Imagine being offered up on a platter as a child bride to an absolute stranger several years your senior. Now imagine the person holding the platter was your own mother.
Yasmine Koenig doesn’t have to imagine this horror. She lived through it.
In a first-hand testimonial published in Seventeen Magazine, Yasmine tells her harrowing story to reporter Liz Welch, detailing a mother’s betrayal justified by the barbarism of traditional Islamic honor culture.
At just 15 years old, Yasmine was forced to travel to the theocratic territory of Palestine where she should would be married off to man chosen by her own mother.
Confounded by a lie her mother had told her about returning to her hometown of Chicago, Yasmine packed her belongings and left her friends to relocate halfway across the world. Despite her mother’s reassurances about the trip, Yasmine remained suspicious of her mother’s intentions.
“My mom said we'd be gone for a month, but I didn't trust her,” she said. “On the way to the airport, I asked to see my return ticket. I wanted proof that it existed. She was indignant as she showed me the ticket, but it made me feel better.”
Yasmine pointed to her Islamic upbringing as a reason for her concern. “We were raised Muslim, and while my mom didn't make us wear hijabs — headscarves — to school, we did when we went to mosque on the high holidays,” she explained. “Every other day, we wore long-sleeve shirts and pants or knee-length skirts.”
Yasmine’s suspicions were finally confirmed when her mother and grandmother chose a suitor for her. “I was furious. By then, I realized that they'd brought me to Palestine to get married and planned to leave me there,” she said, adding:
Instead of berating them, I immediately started thinking of ways to return home on my own. I had watched SVU. I knew this was totally illegal. I just needed to figure out a way to reach a detective in Illinois who could help me escape.
The day she found about her marriage arrangement is forever burned into her memory. Yasmine recounted that fateful day in painful detail:
[My suitor] and I met two more times that week and each time, I hoped he'd figure out that I was being coerced. But then, during that third visit, all the men went into one room while the women stayed in another.
My sister, mother, and grandmother were chatting with his mother and sisters when I heard the men read the engagement passage from the Koran, which announces a marriage.
Startled, I said to my sisters, "What are they doing?"
My oldest sister said, "They're reading the passage."
I shouted, "No!" and fought back tears.
My worst nightmare was becoming a terrifying reality. I ran into the bathroom, curled into a ball, and dissolved into tears. How could my family do this to me? I thought about running away, but how? My mother had my passport. I had no money. I was stuck. I started thinking about different ways to die. Anything was better than this.
After his family left, I could no longer contain my rage at my mother. "How could you do this to me? I am your daughter!" I shouted. Tears were streaming down my face. I could see my mom was upset, too — she was crying, shaking her head. I think she felt bad about it, but she also felt like it was the best option. I felt so betrayed.
And just then, my grandmother marched into the room and slapped me. "Don't disrespect your mother!" she said, before turning to my mother and saying, "See? She needs this. How else will she learn to be respectful?”...
A few days before the wedding, my oldest sister finally revealed that she was also married against her will. "I was kicking and screaming the whole way," she told me. "But I learned to love him. You will too."
Yasmine’s heroic escape was only possible because of Israel and the United States, two countries with democratic institutions operating in a region where Islamic law rules as supreme.
After contacting some friends back home in Chicago via Facebook, Yasmine managed to get in touch with the US embassy in Jerusalem, Israel. Swiftly, American officials extracted the girl from the territories of Palestine, sending an envoy to pick her up by a store nearby her grandmother’s house.
“We went to the US Embassy in Jerusalem where I spent the day filling out paperwork in order to enter into the foster care system back in the States,” recalled Yasmine. “That night, a diplomat accompanied me to the airport with two bodyguards, and I was placed on a plane to Philadelphia.”
Today, Yasmine is in the United States and attending school. She was recently adopted by an American couple who have granted her the freedom to choose her own path in life.