In order to get married, Mosul local Adel Saeed* had to wait three full months. The delay? Before he could get married he had to grow a full beard. So did the men who would witness his marriage.
A marriage contract can only be completed by one of the judges appointed by the extremist Islamic State group, which has controlled the northern Iraqi city of Mosul since the middle of 2014. And in order for a couple to marry legally in front of the judge, who is supposed to be an expert in religious Islamic, or Sharia, law, the man must first have a full beard. The bride-to-be must come to the court together with her husband-to-be and her male guardian. Her guardian must also have a full beard.
Two other males are also required to be witnesses to the marriage and they too must have full beards.
If a girl has not reached her teens, a judge is allowed to assess her physically to see if she is fit for marriage.
Speaking in formal Arabic, the judge asks the bridegroom whether he wants to marry, then he asks the bride’s guardian the same question. The bride, in a full niqab so that nobody can see anything but her eyes, is not asked her opinion.
After the two men agree to the marriage, the judge repeats the Islamic State’s motto several times. The couple get a marriage contract that is signed and stamped so they have proof of their union.
When Saeed arrived home, he says he whispered to his new wife that it felt like he was pledging allegiance to the extremist group, rather than marrying her.
According to information obtained by locals from Mosul, including lawyers and journalists who have managed to escape the city, these are the conditions under which couples living in the northern city, formerly home to around 2 million people, can marry. The Islamic State group abolished all of the civil courts that existed in Mosul previously, accusing former judges and lawyers of blasphemy. They also banned the practice of law and closed the law faculty at the University of Mosul and another college in the city. The Iraqi legal system was replaced by a religious one.
To finalize marriages, the extremist group established seven different courts around the city. In these both Arab and foreign “Sharia specialists” grant or deny couples permission to marry. If they suspect any sort of marital violation they can also impose punishments, the most severe of which is death by stoning.
There are also other rules. For example, a female does not need to have reached puberty in order to marry in the so-called Islamic State. If a girl has not reached her teens, a judge is allowed to assess her physically to see if she is fit for marriage. The most important precondition though is the woman’s father’s permission and presence. If the father cannot be present, the marriage can also be agreed to, and witnessed by, a bride’s mother.
A male can also marry before he reaches puberty. Elsewhere in the country, Iraq’s Personal Status Law says that both parties should be at least 18 years of age in order to wed. An Iraqi judge can authorise the marriage of an individual who is aged between 15 and 18 though, if the judge feels that the couple are physically and emotionally mature enough. In Mosul a teenage boy can marry, if the Islamic State’s judge believes the boy is physically fit to be a husband, if he has the financial resources to support his wife and if his parent is present and agreeable.
According to the Islamic State, or IS, group’s rules, the witnesses to the marriage must be aged over 18.
Aesthetics are also important to the Islamic State. Women must wear the all-covering niqab and men should wear the longer shirts and baggy pants favoured by the group, and also have a long beard.
Should a Mosul couple try and marry outside of the IS group’s courts, they may be accused of adultery. Penalties for this range from lashes to stoning. In fact, the punishments for adultery are more commonly meted out to locals that the IS group suspects of opposing them.
Locals confirm that the IS group’s morality police, known as the Hisbah, who patrol Mosul’s streets, do check on couples in the city, asking them for proof of their relationship, whether that be familial or marital. Married couples are told they need to carry their old marriage licenses, if they were wed before the IS group took over, or they need to carry a license issued by the IS group. If either of the pair is unable to provide evidence of their relationship, they may be prosecuted.
Taking a leaf out of the playbook of other authoritarian regimes’ playbooks, the organisation has also encouraged a kind of network of neighbourhood spies and informants apparently keep an eye on births in maternity wards. Expectant mothers are often asked to show their marriage certificates in hospitals, where each newborn is also taxed – a baby boy costs the parents IQD100,000 (around US$84) and a baby girls costs IQD50,000.
And getting married is not really as much fun as it used to be in Mosul. The IS group has banned any kind of wedding party, considering them to be something that is imported from the West. Nor are locals allowed to drive in a traditional wedding motorcade or organise a photo shoot for the happy couple. It is possible to host a special meal for relatives after the IS-approved ceremony but this is becoming less likely all the time, due to the shortage of food and unemployment in Mosul.
Many new couples in Mosul are also concerned about what happens in the future, should the IS group be pushed out of the city. Iraq is still a relatively conservative place and to be cohabiting, unmarried, would be socially disastrous for many.
The Iraqi law will not invalidate the IS group marriage contracts, says Bilal Mohammed*, a lawyer originally from Mosul. Consent makes the law, he explained to NIQASH and as long as there was mutual consent and certain conditions – such as age – were fulfilled, then Iraqi law was likely to validate the marriages made in Mosul too.
It is quite likely though, that new marriage contracts would be issued to Mosul couples by the Iraqi state, to replace those made by the IS group, Mohammed suggests. But this would only be a formality and the marriages would continue as they were.
Should a couple have married in secret or with a verbal contract, outside of the IS group’s courts, Iraqi law would probably take into account what is known as “proof of marriage”, the lawyer explained – this includes things like offspring of the union. This had been an issue in the province of Ninawa even before the IS group came along because of the tribal nature of society here, which saw many marriages contracted outside of an official courtroom.
The only problem Mohammed envisages is where marriage contracts have been signed off by the IS group’s judges, which would not be legal in the rest of Iraq. For example, the case where a man takes a second wife without getting the permission of the first wife; or a case where a divorce was concluded without legal justification, according to federal law.
*Names of individuals still in Mosul, or with families still in Mosul, have been changed for security reasons.