Ibrahim Mohamed and his wife Khuthar happily dote on their baby. They are openly affectionate and laugh warmly at each other's jokes. But if they had to do it over, they wouldn't have married.
"If I could go back in time, I'd never marry a Shiite," Ibrahim says. "It's not about her as a person. The problem is the clerics she follows."
Since they married a few years ago, Ibrahim has become an increasingly devout follower of the strict Wahhabibranch of Sunni Islam, practiced in Saudi Arabia. His wife is Shiite.
Theirs is one of an unknown number of inter-sect marriages in Iraq. Optimists point to such unions as evidence Iraq can overcome the sectarian tensions that have pushed this fractured country to civil war. But even this last vestige of a united Iraq is on the decline today as the country's increasingly polarized society takes a toll on otherwise happily married couples.
Ibrahim and Khuthar offer a window into the schisms, big and small, that are rending the fabric of this society. During four hours of interviews conducted over three days, they bickered endlessly over theological minutiae. But it became clear that their heated debates over the proper height of a gravestone or the right way to hold one's hands in prayer mask far deeper divisions.
"Our relationship is good, praise God," says Khuthar. "But we have differences and argue about religion a lot. Today those arguments are much more heated than they used to be."
Disillusioned in the late 1990s with preachers that appeared to him to be regime-appointed stooges trumpeting Saddam Hussein's glories, Ibrahim sought a purer Islam. He found it in the writings of Mohammed ibn Abdel Wahab, an 18th-century thinker whose followers are often referred to as Wahhabis, though many consider the term pejorative.
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