The XX Factor

What the “ISIS Bride” and Rachel Dolezal Have in Common

A Syrian woman and her daughter pray for abductees who were kidnapped by ISIS jihadists earlier this year.

Photo by Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images

Monday night, BuzzFeed posted a lengthy investigative report by Ellie Hall about a young Christian-raised woman from Tennessee who became an “ISIS bride.” The woman, who tweets under the name Umm Aminah but who was christened Ariel Bradley by her parents, grew up in the Chattanooga area and now lives in an ISIS-controlled portion of Syria with her husband and children. From there, she has praised Mohammad Abdulazeez for his deadly attack on a Chattanooga military recruiting center. She tweeted, “Gifted this morning not only with Eid but w/ the news of a brother puttin fear n the heart of kufar [non-believers] n the city of my birth. Alhamdullilah [thanks be to God].”

BuzzFeed pieced together the 29-year-old Bradley’s story through conversations with her friends and a brief interview with her mother. Her friend Robert Parker says that Bradley was raised by a fundamentalist mother who was intent on keeping “her away from materials that would make her question Christianity.” Not only was Bradley homeschooled; she didn’t even learn to read until she was a preteen. 

Bradley started rebelling against her parents in adolescence and spent her teens and early adulthood drifting from one identity to another, according to her friends. “It was like, when I first met her she was a Christian, and then she was a socialist, and then she was an atheist, and then a Muslim,” one friend explained. “As far as I could tell it was always in relation to whatever guy she was interested in, so if she meets a guy that’s an atheist then she’s an atheist, falls into that for a year.”

This search for an identity led Bradley to convert to Islam and swiftly become quite fanatical about it. She rushed into marriage with Yasin Mohamad, whom she met on Muslim “matrimony site” Half Our Deen. They married in Sweden, had kids immediately, and at some point, moved to Syria to join up with ISIS.

Though the two women are literally worlds apart, there are echoes between Bradley’s story and that of former NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal. Dolezal became an object of national fascination a month ago when a reporter revealed she’s been passing herself off as black, even though she was born to and raised by white people. (In an interview published over the weekend at Vanity Fair, Dolezal tried to explain: “I wouldn’t say I’m African American, but I would say I’m black, and there’s a difference in those terms.”)

Like Bradley, Dolezal was raised by home-schooling Christian fundamentalists, and like Bradley, she has major tensions with her family—tensions that apparently spurred her to transform her identity completely in order to disassociate herself from them. 

Of course, though Dolezal’s ruse hurt a lot of people, she’s not advocating for war on nonbelievers or needlessly putting her children in harm’s way. But these two stories raise many questions about the impact of fundamentalist ideas about child-rearing. TLC has finally canceled 19 Kids and Counting after revelations that the Duggar family shielded their eldest son after he was caught molesting girls as a teenager. Perhaps we’re finally beginning to see that the Christian home-schooling movement, and the hypersheltering of children that’s all the rage in conservative Christian circles, isn’t cute and wholesome at all—that it has a sinister side.