SYRIA - WOMAN DOCTOR AT HOSPITAL EXPERIENCES THE ISLAMIC STATE, LATER FLEES
Like other women in Islamic State-held cities, Raheb was forbidden from leaving her home without a close male relative.
This was a problem for the “emirs” who now ran the hospital and wanted to ban interaction between male doctors and female patients.
Yet, one day in April, a woman
named Raheb, a 26-year-old recent medical school graduate, arrived at
Over the next four months, she worked as the only full-time female doctor at the hospital, becoming a witness to the increasing brutality of life under the Islamic State.
Raheb, who spoke on condition her last name not be used for security reasons, both saw and experienced endless harassment at the hands of the radicals, who were obsessed with women's appearance. “The most important thing for them was Sharia," Raheb said, referring to Islamic law. “Not medicine, not health.”
By the time she began working at the hospital, the Islamic State had already infiltrated the city's schools, eliminating classes they didn't approve of — including philosophy and chemistry as well as courses in Arab nationalism and Islam, which wasn't taught, in the radicals' opinion, in a pure enough fashion. Girls as young as nine were told they had to cover their hair under veils.
Some people in Raqqa resisted the transformation of their city, and even tried to protest against the Islamic State. But over time they were silenced through terror and fear. The jihadi militants had controlled the city for months, enforcing public whippings and leaving decapitated bodies in the street as warnings.
Raheb — like everyone in Raqqa — understood the risk of disobeying their brutal rule.
“Everyone refuses these laws, but nothing is in their hands,” she said.
When the radicals demanded she trade her scrubs for an abaya — the long black cloak covering the entire body, paired with a niqab, or face veil — she obliged, despite concerns about hygiene and ease of movement.
She found herself under constant scrutiny by the armed men — many of them foreign fighters — who patrolled the hospital and regularly inspected the length and thickness of her niqab to be sure her features were completely covered.
One day, a fighter, whom she believed to be Chechen, burst into the emergency room where she was filling out a patient's file, and began shouting in broken Arabic about gloves.
“Gloves, need! Gloves need!” he shouted, sending Raheb into a panic.
“I thought there must have been an emergency and someone needed gloves,” she said. “I tried to hand medical gloves to him, until I realized that he was telling me to cover my own hands.” She didn't have the required black gloves and so she tucked her hands into the sleeves of her abaya and awkwardly tried to continue filling out the patient's form.
“Cover her face!” he shouted, chasing them down the hall.
“She's dying!” the nurse protested.
The fighter, infuriated, grabbed the sheet from the patient's bed and threw it over the the woman's face, to the horror of the medical staff who witnessed the scene.
“It was so dangerous,” Raheb said. “She's in cardiac arrest. She needed oxygen and he covered her face with a sheet.”
Despite attempts to save her life, the woman died.
In addition to enforcing strict Sharia law, the guards also hoarded precious resources, leaving the civilians with expired medicine and whatever scraps the fighters didn't want. And like the rest of the residents in the city, she became increasingly inured to the cruelty around her.
One day, Raheb's parents saw how an Islamic State fighter became enraged as he caught sight of a woman lifting her face veil to smell a bottle of perfume at a shop. He dragged her into the street as other fighters rounded up other people so they could witness what would happen to women who exposed their faces in public.
One of the fighters then whipped the woman for several minutes, before releasing her and allowing the crowd to disperse.
Raheb's mother, a retired school teacher, was terrified and implored her daughters to abide by any Islamic State demands. When the radicals banned women from going out in public without a male relative, her father began escorting Raheb to and from the hospital.
When Raheb began hearing stories
of rape, abductions, and women being forced to marry Islamic State emirs in
Raheb decided to make a run for it, ducking out an
emergency exit in the back of the building. With the help of her father, she managed to make
it to her sister's house where she hid for days. Eventually, in early August,
she fled to
Though Raheb is relived to have escaped life under Islamic State rule, she still mourns what has happened to her hometown of Raqqa. “One of my biggest fears is that my city will never go back to the way it was,” she said.