Sex and the Syrian Revolution



It took her a long time to take the decision to talk and when she did, she would only meet in a public place.

She was an ordinary Damascene, dressed in a long coat and a scarf that completely covered her hair. Light skinned and brown eyed, there was nothing outstanding about her – nothing outstanding until she told her story.

Lina is not her real name, but this is the name she wants to be called in this tale. Thirty-eight-years old, divorced and a mother of three, she lived at her parent’s house and worked for a meager salary, so when a sheikh broached the subject of marriage and introduced her to a man near her age, she snapped at the opportunity in the desperate hope that her life would change for the better. In true Damascene style the engagement period lasted for one month, during which she was only allowed to meet her fiancée in her parent’s house.

She married and they moved to Jaramana a large mixed suburb of Damascus. However, Lina’s husband came from Ain Tarma, an eastern suburb of Damascus now in the hands of the Islamic fundamentalists. One day he asked her to accompany him there. It proved to be  a visit that changed many things in her life and altered many of what she had thought were rocklike beliefs.

When Lina entered Ain Tarma, it was like walking into a ghost city with no water, no electricity and the complete destruction of private and public property. It was inhabited by men who looked different to most Syrians. They wore knee-length robes and hennaed hair. They carried machetes, knives and handcuffs. She saw cars with no license plate numbers and a hospital

ambulance that had obviously been stolen. Even worse,  she felt as if she were dressed in a bikini, as all the other women there were completely covered from head to toe and wore long gloves.

It was in Ain Tarma that Lina had a heart-to-heart conversation with her husband and it was that conversation which made her reconsider the very essence of her core beliefs – her vey faith.  For Lina, Islam had always been there for her – to fall back on in times of need – to follow and be guided by in times of anguish and despair. It served as her protective clothing and the heart of her hearts.

But she heard a different Islam from her husband, one that was alien, dark and perverted. The sheikh, who lived in Ain Tarma had urged everyone to Jihad, her husband told her, but Jihad apparently took on many faces.  One could take arms and fight or one could help finance the fight and if neither were possible, then one could still do Jihad –”Jihad Al  Nikah,” which translates roughly into English as sexual Jihad. One could and indeed should (for it was a God-ordained duty) marry the young widows of all the men who had lost their lives in the fight. In “Jihad Al Nikah” a man must marry up to four women. He could then divorce them in a short time, only to marry others! The divorced women , would also in turn, marry different men and so on and so on…

Lina listened aghast to her husband’s explanation of Jihad and then she asked him a question which had irked her from the beginning, “What about Al Adeh?’’ she asked. Al Adeh is a period of approximately four months, where a divorced or widowed women isn’t allowed to marry in case she is pregnant with child. “Oh,” replied her husband flippantly. “The sheikh will find a fatwa for this.”


It was very clear , that in this case of Jihad Al Nikah, the husband didn’t have to provide any financial assistance to his wives,

the armed groups did that.  They all received large amounts of sugar, rice and cooking oil – complements of Turkey.


So what is the point of Jihad Al Nikah and why has it come to light suddenly and particularly in Syria? In the case of Ain Tarma, Lina was able to offer an answer. The people who lived in Ain Tarma belonged to the armed groups or were their families and supporters nearly everyone else had fled. It was very important to keep the population of Ain Tarma stable, for it not to decrease. Turning Ain Tarma into a “hot spot ‘’ where free sex  was not only legalized but was given a holy cloth to wear was one way of insuring that its people did not leave it.

Lina’s conviction about this was further confirmed when after one month of her marriage  her husband  decided to fulfill his obligation in Jihad Al Nikah and take on a young women, freshly widowed . She heard

them talk on the phone, one day prior to their marriage and the bride to be had only one condition for her groom:  he must prove his stamina and endurance, not in the battlefield , but in the bedroom!

It seemed to Lina that the “revolution” was based more on sexual needs and desires rather than the need and desire to bring true reforms.  Slowly , Lina’s life became intolerable . Her husband’s strange new “Islamic” values tore her apart. He forbade her to smoke because smoking, according to him, was “haram” or sinful;  yet he also told her how one day  he was about to kidnap a man simply because the soldier was in the army and what saved the soldier was pure good luck.  The armed groups of Ain Tarma who were to okay the kidnapping  were simply too busy to pick up the phone when Lina’s husband called them.  How,  Lina asked her husband is it haram to smoke, but not haram to kidnap and kill a soldier? His answer came strong and clear: everyone in the Syrian Army, the president and Hezbollah were sinners and were in secret liaison with the Israelis.

The seeds of this idea had long been planted in the minds of some Syrians. Those who frequented particular mosques and felt an affinity to a particular way of thinking – that of radical Islam. This way of thinking was one that fears the rise of any sect in Islam, except that of the majority, Sunni Islam. Therefore, Hezbollah’s ability to hold their own in the summer of 2006 against Israel was viewed  not as an Arab or Lebanese victory but rather as Shi’a victory.  This led to fears about the rise of the Shia’ in the Levant. Slowly and insidiously there started in Syria and only in particular mosques and areas a wave of sectarianism and in particular against Shi’as. The idea was to spread distrust and fear amongst the Sunni majority of the Shia’ , who were depicted as sinners and in liaison with Israel, their victory of 2006 considered a sham and their rhetoric of resistance considered a ploy to gain popularity.

However, in must be made clear that this happened only on a small level and that the vast majority of Syrians, Sunni or otherwise, viewed Hezbollah’s victory as one of the most honorable phases in the history of the Arab Israeli struggle.

Many of those who adopted the theory that Shia’s were in liaison with Israel did that with a clear political agenda in mind. It was to empower the gulf countries and particularly Saudi Arabia at the expense of the more secular countries in the area! With the present crisis in Syria and other Arab countries it seems that those people succeeded to a certain point.

Lina’s experience with her second husband, left her a broken women spiritually for it destroyed her faith in some of her countrymen and the way they perceived Islam. It is true that up till now only a minority of Syrians think the way that Lina’s husband thinks but she had the bad luck to marry one of them.

Lina divorced her husband after two months of marriage.

Reem Haddad can be reached at reem.haddad@gmail.com

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