Kalthoum

excerpt from ‘Barefoot in Baghdad’ by Manal M. Omar

Baghdad

She was hiding. Then again, everyone seemed to be hiding. It was October 2003, eight months into the disastrous U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. But she was practically a child. And her enemy proved to be more insidious – and heartbreaking – than the ones we read about and saw on television. Getting to her was my first hurdle…

Once inside the police building, an Iraqi police officer and a U.S. Military Policeman practically tackled me in an effort to argue their case…. Both men were right. She would be killed if she were released. But the police had no authority, under Iraqi law, to hold her…

Luckily for me, I didn’t have to make any decision. I wasn’t there to judge or referee. My sole purpose was to ensure that the girl was safe, clothed, fed, and healthy.

“I’m only here to speak with the girl. May I please see her?”…

I opened the door to a small room… The girl sat in the opposite corner, her knees pulled into her chest, her chin resting on top. She rocked back and forth, barely noticing that I’d entered… The sight of her shocked me. Her skin practically hung from her bones, and the long, thick black hair stretching down her back emphasized her frailty. She was a child trapped in an old woman’s body.

Despair

Despair

I quietly walked toward her and sat next to her. I wasn’t sure how to begin, so I said hello and introduced myself. She continued to rock, saying nothing…

She finally spoke and told me that her name was Kalthoum… When she stood, I realized why the Iraqi policeman said that he couldn’t protect her, not even against his own officers. The way she was dressed – in tight Capri jeans and a low-cut tank top – would have offended even the most liberal Iraqi men…

“I am sure they told you I am a prostitute,” she said sheepishly. “Those hypocrites out there. One of them used to be my client. That is why they are so eager to get me out.”

The man, one of the police officers, had used her for sex, and now he wanted her released and left for dead. This was not, as one might expect in the United States, because he was ashamed of having patronized a prostitute. To the contrary, in Iraq it was not uncommon for men to engage in such behaviour. They did so openly and without remorse. But the judgement of a prostitute? Death. So the very man who had slept with Kalthoum wanted her to die because of it.

IraqIraqi Prostitutes

“Kalthoum,” I said…”I need you to tell me exactly what happened. Who were the men who were shooting at you? Also, do you have a place you can go, other than here?”

She shook her head as her eyes filled with tears. The men who’d chased here were her husband and brother-in-law. Three years ago her family had forced her to marry her cousin. She was thirteen at the time. She took a photo from her wallet and showed me a picture of her in a wedding gown next to a man old enough to be her father. On her wedding night, she did not was not want to have sex. So her new husband had beaten and raped her. This, according to Kalthoum, became their normal form of intimacy. He pulled her out of school and locked her in his house. She had considered killing herself.

Iraqi Women
From Iraqi women protest against draft law to permit child marriage

Then the Americans invaded Iraq. That same week, Kalthoum ran away. An older woman found her on the steets and offered her food and shelter. The woman had nursed her back to health and gave her pills to ease her pain. Soon Kalthoum became addicted. At the time, she didn’t realize that the woman was the head of a prostitution ring.

I’d heard many similar stories. But hearing them first hand from Kalthoum, a child, made me sick.

Child

From Iraq drafts law to allow marriage of nine-year-old girls

“I want to make sure you have food, shelter, and good health care… I want you to protect yourself from disease and unwanted pregnancies“.

“You are too late for that,” she said in a barely audible whisper as tears filled her eyes. She put her hand on her stomach to indicate that she was already pregnant. I closed my eyes…

Pregnant-girl
From the Battle Against Child Marriage

The fact that Kalthoum was under eighteen placed her in the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Legally, the ministry was required to provide her with a place in one of the public orphanages… Orphans in both Iraqi and Muslim Society have a special reverence. Numerous verses in the Koran and sayings from the prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) called for respecting, caring for, and providing for orphans…

Orphans
From Muslims for Humanity: Helping Hand

I settled in the backseat to prepare my case for the minister… She had a compelling story, and the fact that she had been forced into marriage at such a young age solidified her status as a victim. Besides, she was only sixteen years old. The deputy minister had to take pity on her situation…

One hour later it was clear that this was not going to happen. The deputy minister was visibly insulted that I had the audacity to bring such a case to his attention… When I tried to point out that she was underage, he countered with the fact that she was a married woman, which placed her in the category of adulthood. Orphanages were for children only. I tried to argue that she had been forced into marriage at the age of thirteen, which was illegal according to Iraqi law. He shook his head, pointing out that it was a common occurrence during the years of UN sanctions.

