Germany’s Spiegel does Islam promo.
What could be more important than Â the ‘feelings’ of a bunch of Â conflicted females who were stupid enough to get involved with Islamic headbangers?
What could possibly be more sexy, intriguing and mystifying Â than western Â females who don the freedom sack?
TheÂ LivesÂ Of Salafists’ Wives
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 CafÃ© 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.
‘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 KÃ¶lnstrasse has a good selection. It has long and short niqabs, and summer and winter niqabs, with prices ranging from â‚¬15 (about $20) to â‚¬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 â‚¬15, and then the women go to the nearby town of KÃ¶nigswinter, 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