Interview with Febri Ramdani: Author of “300 Days in the Land of Syam” – Part 2

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Negotiated with the Amir to Avoid Taking up Arms

Soon after, in January 2017, I had the opportunity to continue my journey to a transit city which was deemed to be a safe route into Raqqah. I spent around three weeks in this transit city in a modest house used by muhajir (immigrants) for shelter. Here, some will be sent directly into combat under the banner of IS while the rest will be taken to Raqqah. Rather than taking up arms, I negotiated with the amir (leader) of the group via an Egyptian muhajir (immigrant) assisting to translate what I shared from English to Arabic.

I learnt that those who would be taken to Raqqah was because their wives had earlier arrived in Raqqah via a different route. I pleaded for leniency as many of my family and relatives were already residing in Raqqah.

Alhamdulillah, I was allowed to meet my family and relatives in Raqqah; avoiding the mandatory participation in armed conflict by unmarried muhajir (immigrants).

Heading to Raqqah

As the third week at the transit city ended, we started our journey to Raqqah in a medium-sized van to a place that was more deserted. We then moved to a large single cabin pickup akin to a Chevrolet Silverado. Despite its large size, we had to pile on top of each other so as that everyone could board the vehicle. The uncomfortable situation became worse when we had to contend with hours of travel in high winds and low temperature. Occasionally during the trip, we were instructed to disembark the vehicle and to walk for quite a distance. This was a tactic to avoid detection from the enemies and to avoid driving over the many landmines laid in the ground.  Eventually, we boarded cars that were waiting for us at the border of IS territory. At that point, though fatigued and concerned, I continued reciting all the prayers that I have memorized as I was bestowed safety throughout the journey.

The Reality in IS Territory

The closer our car got to IS territory, the more doubts I started to have which I kept to myself. Images of the glitter of the capital at night and the organized city of Raqqah that I have seen in IS propaganda were unproven. Instead, the city was dark, gloomy, and devastated as though the city had been a battlefield for the longest time.

Eventually, our car arrived at the immigration office known as Maktab Hijrah. There, the personal details of muhajir (immigrants) are recorded, however, such processing are just for formalities. This is because we were simply asked our names, age and our country of origin.

As I briefly rested at the office, I saw that there was an employee with an Indonesian name. I immediately requested with staff that were present to meet with this Indonesian employee as I wanted to ask about my family. Having noted my request, we were led to a safehouse to rest. The next day, I was invited to meet with the Indonesian employee at Maktab Hijrah.

Upon meeting, our conversation was brief and straight to the point. I only managed to ask the following questions: 1) Do you know my family? 2) How are they? 3) Where are they residing? That was it. He answered that he knew about my family’s whereabouts and wished to take me to their residence. I was informed that such meetings were prohibited but as I have not seen them for more than a year, I was given two days to catch up with them on the condition that I participated in militant training after those two days.

Soon after accepting this term, I eventually met with my family. This reunion is arguably the most memorable in my life. Overwhelmed with many emotions, I bawled upon seeing them in person. They too were extremely shocked by my unexpected arrival. While catching up, they began asking me numerous questions: how I travelled to Syria, what I did in the five months in Syria, and do I know how to return to Indonesia?

Planning to Go Home Despite Just Arriving in Raqqah

After enduring a challenging journey, I was shocked to learn that my family was trying to find ways to return to Indonesia for the past year or so. They had sought information from civilians in Raqqah, contacting relatives in Indonesia, and seeking assistance from the Indonesia Embassy in Damascus. Their efforts were, however, unsuccessful.

I was unprepared to learn of their intentions to return to Indonesia which reflected their 180 degrees change in worldview that I saw a year and half ago. Why was there a change? The answer was simply because they were convinced that they were completely deceived by IS propaganda. All the sweet promises and talks about “living in heaven on earth” were fictitious. Instead, they saw IS’ cruelty, injustice, brutality that are contrary to Islam. Examples include health facilities being accessible only to those who have joined IS and how non-Arabs such as Southeast Asians were prioritized in hospitals.

Additionally, infringements such as inappropriate dressing and attitude that were not in accordance with IS orders are met with reprimand and even prison sentences. Often my sister would visit IS offices to submit appeal letters citing the Qur’an and Hadiths for IS to change its rules but her letters were unheeded. Notably, my sister and mother have been arrested by the Syar’I police as their dressings were deemed inappropriate even though they were wearing clothes that were issued to them upon their arrival. Fortunately, they were released when my sister berated them for not fulfilling IS promises, instead my sister was demanded to pay SYP 10,000 to buy new clothes that they deemed to be more Syar’i. Such trivial matters should have never been an issue in the first place.