“How else were parents to secure their daughters?” he asked.

Brides
According to a UN report in 2005, 60 million girls worldwide have been married. A startling 100 million more are expected to be forced or sold into marriage by their parents in the next 10 years.

I could not accept his response, but all my phone calls to Iraqi women’s organizations resulted in dead ends. Kalthoum was too much of an extreme case, most of them argued. We cannot help her without making ourselves vulnerable to verbal and physical attacks. I was not surprised by these responses…

I called several Iraqi women’s organisations for information, as I knew they would be the only people to tell me the truth about her situation. They all confirmed my worse fears: her return to her family would be a death sentence.

Honor

Conference to Remember Du’a Khalil and denounce Honour Killings globally!

 Yet Kalthoum was fully aware of this. In her heart of hearts, she seemed to believe it to be a reasonable sentence. Over the span of a few days, Kalthoum had developed a strong sense of the cosmic powers of Karma, and she begged me to allow her to pay her dues to her family so that her suffering would end.

She explained to me repeatedly that her life was over and that the decisions she had made had left little room for her to start over. However, she had four unmarried sisters at home. Her scandal reached the tribe… If she were to go back to her family and face her sentence, then honor would be restored. If she were to run away, then her four unmarried sisters would pay the price. They would be shunned by society and would never marry because of their sister’s tarnished reputation. Worse yet, she argued, they would be forced into unsuitable marriages as a third or fourth wife…

Kalthoum was only sixteen. That was the lone thought that went through my mind as she pleaded with me to help her get back to her family. What life was this girl talking about? What choices? Was she really given a choice when she was married off? Or tricked into prostitution? Was her family really given a choice, fighting to survive war after war and a decade of international sanctions?
I shook my head. I knew that the final decision would rest in my hands…

Family
Members of a poor family sit in their makeshift house in Baghdad August 28, 2010. 

Fortunately, I didn’t have to make this choice myself. I had met a strong Kurdish woman in a conference…She had established one of the first Iraqi women’s shelters to house women from across the country… The Asuda organization was also one of the only shelters I knew that would take ‘untouchable’ cases. Untouchable cases were almost always cases dealing with family honor…

Beyond the Asuda organization, I was captivated by Khanim Latif, the woman who led it… Khanim’s office was stacked with photo albums of abused women. Her contacts would often tip her off when they received such cases. Khanim would rush over with her camera to take photos… Entire albums were dedicated to corpses of women. When high-level government officials denied the practice of honor crimes, she would pull out numerous photos of women burned alive or with gun shots and silence her opposition immediately…

Iraq2

From http://www.lapidomedia.com

“Honor killings happen,” Khanim said. “And they happen more than we would like to admit. However, they often happen because our communities have not learned to mediate around such a sensitive topic. No father wants to kill his daughter. Give him an excuse to maintain his honor in front of his tribe, and he will grab on to it. But our community refuses to facilitate such discussions. At Asuda we do. We use religious and tribal leaders to encourage the parents to find solution other than slaying their daughters.”

i0205shr

An Iraqi man talks with his daughter

Khanim advised me to think of someone who could facilitate the discussion with her father. I could not think of anyone until Yusuf reminded me of Munther.

Munther was pleased to hear from us and to see that we were seeking reconciliation with Kalthoum’s tribe… He jumped at the opportunity to help… Munther managed to negotiate the terms of her return, successfully arranged her divorce, and had the father sign a statement that Kalthoum would not be harmed if she were to return. Munther also negotiated an agreement with the tribe that he would be able to visit every three months to confirm that Kalthoum was in good health (or to be more blunt, alive).

Honor1From the bulletin of the oppression of women

* * *

Related posts:

women-in-islam

From NotMyTribe

Instead of passing the blame, let’s focus on finding culturally appropriate solutions. 😉

THE END

Religious writings: normative teachings vs. diverse cultural practices

“When dealing with the Islamic perspective of any topic, there should be a clear distinction between the normative teachings of Islam and the diverse cultural practices among Muslims, which may or may not be consistent with them.”

From Gender Equity in Islam

From One Chinese Muslimah

Core Islam Values

Family Life
The bonds between family is something that is extremely sacred. To illustrate that point the Prophet said that “no sin is more swiftly punished than oppression, and the breaking of family ties.” Also, the nature of the family in Islam is one that allows for everyone their specific roles and rights.

