Thursday, September 24, 2009

Iraqi Women Escape Torture, Sexual Assault only to Find Hardships in Chicago


After all the doors been closed on in my face, I only have your door to knock on now. However, the main reason why I am writing to you is the fear and anxiety that I have these days. I'm a muslim woman from Baghdad. I was a professor teaching at University of Arts and Media at the same time I owned a media company and humanitarian organization and worked with the Iraqi congress twice . I found great pleasure in my work and I was the focus of attention from many people. Also, I was always taking care of my duties as a Muslim by reading the Quran and fasting.

One day in August 2005, I was kidnapped by unknown men and they took me to an unknown location. I was in captivity for many days however, I was severely beaten and sexually assaulted and they released me after I payed a ransom. In the same year many members of my family were killed and as a result, I decided to leave everything behind me and I fled Iraq. I was pregnant with my daughter who is with me in the US.

After that I went to Jordan,Syria and Egypt . I lived in Egypt for a few months until I gave the birth. It was a very difficult time for me and I did not have any money to buy milk for my child but thanks to god, I went to United Nations in Cairo and they took me in as a refugee. I have been here since September 20,2007.

Initially, the government and a not for profit organization paid for my rent and food but after eight months, the help I was receiving was cut in half. I started working with an Islamic school but after a couple of months they stopped paying me and they cut the Zaqaah fund. Since, the events that happened to me in Iraq my health has been getting worse day after day and it has been more than 3 months. I cannot move and walk much after having surgery 20 days ago. Unfortunately, my daughter is 3 years old and initially not one organization or mosque has tried to helped or ask me what I needed. I found help from people other than muslims, but some tried pressuring me to leave my religion and after I told them my opinion about their religion and also spoke about the strong faith I have in my religion and Islam. As a muslim, I respect their religion, as it is stated in the Holy Quran. As a result, they refused to help me anymore because I don't want to be a hypocrite and having a two faces for my people and my religion like some people do. All I'm asking is to help me and help those who are in the same situation as me and to save our religion .

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Families You Can Help

By Amina Tahera

Fatima lives with her 3-year old daughter Taqwa and faces challenges with work, rent, utilities and other expenses. She also has several medical issues related to traumas and subsequent surgeries she underwent in Iraq and goes to the hospital on a regular basis to receive care for these. She and her family were kidnapped in Iraq and she lost her husband, other children, as well as several other relatives to this tragic occurrence. She describes her life in Baghdad before all this tragedy as very comfortable. She used to be a journalism professor in the University of Baghdad for more than 9 years, working with the Ambassadors of Dubai, Switzerland and Belgium on Human Rights projects, travelling, owning more than one home and was happy. Yet, now, even as she struggles hand-to-mouth and faces eviction for paying rent late, she tells me she has never felt more blessed with all the help from Allah and people since she has faced all these tests. She has been teaching Quranic and conversational Arabic to people here, sometimes paid and other times on a volunteer basis, but it by no means covers the basic expenses. She finds release in writing about her experiences and frustrations.

Taqwa is very talkative, playful and expressive. While she was very young when she came here and seems unfazed by her circumstances, it has perhaps indirectly still left its mark on her. She recounts for me a vivid and descriptive story about asking Allah for help because she could not find her mom, though she could hear her voice. At the end, she says, “…but it was just a bad dream”. Ruqayya, her neighbor, has become like Taqwa’s older sister. “ Fatima is constantly teaching Taqwa about Allah. She always has Quran playing in her house,” says Ruqayya.


Nada and her husband Jabber have 4 children – 20 year-old Ali, 16-year old Baraa, 10-year old Bayan and 6-year old Ruqayya. Back in Iraq, Ali hoped to go to medical school, Baraa to the Art Institute, Bayan into Pharmacy and Ruqayya had so many ambitions she could not just pin it down to one. They studied and worked hard in hopes of getting into the government-paid program there, but getting into college here, not to mention paying for it, now seems a far-fetched dream. Jabber has been able to find a menial job but had to stop working because of illness related to thyroid and colon problems. Consequently, public aid has stopped sending food stamps for all of them including the children. Ali, being over 18, no longer benefits from paid medical care or food stamps. Their donated furniture is broken and on its last legs, neither do they have carpeting to protect them from the cold. In fact, any and every basic expense is a huge weight on their shoulders and the family prays for Jabber to get a job which will not worsen his health, for a decent chance for their children to be able to study and build a life for themselves, and for some measure of security in this difficult system then now find themselves in.

A Widowed Father on Raising Three Sons in a Foreign Land

By Amina Tahera
Aug, 2009

Jassem has three sons, 8-year old Kareem, 7-year old Ali and 5-year old Muhammad. The boys are playful and energetic. Their father tells me they like to pretend that they are Batman, Spiderman and Superman and that they will grow up to solve all the world’s problems. Undoubtedly they have faced some major ones, having lost their mother before coming here to the US. Jassem faces the same challenges as Fatima and Ahlam as a single parent, but being a single father, his rambunctious sons' play-induced minor scrapes and bruises have brought on some undue suspicion from daycare workers.

Like the others he attends complementary English classes, but his progress is impeded by having to stay home with the boys ( when they are off from school) and not having much prior knowledge of English. He has not yet learned enough to be able to get a job, let alone find work as an electrician, his occupation back in Iraq. I asked him to tell me anything about his life that will help people to understand his predicament. He said, “If someone lost his wife and had to care for his children alone, they could understand. Even those who didn’t, can imagine the challenges I face. I just want a chance to work hard and raise my boys so they can study hard and do well in life.” Right now he is trying to come up with the money for school uniforms for the three boys, on top of the usual rent, utilities and CTA card expenses.