Meet Haneen Alsafi, recipient of a humanitarian award from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA and quite an inspiration.
Raised in al-Hillah, in Babil, Iraq, she is the daughter of an Arab Shia father who grew up in Baghdad and a Turkmen Sunni mother who grew up in Erbil. As Alsafi explains in an interview, although they belonged to different ethnic and religious groups, “My parents never disagreed with each other’s sects or beliefs, just like the others, we all shared one country and lived in peace.”
She grew up in a small, very conservative city, but Alsafi also spent enough time in Erbil, a city of over 1.5 million people, to develop a connection. There, she was exposed to an ethnically diverse population consisting of Kurds, Assyrians, Arabs, Armenians, Turcomans, Yezidis, Shabakis and Mandeans, and a religiously rich community with believers in Sunni, Sufi and Shia Islam, as well as Christianity, Yezidism, Yarsan, Shabakism and Mandeanism. Her experience in Erbil was eye-opening.
My family would take us every year to visit my mother’s family in Erbil. I was exposed to a diverse population. Although the culture was very similar, the traditions and the languages were different. I think this exposure definitely prepared me to become the person I am today and played a major role in my path and passion in life. We have Kurdish, Turkmen and Christian friends in the north of Iraq. We still maintain friendship with them. It never was an issue for people from different religions and/or ethnicities to become friends.
Like most Iraqis, the people of Hillah were not spared the ravages of war, death and destruction. The city was the scene of heavy fighting during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Although the city was relatively peaceful after the initial invasion, it soon became the scene of numerous terrorist attacks.
Hillah was targeted by terrorist groups through a series of car bombs and suicide bombers. I lost one of my dearest friends in a car bomb in 2006 at the graduation party for the engineering college graduates. Many other bombings followed: in the local market, at the police academy graduation ceremony and at the retirement center. Hundreds of people were killed each time since, as you can imagine, those attacks targeted huge groups of people. We have been close to bombings but luckily not too close to get injured.