'Allah Is the Best': The Lives Of Salafists' Wives
Salafist men wear beards, hand out copies of the Koran and cause headaches for Germany's domestic intelligence agency. But how do the women feel? SPIEGEL spends a weekend with two veiled women and learns about their vision of a perfect world.
Saliha and Reyhana stop at a kebab shop on the Bornheimer Strasse in the Bad Godesberg. "Can we pray here?" Saliha asks.
"Sure, okay," says an employee.
The two women walk into the shop and unroll a makeshift prayer rug on the floor. The employee continues putting away chairs. It's 9 p.m., and he wants to close. Saliha uses the compass on her iPhone to determine the direction of Mecca.
It points in the direction behind the kebab shop, where the ICE high-speed trains pass through Bonn. The two women kneel down on the floor to pray. They are wearing gloves and the niqab, a veil with narrow slits for the eyes. Cars pass by in the darkness outside. For the people out there, these women are the brides of terrorists.
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence agency, is paying close attention to the men in their Sunni fundamentalist movement, who have come to be known as Salafists, and who they view as a threat to peace and stability in Germany. Salafists aim to emulate the Prophet Muhammad in how they live their lives. They live in a world governed by the laws of Allah, not the rules of Western society.
Discos and Piercings
After a few minutes, the women roll up their mat and thank the employee. They speak German without an accent, because they are German citizens.
Saliha, 31, is from Ehrenfeld, a district of Cologne, and Reyhana, 23, is from the southern German city of Ulm. They looked very different only a few years ago. Saliha wore high heels and fake designer clothes, and she had a German first name. On weekends, she danced in clubs to techno and hip-hop music.
Reyhana was part of a school band that performed songs like "Hit the Road Jack" at the Roxy, a concert venue in Ulm. She was the prettiest girl in her school, became the German equivalent of the prom queen, had piercings, wore thick black eye makeup and had long, dark curls.
Both women graduated from high school. After Saliha finished school, she first worked as a beautician. Later, she worked at a call center, a restaurant, a fitness center, a kindergarten and a newspaper. Reyhana became a hairdresser after high school. The two women met after they had both moved to Bad Godesberg, a district of Bonn. That was where their lives took a completely different direction.
Reyhana is now married to a man who is currently in pretrial detention in Stuttgart. He is accused of being a member of a criminal organization, and of having recruited Germans to serve as combatants for the jihad. In Bad Godesberg, they lived near the King Fahd Academy, in a neighborhood that became notorious in Germany for images of escalating violence. One of these photos, taken during clashes between Salafists and hooded right-wing extremists, shows a radical Islamist stabbing a policeman in the leg.
The violence was triggered by cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, cartoons that Muslims viewed as insulting to their religious beliefs. Since then, Bad Godesberg has come to symbolize a movement consisting of young, bearded men who pose a threat to the country.
Saliha moved away from Bad Godesberg a year ago. She returns two or three times a year to spend a weekend with Reyhana, just as she did in the past. We accompanied them on one of these weekends, gaining insight into a world that normally remains hidden behind the veil. Their only condition was that they could not be identified by their real first names.
The Road Back to Paradise
Because the kebab shop where they were praying was closing, Saliha and Reyhana went to another one that stays open late in downtown Bonn. Now they are sitting at a table near the back, hiding behind a column so they can eat. In their eyes, allowing strange men to see their faces is a sin.
Saliha orders a meat kebab platter, complete with salad and sauces. Holding her fork in her right hand, she uses her left hand to lift the veil, bringing the meat to her mouth underneath the fabric. She chews quickly. "You can eat as much meat as you want without getting fat," she says.
She is currently on a low-carbohydrate diet, which means she doesn't eat rice, bread or potatoes, and she's already lost 4 kilograms (about 9 lbs.) in two months. In the afternoon, Reyhana was on the Internet searching for ways to burn fat.
The two women want to look good and to be sexy for their men, as they say, and they cite the Koran as their justification. Allah says that a man may have several women if he wishes, as many as four. The Koran also states that women can enter paradise by ensuring that their husbands are satisfied. And paradise is where Saliha and Reyhana want to go. They believe that they are only in this world because they followed the devil, and that the road back to paradise is difficult and full of trials.
"But Allah only tests those he loves," says Reyhana.
'This is the Meaning of Life'
After their meal, the two friends want to have a coffee and some ice cream, with a double helping of caramel sauce. They are standing in a parking lot in front of a McDonald's restaurant. "Islam is the first thing I've really followed through with," says Saliha.
