Stuck Between 2 Sides of Islam

HAMBURG — Mariam Fizazi arrived in this north German port city five days before Sept. 11, 2001, when 19 terrorists changed the world.

Since then, this cheerful, 34-year-old woman has, she said, had her patience constantly tested by Allah.

“I have had it all — a brother who had been in a training camp in Afghanistan, then he and my father arrested for supporting terrorism in Morocco and then my husband, who decided to travel to Waziristan,” she said in her first media interview. “I think that is quite a lot to deal with for 10 years.”

She appears to bear little bitterness — neither toward the men whose actions have scarred her life, nor toward the authorities who have punished them.

“When I came here, I thought those who have another belief would be against us and not trustworthy,” she said. “But I have learned that there are good and bad people everywhere, no matter which religion they have.”

She lives with her 8-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son and has not heard from her husband, Naamen Meziche, since a telephone call last September. In March 2009, he had joined a group that left Hamburg for Waziristan, the tribal area between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As he was leaving, saying he was headed for Mecca, she had a premonition. “Everything seemed normal, but then I somehow thought that he might go and joked, ‘Don’t you dare go to Iraq, or something like that.”’ He looked into her eyes, she remembered, and said, “‘No way.”’

Three weeks later, he called and said he had been in Pakistan. Where he was calling from was unclear, she said, but “it must have been a city” because she could hear traffic, and the call was on Skype, meaning an Internet connection.

She has since taken off her wedding ring. The children “still ask from time to time about their father,” she said. “What am I supposed to tell them? Your father left us for fighting jihad?”

Ms. Fizazi has become what she calls an activist for her religion. “So many people have a wrong idea about what Islam is, and the converted women are the worst,” she said.

Because her father is an Islamic scholar, women seek her advice when they have problems — with their husbands, with Islam, she said.

“Islam has given women many rights, but very often women have no idea. They think Islam teaches them to say what their husband says, to follow what their husband wants them to follow, that is all nonsense,” she said, speaking in Arabic and emphasizing each word with her right hand.

The Internet is one platform where she discusses what she considers the right and wrong interpretations of Islam. “It’s important to be open toward the society we live in,” she said. She tells other Muslim women: “Don’t cut your children and yourself off.”

The Muslim community in Hamburg is generally reticent. No one would comment on the record about how Ms. Fizazi is perceived — one community member, insisting on anonymity, said that she was an asset, because “she knows what Islam means, but through her personal experience, she also understands the sentiments of those who decide to go and fight.”

Ms. Fizazi came to Hamburg from her native Morocco, leaving a 5-year-old daughter from her first husband with her parents because the ex-husband would not let the child leave.

Mr. Meziche, a French citizen, “was a very calm and nice man,” introduced by her father, Mohammed Fizazi, who had met him in Hamburg “long before the attacks in America,” she said.

Western and Arab intelligence identify Mr. Fizazi as a preacher for jihadi movements. His writings and tapes were found in the homes of many men who went to Afghanistan and Iraq. “He was someone who gave young people legitimacy for their actions,” said Raphael Perl, head of the counterterrorism unit at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Mr. Fizazi also preached at Al Quds Mosque in Hamburg when Mohammed Atta and other Sept. 11 plotters attended it. “Namaan was looking for a wife,” and Mr. Fizazi invited him to Morocco, Ms. Fizazi said. “He had told him, my daughter will have to approve, otherwise no wedding,” she recalled.

She, then 23 and divorced, liked Mr. Meziche; he was 30, unmarried, and had arrived in Germany 10 years earlier to study engineering. They wed in Morocco in 2000.

Weeks later, her older brother Abdelilah, with their father’s knowledge, left for Afghanistan. He was later arrested in Iran as he fled war in Afghanistan.

By then, she was in Hamburg. Her new husband, she said, was shocked by television photos of the Sept. 11 plotters — he recognized some from his mosque.

The German police contacted Mr. Meziche. “Just because you go to the same mosque doesn’t mean you know about their plans,” Ms. Fizazi said. She recalled that Muslims in Hamburg were unhappy about the Sept. 11 attacks, but that all changed with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “Why Iraq?” she asked. “Why do nations have to pay for what 20 or 30 people have done?”

That year, 2003, the Moroccan authorities accused her father and brother and scores of other Islamists of involvement in attacks that killed 45 people, including 12 suicide bombers, in Casablanca. Her father was sentenced to 30 years, Abdelilah to five.

In prison, her father started distancing himself from some of what he had preached. Ms. Fizazi asked him to go public. He was attacked by some followers but stood by his word. Last April, King Mohammed VI pardoned or reduced the sentences of 190 prisoners; Mr. Fizazi was released.

Her husband, meanwhile, has vanished. When they last spoke, he sounded sad, she said. “They might attack us in the next two days,” he said, telling her to care for their children and to remarry if he died. Despite that, she said, “I don’t need a man for looking after me or them.”

Two days after that last call, a drone strike killed some of the men who had left with her husband. Their names and pictures were published on jihadist Web sites. Mr. Meziche was not there.  source