'Allah Is the Best': The Lives Of Salafists' Wives
Part 2: 'Just a Girl at Heart'
For the two women, Saturday begins at the Prinz Salon on Koblenzer Strasse. Dark-haired men are having their beards trimmed in the main shop on the ground floor, while an Iranian woman cuts the women's hair in the basement. There are no windows, and men are not allowed in the room.
Saliha removes her veil and reveals her long hair. She is wearing shiny leggings and a low-cut T-shirt. At home, she walks around the apartment in high heels. "I guess I'm just a girl at heart," says Saliha.
Reyhana is sitting in a chair in the corner, watching as her friend has her hair dyed. Reyhana doesn't need a beauty treatment today, because her husband is in pre-trial detention. She plans to go to a tanning salon as soon as he returns. Her husband loves brown skin.
Reyhana was recommended to him because she looks like Angelina Jolie, or at least that's what his brothers told him. She married him, a German who had converted to Islam, two weeks after they had met. She wanted to learn everything about Islam, and to get a driver's license. Six years later, she has three children but no driver's license.
"My husband was good-looking and a practicing Muslim," Reyhana says. "What else could a woman want?"
A Mother's Tolerance
Saliha's mother is sitting across from her. She has brought along a backpack for an afternoon outing with the children. Saliha now has four children, and her mother always helps her out on Saturdays. She is wearing orthopedic sandals and has her blonde hair cut in a bob. When Saliha's grandmother wanted to get a job, she had to obtain written permission from her husband. Saliha's mother fought a tough battle to become a modern woman. She is at odds with her daughter's view of what women should be like.
While she is getting her hair cut, Saliha says: "My husband doesn't even want a second wife. He said to me: You're enough for me. He says that it would be easy to take a second wife and sleep with her. Then he would achieve satisfaction for one night. But he also says that having a second wife would come with too much responsibility, which he doesn't want. And besides, he says, if you treat your wives unjustly, Allah will resurrect you with half your body paralyzed."
"And what would happen if your husband cheated on you?" her mother asks. "Would he be stoned to death?"
"Not right away. Only if eight eyes witnessed the intercourse," says Saliha. "And then he'd be stoned to death?" her mother asks. "Then he'd be stoned to death," says Saliha. "And that's okay."
For a moment, there is silence in the hair salon.
"I practice tolerance every day," the mother says. But she isn't always successful. She and her daughter recently had an argument about homosexuality.
"Being gay leads to disaster," says Saliha. In her view, being gay isn't normal.
"So what's not normal about Horst?" the mother asks, referring to a gay friend of the family.
Reyhana listens quietly to the conversation. Then she says: "It's not for nothing that Allah condemned the homosexual people of Lot to hellfire."
Choosing the Best Niqab
The three women leave the hair salon to shop for a new niqab for Reyhana. They're looking for something made of more breathable material, because Reyhana is having skin problems on her face. The one she is wearing now is also too tight. It reveals the contours of her head, which she doesn't want. For her, a veil serves as a protective cover. Without it, she says, dirt and the glances of others would stick to her skin.
The Taiba Shop on Kölnstrasse has a good selection. It has long and short niqabs, and summer and winter niqabs, with prices ranging from 15 (about $20) to 40. The best niqabs are from Egypt. They consist of three layers but are still lightweight.
The men at the cash register have long beards and chant along with Koran verses coming from the loudspeakers. In front of them are lists of fragrances imported from Saudi Arabia, with names like "Sultan" and "Amber." They are made from cedar wood and contain no alcohol. Reyhana looks over the lists. "It's important to smell good," she says. The angels like nice scents, she adds, and it's the angels, after all, who take you to paradise.
Reyhana finds the niqabs in one of the back rooms, where only women are allowed. She buys one for 15, and then the women go to the nearby town of Königswinter, where they like to watch the ships on the Rhine River and look at the kitchen gardens. They buy chocolate and Red Bull in a supermarket. As the veiled women leave the store, the woman at the register says quietly: "It's a shame, really."
They continue walking through the old part of town. It's 24 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) outside. Saliha's mother, noticing the looks they are getting from other pedestrians, says: "My daughter could walk around in a kangaroo suit tomorrow, and I'd still support her." Because there are so many people walking around, Saliha closes her veil completely. "You're going to trip," says her mother. Saliha looks the same from both the front and the back.
"Does she even have eyes?" an elderly woman asks.
A man once grabbed her at a train station and shouted at her: "Take this thing off, you slut!"