Humility
Often times during the life of Prophet Muhammed he would be sitting in the masjid with his companions. When others would walk in looking for him, they wouldn’t be able to distinguish him from the crowd because, unlike many rulers and kings of the time, the Prophet didn’t dress or speak in a way that was different or above those that were around him.

Generosity
The word for the charity given by Muslims yearly is Zakah and literally speaking, it means to purify and to make grow. These two definitions can be combined to conclude that giving from your wealth, no matter the size or your financial situation will not only purify your soul, but will put blessings in and increase your wealth as well.

Loving Your Neighbor
Islam isn’t just a religion that’s focused on only for one day–it’s a way of life, and because of that so many societal customs are emphasized. One prominent example is the importance of treating your neighbors right, no matter where they come from.

Trustworthiness
Trustworthiness is a trait that’s appreciated in all spectrums of society and is essential in order to promote community cohesiveness.

Holding Your Tongue
The idiom “if you don’t have anything nice to say you shouldn’t say anything at all” spans countless cultures and times, and is an important aspect of Islam as well. Along with trying to speak the truth always, refraining from speaking bad can be just as noble.

Tolerance
As the world seems more to be heading to the extremes, it is important to learn and understand one another. Tolerance is an extremely important concept in Islam, whether it be understanding other races, religions, or customs.

Education
Whether it be seeking Islamic knowledge of secular knowledge, it’s important for Muslims to constantly be absorbing information. Many Muslims scholars throughout history are credited with inventing or discovering ideas that revolutionized the modern world, such as Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi and his work in algebra and the chemist Jabir Ibn Haiyan. Education in Islam is important for the Muslim to seek at all times in life, from the cradle to the grave.

( From Curious About Islam? )

It is important that we study the religious texts in their proper context…

“It is important that we study the religious texts in their proper context. When these texts are not read in their proper textual and historical contexts they are manipulated and distorted. It is true that some Muslims manipulate these verses for their own goals. But this is not only with Islamic texts, it is also true with the texts of other religions. I can quote dozens of verses from the Bible which seem very violent, if taken out from their historical context. These Biblical texts have been used by many violent Jewish and Christian groups. Crusaders used them against Muslims and Jews. Nazis used them against Jews. Recently Serbian Christians used them against Bosnian Muslims.”

(From Islamic Writings)

* * *

From OpEdNews

“Orthodox Christians have often failed to proclaim the severe tension between the use of violence and a life of holiness. Serbia, however, provides a recent example of the church opposing the abuse of the faith in support of war. In the midst of the Bosnian civil war, Patriarch Pavle proclaimed that “the Church must condemn all atrocities that are committed, no matter what the faith or origin of the person committing them may be. No sin committed by one person justifies a sin committed by another. We will all face the Last Judgment together where each of us must answer for his sins. No one can justify his sins by saying someone else is guilty of a crime.” The Serbian bishops declared that “The way of nonviolence and cooperation is the only way blessed by God.” They also added the following petition to the Liturgy: “For all those who commit injustice against their neighbours, whether by causing sorrow to orphans, spilling innocent blood or by returning hatred for hatred, that God will grant them repentance, enlighten their minds and their hearts and illumine their souls with the light of love even toward their enemies, let us pray to the Lord.”

(From In Communion)

“I want to assure you that we Muslims also do not hate non-Muslims, be they Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhist or followers of any religion or no religion. Our religion does not allow killing any innocent person regardless of his or her religion. The life of all human beings is sacrosanct according to the teachings of the Qur’an and the guidance of our blessed Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him and upon all the Prophets and Messengers of Allah. The Qur’an says about the prohibition of murder:”

(From Does the Qur’an teaches violence?)

“The Qur’an repeatedly emphasizes that defensive war — fighting to protect oneself against invading enemies — is the only kind of combat sanctioned (2:190 – 191). In numerous other examples, it teaches that the use of force should be a last resort (2:192, 4:90); that normal relations between peoples, nations and states, whether Muslim or not, should be peaceful (49:13); that necessary wars must be limited in time and space (2:190); that maximum effort must be applied at all times to advance the cause of peace (10:25); that whatever means are undertaken to work for peace during a conflict (such as mediation and arbitration) must be attempted over and over again until resolution is achieved (8:61); that freedom of religion must be granted to every one (2:256), and so on.”

(From Does the Qur’an sanction violence )