In the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, it remains very difficult for couples to marry if they come from different sects or religions. For example, intermarriage between a Christian and a Muslim.
According to religious rules a Muslim man may marry a Christian woman but vice versa is not permitted. Even though the Christian and Muslim communities in Iraqi Kurdistan have strong ties and are on friendly terms, this has not made intermarriage any more permissible.
I thought she was so beautiful I didn’t even think about her religion or her ethnicity. I only wanted to know if she would have me.
Over the past few years there have been a number of Muslim locals who have been willing to convert to Christianity in order to marry their loved one.
There are no official statistics on this because the local authorities do not record the ethnicity or religion of married couples.
But in fact, the clerics at some of Erbil’s Christian churches have refused to help with the conversion. “There is huge potential for things to go wrong when Muslim men and Christian women marry,” says Father Esha of Mar George church in Erbil. “It can have a negative impact on the couple’s families and could even lead to violence,” he suggests.
In Iraqi Kurdistan one case where a Yazidi woman tried to marry a Muslim ended in her gruesome murder.
Not everyone is so worried. “Around 4,000 people in the Erbil province have filled out forms expressing desire to convert to Zoroastrianism,” says Awat Darya, a political representative of Kurdish Zoroastrians, who practice one of the oldest religions in the world with deep Kurdish roots. And some of them got married inside the Zoroastrian temple. “They didn’t seem to care about any social problems they might face,” Darya continues. “They just did it, and renounced any religious conflicts and differences.”
There have also been more marriages between Arabs and Kurds recently, especially since the Iraqi Kurdish region become a bolt hole for Arabs displaced by the security crisis caused by the extremist Islamic State group.
“I volunteer and I was transferred to work at a camp for the displaced, which is where I met my wife,” says Kurdish local, Taniya Daoud. “I thought she was so beautiful I didn’t even think about her religion or her ethnicity. I only wanted to know if she would have me. We overcame our difficulties and we are very happy together now.”
Salahaddin University student, Nikah Ari, found things a bit more difficult when she fell in love with an Arab, Samir Abdel Rahman: She had to convince her family to accept the match but they did, and the couple are now engaged.
Ari does admit that things between herself and her fiancé got a bit difficult during events in October when the political conflict between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdish authorities worsened, thanks to the referendum on Kurdish independence.
“When things like that happen, Samir and I are definitely in two different camps,” Ari says. “But when things calm down, we go back to normal.”