In conservative Karbala, Facebook friendships are replacing marriages arranged by one’s family. The social networking website allows young people to communicate more openly without fear of social opprobrium. It also means they don’t have to get their parents to arrange their romantic lives.
It is a tale that is becoming far more common in Iraq. After only two months of knowing one another on the social networking website Facebook, Karbala merchant Haider al-Saadi married one of his online friends.
Student Afra Hussein tells a similar tale. “I received a friendship request from one of my fellow students at university,” she says. “The relationship developed online and now we are married. Basically,” Hussein says, “Facebook provides young Iraqi people with a venue where they don’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed – they can declare their feelings more easily online.”
“We were friends for five months first but now we have a lovely baby daughter called Basma.”
Perhaps even more important it means that they don’t need to ask their relatives to help them arrange a relationship or a marriage,” Hussein adds.
Salem Jawad is another local who met his wife through Facebook. “One day I posted a message on Facebook talking about the kind of woman I’d like to meet,” Jawad explains. “I got a lot of comments and posts and it was through them that I eventually came to meet my wife. We were friends for five months first but now we have a lovely baby daughter called Basma.”
“The Internet – and sites like Facebook – allow young people to speak more openly about their feelings than they would feel comfortable doing in real life,” says Abdul Karim al-Amiri, a local sociologist. “This can help relationships built this way become more successful.”
Karbala man, Fadel al-Masoudi, works as a contractor and he recalls when his future wife came into his office looking for a builder. “I liked the way she introduced herself, she was very dignified,” he says. “But there was no way I could have told her about my feelings. However after a while I found her on Facebook and we became friends. One day, through private messages, I told her about my true feelings and after this chat she agreed to marry me,” he says happily.
Feminist activist Athraa al-Khafaji also thinks Facebook relationships are a good thing. “The web has made the world a smaller place, it is full of life,” she notes optimistically.
However not all Facebook friendships end up happily ever after. Another Karbala university student, Hassan Juma, says he accidentally clicked the wrong button on Facebook and sent a friendship request to a female student. Two days later he was beaten up by the student’s brothers who thought that he and the girl in question were conducting an illicit relationship.
“I would strongly advise them to be careful to use websites in an acceptable way.”
“Because other people knew about the friendship I was forced to ask her to marry me in order to save both our honours,” Juma says. “It became a scandalous situation. I only really wanted to enjoy myself and spend some time online – and I’ve ended up getting married!”
And like all social networking websites there is also potential for entrapment or illicit uses. “We warn young people about the dangers of these sites,” says Karbala police officer, Abdul Zahra al-Hasnawi. “Some young men misuse the Internet to post comments and images or to use the kind of speech that violates our social values. The law bans these practices and it would be possible for young women to file a law suit against them. In some of these cases terrorism laws might be applicable which is why I would strongly advise them to be careful to use websites in an acceptable way.”
A version of this article originally appeared on NIQASH.