In Islam, she is living by rules for the first time. She was raised by a single mother, an ex-hippie who worked in an organic grocery store. Saliha had no religious beliefs. She only believed that she would become a great dancer one day.
For Saliha, it was a good evening when she was able to get the phone numbers of a lot of boys. She had various boyfriends, including a Greek, an Italian and an ethnic German who grew up in Russia. But none of them were serious. Then she met a boy who told her she ought to read the Koran.
She only read it to prove to her new boyfriend that the Koran is filled with nonsense. She began reading on a Saturday morning, but it didn't turn out the way she had expected.
"It was as if the Prophet Muhammad were talking to me directly," she says. It was as if he had said to her: "Believe! Because that is the truth."
"I was so happy," says Saliha.
Soon afterwards, she went to the mosque, where she met people who, to her, seemed like brothers and sisters. They gave her a white headscarf. Later on, she began wearing baggy skirts, and eventually the veil. She didn't go dancing in clubs anymore.
"That was like childbirth, Christmas, Easter and true love, all rolled together," she says in the dark parking lot in Bonn's industrial zone. Saliha glances at her friend, and Reyhana smiles and says: "I'm really getting goose bumps."
Reyhana's parents came to Germany from Algeria in 1992. Her father launched an Arab-language radio station and founded a civic association. In the evenings, Reyhana and her friends went to Café Si, where they listened to music and drank soft drinks. She had to be home by the time the stores closed. As a child, she was expected to observe the rules of the Koran, but she never took them seriously.
When she was in a training program to become a hairdresser, she thought that looking stylish and wearing nice clothes was a good way to approach life. One day, just after her 17th birthday, she was sitting in the rain at a bus stop, dressed to the nines for work.
For the first time, she began thinking about the meaning of her life. A short time earlier, she had found a Koran in German while cleaning the house. As she held it in her hands, she thought to herself: "This is the meaning of life."
"That was the day Allah brought love into my heart," she says in the parking lot outside McDonald's. On that day, she decided that the life she had lived until then was no longer attractive, and that it was filled with sin. Wearing jeans was sinful, she thought, and so was smoking and listening to Alicia Keys. From then on, she prayed five times a day.
"I'm very ashamed of what I used to be like," says Saliha. She, too, doesn't smoke anymore. She believes that by not smoking now, she'll be able to smoke as much as she wants in paradise.
The two friends now live in a completely structured world, with solutions for everything mapped out in a handbook that the Prophet and his followers left behind for believers. It ensures that the two women don't have to make their own decisions, and it regulates their daily lives. It tells them that the kitchen must always be kept clean, as if Allah were to pay them a visit at any moment. It tells them that they can paint their eyebrows but not pluck them. And when it comes to achieving orgasms, the book advises women not to be awkward.
"Allah has thought of everything," says Reyhana. "He's the best."
18 All Over Again
This also means that Allah sees everything, essentially making a 24-hour film of their lives, even while they sleep. In the end, Allah decides whether people will be sent to hell or to paradise. In hell, the drinking water is purulent, and everyone becomes fat, and has pimples and bad skin.
Saliha wants to have skin as smooth as glass -- and that's only an option in paradise.
There is also alcohol in paradise, she says, served in golden goblets. Food is served on plates decorated with diamonds, and the people in paradise live a life of luxury. Reyhana looks forward to having her own house in paradise. The first floor, she says, will be filled with makeup, and on the second floor she'll have a never-ending selection of clothes to wear.
"You'll never to have think about what to wear again," she says. "Allah makes everyone happy." In her view, life in paradise is similar to the life she led when she was still a non-believer -- only better. She and her friend will be 18 again, they won't be wearing veils, they won't perspire, and they'll be beautiful.
But now they are still standing in a parking lot in Bonn, taking pains to ensure that they pass the tests Allah has in store for them.
- Part 1: The Lives Of Salafists' Wives
- Part 2: 'Just a Girl at Heart'
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2012
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH
Click on the links below for more information about DER SPIEGEL's history, how to subscribe or purchase the latest issue of the German-language edition in print or digital form or how to obtain rights to reprint SPIEGEL articles.
- Frequently Asked Questions: Everything You Need to Know about DER SPIEGEL
- Six Decades of Quality Journalism: The History of DER SPIEGEL
- A New Home in HafenCity: SPIEGEL's New Hamburg HQ
- Reprints: How To License SPIEGEL Articles