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The future choices are difficult and complex and the issues so big. We should be looking towards learning from the Turks who have become more secular than they were twenty years ago. What we have to do is separate religion from politics. People need to be free to make a choice. The emphasis on punishment is suffocating – Ramadan, praying five times a day, not drinking. The issue of virginity is a particularly difficult one. It is something very essential in our society. Our religion obligates a woman to be a virgin when she marries. If not, she can be killed. It is complicated.
What do I think? It is not okay because she is a human being with feelings and rights. But we cannot do anything about it. It is the way it is because it is in the Koran and the Koran is the word of God. In my view, losing your virginity does not make you free and yet if virginity was not essential a woman will be free. But how can we change it? A widowed woman who loses her virginity because she has been married receives the same treatment. Iraqis who have children in the west have the same struggles. It is why they prefer their sons to get married to Iraqis. As a result, lots of Iraqi girls in England for example are unmarried. The men prefer to go to Iraq to find innocent wives even though they may not be as modern or educated as the Iraqi girls they grew up with.
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Yet again, I wear a bikini, I wear short dresses. I can see the contradiction. Why does my culture see the woman as a piece of glass? Why do boys have more choice? Why can they do what they want? If I think about this issue I become really worried about being anti-my religion, against God. I don’t have the strength to do that not as long I am married to a man from the Middle East. If I had a child with a non Arab man, I probably will make a different choice. But my daughter who is Iraqi is expected to be a virgin and stay a virgin until she marries.
Shame and the fear of shame is the big thing. The fear of being called a prostitute is the biggest fear of any woman – regardless of her age. Men are different in a way. The man should be more responsible than a woman. He is powerful physically. The man is responsible for running the house, for looking after the family – for protecting the family. And yet again, I see the contradictions. For example in two thousand and three, three men tried to kidnap my step sister as my step mother took her to school. And yet, she was able to fight off the three men and has the scar to prove it. If a woman is furious, a special power can come to her to defend herself.
Woman is mentally stronger than man. She is more intelligent and wicked – if she wants something she will have it. I can deceive a man using my femininity. And yet again, if we are stronger why do we subjugate ourselves to men? I would say because of a lack of financial independence and the effect of religion and our education and conditioning (traditions). In the Muslim world women are likely to be physically harmed and mentally and emotionally attacked. In the west, it is much more mental and emotional.
The pressure of religion – fear of Hell may play a part in my fear but fear of my family is the most difficult because religious hell is too far away. There is guilt/shame, the fear of rejection of my family and the questions that traditionally haunt us: what is she going to do? What will she do with her freedom, her choices. She cannot live by herself.
We mustn’t, however, forget the differences in women’s experience in the Middle East from Jordan, Syria and Lebanon where women are free and can dress as they want to. Or Egypt, where the middle classes are open but the poor closed. In Egypt, women can divorce their husbands. It’s called ‘Jhala’. They can keep the children, apartment and car. In Saudi Arabia, they cannot even drive and in Iraq the woman can divorce her husband but does not have Jhala.
Even though I am now divorced I don’t have the strength to tell my dad! I still live with my husband and still feel married to him because we are still not divorced in the eyes of our religion. Divorce is something very big in my country, very bad. I have to feel comfortable. I have to be sure that this is what I want from the bottom of my soul and that I won’t care what my family thinks. But I can’t do it here. Sometimes I have this feeling that the routine has destroyed my life. If I change the place, will he be creative or will he continue to be the husband who loves his routine – food and news?
I also have this worry that my husband will make me jealous – he is always saying when I leave you I’m going to travel, go to Lebanon and have a good life. Will I be able to cope without him?
Some Iraqi families have started letting go…their children get married to European men. If a girl marries out it is okay. The Iraqi men are fine even if they marry foreign girls who are not virgins. It is if they marry Iraqi girls who are not virgins that the problems arise. She is a prostitute. On the other hand, my father actively encouraged my brother to have relationships – to enjoy himself. This is even though the Koran says the man should be a virgin too. Eighty percent of men in Iraq drink but the women are not allowed, to at least in Iraq. Outside Iraq though women now do.
Sex, drinking alcohol and eating pork are equally forbidden – but men will turn a blind eye to their wives drinking and eating pork, but when it comes to sex it is a taboo. My brothers have no problem with me drinking but sex continues to be the big problem. Even during Iraq’s golden age, during the sixties and seventies, virginity was an issue but for a woman of a certain class or background. It continues to be at the heart of these challenges. Today, she has more political power but she is more controlled by religion.
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Although Iraq is opening to the world and there is more travelling once more, boys will be given the opportunity to do it more than girls. I would want my daughter to have choices, to live her life on her terms, to enjoy it. Even if she looses her virginity I wouldn’t mind if she is an adult, has finished her studies, is independent, mentally ready to face her life, can distinguish right from wrong and knows what she wants.
I want women to feel comfortable not wearing the hijab; to free themselves from the restrictive clothes. They affect women mentally. I would want her to be free from inside out but we have to start with the outside – changing the way we dress is a place to start. People need to be left to be directly accountable to God and not to human beings.