One home tackles Iraq's Sunni-Shiite divide
Ibrahim Mohamed and his wife Khuthar happily dote on their baby. They are openly affectionate and laugh warmly at each other's jokes. But if they had to do it over, they wouldn't have married.Skip to next paragraph
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"If I could go back in time, I'd never marry a Shiite," Ibrahim says. "It's not about her as a person. The problem is the clerics she follows."
Since they married a few years ago, Ibrahim has become an increasingly devout follower of the strict Wahhabibranch of Sunni Islam, practiced in Saudi Arabia. His wife is Shiite.
Theirs is one of an unknown number of inter-sect marriages in Iraq. Optimists point to such unions as evidence Iraq can overcome the sectarian tensions that have pushed this fractured country to civil war. But even this last vestige of a united Iraq is on the decline today as the country's increasingly polarized society takes a toll on otherwise happily married couples.
Ibrahim and Khuthar offer a window into the schisms, big and small, that are rending the fabric of this society. During four hours of interviews conducted over three days, they bickered endlessly over theological minutiae. But it became clear that their heated debates over the proper height of a gravestone or the right way to hold one's hands in prayer mask far deeper divisions.
"Our relationship is good, praise God," says Khuthar. "But we have differences and argue about religion a lot. Today those arguments are much more heated than they used to be."
Disillusioned in the late 1990s with preachers that appeared to him to be regime-appointed stooges trumpeting Saddam Hussein's glories, Ibrahim sought a purer Islam. He found it in the writings of Mohammed ibn Abdel Wahab, an 18th-century thinker whose followers are often referred to as Wahhabis, though many consider the term pejorative.
Abdel Wahab allied with a local tribal chieftain, Ibn Saud. Inspired by Abdel Wahab's muscular and uncompromising approach to Islam, Ibn Saud went on to conquer the peninsula and found a Wahabbi state, the Saud dynasty, which rules Saudi Arabia to this day. Today, the number of mosques in Baghdad that promulgate Abdel Wahab's teachings are on the rise, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, has cited Abdel Wahab in public statements.
Ibrahim cites Abdel Wahab's signature work, "Kitab al Tawhid," or the "Book of Monotheism," as one of his primary influences. Expanding on the theology of some of early Islam's most rigid thinkers, it rails against religious practices that he believed violate the strictest interpretations of monotheism, including Shiite veneration of the prophet and his family - something he raises with Khuthar.
"Fatima [the prophet's Muhammad's daughter] visited her father's grave many times," she counters. "Yes," Ibrahim reasons, "But she visited secretly."
"See? The Wahhabis think all Shiites are infidels," says Khuthar, crossing her arms defiantly.
Ibrahim cradles their baby girl, named Teba after the ancient Egyptian city whose rulers united Upper and Lower Egypt over 4,000 years ago. He kisses his daughter's furrowed brow before responding.
"The limits of our relationship with God are different than their limits," he says. "We Sunnis ask God to help us and guide us. They ask Ali," referring to Muhammed's son-in-law, whom Shiites believe was the rightful heir to the caliphate after Muhammed's death. "This is idolatry because they are worshiping another human, in addition to God."
Despite their differences, Ibrahim and Khuthar provide a glimmer of hope that Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites can learn to see past their differences. They've made the sort of marital concessions that Iraq's leaders must make if they hope to end the fighting here.