"The real disability is the disability of the heart and the mind, not the body." This was the slogan embraced by Ibtihal Muhammad, a 28-year- old woman from Mosul as she embarked on her arduous journey from pain and fear to hope and success.
Ibtihal lost her right leg and right eye and also lost her father and her husband during the war against the Islamic State (IS) group.
Ibtihal’s message to the world
The smile was not departing her face as she revealed her prosthetic leg and said, “My message to the world is that disability inspires miracles; I don’t have to hide this prosthetic leg because it is not a shame; it is an honor.”
Ibtihal’s bitter memories
Recalling her life before the arrival of IS, Ibtihal said as the tears ran down her face, “Befor IS, we had a normal life; I had just graduated from Mosul University’s college of education. I applied for master's degree and I was admitted. As we were preparing for the new academic year, IS fighters attacked Mosul.”
Ibtihal stopped talking for a few seconds, squeezed hard on the mobile phone in her right hand and continued to tell her story. "My dream was success, not submission. I decided to escape from the rule of IS. The only option was to smuggle out, as IS was preventing anyone from leaving and considered those who tried to escape as traitors whose penalty was death.”
The decision to flee which I reached to with my husband (Saif) was irreversible. The only way was to get a fake medical document with the seal and slogan of IS on it. We finally got it and left Mosul on January 26, 2015.
"The journey from Mosul to Syria took days, because of the difficult situation, the aerial bombardment, the military operations, as well as the threat of armed groups,” she said as she recalled the intense moments she went through with her husband.
“It was a creepy journey; and after hours of driving, everything turned dark and there were loud noises. I fell into a coma, and when I woke up I found myself lying in a health center on the border between Ninewa and Syria. I later learned that we were targeted in an airstrike and I lost my right leg, my right eye and above all my husband. ”
The tragedies continue
I went back to our house in Mosul and this time alone without my husband; the house was empty and the pain was unbearable; my health was deteriorating, so I tried to get out of Mosul for treatment, but this time it was for real. However ISIS rejected my request as a punishment for my previous attempt to escape. The situation stayed as it was until April 3, 2016.”
April 3rd held a sad memory for Ibtihal. Unable to hold back her tears, she said, “On this day I lost my last supporter; my father died in a traffic accident while trying to escape the scene of fierce fighting between Iraqi forces and IS fighters in Mosul.”
The sun rises again
The smile returned to Ibtihal’s face and said with hope glittering in her eyes, “My neighborhood in the eastern side of Mosul was liberated from IS on January 28, 2017. I had to rise again and fulfill the promise I gave to my father, my husband and myself, and finish what I started.''
“I did a plastic surgery for my right eye. Later I earned Master’s degree in Psychology and I was awarded the honorary golden medal by the Iraqi Ministry of Youths and Sports.
Ibtihal’s persistence bore fruit
Ibtihal’s ambitions did not stop there; after 30 failed attempts to get a job mainly due to her physical disability, she finally find a job as a counselor at a civil society organization. She provided social and psychosocial support to those with physical disabilities.
Ibtihal… a stubborn plant in the face of storms
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Despite her young age, Ibtihal overcame the challenges of life. After the death of her husband and her father she stood alone struggling with the her physical disability; she did not escape, did not give up and remained as a stubborn plant in her ancestral land.