Who is Shamima Begum?

The story of a woman who ran away to join ISIS, and what it says about belonging, citizenship, and communities.

Shamima Begum
Shamima Begum (SkyNews)

Tahmina Begum


September 11, 2019

Shamima Begum was born in London to parents from Bangladesh. She grew up in Bethnal Green, a London neighborhood — 38% of which is Bangladeshi. She went to Mulberry Academy Shoreditch, a state-funded secondary school. In 2015, she was one of three 15-year-old girls — classmates from Bethnal Green — who left the United Kingdom to join ISIS. They traveled to Syria via Turkey, somehow making it through airport security underage, and joined an elder classmate, Sharmeena (who has the same last name as Shamima but is unrelated). Within two weeks of landing in Syria, Begum married a 23-year-old Dutch-born ISIS soldier named Yago Riedijk. By age 19, she had given birth to and lost three children. Today, Begum just wants to come home. 

On February 14, 2019, a war correspondent from The Times found and interviewed 19-year-old Begum at the Al-Hawl refugee camp in Northern Syria. In the interview, Begum revealed how and why she had become an ISIS bride, and infamously said she doesn't regret her decision. She also said she wanted to come home and that “there’s so much oppression and corruption going on, I don’t really think they [ISIS] deserve victory.” News outlets in the U.K. picked up her story.

In response, Home Secretary Sajid Javid stripped Begum of her U.K. citizenship. 

The conversation around Begum isn’t easy. Especially when, on paper, Shamima and I could be interchangeable. British Bangladeshis. Muslim. Raised working class. Second generation. We even have the same surname.