A Sunni and a Shiite fall in love in Iraq. They get married, have kids. Then Muslim extremists start a religious bloodbath. What should a mixed family do?
BY Babak Dehghanpisheh, Rod Nordland and Michael Hastings
March 13, 2006 issue – The two Iraqi teachers met as students at the University of Baghdad. They flirted between classes and hid the romance from friends and family. The furtive nature of their courting was partly because Mahir Murad, 26, is a Sunni man, and Hind al Yasseri, 25, is a Shia woman. “There was a love story between us,” says Murad, wistfully. In three years of courtship, they had only one serious argument—about wodhu, the ritual cleansing before prayer, which their sects perform differently. The issue was whether to wash the soles of the feet with water, or merely wipe them. It erupted in a furious row, but then the couple caught themselves and broke up laughing—as they do now when Yasseri recalls that moment. “We agreed that we should never discuss such minor differences. We both are Muslims who believe in the same Qur”an and the same Prophet.”
They married three years ago, in the heady days of the new Iraq, and until the past few weeks they might have said they lived happily ever after. Then terrorists, most likely from Al Qaeda, destroyed the Shiites” Askariya Mosque in Samarra, and Shia militants responded by attacking dozens of Sunni mosques, including two in the local neighborhood of Adhamiya. Militiamen from the Shia Mahdi Army even occupied the nearby Al-Nida Mosque. “We had no other choice but to protect ourselves,” says Murad.
He now goes out at night to patrol the neighborhood with other Sunni men toting AK-47s, and he keeps a heavy machine gun at home. His wife stays inside with their 2-year-old daughter and other relatives. Both husband and wife blame extremists for fanning sectarian violence, but it”s clear the tension troubles them. “I could say that maybe if I met my wife now, I would not marry her,” says Murad.