For decades, Iraq has been suffering blows to its cultural heritage; not only to its many heritage sites, but also to its literary production, with not one, but two major libraries destroyed in the past two decades.
Saving that heritage, though, is octogenarian Iraqi novelist Safira Jamil Hafidh, who has opened a part of her home in Baghdad as a library to the public.
In the upper floor of her home in Karrada – which is an upper-middle class district in Baghdad, known to be one of the most religiously diverse – she keeps hundreds of books as part of her personal collection, that she decided to open to the public as a reminder of Baghdad’s former position as one of the world’s cultural epicentres.
Thousands of documents and books have been lost or damaged ever since the US-led invasion in 2003 and the war that followed.
A fire during the war destroyed Baghdad's National Library and its centuries-old manuscripts, books and newspaper archives.
The library in the University of Mosul – which was treasured as one of the Middle East’s most comprehensive libraries, holding millions of books and manuscripts – also saw its destruction when ISIS seized the city – and destroyed the university in 2014. Students are now helping renovate both the library and university.
Safira named her library “Shams Al Omoma” – a tribute to her own mother, and a reference to the cultural (and historical) role of mothers as educators and figures who provide guidance.
Safira has been deeply involved in the cultural and literature scene in Iraq for decades now, playing a role in establishing the country’s women’s rights movement and becoming elected to the Central Council of the General Union of Iraqi Writers in 2005.
Before then, she wrote the prize-winning novel Children and Toys, which explores the topic of freedom and womanhood, in 1956.