Her letters, though unheeded, did not go unnoticed. My family was once visited by female officers of the Syar’i police to “chat” with my sister. They issued her an ultimatum to not continue arguing and delivering her letters to IS offices. Should she continue, she will be executed. That was the point when my family felt they have been misled and deceived.

After learning reasons for their change, I revealed that I was to participate in militant training after two days of our reunion. Unsurprisingly, my mother and sister immediately forbade my participation. We began thinking of ways to get those who would pick me up for training to release me from such training. I eventually resorted to eating a large onion to raise my body temperature. On the day I was supposed to be picked up for training, my sister informed them that I was sick and that my mother did not permit me to get involved in armed conflict.

Not believing of my sickness, the IS members took me to the hospital. My sister advised me to pretend that I was in pain when the doctor examined me. Thankfully, the doctor rudimentarily assessed me without any medical devices including a stethoscope. I was next given medicine and an injection after replying that I had was experiencing diarrhoea, vomiting and weakness when I was not. In fact, I became seriously sick after being injected with an unspecified drug. This further solidified my account of being sick. This ploy bought me a few weeks of rest. However, I was informed that I will be picked up once I am well. True to their word, one IS member returned. This time, my family instructed me to stay hidden in my room as they tried to persuade the IS member. The IS member eventually became annoyed and felt toyed with. He stated that every man who was old enough is obligated to join the conflict without exceptions. Thankfully, his anger was limited to verbal reprimands without any physical violence.

After his departure, I was instructed by my family to stay home for the time being to avoid being instructed to join the conflict. Weeks turned to months. During this period, my sister and several other female relatives continued to look for information on escaping Raqqah.

Via God’s intervention, help came to us in the form of a civilian in June 2017. The civilian suggested that we should surrender ourselves to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which were gradually reaching Raqqah. We heeded his suggestion but it was not easily implemented.

Money, possessions and even our lives were at stake. We had to survive barrages of bullets whizzing past our heads we exited IS territory. We also had to overcome miscommunications between those smuggling us out and the SDF. Eventually, it took three tries before we were successful.

The men in our group were subsequently interrogated for approximately two months in Kobane by both US intelligence and SDF officers. For the women and children, they had to field numerous interview sessions from many international journalists. Following these interviews, the Indonesian government facilitated our return to Indonesia. On the first weekend of August 2017, we were on our way home, grateful for the assistance rendered by the government.

Four years have past since our return. I have been active in activities organized by both government and NGO to advocate peace and tolerance in Indonesia. This is my commitment to make up for the mistakes we have committed.

Closing Remarks

I want to highlight several things that need to be understood from the damaged and chaotic system of IS’ governance which are contrary to Islamic and societal norms. First pertains to the voting process in the general elections as contrary to Islamic law. If IS was to study history properly, they would not have forbidden democracy. During the time of Umar bin Khattab RA, several individuals were gathered to seek the best candidate to replace the caliph Umar RA. Additionally, every house in the city of Medina was asked on their opinion. Eventually, a unanimous decision was made to appoint Uthman bin Affan RA as the next caliph. Such a system is certainly similar to democracies implemented today albeit with a slight modification, namely voting is conducted in specified areas rather than relying on visiting every household.

Second is about the coercion to participate in armed conflicts and the intolerance to other faiths which are often met with brutality. This is against what is stated in Al-Baqarah (2) verse 256 which states that, “There is no compulsion in religion.” This means that each individual is free to decide on their own religious understanding and beliefs.

Third, advising one another of religious obligations should be done gently without violence. This is reflected in Surah Taha (20) verses 43-44 where Allah instructed Prophet Moses (Musa) and Prophet Aaron (Harun) to gently talk with the Pharoah even though the Pharoah was one who greatly transgressed. This is contradictory to the treatment meted by IS on its opponents. Cruel treatments await those who do not heed IS “advice.” This is, of course, done to spread terror within the society.

Part 1: Interview with Febri Ramdani

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence. Republications minimally require 1) credit authors and their institutions, and 2) credit to STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD  and include a link back to either our home page or the article URL.


  • Febri Ramdani is an active advocate for peace and tolerance in Indonesia. In addition to authoring “300 Days in the Land of Syam”, he is also an avid writer at

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