A Test on Earth
All of this is merely a test. Earthly life. Reyhana picks a doorway for her evening prayers. She kneels down, between the mailbox and a poster that reads: "Germany's Biggest Halloween Party." On the way from the pedestrian zone to the restaurant, she says prayers of supplication, short passages in which she asks Allah for protection. They arrive at Casablanca, an Arab fast-food restaurant with a buffet, and it soon begins to fill up with people.
The restaurant isn't perfect for the two women, but it's acceptable. They would prefer it if there were dividers so that there would be a section for men and one for women. The TV is tuned to an Arabic-language station. First, it shows men reciting verses from the Koran, followed by images of bombed houses and the wounded in Syria. Saliha says that the station depicts the truth, showing all the suffering endured by her brothers and sisters. She hardly watches German television anymore. After the meal, the two women go into a storage room to pray. They kneel between jars of pickled beets and cans of corn.
The next morning, Saliha is sitting at an old wooden table in her mother's apartment. She removes the veil from her head and washes the makeup from her face with a damp cloth. Her husband thinks her hair is too light, she says. On a shelf, there is a photo of Saliha when she was five.
Saliha no longer displays photos in her home, because she believes that it could prevent angels from entering the apartment. No one is allowed to imitate God's creation, she says. She lives in a modern, 96-square-meter (1,030-square-foot) apartment, with white lacquered furniture, a self-cleaning oven and a refrigerator with an icemaker. Her husband, a Syrian, sells energy-saving light bulbs on the Internet, she says. The couple's idea of a nice evening is to watch speeches by Islamic imams on the Internet.
They have had a quiet life since moving away from Bad Godesberg. Saliha says that she couldn't stand the pressure anymore. They decided to leave the area after the officials with the Offfice for the Protection of the Constitution came to the apartment and took away their passports.
An Arrest Warrant
Reyhana and her husband were living in Egypt at the time, learning Arabic. There they learned that the German police were looking for Reyhana's husband. Reyhana called Saliha and told her that they wouldn't see each other for a while.
They fled to Pakistan, where they lived in a mud house in the Hindu Kush Mountains, behind a three-meter wall.
A small cat named Mimi used to hunt geckos in the courtyard. German converts were being trained for "holy war" a few kilometers away. There were American drones in the air, but Reyhana wasn't afraid of death, she says, believing that if they died they would be closer to Allah.
She learned English and how to sew in Pakistan, using an H&M catalog for patterns. She says that they lived an ordinary life there, and yet she still felt uneasy.
"The problem is that if nothing bad happens for three months, I start to worry that Allah isn't satisfied," she says. She believes that if Allah stops putting her to the test, perhaps he no longer loves her.
But there were still trials to come. Feeling uncomfortable in Pakistan, they decided to leave. They traveled to Istanbul, where her husband, against whom an international arrest warrant had since been issued, was arrested and extradited to Germany. Reyhana and the children returned to Bonn, where she now lives with her parents in subsidized housing.
"I Am a Muslim Girl in Kindergarten," is the title of the book Reyhana recently bought for her daughter. The girl, now four, was born in Ulm, learned to walk in Egypt and wore her first Hello Kitty necklace in Pakistan. Reyhana doesn't know yet whether her child will ever go to a kindergarten in Bonn. She's worried that her daughter could kiss a boy in a corner. Besides, in German kindergartens they celebrate Christmas and have birthday parties with music and Gummi bears that contain gelatin, which is made from pigs.
"Children are like a white shirt," says Reyhana. "They go outside and get dirty, and when they're back you have to wash them."
'The Germans Hate Us'
She is preparing food for dinner: pita bread, olives and dates. Her father-in-law called to say that he's coming to dinner. Reyhana and her husband once gave him a trip to Mecca, and after that he too converted. Since Reyhana has been wearing the veil, her mother also uses a headscarf, and her father hides from the grandchildren when he smokes.
"We can't force people to do anything, but we can keep exposing them to Islam," says Reyhana.
She and her friend have agreed to meet once again that afternoon. Saliha is waiting down at the Rhine. They greet each other with the words "Salamu alaikum," or "peace be upon you," embrace and stroll along the riverfront in the hot sun, wearing their veils. A cyclist forces them to step off the bike path.
"The Germans hate us," says Saliha. "When there's an attack, we're the first ones they come after."
She says that she is fundamentally opposed to violence, but that attacks on infidels are not the same thing as violence. "The attacks are merely calls for help, and the bombs are the weapons of the weak and the oppressed."
A ferry lands at the river's edge, bringing tourists from the other side.
What would make for a perfect world?
"If there were more understanding for us, tolerance and Sharia everywhere," says Reyhana.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: The Lives Of Salafists' Wives
- Part 2: 'Just a Girl at Heart'
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