‘Til Death Do Us Part
Marriage ISIS-Style: Love in the Time of Caliphates
It’s springtime in Mosul, can matrimony be far behind? Even under the blood-soaked tyranny of the so-called Islamic State, people persist in tying the knot.
MOSUL, Iraq—Despite the restrictions under extremist rule and a very uncertain future, locals in Mosul are still getting married. Rumor has it that even the leader of the so-called Islamic State, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, recently opted for matrimonial bliss (again).
It has been ten months since the extremist group widely known as ISIS took control of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the second biggest metropolis in Iraq. And although the group has committed crimes against locals and forced the city's people to adhere to a strict set of rules, it is also true that many in Mosul believe life must go on.
One of the most obvious signs is that people are still getting married. It may seem strange to contemplate starting a family under the current perilous conditions. But as one local man, whom we’ll call Omar Mohammed, told me over the phone, they have their reasons.
Over the past fortnight Mohammed said he had attended three weddings and he believes that the friends who got married simply got tired of waiting for an end to ISIS rule. They know that it's going to take a while before their city is freed from extremists and they're trying to live as normally as possible under very abnormal conditions. Maybe the fact that it’s spring makes a difference as well.
In another phone call, we were able to speak to one of the grooms, who is in his early 20s.
“I actually decided I wanted to get married quite a while ago but I postponed the wedding because of ISIS’s entry into the city,” he explained. “When I realized they were not going to leave very soon I discussed this issue with my parents and we decided we should go ahead.”
Asked whether he was concerned about the city's uncertain future, the groom replied, “this isn't an obstacle. There are a million people still living in Mosul and most of them are women and children. Eventually we are all going to have to face the same fate.” Whatever that is, most people believe it is largely out of their control.
(And amid all this fatalistic romance, one is reminded of that wise line in the Gabriel García Márquez novel Love in the Time of Cholera: “The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and … thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.”)
Mohammed, for his part, notes that the cost of marriage has gone down. Previously young couples would need to save considerable amounts of money in order to get wed. But since ISIS arrived, wedding ceremonies and celebrations have become a lot more humble. ISIS rules ban celebrations, music, parties and the sexes mixing socially, so even if people had the money to fund lavish ceremonies and dinners, which they do not, there’s less to spend it on.
ISIS has also made rules about how marriages are to be registered: Couples wanting to document their match must do it at the so-called Sharia court that is run by ISIS based on its own interpretation of Islamic law. Those who do not register may be punished.
ISIS has also used marriage as a way to recruit new fighters to its cause. The group pays between $1,000 and $1,500 to any member who marries, and it may also buy the new couple some furniture. This often has tempted young men from low-income families.
Mohammed thinks that boredom might have something to do with it as well. “Families want to keep their teenagers and young people busy—they don't want them to join ISIS out of boredom, thanks to lack of a job and the fact that schools and universities are all closed,” he explains. “So they encourage them to marry younger instead.”
The people of Mosul are still trying to do normal things like going to coffee shops and watch television news. Many of them were happy to see that pro-Iraqi-government forces were able to liberate the city of Tikrit. But at the same time, they fear for their own futures when the time comes for those forces to move on their city, which may be approaching since Tikrit was the last major town between Baghdad and Mosul.
On April 1 there was another reason for locals to gather together and, well, try to figure out what was going on. ISIS had said that there would be some sort of surprise prepared for the city at the end of March. Days had passed. Nobody could figure out what was happening. Then some ISIS members asked that certain businesses decorate their premises in preparation for the alleged surprise. Rumours spread and there was much speculation. Was ISIS withdrawing? Was it about to grant its many detainees and amnesty? Was it all an April Fools' Day trick?
Nobody knew for sure then or now what was going on. But the strongest rumor was that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who claims to lead a new caliphate, had himself gotten married. One Arabic language newspaper even published a story about it, saying that the so-called caliph had wed a German woman who had first joined up with the ISIS group in Syria. He has been married at least once before, and it is unclear how many wives he has at the moment, but if the rumor was true, locals joked, it meant that the caliph was just doing what they did; he, too, had thrown caution to the wind despite a very uncertain future.
This article is adapted from one that appeared originally on Niqash.