Tribute to Eman al Obaidi: Chastity is a Condition of the Soul

We are witnessing momentous events in the news these days. We all know it. And the events are positive, surely, because they are rife with heroism, courage and solidarity. But they are surrounded by equal measures of suffering so profound that we sit in our living rooms, in front of our televisions dumbfounded, trying to figure out how it is possible for a woman to survive rape by fifteen men. The moral courage evinced by the sista who walked into a hotel lobby in Lybia to expose to the world her ordeal at the hands of violators left us in no doubt as to the heights the best of our human race can rise. She was majestic. The uncertainty still surrounding her fate requires that we simply consign her to the care of a Higher Power.

However, we know somewhere deep down this is a victory. We just cannot put our finger on the significance of the event because it is too close. They say a symbolic betrothal ceremony was held by her tribe. That tribe broke with the past forever by declaring that her honor was intact. This means that women the world over will no longer be hostage to a perverse ideology that says their honor and purity are dependent on events outside their control. This marks the beginning of the end of the use of rape as a weapon of war when men stand up and declare that the soul and honor of a violated woman is intact and that the onus and spiritual burden (for which there will be Divine and promised retribution) rests squarely on the shoulders of the true violators.

I dedicate this poem to Eman al Obaidi, her family and her tribe.


A nineteen year old boy was married
never having tasted of forbidden fruit.
For love of his soul over his body,
regard for a future bride,
he kept a gift to share
on his wedding day.
I called him chaste.

An old woman who gave her allegiance
with a wedding vow
spent a lifetime
on a narrow path,
mind free of lust
for another partner.
And I call her chaste.

But you keep from sending your daughter
to school for fear she will be impregnated
on an African village back road
and you castrate her mind
in the name of chastity.

You cover her body from head to foot
in a chadour so that your eyes won’t see
a wisp of hair or a bare arm.
A black apparition in the Arabian sun,
and you call it chastity.

You sew up her genitals
in a ritual ceremony
and risk her death of infection
while her terror filled eyes
witness the sheer evil
you disguise as piety.
And you do this in the name of chastity.

You cast out your “fallen” daughters
and let them bear their babes in the gutter
in the name of Latin decency.
You teach them such false modesty
they don’t know their own bodies,
fear seeing a doctor for prenatal care.

You, who never learned to curb your lust,
would put the burden of chastity on the innocent.
You, who never punished the true violators,
never asked an account from the seducers,
would chain both the bodies and minds of women

You’ve made a mockery of that sweet fruit
the god’s bestow for our taste
and the purity which you lay waste
goes a’begging, deaf and mute.
Your daughter’s welfare,
a sacred trust,
is the bud you trampled,

Chastity, this noble word,
then becomes a two edged sword
by which you will be judged
and shall reap no reward.
And I reject your definition.
I spit upon your prohibition.

The chastity I seek
is a condition of the soul,
an adornment
made of gold
for men and women young and old
who willingly uphold, in truth
a sacred code.

A garment
from which sweet savor
of sanctity is inhaled.
A crown
the brightness of whose light
sheds both beauty and delight
upon the worlds of spirit.
A solace to the eyes,
a fragrance wafted heaven wise
to a most exalted Paradise.

About rheaharmsen

Rhea Harmsen is a scientist, novelist and author of Language of the Spirit, a volume of selected poems. She has also released three novels, The Harvest of Reason, Intermarry, and God Created Women. Harmsen was born in a family with a black father and a white mother at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in some states. Her parents gave her a vision of world citizenship that informs her writing and her lifestyle and has caused her to reject traditional views of race and gender. Harmsen's article "Science in the Hands of Women: Present Barriers, Future Promise" appeared in World Order in 1998 and provides the foundation for the story line for her novel The Harvest of Reason. She co-published the Monroeville Race Unity Forum Bulletin and authored many poems on racial topics, crystallizing the "conversation on race" in the novel Intermarry. Her work with domestic violence survivors in Puerto Rico inspired the novel God Created Women. Harmsen holds a doctorate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently resides in Puerto Rico. Upcomming projects are described in her web page at
This entry was posted in chastity, equality, feminism, global discussion, poetry, rape as a weapon of war, rights of women. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Tribute to Eman al Obaidi: Chastity is a Condition of the Soul

  1. Sarah says:

    This is absolutely beautiful and thought-provoking poetry. Thank you, Rhea, for such a beautiful tribute to our fierce, brave, courageous Eman AlObeidy. She gave us, all of the Libyan women (and men) wanting freedom & dignity, a voice. She’s a bright light of truth shining during this dark time in our country’s history.

    • rheaharmsen says:

      Thank you for your comments. I am so happy that we can try to take this “bright light of truth shining during this dark time” and spread it till it ilumines every corner of the globe. We are all one and women will play a great role in bringing about the ultimate peace we all long for.

  2. Jenn says:

    I too made a poem for her and want to share it with you. Mine is simple and I’m not schooled in this. It is straight out of my heart though, so I think it’s okay to share with you…

    Iman al-Obeidi – In spirit I stand beside thee
    Women every where
    We hear your cries for justice due
    And wish we could be there
    To set you free
    For the world to see
    Freedom is worth a price
    You have fought them all
    And risked your life
    And you’d do it all again
    No man can take what you don’t freely give
    Ameen, Ameen, Ameen!

    • rheaharmsen says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your poem. It is beautiful and expresses this sense that we are all one, that we are all fighting for each other (generations past and generations into the future) and that every little victory is a victory for us all. Warmest regards to you Jenn.

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