Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

A Pilgrim's Tale

Grandmother saw long walk to polling station as a religious duty.
By Hazim al-Sharaa

Seventy-five year old Lamia Jasim is getting some much-needed rest after walking 25 kilometres just to take part in Iraq’s historic elections.

“I had to rest from time to time when I felt my legs and my walking stick would not carry me,” Jasim told IWPR. “Then I would start off again.".

Jasim lives in al-Khair, a small community south of Amarah in southeastern Iraq. But she was registered to vote in al-Majar, 25 km away, because she once lived there with her son.

The heavily stooped woman said she did not have any intention of voting until one of her sons turned on the radio on the eve of the poll.

"I heard the announcer saying that the marja [Shia religious authority] Ayatollah Ali Sistani had issued a fatwa [edict] saying people must go to the polls,” she said.

That night, Jasim couldn’t sleep a wink, because she was wracked with guilt that ignoring the elections might constitute a sin. The next morning, after prayers, she made her decision.

"My sons tried to prevent me,” she recalled. They told her, “We are your sons, we are a piece of you; we will vote in al-Khair and that will be enough.”

But it wasn’t enough for their mother .

"I left home early without telling my sons,” continued Jasim. “I walked along the long road to the Adil subdistrict, then onward to Majar district.”

She had to walk the entire distance. There were no drivers on the road because of the blanket ban imposed on vehicles on election day, a move intended to keep insurgents from attacking polling stations with car bombs.

The elderly woman arrived in al-Majar at noon and made her way directly to the polling station.

Looking back on her trip, she compared it to visiting the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala, one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam. She said it was her “sacred duty” to vote, saying it was like grasping the cage that encloses the tomb of the seventh-century Islamic leader.

Now feels that a heavy burden has been lifted from her shoulders.

Jasim is no stranger to hardship: two of her sons died fighting in the wars pursued by former president Saddam Hussein.

The 75-year-old says this election could be her last, but she hopes it will mark the beginning of security and stability, and that her grandchildren will have a brighter future.

Hazim al-Sharaa is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.