioned as he is daily confronted by horrific scenes of torture and violence. He grows apart from his lifelong friend, uncomfortable with the spoils of battle at the slave market. Ultimately, he learns something which will make him question his whole rationale for joining ISIS.
USHNA KALEEL / UMM HALIMUshna Kaleel, 18, was born in Britain to Muslim parents of Pakistani origin, and lives with her family in an affluent suburb of London. She’s a soft and quite childlike person whose world appears to revolve around home, family and school, where she is hard-working and academic. Adored by her parents, she has a fairy-tale view of romantic love. But apparent innocence and timidity conceal an iron will.
Behind her closed bedroom door, Ushna is living a very different life. Radicalised in secret over many months, as Umm Halim she has attracted thousands of followers to her posts – a giddy mix of romanticism and Salafist doctrine. Having exhorted many others to make hijrah and travel to Syria, she chooses a night shortly after her 18th birthday to follow them, slipping silently from her parents’ home and lives.
Despite her outward religious certainties, Ushna is personally timid and misses her mother terribly. Life in the hostel for single women in Raqqah, with its squatting toilets, is very different from her cossetted life back home. And though Ushna has an impressive collection of jihadi buzz-words, she is unable to speak Arabic, making life difficult, forcing her to rely on an app to translate for her.
Ushna is keen to marry an ISIS fighter to fulfil what she sees as her religious duty. But marriage to a man with whom she can’t converse and who can’t eat the food she prepares doesn’t immediately provide the joy and comfort she was expecting.
Unlike Shakira, Ushna’s response to these setbacks is a retreat into ever more hardline support for ISIS - its doctrine, rules and regulations. She joins the Al-Khansaa Brigade, enforcing the will of the State with a wide-eyed ferocity. And her relationship with Shakira deteriorates as she begins to take an active interest in Isaac’s education and future.
ZIYAAD KADER / ABU NIDAL AL-BRITTANI
Ziyaad Kader, 19, is the son of second generation Muslims of Pakistani origin who are longstanding friends of Jalal’s family - the Hosseins. Ziyaad is a large man with the physique of a body builder. Officially classified as ‘special needs’, he struggled at school. But Jalal was always there to help out academically and Ziyaad, in his turn, made sure Jalal was never picked on. Though shy and with an easy smile, he has a famously short fuse, especially in defence of his childhood friend.
Ziyaad drops out of school at 16 but he and Jalal remain close. When Jalal begins to take a deeper interest in his religion, Ziyaad follows suit. Though he manages to absorb almost no Arabic, the stories told of the lives of the original Companions of the Prophet have a profound effect on him, speaking to him in a way that no Western narrative ever has.
Ziyaad revels in life as an IS fighter as his strength and ability to handle heavy weapons quickly mark him out. He is embraced as a brother by the other Mujahideen, men who’ve travelled from all over the world to seek jihad as he has.
Ziyaad spends most of his off-duty time at the Internet café, talking to his female followers in the West. He grooms them with tales of his military prowess and an idealised version of life in the Caliphate.
As the weeks pass, Ziyaad’s path begins to diverge from that of his lifelong friend. He spends more and more time alone, focused on his prayers and his study of the Quran. As Jalal’s disillusionment deepens, he can no longer confide in Ziyaad, whose mind has begun to turn to thoughts of the hereafter.
Further key characters who appear in The State
The nine-year-old son of Shakira, who has left his father after an abusive relationship.
Abu Ibrahim al-Brittani
A former soldier in the British army who has joined ISIS after becoming disillusioned with the West’s actions in the Middle East.
ISIS leader of the house where new recruits Jalal and Ziyaad initially stay.
Abu Lut al-Almani
A White German convert and ISIS recruit
Abu Ayoub al-Brittani
A Black British convert, former gangster from London, who decided to join ISIS after being inspired by Jalal’s brother’s online posts.
Abu Jihad al-Brittani
A British Asian man who joined ISIS with Jalal’s brother some time ago and who meets the new British ISIS recruits at the border to take them to Raqqah.
A white female convert from America who helps run the Maqqar (women’s sanctuary) and settles in new recruits Shakira and Ushna.
An older member of the al-Khansaa Brigade from Palestine, responsible for female discipline, who explains to new female recruits how life operates in Raqqah.
A former Colonel in Saddam’s Iraqi army, who has joined ISIS and commands the group of Mujahedeen fighters including Jalal and Ziyaad.
An Iraqi ISIS commander, who runs operations at the hospital in Raqqah.
Dr Mohammed Rabia
A young Syrian doctor who has remained in Raqqah to treat sick and injured and persuades Abu Akram to allow Shakira to work at the hospital.
A young Yazidi woman, who has been captured by ISIS and offered for sale as a slave, alongside her nine-year-old daughter Narin, at a slave market.
A Syrian man who has stayed behind in Raqqah to run his pharmacist shop, while ensuring his wife was able to flee Syria safely. He befriends Jalal.
Abu Masood al-Afghani
A Afghan ISIS fighter who marries Ushna.
A Kuwaiti British recruit to ISIS, who is responsible for overseeing the filming of the beheading videos of prisoners.