Around July 22, 2009, some Jewish families moved from Raidah district, Amran province, to Sawan area in the Yemeni capital Sana’a, the place where I used to live. I happened to be neighbors with a Yemeni guy called Abdurrahman who got married to a displace Jewish woman called Laiah.
Raidah, a Yemeni village in Amran province where most Yemeni Jews live, is about 70km northern Sana’a, Yemeni capital. According to Hakham Yehia Yussif, there are exactly 338 Jews in Yemen, 45 families in Amran province and 68 Jews displaced from Sa’ada province to Sana’a due to the war between Yemeni government and Houthis– a group that calls for curse on Jews and death to Israel – in Sa’ada.
In Raidah, Yemeni Muslims and Jews, are more conservative and more controlled by social traditions and clan rules than religions. In this province and other northern provinces, girls get married to men whom they do not know before the wedding evening, families depend on women’s hard work, such as fetching water, taking care of the cattle, collecting firewood, etc.
In the suburb of Raidah, there were two adjacent houses. The first house on the left side is the house of a Jewish family and the other one on the right side the house of a Muslim family. The Jewish family consists of a husband and wife, three boys and one beautiful girl called Laiah. The Muslim family consists of a husband and wife, two daughters and four boys. One boy is called Abdurrahman who is the same age than Laiah.
The two families fetch water from the water well which is about 200 meters from their houses. Laiah and Abdurrahman used to fetch water from the well every day, once in the morning and three times in the afternoon when the sun is not too hot.
It was the happiest moment when one of the family members asked Laiah to fetch water for the family, because she would Abdurrahman to go with her, seizing the opportunity to deeply look at each other’s eyes and express their feelings. On the way back home, Abdurrahman did not let Laiah carry the water.
Sometimes they also went out to collect firewood from the mountains and in the valley near the village. He collected and chopped up the firewood for her and helped her carrying it as far as they could before giving her bck her part of firewood when they were getting to close to their houses.
“Abdurrahman, you make me feel like the Queen of Sheba,” Laiah told Abdurrahman.
“And you are my Queen,” he replied.
“I will never forget your words” she said.
“Will you marry me, Laiah?” Abdurrahman asked Laiah.
“You are my husband sooner or later and I will never be for anyone else except you,” Laiah replied.
“I will wait for you all my life,” she added.
They promised each other to get married one day despite their respective religions, strict tribal traditions and past conflicts between Jews and Muslims. They looked at each other purely as humans, and believed that nobody could prevent their marriage. Around the age of 18, one of the Jews asked for Laiah’s hand. Her family agreed and she got married to the Jewish man. She informed Abdurrahman that she had to get married to this Jewish guy and she does not even know him. One week after the marriage, she planned to escape with Abdurrahman at midnight and told him the place where he should be waiting for her.
She escaped with Abdurrahman and they went to a religious figure to make their marriage agreement. Abdurrahman was rejected by his family and on the Jewish family side they informed the US Embassy in Sana’a, and the Interior Minister of this “problem”, as the family called it, and asked them to end the marriage.
Abdurrahman and Laiah asked for the help of social figures and dignitaries in the Arhab district of Sana’a, and briefed them on their marriage. The couple asked the social figures to protect them as their marriage was legal. Before the officials and dignitaries, they ended the marriage of Laiah to the Jewish man and she is now married to Abdurrahman.
The US and government officials, ministers and social figures listened to Laiah confirming that she did not want to get married to the Jewish guy, did not even know him, and that she herself planned to escape with Abdurrahman and got married to him of her own accord.
The officials and figures told the Muslim and Jewish families they can do nothing about their marriage as it is permitted by both religions. The Jewish family considered Laiah as dead and even organized a funeral for her.
They proved to their families and Yemeni society that Muslims and Jews are human– they love each other and got married and started a family. Their marriage is religiously allowed and there is no place for traditions, rumors and propaganda that aim to alienate and estrange Muslims from Jews.