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Just Sharing – ICSR Report – Pain, Confusion, Anger, and Shame: The Stories of Islamic State Families

icsrExecutive Summary 

Click here to read the paper in full.

• For every jihadist that has traveled to Syria, Libya, or other places where the group calling itself Islamic State (IS) has attempted to take root, there is a family affected by what their sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, husbands or wives, have done. Their feelings and reactions are the subject of this paper.

• Instead of simply documenting these stories, our aim was to find out if they can be generalized. Do families who have lost members to IS share certain experiences and emotions? Are there common themes and narratives?

• Based on 46 publicly available accounts of families from 17 countries, we were able to identify four themes. They are:

  • Pain
  • Confusion
  • Anger
  • Shame

• What becomes apparent is how universal – and universally negative – families’ perceptions of their relatives’ actions were, and how little it mattered whether a family was from Tunisia or Turkey, Britain or Bosnia. In many cases, their stories and reactions were interchangeable.

• The families’ determination and emotional strength was deeply impressive. Yet, throughout their experience, many of them also felt helpless, and few had received adequate support or knew of people they could turn to. To us, this seems like a missed opportunity.

• Fighters’ families are among the most powerful assets in the struggle against IS. Their stories highlight the pain and suffering that aspiring jihadists are causing to their loved ones. Families can be key to stopping their sons and daughters from leaving; encouraging them to defect; and helping them re-integrate once they return. They need to be empowered, not left alone.


About Muhammad Haniff Hassan

Muhammad Haniff Bin Hassan is a Fellow. He holds a PhD and M.Sc. in Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (previously known as the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies), Nanyang Technological University. He received his early education in Aljunied Islamic School. He then continued his tertiary education at the Faculty of Islamic Studies, National University of Malaysia, with honours in Syar`iah and Civil law. Mr. Haniff is also active in social activities as a member of the Islamic Religious Council Appeal Board, HSBC Insurance Islamic Advisory Board from 2000 to 2014, Association of Islamic Religious Teachers and Scholars of Singapore (PERGAS) and Management Committee of Al-Irsyad Islamic School. He writes extensively in Berita Harian (a local Malay newspaper) and has also published articles in The Straits Times. He has published six books in his name, co-authored a monograph and helped publish two books for PERGAS and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. His personal website in Malay is at


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